CNN on April 29, 2013, published an article by Heather A. Conley on US strategy in the Arctic. Excerpts below:

Last August, then U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tom Nides, Conley wrote, declared that, for the United States, the Arctic is “one of the last true frontiers in the United States. It is becoming a new frontier in our foreign policy.”

He was right. The Arctic is a new frontier in the sense that the polar ice cap is melting so rapidly… that once-frozen and nearly impenetrable borders in the region are now being traversed with increased frequency. The Arctic also presents a new opportunity for U.S. policymakers to address the emerging political, diplomatic, economic, and security dynamics caused by unprecedented climate change.

But what is America’s vision for its piece of the Arctic – the state of Alaska? Will the United States view the Arctic like a new frontier that must be explored, claimed, and developed along the lines of Teddy Roosevelt’s vision of Winning of the West, embodying America’s pioneering spirit?

What are U.S. policy objectives and priorities? What financial resources will be needed to implement these priorities? What are the right organizational and coordination structures to ensure that an American Arctic strategy is implemented and federal agencies are held accountable?

U.S. policy towards the Arctic has traditionally focused on three areas: national security, development, and science. These priorities have been reflected in successive budgets of the Defense Department and the National Science Foundation for decades. But today, U.S. Arctic policy is increasingly shaped by economic factors, primarily concerning oil, gas, and mineral resource development as well as shipping. It isn’t surprising that today the most senior level U.S. interagency policy group involved with Arctic policy is the Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska.

The reality is that there has been no updated Arctic policy statement since George W. Bush signed National Security Presidential Directive 66/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 25 before leaving office in January 2009. Prior to this, the last U.S. Arctic strategy was produced in 1994. Policymakers tend to give the Arctic a strategic look every decade or so. But given the dramatic changes the Arctic region has experienced in the past four years alone, combined with the increasing geopolitical interest from such countries as China, Korea and India, it is critical that Arctic policy be sharpened and focused to reflect the shifting Arctic climatic and policy landscape. In short, it’s time for the United States to think more broadly about “winning” the Arctic.

This will not be easy.

However, with only one medium-strengthened icebreaker and very minimal port and aviation infrastructure in Alaska, America is already behind.

How many federal agencies does it take to make U.S. policy in the Arctic (excluding state and local levels)? Answer: 23. This isn’t a joke; you read that right. How many White House coordinating groups are dedicated to, wholly or in part, to coordinate this policy today? Answer: Six.

So, what can the Obama Administration do? Here is a five-step plan:

First, develop a prioritized national economic strategy for the American Arctic with a consolidated, multi-year budget.

There are suggestions that the White House is currently working on a plan that will prioritize U.S. objectives in the Arctic, but it is unclear how this plan will impact our overall policy.

Once a prioritized economic strategy for the Arctic is in place, there must be a new organizational approach in the White House and in the State Department to support this new policy.

An important third step would be to reinvigorate State Department leadership and appoint an Arctic envoy.

The United States must prepare for its upcoming chairmanship of the Arctic Council, the premier inter-governmental organization to discuss Arctic issues, in 2015. This is only the second time the U.S. has held the chairmanship since the Arctic Council’s formation in 1996.

Finally, we need to rediscover our great American pioneering spirit and apply it to our newest and perhaps most exciting frontier. The United States is surrounded not by two oceans, but three: We are an Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic power. In the spirit of Teddy Roosevelt, let’s win the Arctic.

Note: Heather Conley is senior fellow and director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and author of a new CSIS report, ‘A New Foreign Policy Frontier: U.S. Interests and Actors in the Arctic.’ The views expressed are the writer’s own.


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