Arctic Council ministerial – View from the United States

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An ATV drives past caribou horns on one of the dirt roads in the Arctic town of Barrow, Alasksa. (Al Grillo / AP)
An ATV drives past caribou horns in the Arctic town of Utqiaġvik (formally known as Barrow), Alaska. Was the U.S. Arctic Council chairmanship successful in spotlighting issues faced by Arctic Americans? (Al Grillo / AP)
The United States hands the Arctic Council’s two-year rotating chairmanship to Finland on May 11th in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Foreign ministers from all eight Arctic states: Canada, Finland, Denmark/Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the United States are scheduled to attend the ministerial meeting where the accomplishments of the last two years will be announced and the forum’s leadership is officially passed on.

  • But what should we be watching for as circumpolar politicians, diplomats and indigenous leaders gather in Fairbanks?
  • How did the U.S. chairmanship size up in the end?
  • And how will Finnish priorities shape the forum over the next two years?

In the run up to the ministerial, Eye on the Arctic checked in with a series of experts from around the North for their views on what we should all be watching for in Fairbanks, and from the Arctic Council, in the months ahead.

In Monday’s View from Russia, we talked with Andrei Zagorski from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

In Tuesday’s View from Canada, we talked with Heather Exner-Pirot, Eye on the Arctic blogger and managing editor of The Arctic Yearbook.

Today, we bring you our conversation with Mia Bennett, Eye on the Arctic blogger and founder of the Cryopolitics Arctic news and analysis blog.

Feature Interview
Cryopolitics founder Mia Bennett. (Courtesy Mia Bennett)

Eye on the Arctic: What grade would you give the U.S. chairmanship and why?

Mia Bennett: “B.” Its goals as Chair were to improve economic and living conditions for Arctic communities; Arctic Ocean safety, security and stewardship; and then importantly addressing climate change. They’ve probably done the most in the second and third areas.

The real strength of the U.S. chairmanship was to emphasize a unified Arctic at a time where tensions were so high. The theme of ‘One Arctic’ has helped to foster continued strong levels of cooperation.

Were there any missed opportunities under the U.S. chairmanship?

I think there was probably a missed opportunity in communicating to the U.S. that the country is an Arctic nation. Most of the public has probably forgotten about Obama’s visit to Alaska (at the GLACIER conference in 2015) and Arctic issues have kind of fallen by the wayside.

If the public thinks about the Arctic they think about it as a place with melting sea ice or polar bears that are drowning.

But we have 700,000 U.S. citizens living in Alaska and the U.S. Arctic and they have very real concerns, ones that surpass climate change as well; like day-to-day issues of mental health and economic well-being. I think this could have been better communicated (under the U.S. chairmanship) and perhaps painted a more human picture of the Arctic to Americans.

Also, given the entrance of the new administration, I don’t think the U.S. chairmanship is going out on a high note given the political tumult going on back in D.C.

What will you be watching for on May 11th?

For starters, it’s a good sign the U.S. is sending Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. It demonstrates that despite changes in political administration, the U.S. is continuing to participate (in the Arctic Council) at high levels. We’ll also see the signing of the agreement on scientific cooperation where it’s important to note that the coachers of this agreement were the U.S. and Russia. So hopefully this ministerial will continue to underscore that the Arctic remains a very viable, and very crucial locus of cooperation, between the West and Russia at a time when relations are souring in so many other venues.

An icebreaker at the Arctech Helsinki Shipyard in Finland. Finland’s upcoming chairmanship of the Arctic Council will help the country spotlight its Arctic expertise, says Mia Bennett from Cryopolitics.
(Jussi Rosendahl/Reuters)

What will you be watching for as Finland takes over?

A strengthened emphasis on climate change. On the website outlining their chairmanship priorities, they say they want to emphasize the implementation of the Paris Agreement on climate change in the first sentence, which is making a strong point from the get-go.

A second thing to watch for is how Finland really wants to raise its own profile as an Arctic country with Arctic expertise. Unlike places like the U.S. and Canada, Finland is not an Arctic coastal state so I think it kind of gets forgotten about. But it does have expertise with icebreakers and other Arctic technologies, particularly on land. So Finland will emphasize that it’s an Arctic country, not to its own citizens, but to the world, building its external Arctic profile.

The above interview has been edited and condensed.

Listen here for more from Eye on the Arctic’s conversation with Mia Bennett:

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Arctic Council ministerial – View from the Canada, Eye on the Arctic

Finland:  Cooperation with Russia in the Arctic makes sense; an Arctic Summit does not, Blog by Heather Exner-Pirot

Denmark:  Nordics to step up security cooperation on perceived Russian threat, Yle News

Iceland:  The Arctic Council at 20 – View from Iceland, Eye on the Arctic

Norway:  Norway and Russia exchange diplomatic smiles about Arctic cooperation, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian and Finnish foreign ministers tackle “difficult issues” during meeting in Finland, Yle News

United States: The Fairbanks ministerial: What to expect, Blog by Heather Exner-Pirot

 

 


The Arctic Council chairmanship moves from the United States to Finland on May 11, 2017 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Eye on the Arctic’s Eilís Quinn along with EOTA media partners and contributors will be bringing you stories, interviews and analysis leading up to the handover.
Read our full coverage here!

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Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is a journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic circumpolar news project. At Eye on the Arctic, Eilís has produced documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the circumpolar world. Her documentary Bridging the Divide was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards. Eilís began reporting on the North in 2001. Her work as a reporter in Canada and the United States, and as TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China" has taken her to some of the world’s coldest regions including the Tibetan mountains, Greenland and Alaska; along with the Arctic regions of Canada, Russia, Norway and Iceland.

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