Denmark creates new Arctic ambassadorship

Aerial view of melting glaciers near Ilulissat, Greenland part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Photo: Michael Kappeler, Pool, AFP Photo.  Earlier this month, Denmark appointed Klavs A. Holm as the new Arctic Ambassador, an office which will become permanent. At the same time, Danish Foreign Minister Villy Søvndal announced the closure of the embassies in Iraq, Benin, and Zambia.

This move gives a strong signal that Denmark is putting forth a more visible diplomatic presence in the Circumpolar North while refocusing its priorities in the Global South, where it will open embassies in Myanmar and Libya.

Ambassador Holm will represent all three parts of the Danish Commonwealth: Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. He will also coordinate the implementation of the government’s Arctic strategy, released last August.

New responsibilities

Holm previously served as the Danish Ambassador in London, Paris, and Singapore. He also represented Denmark to the EU, in Brussels, where he worked on Arctic issues. The current ambassador for Public Diplomacy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will have his work cut out for him, as Foreign Minister Søvndal made clear when he visited Thule Air Force Base last December. When asked what assignments the new Arctic Ambassador would have, he responded, “If you ask for specific tasks, we can name climate change, which means that shipping in the Arctic is increasing in scope.

There are very specific tasks to perform in relation to search and rescue in these remote areas. The area is large, and first and foremost, we must prepare the new agreements.” Specifically, he added, “It is clear that we need the Americans to not block civilian usage of Thule. Now, there will be a negotiation process to clarify how far we can go” (translated from the Danish). Search and rescue will thus be an important topic for Holm, as will mining and indigenous peoples – two issues which overlap heavily in Greenland. China has lately expressed strong interest in investing in Greenland’s mineral deposits, the Wall Street Journal reports, which might be cause for Holm to visit Beijing.

Denmark can now be added to the short list of countries which have Arctic ambassadors, which includes Sweden, Finland, and Russia. The United States and Canada are noticeably absent from this list, though there have been calls in the latter country to bring back the position (see here and here). Canada had an Arctic Ambassador from 1994 to 2006, but the role was abolished, as former Foreign Minister Peter McKay then stated, “We didn’t feel we were getting good value for money from that position.”

News Links

New Danish Arctic Ambassador,” IPS

Søvndal udnævner ambassadør for det aller nordligste,” Politiken (in Danish)

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Mia Bennett

Mia Bennett is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and School of Modern Languages & Cultures (China Studies Programme) at the University of Hong Kong. Through fieldwork and remote sensing, she researches the politics of infrastructure development in frontier spaces, namely the Arctic and areas included within China's Belt and Road Initiative. Read Mia Bennett's articles

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