The United States plans to name an ambassador-at-large for the Arctic region, the State Department announced on Friday.
It will be the first time the country has an Arctic ambassadorship and will replace the position of U.S. Coordinator for the Arctic Region.
“The Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic Region will advance U.S. policy in the Arctic, engage with counterparts in Arctic and non-Arctic nations as well as Indigenous groups, and work closely with domestic stakeholders, including state, local, and Tribal governments, businesses, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, other federal government agencies and Congress,” the State Department said in a news release.
“The United States remains committed to constructive cooperation in the Arctic, foremost through the Arctic Council, and the Ambassador-at-Large will work in close partnership with the U.S. Senior Arctic Official, the federal Arctic science community, and the Arctic Executive Steering Committee.”
The announcement comes amidst a time where some 30 years of international cooperation in the North has been upended by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and numerous projects involving collaboration between Russia and the West have been affected.
“Appointing an ambassador-at-large signals that the Arctic is growing in importance for the United States and comes at a time where the stability and level of cooperation that we have enjoyed in the Arctic has certainly changed,” Troy Bouffard, the director at the Center for Arctic Security and Resilience at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, told Eye on the Arctic in a phone interview.
“We’re likely to see a lot more competition now in all sectors, including geopolitical.”
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a prominent advocate for creating the Arctic ambassador role, says it’s been a long time coming and sends an important signal to the international community.
“The U.S. was the only Arctic nation without dedicated diplomatic representation for the Arctic Region at the Ambassador level or higher,” she said in a statement upon the announcement.
“By establishing this role, America will solidify its dedication, commitment, and leadership to this strategically important region and have greater opportunities to spur the diplomacy necessary to preserve a peaceful, prosperous Arctic. This announcement—which dovetails the recent opening of the new Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies—sends a strong signal to our allies and adversaries that America is all-hands-on-deck in the Arctic.”
Bouffard said the new role will also help elevate the importance of northern issues across the board..
“One of the most obvious advantages of having a U.S. ambassador for the Arctic, is it just instantly elevates the importance of any topic discussed, or event that they’re at,” he said.
“Not having an ambassador sends a different sort of signal, especially with our competitors like Russia, and it always kind of put us off balance a little. The creation of an ambassador-at-large for the region takes care of that quite nicely.”
The Arctic amidst U.S. global interests
The new ambassador has not yet been named.
Once an ambassador has been chosen, the nomination will be sent to the Senate for confirmation.
Bouffard says given the high complexities of U.S. foreign policy and the country’s interests in the region, he expects someone high profile, with vast experience and knowledge of the North.
“A lot of people forget that when you look at the Arctic nations you’ve got small states where the Arctic is their whole world, then you’ve got mid-powers like Canada where the Arctic is important, but for the United States, and to some extent Russia, the Arctic is just one part of the rest of the entire world that they’re juggling and managing,” he said. “It can be difficult for people to keep that in context.
“It’s important that whoever is in this position understands very well the national security priorities of the United States in general, and know how to manage Arctic issues in the larger context, and the full scope, of the United States’ global interests.
“It’s certainly quite daunting.”
Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: NORAD’s role vital for North America and for NATO, says Stoltenberg, CBC News
Finland: Hundreds of foreign soldiers join military exercise in Arctic Finland, The Independent Barents Observer
Norway: Defence minister says Norway must get stronger in the North, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Assertive Moscow outlines push into central Arctic Ocean, The Independent Barents Observer
United States: U.S. Army poised to revamp Alaska forces to prep for Arctic fight, The Associated Press