U.S. President Joe Biden has unveiled the nominee for the newly created position of Ambassador-at-Large for Arctic Affairs, with Alaskan Michael Sfraga getting the nod on Monday.
Sfraga, who trained as a geographer specializing in the polar regions, has long been involved in Arctic research and affairs.
He was appointed Chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission by Biden in 2021. Sfraga was also the founding director of the Polar Institute at the Wilson Center, a U.S. think tank, where he’s the institute’s chair and distinguished fellow.
The U.S. was previously represented in Arctic affairs by U.S. Coordinator for the Arctic Region Jim DeHart.
In 2022, the State Department announced it would replace the position of Coordinator for the Arctic Region with the country’s first-ever Arctic ambassadorship.
The new role signals the increasing importance of the Arctic to the U.S. at a time of increasing geopolitical competition.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 upended some 30 years of international cooperation in the North, with the western Arctic nations putting numerous cooperation projects with Moscow on hold.
China has also become increasingly active in the Arctic at the same time that the country has become an increasing concern to Washington, as well as to other Arctic states like Finland and Norway.
“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 of the new position.
Position will allow U.S. to further arctic priorities, says senator
The U.S has long been at outlier among arctic nations with no Arctic diplomatic representation at the ambassador level.
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, a prominent advocate for creating the Arctic ambassador role, praised Sfraga’s nomination.
“I’m very pleased to see Dr. Mike Sfraga nominated to serve as Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic Region,” Murkowski said in a statement on Monday.
“This places the U.S. one step closer to having dedicated, high-level diplomatic representation in the Arctic, which will allow us to advance a range of U.S. policy priorities at a crucial time.”
Dr. Sfraga is a true Arctic expert, and his experience is unmatched. I will urge my Senate colleagues to move quickly to advance and confirm his nomination. pic.twitter.com/oaavgLiibx
— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (@lisamurkowski) February 13, 2023
The nomination will now be sent to the Senate for confirmation.
Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca
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