The Cable, a blog about the inner workings of the U.S. foreign policy machine run by Foreign Affairs magazine, has posted a sort of “who’s who” of America’s Arctic policymakers. There is no one person in charge of Arctic policy in the U.S. government, and instead, policymaking responsibilities are scattered throughout various departments. This confusion has led politicians like Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) to call for the creation of an Arctic Ambassador, a call which was echoed in Canada last summer, where the Conservative government eliminated the position in 2006. In Canada, the government has responded to demands by arguing that Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon essentially embodies the role an Arctic ambassador would have. Indeed he does, representing Canada at most high-level talks on the Arctic. If you take a look at the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s news website on the Arctic, almost every story is about Cannon giving a speech at some conference or another on the High North.
By contrast, his American counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is neither as visibly nor as singularly involved on Arctic issues. Furthermore, Arctic affairs are strangely housed under the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the State Department instead of being part of a regional bureau. A State Department official from the bureau, Julia Gourley, is deemed the “senior U.S. Arctic official,” representing the U.S. at most of the Arctic Council Meetings. Outside of State, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar plays a large role in many of the talks on issues involving the Alaskan Arctic, particularly with regard to oil and gas drilling. In the Department of Defense, Rear Admiral David Titley, Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy, is the key player for defense interests in the Arctic.
Yet despite the labyrinthine network which lies beneath American Arctic policy, the Cable reported the following:
“A State Department official said that while Arctic policy seems to be spread thin throughout the federal government, there is a consolidation happening, with State leading the interagency Arctic Policy Group. And the Clinton trip shows that Arctic Policy is now moving up to the highest level of concern for foreign policy officials in not just the U.S., but in all the other relevant countries as well.”
The Arctic Policy Group was established by National Security Decision Memorandum 144 (PDF) in December 1971, nearly thirty years ago, so the consolidation has been a long time coming. Gradually, the Arctic is moving away from the backburner of American foreign policymakers. The interagency group is chaired by the Department of State and also includes members from the Departments of Defense, Interior, Commerce, Transportation, and National Science Foundation. The inclusion of these departments demonstrates that the country’s interests in the Arctic are certainly widespread, from science to trade to national security.
The group purpose, according to the document, is to oversee
“the implementation of U. S. Arctic policy and reviewing and coordinating U. S. activities and programs in the Arctic, with the exception of purely domestic Arctic-related matters internal to Alaska.”
This coordination is quite necessary without there being one Arctic department to deal with policy in the region.
“Who’s in charge of Arctic policy?” The Cable