Washington D.C., 17 July 2014 – The appointment of retired Admiral Robert Papp as U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic represents an important step in building an “Arctic Team” at the State Department ahead of the U.S. taking over the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in May 2015.
As former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Papp is keenly aware of current and future challenges the United States, Alaska, and the Coast Guard face in the Arctic today. Retired Admiral Papp spearheaded the Coast Guard’s efforts to release a pragmatic and well-focused Arctic strategy to guide maritime operations in the region, and has frequently travelled to Alaska and interacted with communities in the U.S. and circumpolar Arctic in recent years. Papp’s experience on the ground and understanding of the Arctic environment, complemented by his strong relationships with both D.C. and Alaskan lawmakers, will serve him well as he aims to translate long-term strategic considerations into policy.
Arctic policy experts and Alaskan lawmakers have been promoting the idea of establishing an ambassador-level representative for the Arctic region for several years. The creation of the special representative position, which reports directly to the Secretary of State, denotes that the U.S. government considers the Arctic to be a top-level foreign policy issue. Not only does this prominent new position elevate the profile of Arctic policy, it also greatly facilitates decision-making because of the unparalleled access special representatives have to senior officials, particularly the Secretary of State and the President. This development allows for a greater involvement from the U.S. in Arctic Council issues ahead of the U.S. Chairmanship and retired Admiral Papp is uniquely positioned to provide much-needed leadership and vision to this position.
Papp’s appointment also suggests that, unlike Canada, the U.S. is placing less emphasis on economic development and is focusing more on maritime issues, security, and shipping. In his new role, Papp will take the lead on shaping the agenda and setting top priorities during the U.S. chairmanship and is expected to chair the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials (SAO) meetings. It will be interesting to see whether the U.S. chairmanship with a former Coast Guard Commandant at the helm will place greater emphasis on the security dimension of Arctic governance and cooperation. Possibly to ensure that issues like environmental protection and science do not take a back seat, the State Department also created a new position of Special Advisor on Arctic Science and Policy, to be filled by Fran Ulmer, current chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and former Lieutenant Governor of Alaska. Both Papp and Ulmer are credible and prominent public officials with vast experience working on Arctic policy issues. Their appointment is a step in the right direction and a clear indication of the State Department’s commitment to make Arctic policy a priority in upcoming years.
Thumbnail Photo Credit: Arctic Council, Flickr