Opinions

OPINION: Why the future of the Arctic should be decided in Anchorage

Arctic Encounter Symposium, Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center

When world leaders debate issues in the Far North, they should come to Anchorage. Like peace talks in Geneva or nuclear negotiations in Vienna, Anchorage’s growing profile for Arctic policy and research makes us a natural venue for high-stakes decisions about the future of the Far North.

Our city’s potential as the North American capital for Arctic affairs was on clear display earlier this month at the 2022 Arctic Encounter, where more than 670 people from 15 countries met for two days at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center and the Anchorage Museum. Alaska Native youth mingled with Nordic ambassadors and Canadian territorial premiers. Energy and mining executives networked with NATO military brass and Greenlandic government officials. Alaskan field scientists compared notes with Beltway policymakers. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Joe Manchin debated on stage with a Washington Post reporter while media from across Alaska engaged international leaders.

There are countless decisions to be made about the future of the Arctic: Whether and where to extract critical minerals? How to bolster defense against possible Russian aggression? What is the best way to build and maintain infrastructure as permafrost thaws? Who will regulate new maritime trade routes? When those business deals are struck and treaties are negotiated, the discussions should happen here — in the North — in order to ensure the best possible outcomes for Alaskans, especially our Arctic Indigenous residents whose livelihoods, traditions, and expertise are rooted in this unique landscape.

I founded Arctic Encounter nine years ago in the belief that the Arctic will assume an increasingly important strategic role, one in which Alaska will take center stage. After hosting events in Seattle, London, Paris, Tromsø, and Reyjavík, I was proud to bring Arctic Encounter this year to Anchorage, which will now be the permanent home of our flagship convening in the U.S.

Our hope is that the Arctic Encounter’s annual symposium will be a building block for Anchorage and Alaska to grow its year-round presence as an international hub for Arctic impact-driven policy, investment, and research. The University of Alaska system is already a world-renown home for scientific research on hot-button issues like sea ice and endangered species. The newly founded Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies will bolster our role in shaping NATO’s rapidly-evolving security posture in the Far North. The Anchorage meetings between U.S. and Chinese diplomats in March 2021 at the Hotel Captain Cook are proof that we can host high-level talks. The Ted Stevens Airport and aviation industry leaders are working to increase access to Alaska for international travelers.

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, formal diplomatic channels to discuss Arctic policy are at a full stop. The eight-member Arctic Council, once a model of global cooperation in a hostile world, is on a temporary pause while Russia holds its rotating chairmanship. When the U.S. last chaired the council from 2015 to 2017, Anchorage took center stage. At Arctic Encounter earlier this month, Anchorage was once again an essential venue, this time for the first meeting of Arctic policymakers and diplomats since the geopolitical order was upended in Ukraine in February.

When asked where Arctic dialogue happens in the absence of the Arctic Council, Norway’s Ambassador to the U.S. Anneken Krutnes said, “We come here.” She was followed by Finland’s Ambassador for Arctic Issues Tiina Jortikka-Laitinen, who said, “Anchorage has all the potential to become an important hub of Arctic innovation.” Those strong endorsements should motivate us to ensure that Anchorage assumes its role as the place where the future of a changing Arctic is decided.

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Rachel Kallander is founder and executive director of Arctic Encounter and the honorary consul of Iceland to Alaska. She is also managing partner of Kallander & Associates, a consulting firm servicing clients statewide. She lives with her husband and two young children in Anchorage.

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