The Biden administration announced plans to appoint an Arctic Ambassador, the U.S.’s latest effort to increase its influence in the Arctic amid growing tensions with Russia and China.
The Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic Region will promote U.S. policy in the region and work with the other seven Arctic nations, Indigenous groups and other non-governmental entities, according to a State Department statement.
In recent years, U.S. officials have pushed to protect national security and economic interests in the Arctic as relations sour with Russia, an Arctic nation, and China, a self-proclaimed “near-Arctic state.” The Arctic ambassador announcement comes just weeks after the opening of the Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies in Anchorage to facilitate Department of Defense research on Arctic security.
Ian Laing, Executive Director of the Institute of the North, said the institute is “thrilled” by the announcement, adding it will elevate discussions about the Arctic’s strategic importance.
“I think it remains to be seen how much creating the position will affect the strategy,” Laing said. “I don’t see one individual, changing the policy, but really pushing that policy to the forefront and getting more attention and making a clear sign that the U.S. is aggressively engaged in helping to lead this conversation internationally.”
The Arctic ambassador role has been a longtime priority for Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. A leader of the Senate Arctic Caucus, Murkowski sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken alongside 11 Senate colleagues in February urging him to establish an Arctic ambassador. Murkowski also introduced the Arctic Diplomacy Act in 2021, which would develop an Assistant Secretary of State for Arctic Affairs but has not advanced to a floor vote.
Creating an Arctic ambassador “sends a strong signal to our allies and adversaries that America is all-hands-on-deck in the Arctic,” Murkowski said in a statement. “Make no mistake, because of Alaska, America is not only an Arctic nation, but an Arctic leader.”
Murkowski is not the only Alaska representative to advocate for an ambassador. In 2021, the late Alaska U.S. Rep. Don Young introduced the U.S. Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs Act calling for an Arctic ambassador.
Congress allocated funding for an Arctic ambassador in the FY2022 Appropriations Act.
The Arctic Ambassador will be based in D.C. but will travel regularly to the Arctic. The Biden administration hopes to announce a nominee soon, who will then face a confirmation vote in Congress.
“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,” Murkowski said.