Biden nominates Alaskan as 1st Arctic ambassador

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced Monday he plans to nominate Alaskan Michael Sfraga to serve as the first U.S. Arctic ambassador-at-large.

As the new Arctic ambassador, Sfraga will work with the seven other Arctic nations and Indigenous groups and promote U.S. policy in the region. The appointment comes days after a Chinese surveillance balloon flew over Alaska and the U.S. shot down another unidentified object near Deadhorse, bringing national attention to the state.

Sfraga is an expert on Arctic geography and policy with an extensive background studying the region. He currently is the chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission — a role that required Biden’s appointment in 2021. He was also the founding director of the Washington, D.C.-based Wilson Center’s Polar Institute, where he currently serves as chair and distinguished fellow.

Sfraga has also held several positions at the University of Alaska, including vice chancellor, associate vice president and department chair. He earned a Ph.D. in geography and Northern studies from University of Alaska, Fairbanks, according to his official biography.

The State Department announced the new position in August after a yearslong push from the Alaska congressional delegation for an Arctic ambassador. The new job elevates the U.S. coordinator for the Arctic region role. For the position, Sfraga would be based in D.C. but travel regularly to the Arctic.

The nomination comes alongside other U.S. diplomatic and defense investments in Alaska as tensions escalate with Russia, and China, which has proclaimed itself a “near-Arctic state.”

The Senate must confirm Sfraga’s nomination, which has a stamp of approval from Alaska’s Republican senators.


Sen. Lisa Murkowski, founder and co-chair of the Senate Arctic Caucus, has advocated for an Arctic ambassador and celebrated Sfraga’s nomination in a Monday statement.

“I’m very pleased to see Dr. Mike Sfraga nominated to serve as Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic Region,” Murkowski said. “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.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan also welcomed the announcement. He said on social media Tuesday that he looks forward to working with Sfraga “to ensure the interests of Americans who actually live there are well represented in U.S. policy, and to confront the aggressive aims of Russia and China in the region.”

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Riley Rogerson

Riley Rogerson is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C., and is a fellow with Report for America. Contact her at rrogerson@adn.com.