Arctic Discussion Circle

2019-08-27T13:59:28+00:00 January 28, 2019|

From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff 

What It Was

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a roundtable to discuss the United States’ overall role in the Arctic from a domestic and international perspective.

Why It Matters

The Arctic is changing, and what that means for future development, travel, infrastructure, and safety is still being learned. As warming temperatures make it more accessible, international cooperation is necessary to ensure a more resilient future – not just for the region itself but for the world, as events that happen there can have global impacts. The roundtable discussed opportunities and challenges in the Arctic, such as climate change and national security, and the role the United States has in the area.

Key Points

Arctic experts, including international dignitaries of Arctic nations and domestic policy leaders, came together to discuss the role of the United States in the Arctic, both in the past and moving forward. Chairman Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Ranking Member Joe Manchin (WV) agreed that as the role of the United States evolves in the region, protecting resources and national security should be a priority. Participants spoke about opportunities and challenges our nation faces, from its presence on the international stage to climate change.

Climate change and environmental concerns were critical issues at the forefront of the discussion. Dr. Victoria Herrmann (President and Managing Director, The Arctic Institute) spoke about climate change being the foundation upon which existing Arctic issues are built. Dr. Herrmann explained the effects of rapidly melting permafrost on local populations and emphasized the need for a low-carbon transition to reduce carbon emissions and provide clean, affordable energy to remote communities across the region.

Another major challenge brought up by several participants was the capability of the United States to be physically present in the Arctic. Ms. Heather Conley (Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic and Director, Europe Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies) stated that it is crucial to adequately resource the U.S. Coast Guard to protect American sovereignty and people in the area.  Beyond just the construction of polar security cutters (PSCs, formerly known as icebreakers), Ms. Conley suggested increasing hangar space, aircrafts, search and rescue capabilities, and satellite communications. She also spoke about the need for the United States to produce a long-term and well-resourced vision for Arctic leadership. She expressed frustration in the lack of action toward enhancing our country’s diplomatic, scientific, and infrastructure presence in the Arctic.

There was resounding agreement among committee members and participants that the United States needs to reinvest in the Arctic and take a stronger leadership position as an Arctic nation. However, the roundtable agreed that doing so would require a shift of U.S. sentiment towards the Arctic, realizing not only the economic benefits to be gained from the region, but the value of strengthened international relationships with fellow Arctic nations.


“The hottest coolest topic out there […] a discussion about the Arctic.” — Chairman Lisa Murkowski (AK)

“The United States has everything to gain by being actively engaged and, in fact, leading in the Arctic. If a new ocean was opening off the coast of the East Coast, it would get our attention. Well, a new ocean is opening off the coast of Alaska and the rest of the Arctic region. We should care about this for all the reasons we care about the other oceans and the other coasts – everything from fisheries and managing stocks correctly, to our national security, to our economic development.” — Dr. Mike Sfraga (Co-Director, UArctic Institute for Arctic Policy)

Find Out More

Watch the full roundtable

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