On June 9, the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC hosted a panel discussion entitled “National Security Risks in a Changing Arctic.” The panel included Ambassador Mark Brzezinski, Executive Director of the Arctic Executive Steering Committee,The White House; Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK); and Admiral (retired) Robert Papp, the U.S. Special Representative to the Arctic, U.S. Department of State. The panel moderator was Scott Borgerson, Chief Executive of CargoMetrics. Recorded video of this event may be accessed here. Institute of the North Senior Fellow Keith Stinebaugh viewed the panel discussion and what follows are some of his observations about important points discussed, and main themes.

Admiral Papp made it clear that national security encompasses more than national defense. Ambassador Brzezinski outlined security as including energy security (both for the world and for the people of the Arctic), food security (especially as it pertains to subsistence issues), and water and sanitation for indigenous peoples. There was general agreement that climate change poses a significant challenge, especially to food security for indigenous peoples. There was also some also some discussion that the changes we are seeing in the Arctic, especially coastal erosion, is a harbinger of what may be coming for the rest of the world. Learning to deal with these challenges now is important for the future.

Several questions were raised about how the United States works with Russia in the Arctic. Ambassador Brzezinski noted that the U.S. has a good working relationship with Russia on Arctic scientific and research issues. Admiral Papp said that he had been receiving many good suggestions on the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council from his Russian counterparts. He also thinks that perceptions of Russian activities in the Arctic may be a slightly overblown. He mentioned that Russia probably has legitimate claims in areas like the Extended Continental Shelf and that the U.S. (and other Arctic countries) needs to consider the Russians’ views.

Senator Murkowski was asked about the status of the United Nations Law of the Sea treaty in the U.S. Senate. She noted that she supports ratification and that progress was made when John Kerry was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. However, she does not see any chance for ratification this year.

The Council on Foreign Relations has formed an Arctic Task Force to prepare recommendations on Arctic Policy for the incoming Presidential Administration. This task force is headed by Esther Brimmer, a former Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs (2009-2013). I think that this is a very positive development; it shows that interest in the Arctic may not go away when the U.S. hands over Chairmanship of the Arctic Council to Finland in May 2017.

-By Keith Stinebaugh, Senior Fellow, Institute of the North