A former commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard has been named the United States’ special representative for the Arctic, a newly created position formed in response to the region’s growing strategic importance.
Retired Adm. Robert Papp Jr. was named to the post as the U.S. prepares to take on the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015.
“The Arctic has enormous and growing geostrategic, economic, climate, environment, and national security implications for the United States and the world, and we are, of course, delighted to welcome Adm. Papp, a distinguished and senior public servant with broad foreign policy experience,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday.
The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental group that aims to establish guidelines for operating in the region and resolve territorial disputes between member nations. Those countries are: Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.
In the coming decades, shrinking sheets of ice across the Arctic Ocean are expected to open new international sea routes and potentially open access to untapped oil reserves. Those developments could drive more traffic into Arctic sea lanes as well as spark territorial disputes.
A recent Navy study, the Arctic Roadmap 2014-2030, estimates traffic going through the Bering Strait will double by 2025.
Critics of U.S. policy say the U.S. lags behind other Arctic nations and should be investing more in vessels capable of operating in the rugged Arctic.
However, the U.S. does maintain the world’s most advanced fleet of submarines, which routinely patrol the Arctic and provide the Navy with a distinct advantage should tensions ever escalate into armed conflict.
Still, concerns about the region have forced the Defense Department to focus more on Arctic matters.
In 2011, DOD restructured responsibilities for the so-called High North, which was previously divided among three combatant commands. Now, the area falls directly under U.S. Northern Command, whose area of responsibility was expanded to include the North Pole and the Bering Strait.
U.S. European Command’s area was extended to include the water space of the Laptev and Eastern Siberian seas north of Russia. While NORTHCOM is the lead advocate for Arctic issues within the Defense Department, EUCOM manages military relationships with other Arctic nations in Europe.