As the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum composed of Arctic governments and indigenous communities, meets in Alaska this week under U.S. chairmanship, America’s lack of involvement in the Arctic is made all the more obvious when contrasted with what ought to be American leadership in the region.
The Arctic Council, composed of eight member states, meets twice a year to discuss Arctic priorities and opportunities to work together to coordinate research, improve technology, and solve problems in the Arctic. The chairmanship seat of the Arctic Council rotates every two years among the member states. Presently, the U.S. holds the chairmanship seat for the 2015-2017 session.
The U.S. Chairmanship is an important opportunity for America to lead the Arctic conversation and create priorities for the coming year. Currently, the Arctic Council is conducting a meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska to discuss a wide variety of Arctic topics. Unfortunately, the U.S. does not have many of its own Arctic energy projects to present to the Council at this time. This fact limits America’s authority on the council at time where it should be driving the discussion and taking the lead on the Council’s direction. The American Security Project, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, points out, the burdensome regulatory hurdles imposed by the U.S. government inevitably damage America’s leadership on the issue:
“There is a real danger that, if the U.S. is not actively planning for, and promoting oil and gas drilling in its own waters, it will lose its ability to influence how these projects move forward. How to drill safely, sustainably, and productively in these waters is a tremendous challenge. American government managers at BOEM and safety regulators at The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) have devised strong oversight regimes for the Arctic, and they can help other Arctic nations do the same.
“Without energy exploration in American Arctic waters, then the American government would not have the standing to offer technical assistance and support to governments like Iceland or Greenland. In effect, the American government would cede the field to Chinese or Russian influence.”
By discouraging Arctic energy development, the U.S. is effectively designating itself as a spectator, a passive listener in the global Arctic discussion, while other countries take advantage of the bountiful opportunities in the region. Doing so would be detrimental to America’s economy and national security, while potentially silencing American Arctic communities. At this moment America faces a choice: It can either support responsible Arctic energy development, or it can risk losing its seat at the global Arctic table.