Sen. Murkowski: Congress Must Pay Greater Attention to Arctic

Sen. Murkowski: Congress Must Pay Greater Attention to Arctic lisa murkowski sits in hearing Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, listens during the Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill on April 28, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Bill O'Leary/Getty Images)

By Brian Freeman | Tuesday, 04 May 2021 11:47 AM

Congress must pay greater attention to the Arctic as the opening of new sea routes and easier access to oil, gas, and critical minerals in the region due to environmental changes threatens to turn the peaceful area into a conflict zone, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski wrote in the May edition of The Foreign Service Journal.

"Many countries, including the United States, are turning to their militaries and antagonistic rhetoric to safeguard their interests in the region and make their intentions known," leading many to question if the Arctic can remain peaceful, Murkowski wrote.

The Republican senator insisted that the Arctic can remain peaceful, but admitted it would be a challenge.

She said "it will require the U.S. Congress to pay greater attention to the region. It will require our executive branch, along with businesses and corporations, to invest in infrastructure and expand connectivity. It will require us to maintain our energy independence and reverse growing mineral dependence from countries such as China. And it will require us to exercise serious and dedicated Arctic diplomacy."

Murkowski wrote that she supported an increased American military presence in the region, because "diplomacy works best with the backing of a strong military."

However, she stressed that the military "cannot be the first tool of diplomacy, especially in the Arctic, where peace has been and still is the norm" and lamented that the U.S. is one of the only Arctic countries without an Arctic ambassador.

The senator emphasized that "both Arctic and non-Arctic countries know the region's resources play a vital role in their futures. Russian President Vladimir Putin believes upward of $30 trillion of wealth exists in the region. Chinese President Xi Jinping sees benefit from Russia's oil and gas, fuel that is shipped from Russia's Kola Peninsula along the Northern Sea Route, through the Bering Sea, to the Chinese coast. … There is no question as to why the Russian military had such a large presence in the Bering Sea last summer, nor any wonder why China calls itself 'near-Arctic.'"

Due to the recognition by many nations of the increased importance of the Arctic, Murkowski wrote that the U.S. must also treat it that way.

She stressed that "I tirelessly advocate for establishing Arctic leadership and expect the current and subsequent administrations to build on what previous administrations have started."

She specifically recommended that "the Arctic Executive Steering Committee be reestablished … that a senior adviser for the Arctic report to the president's special envoy for climate — because one cannot craft and execute actionable climate policy without considering the Arctic, and one cannot address the broad and interrelated aspects of climate without addressing the realities of resource extraction."

She added that the U.S. "must be prepared to shape the contours of a future Arctic that takes into account the equities of all Arctic peoples and reflects the norms, values and interests of the United States and like-minded nations" in order to keep the region peaceful.

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