Murkowski Stresses Importance of America’s Arctic Role
Calls for Continued Efforts to Increase U.S. Presence
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who recently attended the Arctic Council Ministerial in Rovaniemi, Finland and the Arctic Circle Assembly forum in Shanghai, China spoke on the Senate floor to urge her colleagues to place a greater focus on the Arctic and ensure that the United States steps into its leadership role. While Senator Murkowski acknowledged recent progress, such as Congress appropriating full funding for the design and construction of a new heavy Polar Security Cutter (AKA icebreaker), including funding for long lead-time materials for a second Polar Security Cutter, she stressed the need for the United States to engage in the Arctic.
“I continue to believe it is critical for us – those in the administration, for us here in Congress – to actively engage on the Arctic. We have a lot at stake. The region has a lot at stake. And we need to establish sound policy that will take advantage of all of our opportunities and address our challenges, all while ensuring that we are working to the benefit of the local residents.”
During her remarks, Senator Murkowski drew attention to the recent Arctic Council Ministerial meeting, made up of eight Arctic nations, including six Permanent Participant groups that represent the indigenous populations in the region and Alaska. Murkowski highlighted areas of cooperation and agreement not yet widely reported, including a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Arctic Economic Council to provide a framework for cooperation and to facilitate collaboration between the entities.
“All eight nations signed a Joint Ministerial Statement, not a declaration, but a statement which reaffirmed their commitment to maintain peace, stability, and cooperation in the Arctic. The Joint Statement recognized the diversity of the inhabitants of the region and the rights of the Arctic indigenous peoples. It also reaffirmed the commitment to sustainable development and the protection of the Arctic environment.”
Senator Murkowski echoed U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s remarks before the Arctic Council Ministerial, that the growing reality is that “today’s Arctic is not the Arctic of generations past.”
“We want those buzzwords that are synonymous with the region to continue to apply today and well into the future. And these are words like: cooperation, collaboration, and calling the Arctic a zone of peace. But greater accessibility to the region and its resources is bringing increased international awareness. And you have seen not only a level of interest but you've seen a level of investment activity and clearly competing interests. Fiber optic cable and satellite coverage are bringing global connectivity to small, remote, and isolated communities, but at the same time affecting the culture and values of the indigenous populations. We’re seeing opportunities for tourism. Cruise ships with thousands of passengers are pulling up to small coastal communities, which certainly boost their economy. But think about the impact when you have 1,000 people who may want to disembark into a community that doesn't have that infrastructure.”
Murkowski closed her remarks by encouraging her colleagues in Congress to pay greater attention to what is happening in the region, to make the Arctic a priority in our policymaking efforts, and to help ensure that America – which is an Arctic nation by virtue of Alaska – catches up to all the others who are already investing there.
Background: Senator Murkowski is considered the leading expert among her Congressional colleagues on Arctic issues and has worked continuously to raise awareness of the Arctic. At the beginning of the 114th Congress, Senator Murkowski and Senator Angus King (I-ME) formed the Senate Arctic Caucus, to advance issues important to the Arctic and to the people who live there. Murkowski is the U.S. Representative to the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region. Murkowski also led the charge to recapitalize and expand America’s fleet of Polar Security Cutters (AKA icebreakers).
In April, Senator Murkowski introduced two pieces of Arctic related legislation, the Shipping and Environmental Arctic Leadership Act (SEAL Act) and the Arctic Policy Act (APA). The SEAL Act addresses increasing shipping and maritime traffic by establishing a congressionally charted seaway development corporation in the Arctic. Specifically, the bill establishes a corporation that will develop a voluntary tariff model—consistent with customary international law– to help fund the infrastructural and environmental demands of safe and reliable shipping in the Arctic Region. The APA takes steps to increase local and indigenous voices in federal science and policy in the Arctic by aiming to improve coordination and collaboration across agencies to advance an integrated plan for the Arctic, including establishing an Advisory Committee with local and tribal input in shaping national Arctic priorities.