FLOOR SPEECH: Introduction of Senate Arctic Caucus

Mr. President, I have come to the Floor today to invite each member of the Senate to join me in embracing a new opportunity before our nation – our Arctic Opportunity.

On April 25, 2015, the United States will assume the chair of the Arctic Council – the intergovernmental forum for the eight nations with territory inside the Arctic Circle.  Those are Canada, Denmark/Greenland, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and by virtue of Alaska, us – the United States. 

The Arctic Council also includes six non-voting permanent participant groups representing the indigenous people of the Arctic and 32 observer entities, of which 12 are non-Arctic nations such as France, Germany, the United Kingdom, China and Japan.  It is impressive to see the growth in the number of non-Arctic nations seeking observer status – at the 2013 Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Sweden, six nations were admitted with many others expressing interest. 

It is also interesting to note that with the admission of China, all five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council [China, France, Russia, UK, US] are now members or observers of the Arctic Council.  Also represented are eight of the world’s ten largest economies based on GDP – an indicator of the level of importance the world ascribes to the Arctic.

The Arctic is notable within the international community from an economic perspective as shipping lanes open up, additional areas become accessible for resource development, and tourism is on the rise.  It is notable from a political perspective as the region is not bogged down by the inertia of long-standing disputes and entrenched views that make international cooperation in other regions difficult.  It is instead an area that seeks to promote collaboration and remains a zone of peace.  It is also a region that is writing its history as we speak, and that makes it even more important for the United States to take the lead in guiding international policy decisions relating to the Arctic.

That leadership begins with us – here in the Senate.  It is why Senator Angus King and I are starting the new Senate Arctic Caucus, with a mission to convene conversations among Members on defense, science, energy, commerce, trade, and maritime affairs in the Arctic region, to raise awareness of the importance of the Arctic, and to advance a coordinated investment in infrastructure that will benefit Americans, including those who live in the Arctic.   

Each member should have, or will be receiving, an invitation to join this Caucus along with a breakdown of your State’s exports to the Arctic region, demonstrating why the Arctic matters to all 50 states in the Union.

[Mr./Madam] President, ten years ago I started an “Arctic awareness” campaign to get more people to pay attention to the region.  It started out pretty simply – with a series of Arctic questions at the nomination hearing for Condoleezza Rice to be Secretary of State.  And I can state with conviction that in 2005 the State Department was not prepared to discuss these issues.

I cannot claim full credit, but fast forward a few years and it was heartwarming to see Hillary Clinton become the first Secretary State to participate in an Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting.  She traveled to Nuuk, Greenland in 2011 and Secretary Kerry joined the 2013 meeting in Kiruna, Sweden.  Now, in 2015 Secretary Kerry will again participate in this year’s meeting in Canada where the Arctic Council Chairmanship will be handed over to the United States.

It is safe to say that Arctic awareness is now at an all-time high.  Unfortunately, our level of investment has not matched the interest.  From expensive icebreakers to the basic task of charting the Arctic and providing navigational aids, we have failed to make the necessary investments needed to realize the benefits of being an Arctic nation and to promote our leadership in the region.

Meanwhile our neighbors, Russia to the West and Canada to the East, continue with their aggressive national plans, combined with state investment, to develop Arctic resources and advance commerce in the North.

Their plans are helping to create jobs and economic growth in areas facing extraordinary challenges.  Even non-Arctic nations are embracing the opportunities that come with diminished polar sea ice.  They’re reaping the transit benefits and moving ahead with resource exploration and development activities.  This activity will continue whether the United States engages or not.

It is my hope that we will engage and commit the necessary resources to make the Arctic a national priority.  I will soon be introducing legislation to develop a solid foundation and building blocks for that investment, including a focus on obtaining accurate data for charting the Arctic.  Right now we have more detailed maps of the surface of Mars than we do of the Arctic.  The least we can do is assess the accuracy of Arctic weather and water forecasting, look at the status of our Sea Ice analysis and forecast services, and analyze gaps in Arctic weather and sea ice observing networks in the U.S. Arctic region.

I am embarking on an “Arctic Opportunity” campaign to convince the rest of the United States that the Arctic should be a national priority.  I cordially invite every member of this chamber to join our new Arctic Caucus, and look forward to discussing the United States’ Arctic policy with each of you in the weeks and months ahead, and as we move to seize our Arctic opportunity.