ArCticles - Arctic Centre Papers

An Assessment of US Chairmanship of the Arctic Council

Kamrul Hossain & Harsh Barala
8.5.2017

The United States (US) is soon due to hand over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council (AC) to Finland. Thus far, the two-year US chairmanship has been successful, though it is important to learn how the Trump Administration views the future of Arctic engagement. This article explores some of the highlights of the US Arctic strategy and US achievements during the chairmanship of the AC.

Until the last decade, the Arctic has been largely ignored in US policy. The year 2009, immediately before President George W. Bush left office, saw the adoption of the so-called 2009 Presidential Directive. The Directive highlighted six priority policy points, the most important being the US’s national security interests. In addition, the policy also paid significant attention to the protection of the Arctic environment and its biological resources; sustainable development; the strengthening of institutional and regional cooperation, for example, via the Arctic Council; the promotion of scientific research; and the empowerment of indigenous Arctic communities.

These policy goals gained momentum after they were reinforced by a new US Arctic strategy – the National Strategy for the Arctic Region – which was endorsed in May of 2013. This new strategy provided a future roadmap for the Arctic region. In order to actualize the roadmap, an implementation plan was adopted in January of 2014. The importance of the Arctic region for the US was further increased after President Obama visited Alaska in 2015. He was the first sitting US President to do so. On his visit, Obama highlighted the true impacts of climate change, which affect the Arctic and the entire globe.These developments suggest a clear shift in US policy toward positive Arctic engagement, from the mere consideration of national security interests to greater involvement with other Arctic nations, and the role of the AC in this endeavor has been highlighted. The US chairmanship of the AC, which was assumed in 2015 for a two-year period, has embraced many of the highlighted policy points.

Because the chairmanship is being handed over to Finland this month and the Trump Administration took office earlier this year, it is important to see how the US has performed during its AC chairmanship and how it may deal with the Arctic in the future. To provide such an assessment, this brief article explores some of the highlights of the US Arctic strategy and US achievements during the chairmanship of the AC.

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Kamrul Hossain

Associate Professor in the field of international law at the Arctic Centre, University of Lapland. Over the years Kamrul has extensively published in all areas of Arctic governance (climate change; marine environment, maritime de-limitation and law of the sea; human activities in the Arctic such as shipping and resource extractions including mining and, onshore and offshore oil and gas developments; marine bio-diversity conservation; and human rights and human security dimensions applicable to the Arctic) highlighting legal, institutional and policy perspectives.

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Harsh Barala

Harsh Barala is a Master’s of Law student at the University of Lapland and a current intern with the Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law, Arctic Centre. A fairly new researcher in the field with a will to strengthen the enforcement of Environmental laws all around the world and specially in the arctic. Areas of interest include international criminal law and human rights law. His main focus in law research is bridging the gap between theory and practice in law.

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