U.S. focuses on ‘emerging challenges’ in Arctic

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shared the U.S. vision of the Arctic’s future at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Rovaniemi, Finland, on May 6.

Pompeo emphasized close cooperation with U.S. partners on emerging challenges in the region, including the ambitions of non-Arctic nations.

“The region has become an arena for power and for competition. And the eight Arctic states must adapt to this new future,” Pompeo said.

The Arctic Council comprises eight nations: the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.

Pompeo said all nations — including non-Arctic nations — have the right to engage in peaceful trade in the region. However, he said,  “The United States is a believer in free markets. We know from experience that free and fair competition, open, by the rule of law, produces the best outcomes. But all the parties in the marketplace have to play by those same rules. Those who violate those rules should lose their rights to participate in that marketplace. Respect and transparency are the price of admission.”

Threats to Arctic stability: China and Russia

China holds “observer” status at the Arctic Council but is not an Arctic nation. China is nonetheless building critical infrastructure from Canada to Siberia and has plans to strengthen its military presence in the Arctic.

Pompeo warned that China’s “pattern of aggressive behavior elsewhere” should inform Arctic Council nations’ view of how China might treat the Arctic, including its history of ensnaring nations with debt and corruption, substandard infrastructure construction, militarization of the sea, and environmental degradation.

Mike Pompeo at lectern (State Dept./Ron Przysucha)
Secretary Pompeo speaks at the Arctic Council meeting in Rovaniemi, Finland, on May 6. (State Dept./Ron Przysucha)

“Do we want the fragile Arctic environment exposed to the same ecological devastation caused by China’s fishing fleet in the seas off its coast or unregulated industrial activity in its own country?” he asked.

Pompeo also expressed concern over Russia’s claim to the international waters of the Northern Sea Route as its own, illegally demanding that other nations request permission to pass or face military assault.

“These provocative actions are part of a pattern of aggressive Russian behavior here in the Arctic,” he said, noting Russia’s rapid and vast military expansion in the region.

U.S. supports transparent, sustainable economic growth and research

“American leadership stands in stark contrast with the Chinese and Russian models,” Pompeo said. He noted that when the U.S. chaired the Arctic Council, it focused on improving suicide prevention among indigenous youth and funding new sanitation projects in rural villages.

The United States is committed to maintaining its environmentally responsible actions in the Arctic, Pompeo said, as it did when it secured the Central Arctic Fisheries Agreement — “one of the first times in history that a region banded together to preemptively solve a threat to environmental resources.” He also noted the U.S. reduction in carbon dioxide and black carbon emissions.

“The United States is achieving our reductions the American way,” said Pompeo, “through scientific work, through technology, through building out safe and secure energy infrastructure, and through our economic growth, and doing it in a way that doesn’t stifle development with burdensome regulations that only create more risk to the environment.”