A Discussion on National Security Risks in the Changing Arctic

Thursday, June 9, 2016
Lucas Jackson/Reuters
Mark F. Brzezinski

Executive Director, Arctic Executive Steering Committee, The White House

Robert J. Papp Jr.

Special Representative to the Arctic, U.S. Department of State

Lisa Murkowski

Chairman, Energy and Natural Resources Committee, U.S. Senate (R-AK)

Scott G. Borgerson

Chief Executive Officer, CargoMetrics

In conversation with Scott G. Borgerson, CEO of CargoMetrics, Mark F. Brzenzinski, Executive Director of The White House Arctic Executive Steering Committee, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Robert J. Papp Jr., Special Representative to the Arctic, U.S. State Department, consider the key issues affecting the Arctic in light of its rapidly growing environmental pressures and examine how a changing Arctic impacts the international community. They discuss the strategic issues in addressing energy security and national security in a region that is facing so much uncertainty. Reflecting on a growing public awareness of the issues facing the Arctic, the speakers explain their positions on what the policy goals in the region should be going forward. 

BORGERSON: OK, good morning, everyone. Thank you for coming to the Council’s meeting on the Arctic.

It’s really terrific, and a great honor, to have three of the country’s—our nation’s most important leaders on this subject: Admiral Papp, Ambassador Brzezinski, and Senator Murkowski. Their full bios are in your program, so I won’t repeat them for you here.

Our plan, like most Council meetings, is to have a 30-minute conversation, and then we’ll open it up to the floor for members to ask questions. I’d like to point out for this room that this meeting is on the record, not off the record—on the record, and this is being streamed live on the Council’s website, and there are many people watching, not just in D.C. but from around the world, to this meeting. So please keep that in mind: our audience is much larger than this room for this conversation.

And this meeting is coming at a very important time for not just the United States in the Arctic, but the Arctic. Yesterday’s Washington Post ran an article about sea ice melt in May, which was not just historic, it was off the charts in terms of setting records of the rate at which the ice is melting. Today’s Washington Post had an article about how hot Alaska is. The whole Earth is warming, but it was the hottest spring in the history of Alaska, I think the article said 8 degrees warmer than average this spring, and Alaskans are seeing really historic warmer temperatures.

The U.S. is chair of the Arctic Council, and we have with us former Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Papp, who is the—our country’s first special representative to the Arctic, as well as a person chairing an executive steering committee at the White House showing the seriousness with which our country is taking this moment, and of our leadership of the Arctic Council, and also sort of this historic moment in the region itself. We have an Alaskan with us, who’s been a leader on this issue much longer than any of us on the panel who aren’t Alaskans, and knows this issue closely, and has been an advocate for not just Alaskans but American foreign policy in the Arctic for many years.

And when you add in the Law of the Sea, with what’s happening in the South China Seas (sic) and how that might relate to the Arctic Ocean, Asian interests in the Arctic, new members in the Arctic Council, China sending icebreakers through, cruise ships coming this summer transiting the Northwest Passage, Shell and oil and gas, and a long list of other things, it is a really interesting and unique time. And I would add maybe just as a footnote to that, the Council on Foreign Relations is becoming more involved in the Arctic, which I’m pleased about as a former fellow here, having worked on the Arctic before. And we have a task force not related to this meeting, but that has convened, that endeavors to make recommendations for U.S. foreign policy in the Arctic for the next administration.

So, with that introduction, if I may ask the first question to you, Ambassador Brzezinski. Give us your view, if you would, please, of how foreign policy is going in the Arctic, and specifically how you define national security in the Arctic, if you would.

BRZEZINSKI: Thank you, Scott. And thank you to the Council on Foreign Relations for hosting this session, and for also convening a task force on U.S. policy on the Arctic. It is absolutely timely, given the changes in the Arctic, for a clear-headed assessment on the international ramifications of the Arctic issue.

And defining national security on the Arctic, I take the broad approach. Of course, national security as it pertains to the Arctic focuses on domain awareness, what others are doing. We’re not indifferent or passive to that. But it also involves energy security—energy security for the world, but also for the people of the Arctic. It involves food security—food security as it pertains to subsistence communities in the Arctic. Water and sanitation is one of the central organizing challenges in rural Alaska, access to clean water. So I define national security as it pertains to the Arctic broadly.

And I want to emphasize that the Arctic is simultaneously a strategic challenge and a human challenge—a strategic challenge pertaining to the different definitions of security that I just mentioned, but also a—human challenges. Because there are millions of people—native and tribal people, and Americans, Scandinavians, Russians—who live in the Arctic area whose context is changing dramatically because of the impact of climate change. It’s important for us as an Arctic nation to stay ahead of that.

And I’m proud to work with my two colleagues on the podium here, Senator Murkowski and Admiral Papp, because there really in the last year or so has been an ascension of focus on the Arctic issue in the federal family, covering the range of issues that pertain to the Arctic—native and tribal health, water and sanitation, energy, state and local, international, and in other dimensions as well.

BORGERSON: Perfect. And I should have mentioned in my introductory comments—and I’m dying to ask—President Obama I do believe was the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Arctic while in office. Is that correct?

BRZEZINSKI: That is correct. I was actually really surprised, Scott, when I began this job last August, that no previous American president had put his two feet on Arctic soil. And the president went to the Arctic last September for several days. Three days was the timing of his trip in total. That’s expensive real estate on the presidential calendar.

But he went there for two reasons. First of all, to bear witness to what is happening there with the people of the Arctic. And so he went up to northern Alaska, to the Arctic area, to bear witness firsthand.

But the higher meaning of the president’s visit to the Arctic was that the looming crisis in the Arctic is a tangible preview of the looming crisis of the global condition. Meaning this: The Arctic is a foreshadow, is an augury, to what will happen elsewhere. It’s heating up more quickly than anywhere else on Earth. But coastal erosion, changing weather patterns, resilience issues are what will affect us all looking forward, and it’s important for us to get ahead of that.

BORGERSON: Thank you.

Admiral Papp, how is chairmanship of the U.S. Arctic Council going?

PAPP: I think it’s going extremely well. Almost all our objectives are being met. We have just gone over the halfway point.

We started out with what I have referred to as a very balanced and ambitious program. I didn’t come up with those terms myself, although I did want a balanced program. I wanted something that would bring all interests in, whether you’re an environmentalist, involved in security, or industry. We wanted everybody to see something within our chairmanship program that would draw their interest and get them involved. And I think we’ve been successful there.

The ambitious part, everybody that I spoke to as we briefed our chairmanship program, one of their first comments was, wow, that’s rather ambitious—except for one person: John Kerry. He’s always asked me, is there something more that we can be doing? Can’t we find other things to be done? And so he’s been great to push us along.

We are well long into our program. But I think more importantly, going back to something you just asked about, while we had our chairmanship program which involved about a dozen or more individual projects, we had some strategic goals.

One thing was to make the Arctic Council a stronger international forum. And I think we’re well on our way doing that, reviewing our procedures, strengthening the Secretariat in Tromsø, and doing a review of our observers.

The second thing strategically, we wanted to introduce long-term objectives. It’s my opinion that all too often—and it probably comes because I’ve always been involved in working strategic issues and looking into the future—the Arctic Council focused on that two-year chairmanship. At the end of two years, we do a declaration, we raise the flags and cheer the accomplishments of the last two years, and then you start over with a new chairmanship. So we want something that’s going to transcend our chairmanship, and we’ve been working very closely with Finland—with the next chair—to make sure that we have ongoing projects.

But the most important strategic goal of the chairmanship is to raise awareness of the Arctic. And not so much for the rest of the world, because I think the rest of the world gets it, but to raise awareness within the United States of America. Because, as I’ve said many times, we are detached from our Arctic. The Alaskans understand it very well, but the rest of the country really doesn’t think about the United States being an Arctic nation. And I think through the GLACIER Conference, the president’s significant investment of time going to that conference—and not only taking that time, but I can tell you, I’ve spoken to senior officials in the White House after his visit that said that the president said that event was worthy of hyperbolic statements, and the good news within the White House when the president came back was that it was now his number-one priority. The bad news was it’s now his number-one priority, because anything that we do in the Arctic, as Senator Murkowski is probably going to tell you, is new business. And when you’re in a no-growth budget cycle, anything that you take on either has to displace something else in the budget, or you got to find new resources to pay for it.

BORGERSON: That’s a perfect segue to Alaska. We are an Arctic nation because of our largest state. Senator Murkowski, share with us, as you might, sort of Alaskans’ worldview on this Arctic change that’s happening, and if you wouldn’t mind also speaking a little bit to your ideas and your thinking about energy policy in particular.

MURKOWSKI: Well, thank you for the opportunity to be with you, and to those here at CSIS (sic).

You know, I get frustrated at times, and I know that we’ve had an opportunity to air some of my frustration, that the rest of the country doesn’t appreciate what the role is that we play—not Alaska as the state, but the United States as that Arctic nation. And so, just as Admiral Papp has outlined, and Ambassador Brzezinski, the awareness that has been created truly within the past year, 18 months I think has been not only recognized, but appreciated by Alaskans, who have said, good, it’s about time. It’s about time everybody started paying attention to us.

And some of that frustration has been, well, why are you just looking northward now? There have been changes that we have seen in the Arctic, in the northern parts of the country, for years now, and everyone is just now paying attention. What has taken you so long?

So a couple—a couple points to raise here this morning. I’m asked if Alaskans are worried. Are they concerned? Are they—are they paying attention to what we’re seeing with the changing environment around our state? And you point out some of the recent analysis in terms of temperatures and the significance of that. We come from a—from a colder climate, where it’s dark a lot of the year, and we joke about the fact that, well, you know, I’m OK with it warming a few degrees because it’s been pretty darn cold around here. But people like myself, who appreciate winter probably more than anything—I’m a skier—I’m not—I’m not so good with the fact that we are seeing warmer temperatures in the wintertime that are—that are changing the way that Alaskans really operate.

You think about things like winter sports. The Iditarod is probably the most well-known of our wintertime sports activities. And our reality is that, at the beginning of the 1,100-mile race between Anchorage and Nome, to start things off this year, we were actually looking to bring snow down from Fairbanks by railcar to start the race. Kind of a crazy notion, but that was the reality that we were dealing with because our precipitation levels have been notably altered as we’re seeing the warmer temperatures.

It's having an impact on our native people in terms of the subsistence foods that they are used to. You’re seeing different—you’re seeing different migration patterns with caribou or moose as browse is changing. We’re seeing impact to the fisheries, assumably because there’s changes in water temperature that impact the timing of when fish are coming.

And so there is—there is—there is a disruption that we are seeing. It is real. It is tangible. And so the issue for those who are living in it is, how do you—how do you adapt to these changing conditions? And when this—you know, when you’re in a society where you’ve very—almost nomadic and moving around and following the animals, following the fish, you can—you can adjust. But any more—the communities are anchored by an airstrip, anchored by a school that has been put in place, and so now when then fish are not there or the game is not there, you have—you have communities that are struggling in significant ways. So the impacts that we’re seeing in Alaska are real, and the extent to which our communities, our people are able to adapt is an issue that we are dealing with.

You threw out where we are with energy policy, so that’s a big jump. We are a state that is blessed with abundant and extraordinary resources, and our challenge has been how you can access those resources in a way that is cost-efficient; that is consistent with good, strong environmental stewardship; and that works to alleviate some of the—some of the issues that our people face: paying some of the highest costs for energy in the country. I’ve got some interns that are with me today who were making calls around to various villages around the state to find out what people are paying for diesel and gasoline and home heating oil. And I asked, well, what’s the highest price that anybody’s paying right now. Nine bucks a gallon.


MURKOWSKI: You know, that’s significant when you are—significant when you’re anywhere, much less in a subsistence economy and resources are limited.

BORGERSON: As a U.S. senator, I have to ask, as the Senate is the one that gives us advice and consent to treaties, what are the prospects for the Law of the Sea Convention, which is the treaty that governs the Arctic Ocean, first? And if I—if you might, also, the Senate also has the nation’s checkbook, and icebreakers require money to build. So could you give us maybe quickly where are we in being one of the last nations with a coastline not to join the treaty? And where are we in our icebreaker commitments?

MURKOWSKI: I wish that I could say that we were closer to ratification of Law of the Sea Treaty. This is something that I have long supported.

When Secretary Kerry was Senator Kerry and head of the Foreign Relations Committee, we were working—I think we had—we’d actually moved the ball a little bit in gaining the necessary support. It has not been high on the priority list of the Foreign Relations Committee, unfortunately. It is something that I think—and I look to these people here in this room. It is something that the Senate needs to be pushed on.

You’re not going to see it happen this year. I can—there’s not a lot of things that I’m willing to place money on, but this one is one you’re not going to see happen this year. But I do think that it is something that we need to get advanced up on the priority list.

BORGERSON: I agree with you. And—

MURKOWSKI: Well, let’s work on that, because it’s a big deal.

BORGERSON: All right, yeah. And, icebreakers?

MURKOWSKI: Icebreakers. Good news. Good news. I’m actually leaving here and going to yet another Appropriations markup this morning. But just now 10 days ago we in the Appropriations Committee were able to advance $1 billion for construction of an icebreaker. This is something that we have been pushing for a long, long time. Through the appropriations process we’ve been getting, you know, 4 million (dollars) here, 7 million (dollars) there. And you joke and you say, well, that doesn’t even get you a porthole. The significance of the president coming to Alaska last year, and announcing the acceleration of construction, and moving towards an icebreaker fleet—we’ve got to do more than one in order to constitute a fleet, but we’re making headway. And that is significant for us.

BORGERSON: Terrific.

We’re about to open up to the floor for questions. But, Ambassador Brzezinski, we haven’t mentioned Russia yet. Russia has a big Arctic coastline, major Arctic power and player. The issue before last in Foreign Affairs was dedicated to our relationship with Russia, which is nuanced and complicated. Help us, if you might, understand how Russia fits into U.S. Arctic policy. Maybe, Admiral Papp, you might be able to add a thought to that. And then how do you think about maybe best practices of other Arctic nations, what they’re getting right in the Arctic, and maybe lessons learned that we want to pay attention to as a country, so that we don’t make some of the mistakes that others might have made there.

BRZEZINSKI: Well, our work with Russia in the Arctic focuses on science and research, and we remain proactively collaborative with the Russians, and are welcoming them in terms of spearheading specific initiatives within the Arctic Council. For example, there is a Science and Cooperation Task Force within the Arctic Council, the Arctic Council being constituted of the eight members—eight countries above the Arctic Circle: the five Nordic countries, Canada, Russia, and the United States. We are spearheading a science and cooperation agreement with Russia, and I am very—I am anticipating success within our chairmanship on that. That is a very good example of a tangible product for the American people and the people of the world from the Arctic Council, a consensus-based organization, and I hope that we see more of it.

We share the same challenges in the Arctic with Russia and with other countries in the world. It’s adapting to the impacts of climate change for our communities there, and the link between that change and our own backyards and the rest of the world, and the ability of our communities in the Arctic to adapt to those changes. I actually am hopeful for more of a shared and—you know, shared learning between the countries of the Arctic regarding what we know about the Arctic, lessons learned, and so forth.

I want to emphasize that, you know, we have a president who’s personally interested in the Arctic. And since coming back from Alaska, he has asked for updates on what have we done lately in terms of our commitments and promises in the Arctic. And we are—one of the goals of the Arctic Executive Steering Committee in the White House is to drive forward milestones and accomplishments pertaining to those commitments and promises, whether it’s EPA water and sanitation grants in rural Alaska, or USDA high-cost energy grants, and so forth.

A capstone of the Obama administration’s Arctic approach in 2016 will be that the White House will convene, for the first time ever, a meeting of science ministers from around the world on the topic of Arctic science. There’s never been a meeting of science ministers from the countries around the world on what is happening in the Arctic, and how we can develop a collective and joint approach. That will occur on September 28th, I’m very pleased to say. The White House is inviting not just the Arctic countries, but countries that have shown a significant interest in investing in Arctic science. So we’re inviting 20-plus countries to this event to—and it’ll be a working ministerial, which will include Russia. And we very much are seeking proposals and ideas from these countries. It’s a very open-minded approach. It’s not a summit in which we, the Americans, are simply saying here are our deliverables, you foreign countries come bring your money and join us. Instead, it’s please bring us your ideas and your proposals. And that includes Russia as well.

And the thesis of that, as it pertains to Arctic science, is that science is at the foundation of the challenges we face there, whether it’s the challenges of subsistence communities—energy, water, sanitation—and a collective approach is the most effective approach.

BORGERSON: Yeah. Great.

Admiral Papp, do you want to add a thought to that?

PAPP: I would, because this whole issue with Russia I think is one of the most important things that we have associated with the Arctic Council.

And for those of you who may not be entirely familiar with the Arctic Council, I refer to it sometimes as a coalition of volunteers. Obviously, it’s a small group, the eight countries that are within the Arctic region. But it’s an international forum. Everything that’s done within the Arctic Council is done based on the consensus of all eight countries. So if we want to admit another observer, you have to have the consensus of all eight countries. If you want to get your chairmanship program approved, you have to have the consensus of all eight countries. And as Papp comes into the job as special representative we have just placed sanctions, rightly so, on Russia for their aggression in the Ukraine. So we don’t have a normal situation. And there is tension.

But one of the things that Secretary Kerry and the president have stressed is we need the Arctic to be a region of peace and stability. The Arctic Council works towards that. And as we negotiated our chairmanship program, perhaps the most important visit I did was my visit to Moscow. And there were literally people in the city who said I should not go to Moscow. But the secretary of state and the president decided it was important for this program.

And what I would say is I have met some very reasoned, sober, professional individuals that work the Arctic issues within Russia. Their senior Arctic official gave us the most thorough critique of our chairmanship program of any of the other countries. Gave us a lot of suggestions for improvement. And Vladimir Barbin has been one of our best partners on the Arctic Council in terms of moving our chairmanship program forward. So while we rightly hold their feet to the fire for activities in Ukraine, what I’ve learned—I’m not career diplomat, as everybody knows—but I’m a quick learner. And what I have learned in the State Department is you can take stands on principle or you can do things that re in the best interests of your country.

Now, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There are gray areas. There are certain things, like the activities in the Ukraine, where we take a definite stand on principle. It’s a black or white issue. And then there are other things, frankly, we need the Russian cooperation for within the world that are in our country’s best interests. So there are gray areas there. The Arctic is one of those areas that is black or white. And we have great cooperation going on there. And I think that perceptions of their activities in the Arctic are a little overblown and prone to rhetoric. And hopefully we’ll get into some of that in the Q&A.

BORGERSON: Or increasingly blue, with all the ocean now that you see instead of ice.

PAPP: Or blue.

BORGERSON: Yeah. Just anecdotally, quickly, as relates to Russian sort of participation in collaborative efforts in diplomacy, I was lucky enough to have the fun opportunity to co-found the Arctic Circle NGO with the president of Iceland and Alice Rogoff Rubenstein, and a few others. And it was a cocktail napkin a few years ago. We now fill the Harpa opera hall in Reykjavik with thousands of people from around the world. And the spirit of it is a lot of fun. I think everybody up here has attended. And Russia every year, including the Chinese, and Singapore, and South Koreans, and Japanese, and surprising people you might not expect, send big delegations, led usually by Ambassador Chilingarov. And the spirit of the interaction with them has really been quite lovely. And you all are invited this October. ArcticCircle.org. It’s a great party focused on the Arctic in Reykjavik.

So we’ll shift to the floor now. If we could start with Esther, please, and I believe there’s a microphone that’ll roam. Thank you.

Q: Good morning. First, I’d like to thank the distinguished panel for raising this issue, and for all of us for being here and those online. This is so important now. My name is Esther Brimmer. I have the honor of being the project director for the Task Force on the Arctic. And so very much welcome this session and the expertise and the interest of all those in the room. I’m also formerly of the State Department as assistant secretary for international organization, so I will ask two diplomatic questions.

The first is, to ask about another important Arctic partner, Canada, our close neighbor and ally. And indeed, we’ve had a long-standing issue about how we think about the northwest passage or the Arctic Archipelago. What would you see as the next steps to addressing this important issue with our close neighbor? And secondly, a question about the Arctic Council. Of course, the Arctic Council has benefited from the consensus environment. It’s a very special organization, perhaps unique among our international organizations. Yet there are issues that are not handled there. Of course, traditional security issues are not raised in this forum, for very clear reasons. However, are there other places, other fora in which you think these issues should be raised? Thank you.

BORGERSON: Great. Thank you. Ambassador Brzezinski, would you speak to—because we were just talking about, actually, Canada and the northwest passage. Admiral Papp, would you pick up the Arctic Council, please?

BRZEZINSKI: Thank you. Thank you, Esther, for that question.

With the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, we explored making the Arctic a place where both countries could advance a joint leadership model, as we headed towards the Justin Trudeau state visit in March. And we were incredibly pleased to see that the Privy Council in Canada absolutely embraced an ascension of the U.S.-Canadian relationship, really, looking back historically, more than at any time since Mackenzie King was prime minister during World War II, around the Arctic issue, around energy, around the environment.

And an extremely substantial joint statement was released that was subsequently joined by the five Nordic leaders during their state visit in May, which commits six of our Arctic neighbors, and ourselves, so seven of the eight Arctic countries, to a principled approach on commercial activity in the Arctic in the future to ensure that it’s consistent with environmental sustainability criteria. That is an important development. And the starting point, the anchor for that, was the Canadian government’s full embrace on the Arctic.

So I feel—so I thank you for asking that, because, Scott, you raised the question of working with Russia, which is one opportunity. A significant additional opportunity is working through our very special neighborhood relationship that we have with Canada on the Arctic. And that’s what we’re doing to do as we run through the tape in the—towards the end of this administration.

BORGERSON: And the new Canadian prime minister just visited Washington, D.C.

BRZEZINSKI: That’s right.

BORGERSON: And was Arctic part of the agenda with the discussion with the president?

BRZEZINSKI: The Arctic was part of the agenda. It was part of the discussion with the president. And a joint statement was released by both countries, committing both to a new leadership model, zeroing in on milestones pertaining to energy, the environment in the Arctic. And now we are seeking—because it’s one thing to announce these milestones, another thing to produce accountability to achieve them. And that’s one the thing the president has been very clear. We’re not just going to announce principles. We’re going to march forward and achieve milestones. And so that’s what we’re zeroing in on right now.

BORGERSON: Great. Admiral Papp, the Arctic Council question?

PAPP: Yes, we get plenty of suggestions on how we might change the Arctic Council coming from many of the think tanks here in Washington, D.C. And most frequently the issue that’s suggested to us is that we should bring in—and let me clarify terms, lest there is anybody that doesn’t understand. When we talk security, everybody’s mind goes to what I call national defense. So we look at the broader issues of security—economic, environment, energy, food, et cetera. And national defense—if you read the national security strategy of the United States—national defense is a portion of that. People want to read defense into it. And what I would say is, in my opinion, that’s the quickest way to break down the Arctic Council, because there are other venues that can handle that.

Now, we look at NATO as being a treaty for collective self-defense. I think you look at it differently when you look at it from Moscow. You look at it from Moscow, and culturally they look at it as being ganged-up against. If the European Union collectively is good for economic issues, and for the collected prosperity of Europe, but if you look at it from Moscow it certainly appears to be economically ganged-up against them. They have that sort of mindset, at least as the way I read it. So if you start bringing those things into the Arctic Council, you start breaking consensus or giving you the potential for losing consensus.

And I would say that when you have a country that has about half the coastline in the Arctic, has probably legitimate claims to huge extended continental shelf, that you need to take their concerns into consideration when you do it. And I think the more you bring defense and other things into—try to bring them into the Arctic Council, you start losing that consensus that is so vitally important to keeping the Arctic a place of peace and stability.

BORGERSON: I should have mentioned this, Professor Brimmer, to please mention your name and your affiliation when you ask your question, if you could. Rob.

Q: Rob Quartel, NTELEX.

I’m sure others have the same question in their mind. If the ice is shrinking, why do we need icebreakers? And I would appreciate you putting that in an economic and strategic context, perspective.

BORGERSON: OK. I think the former commandant of the Coast Guard would be perfect to answer that question. (Laughter.)

PAPP: Yeah. Well, clearly the ice is shrinking. But, I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to scientists, and my own personal observations. And I would say that probably for the next 50 years or so, at least, which I think is fair to project out on and is general the service life of a ship, there’s going to be increased need for ice breakers, because you have an increase in maritime traffic around the Arctic and, potentially by midcentury, through the Arctic. There’s going to continue to be winter sea ice. But people, entrepreneurs, are going to continually stretch and test and push the limits on how—because there is a significant economic advantage to these northern sea routes. That’s why China is up there. This is something that’s been doing on for 500 years, people looking for shorter sea routes.

So in order for countries to live up to their responsibilities for safety and security, assured access to a region that they’re responsible for, and to support the people who live within the region, you have to have ice breakers. The ice is going to be there. And because it breaks up quicker, there’s movement, the ice is actually more dangerous now, because there’s a lot more movement of large flows of ice that you need icebreakers up there to deal with.

BORGERSON: That felt like a softball, Rob. He hit that one. (Laughter.) Ambassador Brzezinski?

BRZEZINSKI: In Washington, you are your budget. And I’m proud that in February the president rolled out a budget proposal that really, for the first time, shows a national imperative on the Arctic, through funding what it will take to build an icebreaker—and it was plural, icebreakers, when the president made the announcement in September in Alaska, and breaking the logjam there. A national imperative pertaining to resilience and coastal erosion and adaptation, $2 billion. A national imperative as it pertains to science—Arctic science.

But I want to emphasize that the Arctic is of a scale and of an expense kind of unseen elsewhere in the world in terms of a place to operate. And there are economic and financial benefits that can be reported out to the American people by working collectively with countries around this world on this challenge, as opposed to just working with ourselves. That’s one of the goals of the White House Arctic Science Ministerial in late September, to develop alignments with governments around the world in a way that captures a range of engagement and a range of expense that can produce economic efficiencies reportable to our people, we hope.

PAPP: I would also add something here. You know, we’re focused on the Arctic today, but the United States has responsibilities in Antarctica as well. We have a scientific mission there that requires a break in to resupply each year which, once again, requires ice breakers.

MURKOWSKI: I was just going to add exactly that. We’re talking Arctic here, that’s the focus, but we have one polar strength icebreaker that’s working in McMurdo now. The useful life, she’s been rehabbed once. There’s probably four to six, maybe stretch it to seven years left in the Polar Star. The Polar Sea is sitting at dock in Seattle. She’s been cannibalized for parts. I don’t think you ever see her back in the water. There’s an effort to try to put her back in too. But our reality is that’s what we have.

You’ll never see—I don’t think you’ll ever see the Polar Star in the Arctic again because of the commitment to do the breakout in Antarctica going forward. You’re going to have a period of eight to 10 years to build a new icebreaker. Do the math there. you got a gap, folks. So when you’re talking about an icebreaker fleet for the United States, you need to recognize what it is that we’re already committed to cover and what it is we need to begin to cover, in a way that is far more aggressive than we’ve ever seen.

BORGERSON: Thank you. For room diversity, let’s go to the back, if we could. Sir. We’ll come back up front afterwards, I promise.

Q: Thanks. My name is Marc Grossman of The Cohen Group. First of all, thank you very much for keeping this on the agenda. It’s a really important thing. And also, for the broad definition of security. I think that’s also extremely important.

I have two questions. One is given the broad definition of security—native peoples, food, agriculture, water, health, safety, energy—how is it that you all are making sure that decisions that are being kept today in places like EPA, that you talked about, Mark, or the Commerce Department, or the Agriculture Department, or the Interior Department, have this national security dimension connected to it? And secondly, I was interested that so far really not very much conversation about the role of the private sector. I know, Admiral Papp, you’ve talked about the need for ports up there in the Arctic, and Senator Murkowski and others. So I’d be interested, one, on how to make sure that people who deciding things today do so with national security on their minds. And secondly, if you see any role in any of this for the private sector. Thank you very much.

BORGERSON: Maybe the first part, Ambassador Brzezinski. How from the White House and the executive branch are you attempting to coordinate that very issue?

BRZEZINSKI: Thank you for that question, Marc. The president created a brand-new government platform at the beginning of 2015 to create a unity of purpose and a shared sense of the challenge and a shared sense of the opportunity on the Arctic issue out of the White House. That’s the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, which I am the executive director of and John Holdren, the president’s science advisor, is the chairman of. As you know, Marc, the Arctic Executive Steering Committee could have been pushed under the National Security Council given the domain awareness and security implications of the Arctic issue. It could have been placed under the National Economic Council in the White House given the resource development and commercial opportunities pertaining to the Arctic.

But it was placed under the science advisor because of the essential foundation of science to all these questions. But its membership consists of 25 agencies and departments of government at the deputy secretary level to really prioritize among all the many things that we could be doing on the Arctic. And we’ve reflected on them, what will be the main ones, and how do they sink under our national strategy for the Arctic region, which President Obama rolled out in 2013. We just rolled out an implementation plan in March of this year, which captures how we are trying to integrate all these various approaches under this national security strategy that we have for the Arctic. So we have a process specifically designed to do this.

And the Arctic Executive Steering Committee’s membership includes agencies like the State Department, and the Defense Department, and the EPA, and the Department of Interior. It’s really one of those unique government platforms that is part domestic and part international. And we are making sure that the departments get out to Alaska. President Obama’s visit to Alaska and the Arctic last September was not meant to be the apex of Washington’s high-level engagement on the Arctic issue. It was meant to be the beginning. Since then we’ve seen Transportation Secretary Foxx, Secretary of Defense Carter, Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew, Secretary of Energy Moniz. And Moniz went up to Oscarville and Bethel in Alaska to bear witness to rural energy needs and innovation there. Secretary Foxx held a roundtable on native transportation issues.

We are making sure that our Cabinet in its entirety engages on this issue. And I believe by the one-year anniversary of the president’s visit in September—this coming September, we will have had, if everything keeps on track, nine of the 18 Cabinet secretaries or their deputies in Alaska or the Arctic. I know that secretary of state will be going to the Arctic, looking to the future, and others as well. And we’re continuing to drive that.

BORGERSON: Senator Murkowski.

MURKOWSKI: Can I just add the Alaska perspective to this? Because as important as it is to have visits from the president, from Cabinet members, we don’t want to be viewed as people that are in this interesting snow globe. We are living, breathing, working people that have inhabited this area—the indigenous peoples have been there for tens of thousands of years. And so use us. We are your experts. And it’s been said, and I repeat it quite often, we’re not the scientists that have the Ph.D.s from all of these academic institutions around the country and around the globe, but we’ve got Ph.D.s in living.

The native people who live and work and raise their family there, the Eskimo whaling commission group that I met with yesterday, their life depends on understanding ice—understanding ice, reading the colors, looking at the consistency, because if they get it wrong they die. And so use us—when I say us, I mean the Alaskan expertise. Rely on traditional knowledge. Allow consultation to be more than a check-the-box exercise. It is truly something where you sit at the table with those who, again, are living and subsisting in a world that is very, very different than what we appreciate here in Washington, D.C.

So part of my task, to your question, is to make sure that the indigenous peoples are truly part of this broader national security focus. And I really appreciate what Ambassador Brzezinski has included in his broader definition, because for a long time now we’ve been pushing to make sure that the human component of the Arctic is taken into account. And so making sure that that is there, front and center, has been a real priority.

BRZEZINSKI: What the Senator says is absolutely correct. For too long there has been somewhat of a gap between Washington and Alaska, in my humble opinion. And we have really leaned forward to proactively address that. Take, for example, the forthcoming White House Arctic Science Ministerial. That will be preceded by a meeting between the president’s science advisors and Alaskan native leaders to specifically listen and learn about traditional knowledge and local knowledge. Because who better to—(inaudible)—flora and fauna in Alaska’s Arctic than the people who have lived there for thousands of years?

And so the engagement piece is absolutely critical. And when it comes the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, it is important to note that we have Alaskans who are part of that internal conversation as well, whether it’s Fran Ulmer, former lieutenant governor, chair of the Arctic Research—the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, whether it’s Tommy Beaudreau from the Department of Interior, Beth Kerttula, lots of others. And so bridging that gap through proactive engagement is absolutely what we have sought to do. And I was really pleased when Governor Walker came to the White House for the National Governors Association meeting with the president, and he reflected on this real uptick engagement, because who else better to learn from than the people who see it first-hand every day, and who have inherited that from their families bearing witness over the centuries as well?

BORGERSON: And could I ask for a brief answer to the private sector investment question? Ports was mentioned but there’s lots of other things happening as well.

PAPP: I think it’s vitally important that we keep private business concerns at the forefront. And in fact, I think the flagship effort of the Canadian chairmanship was to create the Arctic Economic Council, the AEC. The AEC has stood up its secretariat at Tromsø, adjacent to the secretariat for the Arctic Council. And they will bring their expertise and their interests to help us with many of the projects that we have within the Arctic Council. But what I would say is that we are—we are generally in what I would, as a sailor, call a stern chase, which means you’re constantly trying to overtake the entrepreneurs who are up there.

Business people aren’t going to wait for some of the things that we’re doing within our Arctic Council business. We have the Crystal Serenity that’s going to take—a cruise ship that’s going to have 2,000 people on board going through the northwest passage here within another month or so. We have—we’ve had a slowdown in terms of energy exploration and exploitation, but that’s because of the oil prices. I suspect once they go up again people will start looking up there again.

So we in government have an obligation to be a little foresighted, to look at the impact on safety and security, and make sure that we’re prepared for those activities as they occur. And I think people in industry can help us in that regard.


MURKOWSKI: Can I just follow on that?


MURKOWSKI: Because this is a really important issue for us up north, is recognizing the dearth of infrastructure. Ports is very specific. When you recognize that effectively Dutch Harbor is your closest real port to the Arctic. It’s some 1,100 miles to get from there up to Barrow area. When Shell pulled out last year, I’ll tell you, the emphasis, the push to get a deep water port fell to the wayside. Wrong, because the Arctic and the need for infrastructure is not dependent on whether or not there’s exploration in the Beaufort or the Chukchi. The Arctic is—the U.S. Arctic is an area, as Admiral says, is expanding in different ways, whether it’s tourism opportunities, whether it’s just the commercial transit coming off the Russian side or coming around the top. There is commercial activity with or without exploration.

So making sure that we do not back down on the imperative to move forward with not only one port but a system of ports, recognizing that communications is an area that we must proceed with. When Shell was up there, they had put together really a framework for communications that was first of its kind up there. Now they’re gone. Yesterday I had a sit-down with many of the leadership from up north. They’re saying: We now need to build this communications network that Shell had built, that now they’re gone, and how do we build this? So we’re talking about how we do that. And where do the resources come from in which to advance these projects? So public-private partnerships has got to be key in advancing this.

BORGERSON: Yeah, thank you. The Council on Foreign Relations, we pride ourselves on punctuality. And I see it’s 9:27; we have three minutes left of this meeting. So we’ll take one last question here, if you could please make it sort of sharp and brief. Yeah, microphone on its way. One second, the microphone’s coming. Yeah.

Q: I’m Rafe Pomerance, chair of Arctic 21, a network of NGOs focused on the unraveling of the Arctic from climate change. That unraveling not only impacts the Arctic, but the globe.

And my short question, which is—I’ll put it in the form of a comment. I think we’re missing a point here, which is, what’s the big future issue, or one of them? And that issue is, what’s the Arctic we have to have? That’s the question. The Arctic has three major pillars of the climate system, at least. Stores massive carbon in permafrost, which is now thawed. It reflects sunlight from sea ice and snow cover, which is diminishing at an unprecedented pace. And it holds the fate of Miami and Greenland in the Arctic eight glaciers from sea level rise. So the question really is that the fundamental national strategic issue may be what’s the Arctic we have to have in the longer run?

BORGERSON: Yeah. In one minute or less. (Laughter.) If we could, let’s just perhaps go down the panel and have brief concluding thoughts leaping off that, and spirt of really sustainability, which we haven’t talked about in his meeting as well, of how to balance sort of national security with that kind of development and the environment? Admiral Papp.

PAPP: Rafe, it’s good to have you here. And he always serves as a conscious when we come in here. And he brings up a very important point. When I came into the job and I wanted to generate interest, and when we started talking about the need to raise awareness, I said, well, what we need is a national imperative. And as I looked through the history of Alaska, any major event or major investment has been focused on national defense issues, or perceived crises, or something like the Valdez oil spill. And I said, what is the national imperative today? And actually, it fell right into my hands because the president announced it. It’s climate change. And he has given that his focus. Alaska and the glacier conference and our Arctic Council chairmanship has served to raise awareness for the greater strategic issue of what’s happening with climate change.

I have to tell you, the more I learn the more scared I get. We have these two, what I refer to, as air conditions at the north pole and the south pole which moderates our climate and makes this planet available for human beings to exist. What happens if they go away? And the fact of the matter is every bit of data we have tell us they’re going away. I’m kind of scared what that might mean for our planet. I mentioned earlier that human beings have been looking for shorter sea routes and a way across the Arctic for 500 years or more. We’re finding it now. And the entrepreneurs are taking advantage of it. But we’re finding it for the wrong reasons, because that ice is shrinking and ocean currents are changing, sea levels are rising, and the red light has gone on. And we need to do something about it, and I think we can.


BRZEZINSKI: Our self-interest in the Arctic issue that we all share is the interest of our children and our children’s children. One consistent theme I have found on the Arctic issue is that we are constantly being shocked by broken records. This year’s the warmest year on record in the Arctic, the lowest amount of sea ice at the high point, since 2015, when records were broken then, and then since 2014 before that. Arctic science at this point is we need a Pan-Arctic approach to fully understand the implications of what is happening there, for our interests in the rest of the world. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. It is the refrigerator for the planet. And a balanced approach, thinking about the people of the Arctic, but how all this pertains to the people in the rest of the world is an absolutely—an imperative now.

BORGERSON: And I think perfectly appropriate we give the Alaskan the last word on the dais this morning.

MURKOWSKI: And recognizing your commitment to timeliness, I will sum it all up by just saying: Don’t forget the people of the Arctic, period.

BORGERSON: Thank you. Please thank me in joining our panelists for their time this morning. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Have a great day.


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