America is Preparing for the Wrong Arctic Crisis

By Victoria Herrmann

Scientific American

In late July, the Trump Administration appointed James DeHart as the first U.S. Coordinator for the Arctic. A career member of the Senior Foreign Service, Mr. DeHart has spent much of his 28-year career working to resolve conflict. He led the U.S. Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan, directed the State Department’s Office of Afghanistan Affairs, and most recently as the top U.S. negotiator in defense cost-sharing talks with South Korea.

While Mr. DeHart’s post as Deputy Chief of Mission in Oslo provides him with three years of Arctic experience, it’s his expertise in armed competition and great power diplomacy that has gained attention. His appointment follows an unusually combative speech made by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at last year’s Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Finland. Marking a stark departure from the traditional conciliatory remarks of past secretaries, Secretary Pompeo detailed the dangers of Chinese investment and Russian military mobilization to US national interest in the region, and issued a stern warning to Russia and China: respect American interests in the Arctic, or face the consequences.

There’s just one problem: in the Arctic, cooperation consistently prevails over conflict. It’s a region where transnational governance is based on dialogue, mutual interest and respect for Indigenous rights. The U.N. Law of the Sea dictates who owns what, and the Arctic Council remains an active forum for cooperation, coordination and interaction amongst all Arctic states. Even as tensions simmer between Russia, the West and China further south, the North continues to prove itself to be a place where risk of conflict is minimal.

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Picture: LCDR Steve Wheeler / Public domain

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