December 11, 2014

CNAS Releases Policy Brief "Arctic 2015 and Beyond: A Strategy for U.S. Leadership in the High North"

Washington, December 11 – Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has released a new policy brief, “Arctic 2015: A Strategy for U.S. Leadership in the High North.” The policy brief is authored by Elizabeth Rosenberg, Director of the CNASEnergy, Environment and Security Program; Dr. David Titley, CNAS Adjunct Senior Fellow and former Chief Oceanographer of the U.S. Navy; and Alexander Wiker, a post-graduate fellow at Pennsylvania State University Dickenson School of Law.

The report lays out the challenges and opportunities that face the United States as it assumes the chair of the Arctic Council in April 2015.  For the brief window of opportunity that the United States has to shape development of the Arctic in this role, a task made particularly pressing by changes induced by climate change, this policy brief recommends that the United States devote increased time, attention, money and leadership to the Arctic; build foundations for sustainable and responsible economic expansion; ensure safety and security of Arctic oceans and borders; develop greater cooperation with Russia on Arctic matters; and forge long-term partnerships and new coordinating mechanisms.

The full report is available here:

Please find an executive summary of the report by the authors below:

Strong U.S. Arctic policy and leadership are increasingly fundamental to the United States’ strategic and economic interests. Such leadership and focus in this area will be essential to underpinning U.S. initiatives on Arctic matters in multilateral forums, such as the Arctic Council (AC).

If the United States wants to realize broad national interests in this region, particularly in an era of tense relations with Russia (the current pre-emi­nent power in the High North), it must prioritize greater resource commitments and attention to the region. The United States must accelerate its rate of investment in Arctic infrastructure, opera­tions and legal and regulatory capacities to be able to set the terms for the coming era of expanded Arctic activity. The United States must also imple­ment binding international agreements on such matters as search and rescue, oil spill response and polar shipping codes, among others, to attract opportunity, manage risk and help establish a solid framework for international engagement in this region in the years to come.

Rapid and unprecedented climactic shifts in the Arctic’s environmental, economic, social and geopolitical landscapes are signaling the dawn­ing of a new era of focus on the region. The Arctic is poised to leave its backwater legacy behind and become a prominent player on the world’s stage. Forecasting the exact moment of this transi­tion, as with most predictions about the future, is nearly impossible. However, failure of cur­rent policymakers to recognize and anticipate the approaching Arctic epoch will leave the United States playing a game of strategic and economic catch-up or worse, while other nations solidify their own interests and claims in the region.

The AC remains unquestionably the world’s foremost venue for intergovernmental Arctic engagement. One metric of the AC’s importance on the world stage is the doubling in the number of countries applying for observer status, now held by 12 nations. Starting in April 2015, the United States has a rare chance to showcase its inter­national credibility as an Arctic leader. At that time, the United States will assume a two-year chairmanship of the AC, a situation that will not recur until 2031. The United States has but a brief window of opportunity to assume responsibility for shaping international policies to advance U.S. national interests tied to far northern resources and territorial management, and improve the livelihoods of Arctic people.

Unfortunately, the U.S. national-level focus on Arctic issues and policy is quite modest, a factor that will undermine and limit U.S. capabilities as leader of the AC. Though this organization is not the only platform to influence Arctic policy and activity, it is an important one deserv­ing of increased U.S. attention. Despite the recent appointment of former U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr. as spe­cial representative for the Arctic and a number of recently released national roadmaps and strategies, the Arctic remains a policy and investment afterthought.

This paper describes the enormous changes taking place in the Arctic and the benefits and oppor­tunities the United States can realize from those changes. It also describes challenges of these changes, including those related to the establish­ment of a sustained, effective physical presence in the region. After analyzing U.S. policy in light of these opportunities and challenges, the paper provides five recommendations for national Arctic policy and initiatives the United States should champion as chair of the AC. If adopted, these recommendations would advance U.S. interests described in the National Strategy for the Arctic Region and help to ensure an Arctic that is “peace­ful, stable, and free of conflict.”

The report’s authors are available for interviews. To arrange an interview, please contact Neal Urwitz at