"This administration has been much more focused on the national security element of the Arctic. Re-electing President Trump would probably be a continuation of the policies focusing on national security."
In attempting to outline how the Arctic will be impacted by the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, U.S. Senator for Alaska Lisa Murkowski (R) made the comment during a virtual Arctic Circle event.
During the conversation with Chairman H.E. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson of Arctic Circle, Murkowski noted the two contrasting Arctic policies of the Obama and Trump administrations.
With regards to Arctic policies, the Obama administration was almost singularly focused on climate change, Murkowski says. She adds that there is however no acknowledgement of climate within the Trump administration.
Given Vice President Joe Biden’s role in the Obama administration, Murkowski says it is not difficult to see a return to the previous policies focusing on climate change with Biden as president.
She notes that Biden has outlined his climate plan, which is a pledge to return to the Paris Accords, working to reduce emissions. In the climate plan, Biden has also placed climate change as the top issue for the Arctic Council.
"While climate change cannot be sole focus of the Arctic policy it has to be recognized and considered in any comprehensive policy. I think what we are seeing now in the U.S. is that the military is leading the way here. I think that climate is driving the change in the defense posture as you see more open water, more freedom of movement and you see more to protect", Murkowski says and adds:
"We have to recognize that U.S. leaders have to understand the enormous impact climate has on the region and how it affects its residents in so many ways. You can not just scrub Arctic policy directives of the term climate change and suggest that we don't have to deal with this."
While climate change cannot be sole focus of the Arctic policy it has to be recognized and considered in any comprehensive policy.
"Positive advancements in the Arctic"
Senator Murkowski adds that the Arctic region has become somewhat institutionalized within the U.S. Government bureaucracy over the past years.
"We shouldn’t have a significant time gap as other nations wait for the US to engage. During the Trump administration we have seen considerable effort and resources provided to increase the US’ physical presence within the Arctic."
She points to the opening of the consulate in Nuuk, increased joint military training operations, and the appointment of the Coordinator for the Arctic Region James DeHart as well as the opening of the Arctic Energy Office in Alaska in the past month.
"Despite everything you might see in the media, there has been positive advancements in the Arctic. They [the Trump administration journ.note] have chosen to take a different approach, partnering more with state and local governments to address priorities. One example of this is dedicating support to Arctic infrastructure. We are finally moving ahead with our first deep-water port in the Arctic."
Murkowski says partners in the region should expect to see a continuation of these types of efforts and investments under a second Trump administration.
"At the same time we know that this administration has shown increased willingness to act unilaterally around the globe. I think that puts these buzzwords of cooperation and collaboration at risk. I think a Biden administration would be less likely to act unilaterally in the region, in the international sense."
The importance of U.S. Congress
While the focus may be on the presidential election which is key to all policies, Murkowski says it is also important to keep an eye on the U.S. Congress.
"Depending on what happens with the majority in the Senate, it could impact support for ratification of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, something I have advocated for. It could also impact congressional support for funding for additional icebreakers and Arctic infrastructure."
The virtual event was held by Arctic Circle on October 6.