The US Department of State is reorganized and the position as Special Representative for the Arctic disappears.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has, in a letter to the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, described major changes to his department. Tillerson has earlier stated that he wants a significant reorganization, and now he proposes to eliminate a high number of Special Envoys and Representatives. The proposal includes eliminating the position of Special Envoy for the Arctic, which was created by former President Obama in 2014.
Admiral Robert Papp held the position until the Trump Administration took over last January. Since then, the position has been vacant. Tillerson now suggests that the position is eliminated and that the resources are transferred to the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs. Tillerson also wants to eliminate the position of Special Envoy for Climate Change.
The Trump Administration has suggested reducing the budget of the State Department by some 30 percent. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has earlier warned of an extensive survey of the organizing and budget of the Department, and significant change was expected. A high number of key positions are vacant, including political appointments, and both Trump and Tillerson are criticized for lack of follow-up. However, many see the vacant positions in the State Department as a part of Trump’s strategy and following up of his election campaign promise of reducing Washington bureaucracy.
There is significant resistance in the Senate, including among republicans, against reducing too much of the USA’s diplomatic toolbox in a time when foreign policy challenges appear to be on the rise. It is therefore expected that the final budget cuts will be adjusted in the upcoming budget process on Capitol Hill. However, the leader of the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, Senator Bob Corker, has expressed support for Tillerson’s reorganization plans.
Heather Conley, Vice President of the Washington think-tank CSIS and Director of the CSIS’ Arctic Program connects the changes with the Trump administration’s lack of interest in the Arctic. She does not believe that the elimination of the Special Envoy will make much of a difference.
- I do not think the elimination of this position will carry much influence on the US’ Arctic policy. The US Arctic expertise is located within the Bureau of Oceans, Environments and Scientific Affairs. Creating the Special Envoy position in 2014 was a result of the State Department having to upscale while the USA held the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and of the White House needing to reorganize and coordinate its Arctic policy in a better way. The idea was good, however, the outcome was by and large a disappointment. There is nothing to indicate that the Trump administration will prioritize the High North, and thus the elimination of the Special Envoy position will not have too many consequences, Conley says.
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