Top Arctic envoy draws on long Coast Guard experience

Former Coast Guard Commandant Robert Papp (number three from the left) photographed together with (f.l) Chief of Staff of the Air Force General Mark Welsh, Chief of Naval Operations Jon Greenert, and Chief of the National Guard Bureau General Frank Grass at the State of the Union (Photo: AP Images/Larry Downing/ U.S. Department of Defense)
Former Coast Guard Commandant Robert Papp, recently appointed as the U.S Government’s top Arctic enyoy, says American circumpolar policy is somewhat akin to sailing in volatile condition.

Former Coast Guard Commandant Robert Papp, recently appointed as the U.S Government’s top Arctic enyoy, says American circumpolar policy is somewhat akin to sailing in volatile condition.

- One thing I learned as a sailor: You play the hand you’re dealt, Papp said in an interview earlier this week, according to Alaska Dispatch.

Just as he navigated the sea in all kinds of weather he must now work  around various political storms, preparing the United States to assume chairmanship ot the Arctic Council next year.


- Important step

Secretary of State John Kerry appointed the retired Coast Guard Admiral as U.S Special Representative for the Arctic a few weeks ago.

Papp is going to oversee U.S policy in the North as it continues to become a global focal point both for economic and resource development, shipping, security, research, and tourism.

Since 2006, 11 different states have appointed Arctic ambassadors or envoys, and with the naming of Admiral Papp as its Special Representative to the Arctic, the United States became the 12th.

In response to the appointment, The Arctic Institute’s Executive Director Malte Humpert stated:

The appointment of retired Admiral Robert Papp as U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic is an important step in building an “Arctic Team” at the State Department ahead of the U.S. taking over the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in May 2015.


Strong relationships 

- As former Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, Papp is keenly aware of current and future challenges the United States, Alaska and the Coast Guard face in the Arctic today. Papp’s experience on the ground and understanding of the Arctic environment, complemented by his strong relationships with both D.C. and Alaskan lawmakers, will serve him well as he aims to translate long-term strategic considerations into policy, Humpert says in a press release from the Arctic Institute.

- Papp’s appointment has come with near universal praise from Alaska politicians, with both U.S. senators applauding the decision and indicating that the selection of Papp was not a surprise to them, writes Heather Exner-Pirot, a Strategist at the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, in a story posted on the website Eye of the Arctic.


Steps up the Arctic Game

The Arctic Institute's fellow Mihaela David says the creation of the special representative position, which reports directly to the Secretary of State, denotes that the U.S. government considers the Arctic to be a top-level foreign policy issue:

- Not only does this prominent new position elevate the profile of Arctic policy, it also greatly facilitates decision-making because of the unparalleled access special representatives have to senior officials, particularly the Secretary of State and the President.

- Papp’s appointment also suggests that, unlike Canada, the U.S. is placing less emphasis on economic development and is focusing more on maritime issues, security, and shipping. It will be interesting to see whether the U.S. chairmanship with a former Coast Guard Commandant at the helm will place greater emphasis on the security dimension of Arctic governance and cooperation, David says.

In July it was also announced that Fran Ulmer, President Obama’s Chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, is named Special Advisor on Arctic Science and Policy. This means Alaska will be represented by one of its own as the nation pushes ahead with Arctic policy development and planning.



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