The Cable: Race for Arctic resources may outpace U.S. policy development

(Aaron M. Sprecher - Bloomberg)
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Josh Rogin
Foreign Policy Magazine
Thursday, May 13, 2010

Arctic policy: A political archipelago

As ice caps melt, opening up new shipping routes and access to billions of dollars' worth of oil and natural gas riches, the Arctic is fast becoming the new global frontier amid fears that a no-holds-barred scramble for resources might someday provoke an international crisis.

With so much at stake, who's in charge of America's Arctic policy? As it turns out, that's an awfully complicated question to answer. An alphabet soup of federal agencies and officials are working on the issue, with the top dogs being Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who in late March attended a high-level conference in Canada on the future of the Arctic, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

But beneath the two secretaries, a web of councils, task forces and interagency policy groups are tackling Arctic issues, with overlapping efforts that come at the problem from different ways. Technically, a State Department official named Julia Gourley is the "senior U.S. Arctic official," which means she represents the United States at most meetings of the Arctic Council, the main related international forum.

But even in Foggy Bottom, a host of other officials play big roles, including Assistant Secretary of State Kerri-Ann Jones of the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, and her deputy, David Balton. Balton is the lead U.S. negotiator for the Arctic Council's first agreement, on search and rescue. Under Secretary Robert Hormats's bureau is also active on both energy and trade issues that intersect with Arctic policy.

At the Defense Department, the key guy is Rear Adm. David Titley, whose official title is "oceanographer and navigator of the Navy." At the White House, the National Security Council's Tom Atkin has the lead, but Arctic policy development also goes on at the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

CEQ's Nancy Sutley leads an Ocean Policy Task Force, which is calling for more attention to the Arctic and working to implement the overall policy left by the Bush administration. That task force will give way to a new National Ocean Council co-chaired by the CEQ and the OSTP.

The Energy Department comes in when pipeline issues are in play, and Interior is responsible for issues relating to Alaskan land, much of which is federally administered.

And no discussion of foreign policy can ignore the influence of Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who gave a major address on Arctic policy April 28 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

U.S.-Russia nuclear pact

Up against a self-imposed deadline, the White House resubmitted the U.S.-Russia civilian nuclear agreement to Congress on Tuesday and made its case for the deal to go through.

The administration sees the deal as a carrot that can be used to entice Russia to sign on to tough sanctions against Iran in the U.N. Security Council. But Iran critics on Capitol Hill see the White House's action this week as putting the cart before the horse and are skeptical that the agreement can be implemented under current conditions.

The Bush administration had submitted the agreement in 2008 but withdrew it after that summer's war between Russia and Georgia. President Obama told Congress on Tuesday that the war should no longer be an issue and that lawmakers should also not block the deal due to Russia's stance on Iran.

Some senators, such as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's ranking Republican, Richard G. Lugar (Ind.), don't agree that the Russia-Georgia situation is stable or that Russia has lived up to its obligations following the conflict.

But the real sticking point will be Iran, because the sanctions bill making its way through Congress has language that could thwart implementation of the deal. In the House version, no nuclear agreement can be carried out with a country that is providing nuclear or advanced missile technology to Iran.

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