Melting icecaps linked to global climate change have set off a race among nations to transit until-now uncertain shipping routes and develop the region's abundant resources. New sea passages linking Asia to America and Europe will be as revolutionary as the opening of the Panama and Suez canals, creating opportunities as well as challenges for the international community.
The United States recently announced a national strategy for the Arctic region, setting priorities intended to position our nation to respond to the emerging opportunities while at the same time pursuing efforts to protect and conserve this unique environment.
Building on current policies in national and foreign affairs, the Arctic Strategy will advance U.S. security interests, responsibly manage the region's ecosystem and strengthen international cooperation. This will be achieved in a manner that safeguards peace and stability in the region, uses the best available scientific information in decision-making and underscores the importance of consulting and coordinating with the Arctic's indigenous peoples.
An important vehicle for helping realize these aims is the Arctic Council. Set up in 1996, the group brings together eight Arctic nations to coordinate their policies in the region: the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Norway, and Russia. Several other nations with interests in the Arctic region such as France and the United Kingdom, as well as certain inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, have observer status in the Council and take part in some of its discussions, but do not vote on its actions or policies.
At a recent Council meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, the Council granted observer status to six more countries, including China, India, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Singapore. With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in attendance, Arctic Council members also signed a treaty to protect the region from marine oil spill pollution.
The United States has broad interests in the Arctic, ranging from commerce and energy development, to national security, to environmental stewardship and scientific research. But we also recognize that addressing them is best done in close cooperation with our regional and international partners.