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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

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NOVEMBER 2015

23

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AMERICA’S

ARCTIC

DIPLOMACY

Ásgeir Sigfússon is director of communications at AFSA. A native

Icelander, he has been a close observer of Arctic issues for years. He

writes here in his personal capacity; the article does not reflect AFSA

policy or positions.

Climate change is opening up new opportunities

and challenges in the Arctic. Is the United States

ready to lead?

BY ÁSGE I R S I GFÚSSON

COVER STORY

W

hen new diplomatic opportuni-

ties appear, the United States

is typically quick to react and

establish a presence. After the fall

of the Soviet Union, new embas-

sies were staffed up and opened

in record time across Eastern

Europe and Central Asia. The breakup of Yugoslavia and Czecho-

slovakia saw similar quick responses from the United States, as

did the appearance of new nation states such as Timor-Leste and

South Sudan. U.S. embassies opened soon and resources were

allocated swiftly. So why has Washington been comparatively

slow in responding to the explosion of opportunity in the Arctic?

The scientific consensus is that climate change is mostly

behind the swift warming of the Arctic, and other Arctic nations,

as well as China, have moved decisively to stake their claims in

this new arena. As the climate heats up, the race for the Arctic’s

resources will do the same; new shipping lanes will become avail-

able; environmental changes will accelerate; and large popula-

tions will be affected. Under the circumstances, is the United

GETTING INTO THE GAME:

AFSA/JEFF LAU