Arctic Sovereignty and Regional Policy


Policy History

The United States has not properly addressed the concerns and issues facing the future use and development of our Arctic Territory. The Arctic has always been an area that is least prevalent when policy and legislative agendas are discussed and set, and as we move into a globalized society addressing new and unprecedented situations such as ice-free arctic summers, new international trade routes and the extraction of natural resources, the importance of this strategic resource can clearly be defined. Although the United States has previously implemented regional policies to help guide the administrations, there has been little in the way of continued legislative action or national push as a priority. Currently, the United States has a deteriorating icebreaker fleet that is inferior to most other countries, and the United States has done little to further expand and ratify key international laws that would further protect the national interests and ensure that we are represented adequately and equally on the stage of international policy.

Currently the state of research involving the arctic region is limited at best. Several countries are in a similar situation as the United States in its position of asserting its sovereignty over the arctic region. There are several conflicting territorial claims including between the United States and Canadian as well as other pushing for an expansion of natural resource utilization, and the debate regarding how international waterway straights are classified and governed. Canadian action in the arctic region can be exemplified and used as an appropriate guide for U.S. response for arctic policy. Due the strategic value placed on various interests in the region including natural resources, international trade, and environmental protection, the United States must take a more active role in policy that protects our international interests.

This has become an even more important as former President George W. Bush signed the Arctic Region Policy, which subsequently was updated in 2013 by President Obama, National Security Presidential Directive 66 (NSPD) and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 25 (HSPD). This national strategy outlines the importance of the arctic, covering national security, commerce, conservation and scientific exploration. Aside from these national policies, there are several other issues that are currently held in committee within the senate, and is also held up in the appropriations process.

In the Arctic Region Policy, the United States has a stake in the arctic region, citing that the nation is prepared to protect these interests either independently or in co-operation with other countries. The Arctic Region Policy adopted at the end of Bush’s term guides the actions of subsequent governmental departments and outlines the interests and implementation of the policy. This federal policy updates the previous Arctic Region Policy of 1994, but excludes changes to the Antarctic portion of the 1994 policy.

According to the policy, the United States has national security interests including early-warning systems, strategic and maritime deterrence, presence and security operations, and maintaining use of navigable waters and air operations. There is also a homeland security interest in protecting the United States from the vulnerabilities posed by terrorist and other illegal migrants. The policy also states that the United States should pursue every option available in extending our maritime boundary and seabed control, particularly by approving the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) treaty. In addition, the U.S. has a need to resolve the territorial disputes with Canada, and urge Russia to ratify the maritime boundary agreement of 1990.

A paper entitled Canadian Arctic Sovereignty, authored by Matthew Carnaghan and Allison Goody, outlines proposed issues that the Canadian parliament should be advised of while examining their arctic policy. They state that policy changes are not sufficient regarding the Arctic region and that an in-depth look is needed to ensure Canadian Sovereignty in the Arctic region. This was a policy paper prepared for use as background material in committees for the Canadian parliament.

They start by defining what sovereignty means and stating that it encompasses a state’s responsibility to a territory and its ability to act in and maintain the territory. They continue by discussing what issues have affected Canadian claims to arctic sovereignty including a disputed claim that the Northwest Passage is not an international strategic strait, are internal Canadian waters subject to the authority and jurisdiction of the Canadian government. They also cite disputed territorial claims with the United States in the Beaufort Sea and with Denmark regarding Hans Island, situated between Canada’s Ellesmere Island and Greenland, and they acknowledge the increased resource potential of the Arctic as challenges to Canadian sovereignty.

The United States is currently in a unique position in being the chair of the Arctic Council, something that happens approximately every 14 years. Since the arctic countries now look to the US to lead in the development and implementation of sound arctic policy, we are uniquely positioned to champion our ideas and interests in the region, while demonstrating collaborative and productive international relations. Two major short term objectives that can be accomplished in bringing us closer to ensuring the full implementation of the Arctic regional policy include approving the creation of an ambassador level position at the state department to ensure that our policy interests are represented and met, in addition to investing and growing our national fleet of military and scientific icebreakers. Currently, the bill (S.270) which will create the ambassador level potion is stalled in committee.

Preliminary Analysis

Due to the national and international aspects regarding securing our arctic sovereignty, it becomes a very politically charged battle that many politicians wish not to engage in fear of losing political support. Since the political process is very slow to move, and because it is dependent on politician’s belief in self-preservation, building consensus and creating the necessary political capital becomes very difficult. Most in the Senate are more concerned with attacking the politically charged issues of the day, or building support for issues that will keep them in office locally. This leaves building a coalition through think tanks and academia to provide quality policy recommendations to political officials.

Overall, the lack of interest the United States displays in how we approach this policy initiative has been and continues to be a key reason on why these policies have not been implemented correctly. Although extensive scholarly works are limited, the majority of departments in the executive branch have strategies in place to help guide them with responding to arctic issues. However, a major issue with responding to these strategies and ensuring the success of policy implementation is the general lack of budget and infrastructure needed to ensure success. With issues surrounding the activation of the Russian Northern Fleet, and territorial and mining rights claims, the United States has not done enough yet to invest correctly in ensuring proper policies are designed and implemented to protect our arctic sovereignty.

Overall, Andrew outline four policy alternatives that would at least get the United States on the right track to implement arctic policy. First, he believes that we need to prioritize our national interest as it relates to our stewardship on the Arctic Council, to include environmental protection, and scientific research. Secondly, pass the bill approving an arctic ambassador so that we are better enabled to represents our arctic interests and policy at the equivalent level of other nations. Third, ratify the UN Law of the Sea enabling us to extend our economic interest zone. Finally, determine a clear government policy outlining whether we as a nation to venture into arctic drilling and mineral expansion.

Overall, the Arctic Regional Policy is still a complicated issue. With many issues still to be settled through national discourse and the use of evidence based policy initiatives. A major factor, which has yet to move this policy issue forward, is the fact that a core threat to the nation does not exist. A major fault in American mentality is that we respond only when provoked, and without a direct threat to the arctic region beyond drilling and climate change, much of the discourse is expected to be limited at best.

Evidence-based research in policy design

The use of evidence-based research methods is imperative for the future success of policy design and implementation. Although much care and effort are put into the design and implementation of various policies, far too often are they implemented because they appeal to our more altruistic side, or because they are based on archaic political framework and nepotism. This can be easily identified in the way the city of Chicago conducts business. Whether it is the Mayor trying to update and improve the way trash collection is handled in order to reduce cost and improve service, or if it is the way building permits are issued and enforced. Basing these policies on evidence-based research will greatly improve the effectiveness of these policies.

With government agencies utilizing “big data” solutions through the open data movement, policy researchers are now able to secure and develop responses to traditional policy issues using sound analytic approaches. In doing so, benchmarks and best practices can be identified across the broad spectrum of industries and the most successful solutions can be implemented in the public sector. Additionally the analytic approaches that are used to develop the policy can be further utilized in conducting program evaluation. This can ensure that when more variables and data becomes available, any changes in trends or outcomes can be monitored and the processes can be adjusted to ensure that the best outcomes are achieved and inefficient and wasteful processes can be discontinued, further improving best practices.

A final aspect to utilizing evidence-based research methods in policy design is that it can greatly lower the ancillary costs of a policy. Much like the improvements associated to old light bulbs and high-flow toilets, improving design and increasing efficiency greatly reduces waste.  This can be identified with savings in time, cost, and the return value of a policy. Additionally, by using evidence-based research, decisions makers will like be more inclined to make data driven decisions rather than basing them on opinion or speculation, all of which should be considered a big win for the public who these policies affect.

Hurdles Facing Successful Public Policy Implemenation

Policy implementation seems like a very straightforward idea when viewed from a theoretical or academic lens; design a public policy that creates more positive externalities then negative, promotes social efficiency, and yields a multitude of societal benefits. Then, in keeping with the altruistic belief in said policy, implement it. Unfortunately, policy implementation does not work like Ali Baba and the forty thieves where someone can simply proclaim “open sesame.” This has been noted and observed time and time again, a key example being the Patient Protection and Affordable Act (ACA). Although many questions have been raised in the public administration field about how to best go about the practical application of policy implementation, I believe that answering the question “what are the overarching hurdles that someone might need to account for when trying to enact new public polices?”

First, a key hurdle in policy implementation would the defining the actual goal of the stated policy. Now, this may seem intuitive; however, when it comes to the implementation side of policy, it truly depended on how the various sectors (pubic, private, or not for profit) work together enacting the codified policy. It becomes imperative that all key stakeholders understand the policy objective, the expected outcome, and the potential consequence that might occur during the process. By leaving a policy to broad, the designers run the risk of having the policy misinterpreted or enacted in a manner that was outside of the original intent of the policy, such as what was seen with ACA and Supreme Court rulings regarding the intention of the policy.

Second, I think there exists a trichotomy of influence when it comes to policy implementation. 1) those who fully support the idea and are enthusiastic about its implementation; 2) those who have not committed to the belief that the ends justify the means, or that the benefits out way the negatives; 3) and those who are adamantly against the entire implementation and policy itself. This is a trend that most if not all contentious or highly publicized policy follow. Whether it is something as far-reaching and impactful like ACA, or something localized such as taxing soda, all policies have varying voices of support, and therefore multiple opinions on who has ownership, authority, and enforcement of that policy and its implementation.

Finally, because new policies change the way society operates, modifying or trying to improve archaic policies, (such is the way for any Chicago policy) and their framework becomes a Sisyphean task. That which no matter how close someone comes to improving the current state of affairs, will end up meeting so much resistance to change that inevitable they will have to start anew. This can be noted in many policy improvements from HMO reform to Medicaid expansion; people who have benefited from the inefficiencies or who are comfortable with the status quo will like oppose and try to de-rail any implementation efforts regardless of the public benefit.

In theory, it should be a simple matter of designing a policy that meets a societal need, and provides a public benefit, however there are many external forces after the design phase of policy that manipulate even the most well intentioned policy into something unrecognizable. Good policy should require a good policy steward, someone who not only helped design it, but also understands the goals of the policy, and is able to speak and champion said policy all the way through implementation rather than the hand-off system that generally takes place. Beyond the rhetoric of politicians, policy is what ends up codified in our country of laws and defines and guides our society and we continue to face an ever fluid national and international environment.