While Arctic indigenous leaders have expressed concerns with a recent decline in consultation by the Arctic states, the updated U.S. Arctic strategy offers much reassurance on this important and no-longer overlooked front. As its executive summary notes, in addition to the strategy’s four pillars, there are five guiding principles, of which the very first is: “Consult, Coordinate, and Co-Manage with Alaska Native Tribes and Communities,” with “regular, meaningful, and robust consultation, coordination, and co-management with Alaska Native Tribes, communities, corporations, and other organizations and to ensuring equitable inclusion of Indigenous Peoples and their knowledge.”
And the fifth principle, “Commit to a Whole of Government, Evidence-Based Approach,” also complements the first by observing that the “Arctic region extends beyond the responsibility of any single region or government agency,” and that “U.S. Federal departments and agencies will work together to implement this strategy … and carry out our work in close partnership with the State of Alaska; Alaska Native Tribes, communities, corporations, and other organizations; and local communities, as well as with the U.S. Congress.”
As stated in the new strategy’s introduction, “Despite current tensions stemming from Russia’s unprovoked, full-scale invasion of Ukraine,” the USA “seeks an Arctic region that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative,” with “guardrails to manage competition and resolve disputes without force or coercion. Stability results from countries acting responsibly and in accordance with international law, rules, norms, and standards, including freedom of navigation. A prosperous Arctic features healthy and vibrant Arctic communities and sustainable economic growth.” And while “Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine has rendered government-to-government cooperation with Russia in the Arctic virtually impossible,” the strategy hopes that “over the coming decade, it may be possible to resume cooperation under certain conditions.”
While “Russia’s continued aggression makes most cooperation unlikely for the foreseeable future,” there is much in the updated strategy that is familiar, with an echo of the collaborative dynamic embraced in past American Arctic strategies and policies. Indeed, the new strategy is not the first to note new challenges to the cooperative Arctic posed by Russia’s military ambitions and/or China’s economic and diplomatic ambitions in the region. These concerns find more prominence in policy statements after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and China’s self-declaration as a “Near-Arctic” state in 2018.
As such, the updated Arctic strategy, with its echoes of more cooperative times, offers a reaffirmation of hope that the Arctic can continue to be a region defined more by cooperation than conflict – even if in the near-term such cooperation is confined to the expanded footprint of NATO’s Arctic members, with Russia outside this Arctic zone of cooperation – and that the region’s indigenous peoples will not be forgotten.