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Summary of Admiral Papp’s First Testimony on US Arctic Priorities

January 5 2015, Thank you to our NACC MA member and Secretary Linda Priebe for sharing the following summary:

Summary of Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr.’s Testimony about U.S. Artic Priorities to Members of U.S. House of RepresentativesSummary prepared by: Linda Priebe (Partner, Washington D.C.)On December 10, 2014, Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr. Special Representative for the Arctic, provided oral testimony before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, U.S. House of Representatives. The following is a summary of his testimony:

U.S. Arctic Priorities

Admiral Papp noted that Americans do not fully understand or embrace the U.S. status as an Arctic Nation.  He hopes to raise their awareness. He has observed first hand throughout his career how weather in the Arctic affects the rest of the U.S. and world and so does melting sea ice.  A sustainable future for the Arctic and the over 50,000 U.S. citizens and 4 million people total living there is important to the U.S.  Access to affordable energy and clean water are especially big priorities for people living in the Arctic.

The Obama Administration’s U.S. Arctic priorities are:

Keeping Arctic waters safe, secure, and sustainableImprove economic and living conditions for people living in the ArcticAddressing the impacts of climate change, especially black carbon and methane emissions

The U.S. will be looking to public/private partnerships to address these Arctic priorities and Admiral Papp plans to visit Scandinavia and Moscow soon.

Arctic Military Security

Admiral Papp explained that the Russian invasion of Ukraine and attempts to annex Crimea are a continuing problem, but U.S. cooperation with Russia through the Arctic Council will continue under the U.S. Chairmanship to address shared issues of national concern in the Arctic. The Arctic Council’s mandate specifically excludes military security and that will not change under U.S. leadership.  Regarding increasing Russian military activity in the Arctic, Admiral Papp pointed out that Russia has 4,000 miles of Arctic coastline and it is investing smartly in dual military/civilian use facilities such as ports and search & rescue. NATO continues to review military security issues in the Arctic.

Arctic Governance

Arctic governing authority is well established in the Arctic and Admiral Papp believes that it is functioning well among the eight Arctic nations.  The High Seas are currently frozen but will open during some time of the year and fish are expected to begin migrating there and so there is a need to reach an international agreement regarding high seas fishing to avoid depletion of those fisheries.  Regarding non-Arctic states seeking Arctic Council observer status, the U.S. believes the more observers with increased familiarity, input, understanding, and resources to contribute to the Arctic, the better.

UNCLOS Ratification

Admiral Papp told the sub-committee that the lack of U.S. ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) hurts U.S. legal authority in the Arctic.  It is viewed by other nations as an embarrassment for the U.S.  Every bi-lateral meeting he attends with other nations starts with him being questioned about why the U.S. has not ratified UNCLOS.  In addition, an Extended Continental Shelf Claim by the U.S. is not currently possible because the U.S. has not ratified UNCLOS.

U.S Arctic Sustainability

According to Admiral Papp, the U.S. must balance economic development with preserving the pristine Arctic environment, but resource extraction in the Arctic does not conflict with Obama Administration policy.  The U.S. Arctic Plan calls for sustainable resource development in the Arctic including oil & gas and minerals extraction.  Admiral Papp’s 50-year vision of the U.S. Arctic includes: sustainable resource extraction including off-shore; new pipeline connections; alternative energy development to lower cost and lower emissions in the Arctic; clean water infrastructure; increased shipping and tourism, requiring U.S. investment in infrastructure to support the looming U.S. Arctic activity.  U.S. projects currently also exist with Sweden and others to adopt cooperative recommendations and best practices for the Arctic.

U.S. Icebreaker Capacity

Admiral Papp stated that the current U.S. icebreaker capacity is woefully inadequate, particularly in comparison to Russia with at least 12, 6 of which are heavy icebreakers.  The U.S. has only one heavy capacity icebreaker, the Polar Star that is 40 years old.  The Healy, a medium icebreaker, is 14 years old and the Polar Sea, also 40 years old, is mothballed in Seattle due to lack of refurbishment funds.  New icebreakers cost up to 1 billion USD and U.S. agencies don’t currently have that amount of discretionary funds. Finland is the world’s primary builder of icebreakers.  The U.S. could potentially save money by buying icebreaker designs from Finland and building its icebreakers in the U.S. in compliance with U.S. law.

Linda Priebe is former Deputy General Counsel and Ethics Official at the White House Office of Drug Policy under three different presidents with over a dozen winning cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. She is also formerly Member of the Utah Solid and Hazardous Waste Control Board and Assistant Utah Attorney General for Indian Affairs. Linda is currently Chair of Government Relations at Culhane Meadows PLLC in Washington, DC and can be reached at

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