WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday named the Coast Guard’s former top commander to a new, high-level post to help direct the nation’s Arctic strategy, signaling the polar region’s importance in national security and foreign policy matters.
Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., who retired this May as the commandant of the Coast Guard, will serve as Special Representative for the Arctic for the State Department.
Thanks to Alaska, “the United States is an Arctic nation, and Arctic policy has never been more important, particularly as we prepare to Chair the Arctic Council in 2015,” Kerry said in a statement. “We set out to find the right American official for this assignment, a distinguished and senior, high-level public servant with broad foreign policy experience and a passion for the Arctic.”
Papp has pushed for building a new icebreaker to supplement the Coast Guard’s two-vessel active fleet, which are based in Seattle. But he opposed overhauling a third icebreaker, the Polar Sea, as financially shortsighted.
That option has been pushed by members of Washington’s congressional delegation, among them Sen. Maria Cantwell and Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Everett). The say refurbishing the Polar Sea is a viable short-term alternative while Congress looks for the money — and the will — to build a new, $1 billion icebreaker.
Larsen said Papp’s appointment shows the Obama administration is prioritizing its Arctic policy.
“The melting sea ice in the Arctic means the region is rapidly opening up for shipping, natural resources development and scientific discovery. But along with these opportunities come many environmental risks and safety challenges,” Larsen said in a statement. “The U.S. needs to protect its interests and work in coordination with the other seven Arctic nations.”
In April, Larsen introduced a bill calling for creation of an even higher, ambassador-level post for the Arctic. Currently, the United States is represented on the Arctic Council, an eight-nation international forum, by a roster of bureaucrats from some 20 federal agencies.