The U.S. State Department has announced the creation of a new diplomatic position for the Arctic region. The new ambassador-at-large would work with indigenous communities as well as nations in the Arctic region and beyond, said the department in the August 26 statement.

"An Arctic region that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative is of critical strategic importance to the United States," said Vedant Patel, principal deputy spokesperson for the Bureau of Global Public Affairs. The decision to create the new diplomatic position had been taken by President Joe Biden "after extensive consultations with Members of Congress, local and federal government officials, and external stakeholders," Patel said.

He noted that the new ambassador would need to be approved by the U.S. Senate. His statement can be found on the State Department website.

Russia and Arctic Council

Patel also pointed out that the U.S. was still "committed to constructive cooperation in the Arctic, foremost through the Arctic Council." The website of the Arctic Council said it was "pausing all official meetings of the Council and its subsidiary bodies until further notice." Russia had assumed the chairmanship of the council in 2021 and was set to give up its leadership in 2023, the website added.

American 'dedication, commitment & leadership' to the Arctic

On Twitter, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski said she welcomed the decision to appoint the ambassador-at-large.

"By establishing this role, America will solidify its dedication, commitment & leadership to this strategically important region," said the Republican from Alaska.

She posted a link to a statement in which she recalled, "Before today, the U.S.

was the only Arctic nation without dedicated diplomatic representation for the Arctic Region at the Ambassador level or higher. For years I have advocated for our country to elevate our Arctic leadership and diplomatic efforts to properly represent our nation’s Arctic interests."

'A top priority'

Derek Chollet, of the State Department, tweeted that the appointment of the new ambassador-at-large was "a top priority" for Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Chollet acknowledged Murkowski's "exceptional leadership" in calling for the new diplomatic position. He said the decision to appoint the new diplomat was "a clear demonstration of the sustained U.S. commitment & leadership in this vital region."

Chollet noted that the United States was one of eight Arctic countries. The other Arctic countries, as listed on the Arctic Council website, are Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark (including Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden.

Agence France-Presse noted that the new position of Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic Region was replacing a position called Arctic Coordinator.

Since the opening of new navigable waterways, made possible by global warming, Russia and China had been expanding their presence in the region, the news agency said.

Canada, NATO and the Arctic

On August 26, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg concluded a three-day visit to Canada. He tweeted his gratitude to Canadians "for all you do, including strong support to Ukraine, leading out multinational forces in Latvia, and increasing our awareness of evolving Arctic challenges."

At the beginning of his visit, Stoltenberg published an op-ed piece in The Globe and Mail, in which he discussed the importance of the Arctic region for the defense of NATO's North American members.

The NATO leader said that Russia had been strengthening its military position in the Arctic, "setting up a new Arctic Command, opening hundreds of new and former Soviet-era Arctic military sites, including airfields and deep-water ports, and using the region as test-bed for novel weapon systems."

China was another cause for concern, he said. "China is also expanding its reach, declaring itself a 'near-Arctic state' and planning a 'Polar Silk Road' linking China to Europe via the Arctic," Stoltenberg said. China was beefing up its navy and it had "plans to build the world’s biggest icebreaker vessel," he said.