Europe and Eurasia: Looking North: Sharpening America’s Arctic Focus

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Ambassador. I know you’re enjoying your time here tremendously, and you are doing an outstanding job.

It’s great to look out here and see so many friends, too. Who’d have thought I could come this far north and know this many people? It is heartening to me.

I grew up in southern California about four minutes from Disneyland, which claims to be the happiest place on Earth by trademark, so you all have some work to do here. Get the trademark.

Thanks for being here. Thanks especially to Foreign Minister Soini, Foreign Minister Thordarson, Michelson, and Minister Bagger. I also understand we have Mayor Lotvonen here, and lots of city leaders from this special place. I’m looking forward to my stay here. Thanks for your hospitality, too. I’m touched by your warm welcome. This is only the second time I’ve had the opportunity to visit Finland, but I really do feel, as I said earlier, that I’m among friends.

The Finnish people have a tradition of hospitality for visiting Americans. I love the story of Eleanor Roosevelt and her visit to this city in 1950 to check on your postwar reconstruction progress. It was short notice, and the Finns wanted to place a special – had a special place for her arrival. So they had an architect design a cabin overnight and mobilize their best construction crew to build that place. Her plane touched down just as the outer door was being fitted in. The townspeople were ushered in, and grand welcoming ceremony, and that cabin still stands today.

So as you can see, we’ve been friends for an awfully long time. In Finland and the U.S., you have a pair of nations that are celebrating our 100th year of diplomatic relations. We have a lot to look back on, but also a great deal to look forward to, and I want to speak today about our future – not just about our bilateral future, but about our future in this region, here in the Arctic. And what better place to do it, for me to have the opportunity to participate in the Arctic Council?

It’s an honor to gather here this week with fellow members, the seven other nations in addition to the United States and the proud indigenous people. I’m not the first secretary of state in recent memory to participate in the Arctic Council proceedings, and you can be sure that I will not be the last. I might, however, be the first to give a major address outside of those formal proceedings.

And I wanted to do so because the importance of what I came here for transcends any one forum.

The world has long felt magnetic pull towards the Arctic, but never more so than today.

For reasons I’ll explain in a moment, the region has become an arena for power and for competition. And the eight Arctic states must adapt to this new future.

In its first two decades, the Arctic Council has had the luxury of focusing almost exclusively on scientific collaboration, on cultural matters, on environmental research – all important themes, very important, and we should continue to do those.

But no longer do we have that luxury of the next hundred years.

We’re entering a new age of strategic engagement in the Arctic, complete with new threats to the Arctic and its real estate, and to all of our interests in that region.

Before we sit down for tomorrow’s formal council meetings, I want to give a voice to a sense of what’s at stake and what I think we can do together about it.

Let’s start with the most fundamental principle: The United States is an Arctic nation. But even before the purchase of Alaska, our interest here stretched back centuries.

Indigenous peoples have lived in the Arctic for generations, well before there was an America to speak of. In the 1730s, winters from – or excuse me, whalers from New England traveled the Davis Strait between Canada and Greenland. In the 1800s, our polar explorers were celebrities.

The funeral procession for one of them, Elisha Kent Kane, was said to be the second largest of the century, bested only by the Lincolns.

Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1857 [1], and the deal was over – was completed by Secretary of State William Seward. After he retired, Seward wasted – excuse me, Seward was asked, what’s the greatest contribution he made during his long and very distinguished career. He had to pause for just one moment to say that the purchase of Alaska was my most important undertaking, but it will take the country a generation to truly appreciate that.

Now here we are multiple generations later. This is our time to appreciate it like never before. This is America’s moment to stand up as an Arctic nation and for the Arctic’s future. Because far from the barren backcountry that many thought it to be in Seward’s time, the Arctic is at the forefront of opportunity and abundance. It houses 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil, 30 percent of its undiscovered gas, and an abundance of uranium, rare earth minerals, gold, diamonds, and millions of square miles of untapped resources. Fisheries galore.

And its centerpiece, the Arctic Ocean, is rapidly taking on new strategic significance.

Offshore resources, which are helping the respective coastal states, are the subject of renewed competition.

Steady reductions in sea ice are opening new passageways and new opportunities for trade. This could potentially slash the time it takes to travel between Asia and the West by as much as 20 days.

Arctic sea lanes could come before – could come the 21s century Suez and Panama Canals. And that leads me to my second point.

The second point is this: To leverage the Arctic’s – the Arctic continental, all nations, including non-Arctic nations, should have a right to engage peacefully in this region. The United States is a believer in free markets. We know from experience that free and fair competition, open, by the rule of law, produces the best outcomes.

But all the parties in the marketplace have to play by those same rules. Those who violate those rules should lose their rights to participate in that marketplace. Respect and transparency are the price of admission.

And let’s talk about China for a moment. China has observer status in the Arctic Council, but that status is contingent upon its respect for the sovereign rights of Arctic states. The U.S. wants China to meet that condition and contribute responsibly in the region. But China’s words and actions raise doubts about its intentions.

Beijing claims to be a “Near-Arctic State,” yet the shortest distance between China and the Arctic is 900 miles. There are only Arctic States and Non-Arctic States. No third category exists, and claiming otherwise entitles China to exactly nothing.

That’s not to say Chinese investment is unwelcome – indeed, quite the opposite. The United States and Arctic nations welcome transparent Chinese investments that reflect economic interest and national security ambitions. Between 2012 and 2017, China invested in the Arctic nearly $90 billion. It’s planning to build infrastructure from Canada, to the Northwest Territories, to Siberia.

Just last month, Russia announced plans to connect the Northern Sea Route with China’s Maritime Silk Road, which would develop a new shipping channel from Asia to northern Europe. Meanwhile, China is already developing shipping lanes in the Arctic Ocean.

This is part of a very familiar pattern. Beijing attempts to develop critical infrastructure using Chinese money, Chinese companies, and Chinese workers – in some cases, to establish a permanent Chinese security presence.

Our Pentagon warned just last week that China could use its civilian research presence in the Arctic to strengthen its military presence, including our deployment of submarines – including deployment of submarines to the region as a deterrent against nuclear attack.

We need to examine these activities closely, and we need – and we keep the experience we have learned of other nations in mind. China’s pattern of aggressive behavior elsewhere in the – excuse me – aggressive behavior elsewhere should inform what we do and how it might treat the Arctic.

Let’s just ask ourselves: Do we want Arctic nations broadly, or indigenous communities specifically, to go the way of former government in Sri Lanka or Malaysia, ensnared by debt and corruption? Do we want crucial Arctic infrastructure to end up like Chinese-constructed roads in Ethiopia, crumbling and dangerous after only a few years? Do we want the Arctic Ocean to transform into a new South China Sea, fraught with militarization and competing territorial claims? Do we want the fragile Arctic environment exposed to the same ecological devastation caused by China’s fishing fleet in the seas off its coast, or unregulated industrial activity in its own country? I think the answers are pretty clear.

Then there’s Russia. As a fellow Arctic Council member, Russia – the other Arctic states have fruitfully cooperated in a number of areas – expansive conservation efforts. Those are to be applauded. We want cooperation to continue. But we can’t have one side cooperate, and the other side derogate its duties.

We’re concerned about Russia’s claim over the international waters of the Northern Sea Route, including its newly announced plans to connect it with China’s Maritime Silk Road. In the Northern Sea Route, Moscow already illegally demands other nations request permission to pass, requires Russian maritime pilots to be aboard foreign ships, and threatens to use military force to sink any that fail to comply with their demands.

These provocative actions are part of a pattern of aggressive Russian behavior here in the Arctic. Russia is already leaving snow prints in the form of army boots. Russia formally announced its intent to increase its military presence in the region in 2014, when it re-opened a Cold War Arctic military base.

Since then, thanks in part to its large icebreaker fleet, Russia has been able to renovate old bases and infrastructure. It claims to have built 475 new military sites, including bases north of the Arctic Circle, as well as 16 new deep-water ports. It secures this presence through sophisticated new air defense systems and anti-ship missiles.

No one denies Russia has significant Arctic interests. We recognize that Russia is not the only nation making illegitimate claims. The U.S. has a long-contested feud with Canada over sovereign claims through the Northwest Passage.

But Russia is unique. Its actions deserve special attention, special attention of this Council, in part because of their sheer scale. But also because we know Russian territorial ambitions can turn violent. 13,000 people have been killed due to Russia’s ongoing aggressive action in Ukraine.

And just because the Artic is a place of wilderness does not mean it should become a place of lawlessness. It need not be the case. And we stand ready to ensure that it does not become so.

As I said in a speech in Chile, in Santiago just a few weeks ago, American leadership stands in stark contrast with the Chinese and Russian models. When the U.S. chaired this council, we made strides to improve suicide prevention among indigenous youth, and funded new sanitation capacity in rural villages. American commitment to the region has been bipartisan, spanning multiple administrations.

The Trump administration, however, recognizes that America could do more, and we will; we intend to. Today America is sharing its focus on the Arctic and securing its future. Under President Trump, we are fortifying America’s security and diplomatic presence in the area. On the security side, partly in response to Russia’s destabilizing activities, we are hosting military exercises, strengthening our force presence, rebuilding our icebreaker fleet, expanding Coast Guard funding, and creating a new senior military post for Arctic Affairs inside of our own military.

And we’re also leveraging the important partnerships that we will expand on even this week. NATO’s Trident Structure[2] exercise last fall was the largest Arctic military exercise since the Cold War, with over 50,000 persons participating.

On the diplomatic side too, we’re fully engaged. We’re working to strengthen our presence across the entire region and enhance our engagement with each of our Arctic partners. I’ll have more to announce on that on a later stop on this trip.

In addition to security, President Trump is committed to leveraging resources of environmentally – in environmentally responsible ways. He knows this white expanse can also be green.

Our administration helped the Arctic states seal the Central Arctic Fisheries Agreement. It was one of the first times in history that a region banded together to preemptively solve a threat to environmental resources. We should all be very proud of that.

Our administration has also freed up energy exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We’ve exported offshore energy production in the safest way possible, while also hosting – excuse me, also hosting joint oil spill exercises with regional partners.

And I’m pleased to announce today that U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry will deliver the keynote address at the Arctic Circle Assembly later this year in Iceland. He’ll also talk more there about how we plan to increase access to the Arctic’s resources, and do so in an environmentally responsible way.

Look, the facts speak for themselves: America is the world’s leader in caring for the environment. Our energy-related CO2 emissions fell by 14 percent between 2006 and 2017. The rest of the world’s rose by more than 20 percent during that same time period. Our black carbon emissions are down 16 percent since 2013 and are on track to drop by nearly half by 2035, the best of any Arctic country. Meanwhile, it isn’t clear that Russia is reducing emissions at all, despite being the largest emitter of black carbon in the entire Arctic.

The United States is achieving our reductions the American way: through scientific work, through technology, through building out safe and secure energy infrastructure, and through our economic growth, and doing it in a way that doesn’t stifle development with burdensome regulations that only create more risk to the environment.

Compare the data of the United States to China. Its – our CO2 emissions more than tripled between – excuse me, China’s CO2 emissions tripled between 2000 and 2016. Do we want that kind of output in one of the most precious and pristine corners of the world?

I want to close by talking about two principles that have long defined the Arctic – and which are needed in this new era more than ever: That’s partnerships and courage.

They’re common – they’re common threads through the centuries here in the Arctic: Indigenous peoples carved civilizations into the ice, explorers trudged onward in the face of danger and death, and soldiers and diplomats secured the region when it mattered the most. And sometimes – sometimes courage and partners came from unlikely places.

Like a bar in Duluth, Minnesota.

The year was 1955, and still at times there were no human being that was believed to have reached the North Pole by sea or land.

Yet in that bar on the shores of Lake Superior, an insurance salesman and a doctor – both middle-aged dads and living in the suburbs – decided to give it a shot. They recruited a high school geography teacher and a mechanic.

And they also sought a Canadian partner – someone more familiar with the North Country, settling on a Canadian snowplow, they snowplow – settling on a Canadian snowplow racer[3].

Eventually, the motley crew set out on what became a 43-day, 412-mile trek in temperatures reaching negative 60 degrees. All on the backs of snowmobiles.

They easily could have died, like so many before them. Instead, in 1968, they became the first human beings ever to reach the North Pole by land – just 15 months before Neil Armstrong made his historic first step on the moon.

Courage and partnership. Courage and partnership is what this region depends on. Especially today.

So for here at the Arctic Council, we’ve done our job. There’s more to do. We face a new era of challenge in the region. Now is the time for increased vigilance and increased partnership and even more courage.

We must hold each other accountable. And we must not allow this forum to fall victim to subversion – from Arctic or non-Arctic states.

Through courage and partnership, we can succeed. I trust that we will. And our nations – and the entire world – can look forward to a bright, peaceful, sustainable future for this indispensable region.

Thank you all for joining me here today. (Applause.)

Footnotes

[1] Correction: Alaska was purchased by the United States in 1867.

[2] Correction: NATO’s Arctic military exercise was called Trident Juncture.

[3] Correction: Jean-Luc Bombardier was a snowmobile racer.