Arctic Ocean Arctic Council

This week’s decision to suspend the activities of the Arctic Council after each of its members, except Russia, condemned what they called the “unprovoked invasion of Ukraine” earned strong support from U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine, co-chairman of the Senate Arctic Caucus.

Sen. Angus King Contributed photo

King and Co-chairman U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, endorsed the decision by seven countries to boycott council meetings in Russia and pause their participation in other council work while they consider what to do next.

King, an independent who has long championed arctic issues, said in a prepared statement Friday that Russia’s attack on its neighbor “goes against the charter of the Arctic Council,” which has prioritized cooperation and respect among the nations of the far North.

In King’s view, shared by many experts, the strategic and economic importance of the Arctic is growing as a warming climate makes its sea lanes easier for ships to use. King hopes it will spur more activity for Portand’s seaport, the closest major American entryway to Arctic waterways.

Criticizing the Russian invasion were Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, the United States, Canada and Denmark, all of the council’s members except Russia, which is serving as chair of the 26-year-old international organization.

The countries hitting the pause button said, though, they “remain convinced of the enduring value of the Arctic Council for circumpolar cooperation” and reiterated their backing for “this institution and its work.”


“We hold a responsibility to the people of the Arctic, including the indigenous peoples, who contribute to and benefit from the important work undertaken in the council,” they said in a written statement issued Thursday.

Murkowski said in the joint statement with King that “the Arctic has long been a zone of peace where a rules-based order prevails. All Arctic nations must act in accordance with the values required to maintain that order, with respect for territorial sovereignty and basic human rights.”

Arctic Council logo

“However, Russia’s unprovoked and devastating war on Ukraine has both direct consequences and global ramifications that no country or institution can ignore,” she said.

“It’s important that we send a clear, united message to Russia that its current actions are inhibiting its ability to lead as the chair of the Arctic Council and the Arctic Economic Council right now,” Murkowski said. “The rest of the region must remain united in strident opposition to its deadly aggressions.”

King, who recently wrote extensively about Maine and the Arctic for The Wilson Quarterly, said the suspension of activities by the council “is entirely consistent with the standards and expectations of the region, and the United States will work to make sure any restoration of ties comes with the high, peaceful standards the Arctic Council has demonstrated for a generation.”

In his magazine piece, King said the nation “should continue to work alongside all Arctic nations —including Russia — to support a ‘High North, Low Tensions’ model of diplomacy,” though he cautioned that “more severe policies” might be needed if Russia invaded Ukraine.

In any case, he said, the State Department needs to establish a new position, an assistant secretary of arctic affairs, “to lead U.S. diplomatic efforts in the Arctic and ensure clear communication between nations.”

He and Murkowski are pushing an Arctic Diplomacy Act to establish the post so that the U.S. representative on the council would have the same ambassador-level standing that every other country involved already has in place.

“Not having a formal seat at the diplomatic table with a Senate-confirmed official means we have less standing in the region,” King said. “As the security environment in the region evolves, so must our leadership. We need a high-level official to advance and protect America’s Arctic interests.”

Map of the Arctic U.S. Department of State

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