Trump Administration Hasn’t Changed U.S. Arctic Policy, State Department Official Says

Mar 17, 2017

No new U.S. Arctic policy – at least, not yet …

There’s been a lot of speculation over the past couple of months on whether U.S. Arctic policy will change under the Trump administration. But last week, David Balton, a senior Arctic official with the State Department said U.S. policy for the region remains the same, for now.

“For the most part now, our guidance is to keep doing what we’re doing,” said Balton, a deputy assistant secretary who attended a meeting of senior Arctic Council officials in Juneau to prepare for the council’s ministerial to be held this May in Fairbanks.

The Arctic Council's Senior Arctic Officials meet in Juneau's Centennial Hall during one of several proceedings last week in the state capital. In addition to the SAO meeting, members of the council's Permanent Participant organizations, which represent Arctic indigenous peoples, also met in Juneau, as did members of the council's six working groups and three task forces.
Credit Arctic Council

He told journalists in a media briefing after the meeting that basic U.S. policies on protecting and researching the Arctic and its peoples has remained consistent since the Arctic Council was formed 20 years ago

“What I can say is that U.S. interests in the Arctic, and U.S. goals and objectives in the Arctic, has not changed appreciably over time,” Balton said. U.S. Arctic policies usually remain in place during changes in administrations, he said, acknowledging presidents eventually get around to developing their own priorities for the region.   

“This administration, like past administrations, may wish to put its own stamp on Arctic policy,” he said. “That may occur at some point, but it has not happened yet.”

David Balton, deputy assistant secretary for Oceans and Fisheries in the State Department's Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Balton serves as SAO chair.
Credit Arctic Council

Balton said told the journalists he knows of no changes being contemplated by administration officials regarding the relationship between the United States and the Arctic Council.

“So far, I see no direct effect on our participation in the Arctic Council, either in the lead-up to our own ministerial and beyond. But the picture is not entirely clear yet.”

Journalists at the briefing and listening-in online asked Balton whether any sort of divisions have arisen among council member nations over concerns that the United States will abandon support for the Paris climate agreement. Finland, which will assume Arctic Council chairmanship during the Fairbanks ministerial, reportedly will emphasize the importance of the agreement.

“We do know that the Finns intend to highlight the Paris agreement as part of their chairmanship program,” he said. “But they have many other aspects they hope to highlight as well.”

Next week: Balton outlines U.S. Arctic Council chairmanship achievements, looks ahead to Finland assuming chair in Fairbanks ministerial.