Secretary of State John Kerry today named former Coast Guard commandant Robert J. Papp Jr. as special representative to the Arctic. Kerry created the new position to elevate Arctic issues in America’s foreign policy and national security strategy as the U.S. prepares to assume the chair of the Arctic Council.
Papp was head of the Coast Guard from 2010 until he retired in May. Both Alaska senators praised the appointment and said Papp has substantial experience in the region. Papp says he’s seen the changing Arctic first-hand. When he was new to the service, in July 1976, he was sent in a helicopter to look for a way to get a Coast Guard cutter from Nome to the North Slope.
“I was amazed that, first of all, we didn’t find any leads in the ice going through the Bering Strait,” he said in a 2012 address. “And as we landed in Kotzebue, as I looked out across the water, all I could see was ice. Ice as far as I could see.”
Fast-forward three decades. As commandant, he decided to go back to Kotzebue.
“As we were landing, I looked out as far as I could see, and I saw no ice,” Papp said. “Same time of the year, 34 years later, no ice.”
Kerry also announced the appointment of former Alaska Lt. Governor Fran Ulmer as Special Advisor on Arctic Science and Policy. Ulmer says it will be in addition to her current post, as chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission.
“But this role is a slight expansion of that in that it will focus on some of the broader Arctic Policy issues that are specific to the 2015-2017 Arctic Council chair rotation,” Ulmer says.
Ulmer says it’s important for Alaskans to have an opportunity to engage with the Arctic Council.
“If you look at what has been done recently (on the Council) in terms of search and rescue, and oil spill response and research in ocean acidification and the health of marine mammals, these things are important regionally, nationally, locally, globally,” she says.
Secretary Kerry says Papp plans to visit Alaska soon to consult with policymakers there.