By: Hung Nguyen
On February 16, 2015, Mark Brzezinski, former U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Sweden, addressed an audience at Dartmouth College as part of a Montgomery Fellowship lecture series on Arctic development and management.
A member of the Dartmouth Class of 1979, Brzezinski also holds a J.D. from the University of Virginia and a D.Phil from Oxford University. Under the Clinton administration, Brzezinski utilized his expert training on international cooperation, serving as the Director of the National Security Council and dealing particularly with Russian and Eurasian issues. He was appointed Ambassador to Sweden in 2011. During his term, Brzezinski has focused on improving public understanding of global Arctic development.
Showing a map of the North Pole with the eight countries on the Arctic Council (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Russia and the U.S.), Brzezinski noted that no single country enjoys dominance in the region. International cooperation, thus, is necessary in order to advance common interests.
From 1988 to 2013, ice cover of the Artic has reduced by half. At this rate, Brzezinski noted, we might be looking at an ice-free Arctic by as early as 2040. Global temperatures could be driven up by 1–4ºC, and if temperatures rise to the point where Greenland ice is melted, sea levels could even rise as high as 23 feet. Half of the United States’ coastline would be under water, putting 16.4 million Americans at risk of displacement.
Brzezinski suggested that we look at the problem of Arctic management and development in two dimensions. It is first a strategic problem: Brzezinski noted the emerging issue of dealing with geopolitics in the region. He argued that we need to keep the Arctic free of conflict and militarization, as well as to settle boundary disputes in a constructive manner. Another important strategic dimension involves building up the capacity to conduct search and rescue (SAR) operations in the Arctic. However, Brzezinski also looked at the Arctic as a human problem that involves survival and livelihoods. Climate change will endanger vital ecosystems, fish stocks, and so on; these effects might even be irreversible. Brzezinski said we should “think of our grandchildren” to really see the future implications. International cooperation, thus, is key to both of these dimensions.
Brzezinski then turned to the role of the Arctic Council and the future of American involvement, as the United States prepares to assume chairmanship of the Council in 2015. During Sweden’s chairmanship (2011–2013), Brzezinski noted, a trifold balance was pursued with great success. These involved: (1) sustainable economic growth, (2) the protection of indigenous populations, and (3) the protection of the environment. He argued that the U.S. chairmanship—whose central theme is “shared opportunities, challenges and responsibilities”—should learn from Sweden. First, it should emphasize the safety, security and stewardship of the Arctic Ocean. This means being ready for increasing numbers of tourists to the region, as well as for emergencies such as oil spills that might occur anytime. Second, the U.S. must enhance economic and living conditions. Telecom infrastructure, Brzezinski stressed, is in need of improvement, as is the problem of physical and mental health (i.e. high suicide rates) in the Arctic. Third and finally, the U.S. needs to address impacts of climate change, including those not readily visible. All three of these objectives are central and crucial to a successful U.S. term, said Brzezinski.
Concluding his lecture, Brzezinski noted that we have difficult choices going forward, and the choices made during the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council will matter tremendously. He believed that optimism is not unwarranted, though. Brzezinski quoted President John F. Kennedy: “Where nature makes natural allies of us all, we can demonstrate that beneficial relations are possible even with those with whom we most deeply disagree, and this must someday be the basis of world peace and world law.” In his words, nature can—and should—be a great unifier that facilitates international cooperation and prompts us all into action.