Arctic Diplomacy Briefing

Letter from the Editor


Welcome to your personal Arctic diplomacy primer, featuring some of the people who know Arctic issues best. They include “the Arctic Senator,” the State Department’s Coordinator for the Arctic Region and our friends at the newly reopened Consulate Nuuk, Greenland, as well as two ambassadors (one American, one Icelandic) who have served on the Arctic Council.

Our timing is fortuitous as foreign ministers and special envoys head to Reykjavík for the May 19-20 ministerial meeting of the council, the vehicle for coordination and cooperation in the region since 1996.

This is an exciting and opportune time to visit Arctic issues, a time of urgent need for multilateral efforts to combat climate change and stem the tide of melting ice. It is also a time to identify and home in on U.S. political, economic, social and other national security interests and responsibilities in the Arctic region.

Ambassador David Balton, now a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Polar Institute, sets the scene with an overview on “Advancing U.S. Diplomacy in the Arctic.”

I was able to catch up with U.S. Coordinator for the Arctic Region James P. DeHart for a conversation about U.S. plans and initiatives in the Arctic today and his role as the first person to hold this new position.

Intrigued by the U.S. reopening of a consulate on the island of Greenland in June 2020 after having closed Consulate Godthaab (now Nuuk) in 1953, we asked the folks at the new consulate to tell us about “Setting Up Shop in Nuuk.” FSO Eavan Cully brings us that story from the fast-growing center for Arctic issues and activity.

In “Toward a Sustainable Arctic,” Ambassador Einar Gunnarsson, chair of the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials from 2019 until this month, fills us in on how Iceland has worked to address priority issues—economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection—during its chairmanship of the council.

And, finally, we are thrilled to have a view from Capitol Hill on “Arctic Exceptionalism” from Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a prominent Arctic champion. She urges that the United States treat the region as a “front-and-center” issue and build capacity for serious and dedicated U.S. Arctic diplomacy for the future.

Speaking of building capacity, our cover story takes aim at how the United States can reclaim a leadership position in managing international problems. Ambassador (ret.) David Miller Jr., Ambassador (ret.) Thomas Pickering and former FSO Rand Beers—all three of whom helped establish and lead the U.S. Diplomatic Studies Foundation—argue that more investment in professional education for diplomacy is essential in “Revitalizing State: Closing the Education Gap.”

FSO John Fer, in the Speaking Out column, “How the 1619 Project Can Help Public Diplomacy,” advocates that U.S. diplomats do more to engage foreign audiences on difficult topics, problems and questions, including and maybe especially those that we are grappling with at home.

In this month’s feature, we take a dark journey into northeastern Syria. In “Raqqa’s Inferno—A Diplomat Reads Dante in Syria,” Ambassador (ret.) William Roebuck, assigned there from 2018 to 2020, finds that Dante’s imagery in The Inferno captures the depth of suffering and destruction he saw there.

FS Heritage takes us back to the Red Scare of the 1950s and the contentious but ultimately successful confirmation process for Charles E. Bohlen to become U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union. His daughter, Ambassador (ret.) Avis Bohlen, tells the story.

In Reflections, retired FSO Peter Harding recounts the unusual day-in-the-life-of-a-diplomat story of a 1997 incident in Chad in which he helped rescue a Peace Corps volunteer from Sarh.

And in the President’s Views column, Ambassador Eric Rubin discusses some of AFSA’s current priorities, including advancing diversity and boosting morale and retention in the U.S. Foreign Service.

As this edition illustrates well through the lens of Arctic diplomacy, the United States is back at the table on a wide array of diplomatic efforts. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on how it’s going. Please write to us at

Shawn Dorman is the editor of The Foreign Service Journal.