Arctic security expert will lead Washington polar institute

Rebecca Pincus will be the new director of the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute, while Michael Sfraga will become its chair.

By Melody Schreiber - August 29, 2022
Rebecca Pincus speaks about China’s role in the Arctic on March 21, 2019. (U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission)

Rebecca Pincus will become the new director of the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute, the organization announced on Saturday.

Michael Sfraga, who held the director position for four years before being named to a position on the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, will become the institute’s chair and a distinguished fellow.

Pincus’s background highlights the primacy of security in Washington as Sweden and Finland seek NATO membership and Northern geopolitics loom large.

Pincus was an assistant professor at the U.S. Naval War College, and she served as Arctic and climate strategy advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy. Pincus also worked on polar strategy and policy at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Center for Arctic Study and Policy, where she remains a fellow.

Pincus also studied environmental science in graduate school, and she’s looking forward to returning to her roots more, she said.

“I think security is one of the chief concerns for the United States and its allies and partners in the region, but the other parts of my experience are also really relevant,” Pincus said. “I’m looking forward to taking a bit more of a broader perspective.”

Other pressing issues include Arctic economics, infrastructure, technology and the changing role and power of Indigenous peoples and communities, she said.

“In the Arctic, all these issues are interconnected, right — you can’t talk about security without talking about environmental issues, and you can’t talk about human security without talking about food security and economic security,” Pincus said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, and Mike Sfraga, the new chair of the Polar Institute, speak at an Ice-Diminishing Arctic symposium at the Wilson Center on July 17, 2019. (John Farrell / U.S. Arctic Research Commission)

Sfraga’s new role will allow him to continue guiding the institute.

There are two other chairs of Wilson Center programs: Baroness Cathy Ashton with the Global Europe Program and Ambassador Jim Jeffries with the Middle East Program.

The move to create a third chair “elevated” the Polar Institute’s work and showed the center’s long-term commitment to Arctic and Antarctic issues, Sfraga said.

“You’re kind of getting a two-for-one here — you’re getting Rebecca, who will focus on the day-to-day efforts of program, and I will be working with her on broader strategy issues,” he said.

Sfraga believes Pincus will bring fresh energy, an important perspective and key connections in Washington.

“All we’ve done is built a foundation,” Sfraga said of the past four years. “Now we have the benefit of having Rebecca, who can help put more on that foundation.”

“I like being replaced by somebody better, and I think we’ve got it right here,” he said.