Sfraga named new Arctic ambassador

Mike Sfraga was nominated to be the first-ever U.S. Arctic ambassador.

By Melody Schreiber - February 13, 2023
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska, and Mike Sfraga, then the new chair of the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute, speak at an Ice-Diminishing Arctic symposium at the Wilson Center on July 17, 2019. (John Farrell / U.S. Arctic Research Commission)

President Joe Biden on Monday nominated longtime Arctic expert and Alaskan Mike Sfraga to be the nation’s first-ever U.S. Arctic ambassador.

The announcement comes as the Arctic looms larger in national security and environmental conversations.

The geopolitical landscape of the region has shifted dramatically following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year and the subsequent applications of Sweden and Finland to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Arctic also figured more prominently in Biden’s first national security strategy, released in October, than it has in years past.

Legislation to create an Arctic affairs office at the State Department was introduced to the U.S. Senate in 2021. The Biden administration subsequently announced it would create the new position in August 2022.

Because this new position was created by presidential order, rather than by law, it’s not clear if the position will continue in future administrations.

While the U.S. has not had an ambassador at large position before, several officials have occupied Arctic-focused diplomatic posts.

James DeHart was named Arctic coordinator for the State Department in July 2020. That position was not filled when the two-year appointment ended in 2022. The new ambassador position is intended to “elevate” this post, the State Department said in August.

Adm. Robert J. Papp, Jr., was the State Department’s Special Representative for the Arctic from 2014-17, a period that included the two years when the U.S. held the rotating chair of the Arctic Council.

Sfraga has held several Arctic positions within the U.S. government.

In 2021, Biden appointed Sfraga to the chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission.

Previously, Sfraga was the director of the Polar Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, and he remains the chair and a distinguished fellow there.

The State Department will work with Congress to “swiftly confirm” the ambassador, the agency said in August when the position was created.

This article has been fact-checked by Arctic Today and Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any content supported by the European Media and Information Fund lies with the author(s) and it may not necessarily reflect the positions of the EMIF and the Fund Partners, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute.