In the Northernmost location in the U.S. Arctic region, defense and security experts from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the United States gathered for the historic first-ever Arctic Defense Attaché Field Seminar. Hosted by the Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies) and partnered with UIC (Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation) Science, LLC, this landmark immersive event took place from Sept. 25 through 28, showcasing the U.S. Arctic and emphasizing the growing importance of cooperative efforts in the Arctic region.
Conducted in Anchorage and Utqiaġvik, the northernmost city in the United States, the field seminar served as a platform for discussions on Arctic security and defense, with participants including defense attachés from Arctic countries and representatives from the U.S. State Department, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), and Alaskan Command.
Matthew Hickey, the associate director of Strategic Engagement at the TSC, emphasized the significance of the seminar. “There are many events and activities about the Arctic around the world, but there are few events about the Arctic that occur in the Arctic, and far fewer that place participants in Arctic conditions” he explained. “The TSC’s field engagement programs, such as this field seminar, are as unique as they are important because they get people into the Arctic itself, to touch it, to feel it, to see it, and actually experience it. It permits people to make better policy decisions.”
The seminar focused on a wide range of topics including, collaborative security efforts, the opening of sea routes, climate change impacts, search and rescue operations, local government services, and critical infrastructure projects. The discussions and on-site visits were aimed at educating Arctic practitioners and ultimately bolstering cooperation among the participating nations by establishing a common operating picture of the entire Arctic region, and to reinforce our shared commitment to a safe, secure, and peaceful Arctic region.
“The North American Arctic is much different than the European Arctic,” said Hickey, “this was the first time many of our European Arctic colleagues have seen this part of the region. For some, it was eye opening. For most, it was adventurous. For all, it was informative.”
As part of the seminar experience Craig Fleener, deputy advisor of Arctic Security Affairs for the TSC, led a guided discussion about the challenges of critical infrastructure in the U.S. Arctic.
The fact of the matter is the U.S. Arctic lacks the kind of infrastructure that it needs, but there is an opportunity to properly and sustainably develop the region, Fleener explained.
His comments reflected upon the many infrastructure challenges the region faces, but also come on the heels of the release of many new National Strategy for the Arctic Region, released in October 2022, and ahead of an anticipated released of a new DoD Arctic Strategy – both of which aim to address some of these challenges.
One of the key aspects of the seminar was learning from and including the Alaska Native perspective especially when creating and implementing policies. Over the course of the four-day event participants had the opportunity to immerse themselves in Alaska Native culture to gain a deeper understanding of their values and perspectives and engage in informative conversations with residents of the North Slope Borough.
“Utqiaġvikis a true Arctic community. For generations, people living here and along the North Slope have not only survived but thrived in extreme environmental conditions. They possess invaluable knowledge about the land,” Hickey explained. “By working together with the Alaska Native community, we are able to find more holistic solutions to emerging concerns. Its paramount to success.”
Recognizing this, the seminar featured a discussion panel that incorporated the insights and concerns from the Alaska Native community, ensuring an inclusive approach to Arctic security.
The event also aligned with the mission of the U.S. Northern Command, which is responsible for defending North America’s northern approaches, including the Arctic region. Participants visited the Point Barrow Long Range Radar Site and to learn more about its critical role in the defense of the North American continent.
“By bringing our partners and allies into this operating area they had the chance to see first-hand what it’s like, and to learn about the unique environmental, geographic, and logistical challenges the U.S. faces defending our homeland,” said Hickey.
The inclusion of representatives from the U.S. State Department and NORAD added a diplomatic and strategic dimension to the seminar.
“These organizations play crucial roles in shaping U.S. policy, diplomacy and defense posture in the Arctic, making their participation an essential component of the event,” Hickey explained.
By bringing together defense and security experts from multiple nations, the seminar promoted cooperation and coordination that directly supports USNORTHCOM’s mission and the mission of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
“These types of TSC-led immersive experiences allow participants to understand a corner of USNORTHCOM’s operating area which is a direct benefit to the combatant command itself Hickey continued. “When we are faced with national security challenges in the U.S. Arctic our partners and allies are now better educated and informed from a first-hand experience rather than anecdotes. It allows them to understand why the U.S. does certain things, not just what it does. That level of understanding fosters collaboration and cooperation.”
At the culmination of the seminar was a capstone event where participants applied their newfound knowledge to work together in small groups to tackle an Arctic Security Dilemma – a scenario-based, critical-thinking exercise led by the TSC’s School of Arctic and Climate Security Studies.
“People are defined by the experiences they have in their lives,” explained Hickey. “So, it’s crucial to provide decision-makers, and those who aid in making those decisions, with firsthand experiences in the Arctic before or ahead of a crisis or dilemma.”
As the seminar concluded, participants left with a deeper understanding of the shared challenges and opportunities in the Arctic.
“The bonds forged during the seminar’s discussions and collaboration will undoubtedly strengthen the network of like-minded nations committed to preserving the Arctic’s unique ecosystem and maintaining security in the region,” said Hickey. “The inaugural Arctic Defense Attaché Field Seminar has set a precedent for future cooperative efforts in the U.S. Arctic region, marking a significant step toward ensuring its stability and sustainability for generations to come.”
TSC will continue to develop and refine the field seminar program to increase regional collaboration to achieve a peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative Arctic region, core principles of the Arctic National Defense Strategy.
Photo By Amber Kurka | Dr. Haliehana Stepetin, assistant professor for the School of Arctic and Climate Security Studies for the Ted Stevens Center for Arctic Security Studies, talks to Henrik Gram Pedersen, assistant defense attaché from Denmark, at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, Alaska, Sept. 25, 2023. Defense and security experts from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and the United States gathered for the first-ever Arctic Defense Attaché Field Seminar hosted by the TSC. As part of the immersive four-day experience Dr. Stepetin explained to officials about Alaska Native culture in the U.S. Arctic, and the importance of including Indigenous perspectives in Arctic security cooperation efforts. (DoD photo by Amber E. Kurka) View Image Page