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Alaskan leaders and defense agencies meet in Fairbanks for Alaska Defense Forum

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 5:18 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Community leaders from around Alaska joined with representatives of defense agencies and legislators to discuss the importance Alaska plays in world politics and how communities can help in that role. The Alaska Defense Forum was hosted at the Westmark Hotel and saw speakers from Alaska communities, think tanks, defense agencies and military installations in Alaska discussing the importance of Alaska on a global stage.

“The arctic has become a globalized arctic,” said Mike Sfraga, the director of the Polar Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center. “It’s part of the geopolitical landscape we now live in and Alaska is central to what happens in the north and in fact Alaska is central to what happens outside of the arctic as well.”

Sfraga is from Fairbanks and was a professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks before he moved to Washington D.C. to work Woodrow Wilson Center. The Woodrow Wilson Center is a think tank that was started by congress.

Sfraga said that the arctic is becoming more and more important in the world and that Alaska provides the United States with an arctic position. With China and Russia increasing their arctic activity, Alaska plays a huge role.

“It’s amazing that Alaska has become the tip off the spear, for our nations security,” Sfraga said. However, it’s not just for the arctic, “But the Indo-Pacific and I would argue also with our allies in Canada and in Greenland and in Iceland it’s part of the spear for NATO as well.”

While many of the ideas discussed at the forum related to global politics, Sfraga said that all of these impact local communities like Fairbanks.

“So you bring it all the way down to Fairbanks, there is a reason there are F-35s here in Fairbanks, there is a reason missile defense is a hundred miles from here, there is a reason we have JBER in the south in Anchorage, that reason is our national security interests,” Sfraga said.

Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Bryce Ward helped to organize the forum, he said arctic strategy impacts everyone in Fairbanks.

“There are certainly economic and social impacts to being a military community so what does that mean for business, what does that mean for economic opportunities and then how do we identify those needs, and how are we able to meet those needs as a community,” Ward said.

Sfraga said the forum was designed to, “Bring us all the way from the big geopolitics, all the way down to the local level. Making sure we have affordable housing for our families, making sure there is daycare for these families, making sure there are educational opportunities for these families.”

Ward said that this brings opportunities to the community, “When we look at opportunities, when we look at the message for our community, it’s that the military is here, there presence in the Interior and in the state of Alaska is going to be one that is going to continue to grow.”

The forum saw video messages from Alaska’s congressional delegation and was attended by many from around the state. In recent years Alaska has seen a large increase in military operations with more expected in the future.

The forum was held for the first time in 2019 but had to be canceled in 2020. Ward said he is already thinking about planning a 2022 and 2023 Alaska Defense Forum.

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