Conference report: On 28-29 April 2010, the Geopolitics in the High North research programme conducted its first, annual conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC. The conference was a timely and relevant contribution to the growing interest in Arctic issues in the US, and gathered a number of representatives from government, think tanks and academia.
High level key note and panels
Conference report: On 29 November, leading Nordic and Canadian scholars discussed different challenges and opportunities of cooperation related to governance in the Arctic region.
The conference focused on US strategic interests in the High North. The first day was high level, public event and included keynote introductions by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and Norwegian State Secretary of Defence Espen Barth Eide.
In her address, Senator Murkowski stated that future international relations in the Arctic will require dynamic leadership, and that such leadership needed to be demonstrated in the US by Senate ratification on UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It would be better for the US to be a party to the treaty, rather than being an outsider hoping its interests will not be damaged, Murkowski argued. The treaty was submitted to the Senate for approval in 1994, but has not been ratified yet, leaving the US as the only Arctic state that is not a party to UNCLOS.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg focused on a broader perspective and saw the Arctic as a test case of the international community’s ability to meet transnational challenges in the 21st century. Using the term “the Arctic opportunity”, Steinberg was impressed by the remarkable goodwill shown by all states with interests in Arctic issues in approaching common challenges.
Norwegian State Secretary of Defence Espen Barth Eide discussed the interconnectedness of the issues in a broader regional perspective. He also gave an overview of the historic agreement between Norway and Russia on maritime delimitation in the Barents Sea, which was signed in Oslo the previous day.
In the two first panels, a range of experts from the US government and think tanks discussed US ratification of the UNCLOS and US interests in the Arctic in general. The final panel focused on security perspectives from both the US and Canadian, Russian, Danish and Norwegian perspectives. Geopolitics in the High North researchers Heather Conley, director of CSIS' Europe Program, Professor Rolf Tamnes, director of IFS, and IFS Senior Fellow Paal Sigurd Hilde. Pavel Baev, senior fellow at PRIO and Professor Lawson Brigham from the Univeristy of Fairbanks, both associated researchers at the Geopolitics in the High North, were also contributing.
Video and audio recordings of all key note addresses and panels are available at the CSIS website.
Enhanced role for NATO in the Arctic?
Day two of the conference included a closed session workshop focusing on NATO’s role in the Arctic, where researchers and government representatives from the US, Norway, Canada, Denmark and Russia discussed whether NATO should have a role in the Arctic, and what added value NATO could bring. The workshop was moderated by Dr. Stephen Flanagan, Senior Vice President, Henry Kissinger Chair, CSIS. See the workshop agenda here.
Launch of new CSIS publication
At the conference, CSIS launched the new report: U.S. Strategic Interests in the Arctic - An Assessment of Current Challenges and New Opportunities for Cooperation, written by Heather Conley and Jamie Kraut. In the report they point to how the effects of climate change have launched the Arctic Circle to the forefront of geopolitical calculations, potentially transforming the region into a commercial hub fraught both with environmental concerns and complex challenges that have direct implications for U.S. national security. According to the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review, climate change acts as an “instability accelerant” that will play a significant role in “shaping the future security environment.” The melting of the northern polar ice has dramatically altered this once static geographic and oceanic region and is responsible for the new-found profitability and geostrategic relevance of the region. Access to oil, gas, minerals, fish, and transportation routes, formerly locked in by thick ice, are for the first time becoming accessible and viable sources of profit.
Networking over international issues
Several speakers and participants spoke of the conference as a timely and relevant contribution to the growing interest of Arctic issues in the US. Over 165 people had registered to attend the conference, where German, Russian, Canadian, US and Norwegian programme researchers and associates were given a golden opportunity to learn more about US’ interests in the Arctic region as well as how High North issues are perceived in Washington.
The conference “Governance in the Arctic” was held in Oslo. It was the result of a joint effort between the Norwegian Institute for Defence studies (IFS), which directs the international research project Geopolitics in the High North, and the Nordic Association for Canadian studies. The aim of the conference was to gather leading scholars for an academic discussion about key issues regarding governance in the Arctic and a number of Geopolitics in the High North researchers participated.
IFS’ director, Rolf Tamnes, opened the conference by asking to what extent and in what ways the Arctic can be governed. As calls for an Arctic treaty have largely ceased, the main question is how existing institutions and arrangements can be further strengthened. Ms Eugénie Panitcherska, counsellor and consul at the Canadian Embassy in Norway, commented on the importance of the Arctic to Canada. The Canadian stand is that the Arctic is a region of cooperation and Ms Panitcherska pointed out the Canadian right and responsibility to protect the Arctic, referring to Canada’s Arctic Strategy from 2009.
The first panel session reflected upon the different challenges to governance in the Arctic. Robert Huebert from the University of Calgary focused on hard security issues. Huebert argued that while states talk of cooperation there are signs that states are building up their military capabilities. He also referred to policy statements, expenditures and exercises which, he argued, point in the same direction.
Svend Aage Christensen from the Danish Institute for International Studies addressed the issue of the region’s energy resources. As most of these lie within the exclusive economic zones of the five Arctic Ocean states, it is pointless to race for territory, Christensen argued.
Paal S. Hilde of IFS addressed soft security challenges. Even though the activity in the Arctic region has not increased as much as was widely expected a few years ago, some major challenges in areas like search and rescue, navigational security, environmental security, etc. still remain. The key issues are the harsh climate, the vast area to be covered and the limited infrastructure. Although regulatory and governance gaps are easily identified, important issues are already being addressed. In Hilde’s view the main challenge may be to develop the capabilities for search and rescue.
The second panel session raised questions related to governance and cooperation in different areas and the role of various bodies and institutions. The first speaker on this panel was Timo Koivurova from the University of Lapland. He argued that the so-called scramble for resources was largely a media stunt. Koivurova emphasised that the coastal states may chose to adhere to the rules of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) because these are largely designed to serve their interests, including an in-built flexibility and plenty of room for negotiations.
The next speaker was Stéphane Roussel from the Université du Québec à Montréal. Roussel explained how the north is viewed and can be understood from a Canadian point of view, emphasising the role of the Arctic in the Canadian national identity. He commented on unilateral, as well as bilateral and multilateral, options for addressing governance issues in the Arctic.
Olav Schram Stokke of the Fridtjof Nansen Institute was the panel’s last speaker. He argued that in the question of environmental security, and the balancing of national interests and common concerns, there are strong economic, legal and political stabilising factors. Stokke called for a focus on the interplay between global and regional institutions and arrangements, arguing that the Arctic Ocean needs multilevel governance so that different issues can be addressed in the most appropriate way.
The third panel session continued the discussion of the role of international law and also introduced the EU as an actor in the region. Suzanne Lalonde of the University of Montreal addressed the legal aspects. Pointing to different paragraphs in the UN convention on the Law of the Sea, Lalonde argued that the interaction and diffusion between scientists and lawyers have created room for flexibility and interpretation, thereby implying that there is no direct line from UNCLOS stipulations to mutually satisfactory and agreed solutions between states.
The final speaker at the conference was Steffen Weber, advisor to the European parliament. As secretary general for the EU-Arctic Forum, Weber presented some of his experiences and thoughts on the history and current EU interests in the Arctic. Weber commented on the forthcoming EU Parliamentary Report on the High North, seeing it as both an assessment of the current situation and an exercise that contributes to the identification of priorities. Comparing the current report with previous EU documents, he noticed that there is progress in the knowledge of Arctic issues.
Each session was followed by Q&A sessions. Approximately 50 people attended the conference.