The United States in the 21 century Arctic
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Geopolitics in the High North high level conference in Washington, DC
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
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.