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March 10, 2010 |  3 comments |  Print  Your Opinion  

klaus  Dodds

Topic Sea and State Change

Klaus Dodds: The Arctic is in a state of interregnum. The opening of new shipping routes and possible resource exploitation are points of contention. While it is overblown to suggest inevitable geopolitical disorder, tensions will run high.

Two powerful factors are at play. First, accelerating sea ice loss is profoundly changing the biophysical qualities of the High North. Several hundred years ago, explorers had good reason to fear the ice. European explorers and their ships were, at times, consumed by the ice and perished in horrid circumstances. Now, it is the ice that is being unsettled.

Second, factors such as accessibility, resource potential and sovereignty are changing the Arctic. A more accessible Arctic means intensifying resource exploitation, tourist activity, energy extraction and trans-oceanic shipping.

What is at stake?

An accessible Arctic puts pressure on the five coastal states (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States) to remind other stakeholders including China, the European Union and/or commercial corporations of their national sovereignty, and to militarize, regularize and securitize their jurisdictions. In 2009, two German commercial ships travelled via the Northern Sea Route (NSR) for the first time, with the permission of Russia. And due to the circulation and pattern of sea ice loss, it is the NSR rather than the North West Passage (NWP) that looks more promising in the short term. For the Canadian government, the NWP is highly sensitive. The United States, considers it to be an international strait and not Canadian internal waters. The difference matters because if it is recognised as an international strait then rights of innocent passage are inviolate.

The Arctic’s undiscovered resource potential is eliciting interest. A recent assessment concluded that such potential lay in the uncontested waters of the coastal states. While the Russian flag-planting episode triggered febrile interest, in practice the price of energy markets and technological constraints will be more important. In Greenland, indigenous communities have expressed support for resource exploitation because it might provide a new revenue stream for (possibly) the world’s first Inuit independent state.

The primary mechanism for inter-governmental co-operation is the Arctic Council. Created in 1996, it is a soft law institution. It advises. It carries out research. It does not consider military matters. Four out of five of the coastal states are NATO members. The US and Russia, despite the ending of the Cold War, still have their submarines patrolling under the Arctic Ocean. Long-range Russian bombers fly over the Arctic much to the consternation of Canadians.

In 2008, the five coastal states reaffirmed their commitment to resolving any outstanding differences over maritime boundaries and invoked the Law of the Sea as their preferred mechanism. They will meet again in March 2010 to review progress in Canada. The other permanent members of the Arctic Council – Finland, Iceland and Sweden, have not welcomed this development.

The inference is clear. The five coastal states in the Arctic want to be the prime drivers. They literally want to stitch up the Arctic into a tapestry of national sovereignties. All five are mapping the Arctic seabed and submitting their materials to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in the expectation that they can declare extended continental shelves. The Law of the Sea allows for the rights of others of course to be respected such as rights of innocent passage.

For all five coastal states in the Arctic, it is an expensive business but the Arctic matters, and in ways that often exceeds the rational and the strategic. It is a space for the projection of national identity and pride; flags are planted, fingers are pointed and fears are articulated.

Going forward?

Assuming we can combine the ‘rational and strategic’ with projections of pride and/or fear, what kind of governance for the Arctic would we want? And whenever we use the ‘we’ word we run into a fundamental problem – is it clear what the ‘we’ refers to? Indigenous and first nations communities clearly represent a very different kind of ‘we’ to the European Commission, China, and the five coastal states. So with that caveat in mind, I think we need to address the following:

  1. The Arctic Council will need to be more than advisory organization in the longer term.
  2. The five Arctic coastal states need to work towards creating the Arctic as a zone of peace – the militarization of the Arctic is retrogressive.
  3. Indigenous and first nations communities and their human security needs deserve meaningful championing by the five coastal states.
  4. Further energy exploitation in the Arctic needs to be seen in a commitment to a low carbon future.
  5. The five coastal states need to show leadership and really act as ‘environmental stewards’.

Klaus Dodds is Professor of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London and Editor of The Geographical Journal.

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Comments
Greg Randolph Lawson

March 10, 2010

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Militarizing the Arctic might be regressive, but it also quite likely.

While there is no question that all five coastal states will seek peaceful ways of securing access to the new resources being made available by receding ice, each will have to look at "hard power" mechanisms as well. Pieces of paper are nice and can carry moral weight, but guns (and in this case ice breakers) carry strategic weight.

Already, other nations are making some rumbles about their desire for access to the area.

For example, China has already begun staking a claim rhetorically. The below is from the Diplomat blog (http://the-diplomat.com/2010/03/09/china%e2%80%99s-arctic-play/)

" ‘The Arctic belongs to all the people around the world as no nation has sovereignty over it.’ So said Chinese Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo, in comments relayed by the official China News Service on March 5 that essentially staked Beijing’s claim to the North Pole."

Each of the coastal states are going to have to be very careful in determining just what territory they are claiming. Indeed, they need to come to agreement amongst themselves and then work in a concerted effort to explain themselves to the world at large. Even so, there will be a lot of unhappiness in state capitals of nation's that aren't geographically proximate to the Arctic.
Tags: | Arctic |
 
Marie  Delanoix

March 16, 2010

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I do agree with Mr. Randolph Lawson, the Chinese growing interest is far from genuine. China has been diversifying and repeating its commitment in the High North: scientific expeditions, plans to create a Beijing-New /York(http://www.china.org.cn/english/features/40791.htm) flight over the North Pole,etc.
I think we could be just witnessing another Chinese oil battlefront such as displayed in Africa: another African oil diplomacy (http://chinadigitaltimes.net/china/oil-diplomacy/)
1- These regular moves, increasing commitment and repeated declarations, as Mr. Randolph Lawson pointed out, are signs looking much like the approach to Africa
2- China could be helping out Greenland, a brand new independent State to exploit its resources and develop friendly partnership endorsing its role of a “developing country” as opposed to the US, Denmark or Canada, who are trying to defend the nature conservation and the fight against climate change and looking as if they wanted to jeopardize the Inuit newly gained independence.

We are far from a cooperative resolution of the Arctic region management. Militarization in the High North is likely to go on.
 
klaus  Dodds

March 17, 2010

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The two aforementioned contributors (Randolph Lawson and Marie Delanoix) make some useful points here and I thank them for engaging with my original piece.

Briefly, I would raise a number of points in response. Regarding Mr Lawson's intervention, it is worth making three points. First, the Law of the Sea is the primary mechanism for the five Arctic Coastal states and Article 76 is key in this regard. The UN body the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf has an important task in this regard - it will issue recommendations and then it is up to the five parties to negotiate with one another with regard to settling maritime boundaries and rival claims to outer continental shelf. They have every incentive to do so in a peaceful and orderly manner. The five (Arctic Ocean coastal states as they like to call themselves) will meet in late March in Canada to review progress. For further information:
http://www.international.gc.ca/media/aff/news-communiques/2010/54.aspx
Second, the militarization of the Arctic matters and this might seem contradictory given the first point. The five Arctic Ocean coastal states are keen not only to be seen to be taking their 'territorial rights' seriously but at the same time to demonstrate to others including China that they are serious about protecting their interests including resources. Third, Mr Lawson also reminds us rightly that the Arctic is becoming increasingly globalized and this means that we are likely to see ever more stakeholders express an interest in its future governance and shape. But then, of course, it makes point 1 all the more important for the five coastal states - they want to ensure both their legal and moral presence in the region.

With regards to Ms Delanoix, I would merely add the following. We need to be careful, and here the 'we' refers to those of us based in Europe and North America, that we better understand the motivations and drivers of Chinese Arctic interests. As a country with observer status in the Arctic Council, China has made it clear that it has a range of interests and those do not have to be interpreted as disruptive to orderly governance in the Arctic. In the specific case of Greenland, there are lots of interests at play here including British energy companies. US and Canadian energy interests are substantial and indeed Canada's Northern Strategy (2007) makes it clear that energy exploitation/development is a major plank of that. Indigenous communities in Greenland and Canada have mixed views on energy development - with some seeing energy revenue as a way of promoting greater autonomy even independence while others recognizing that oil and gas have played a key role in anthropogenic climate change.
Tags: | Arctic governance |
 

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