The Arctic: The Next "Hot Spot" of International Relations or a Region of Cooperation?

Dec 16, 2009

Introduction by David Speedie:

It is entirely appropriate that the third, and last, set of papers on U.S.–Russia relations—following a first series on arms control issues and a second group on Afghanistan/Central Asia/NATO—should focus on the Arctic region, and that they should appear just as the Copenhagen UN summit on climate change is under way.

In a myriad of security, commercial, and environmental issues concerning the Arctic, our North American and Russian scholars represented here agree that climate change is the paramount challenge. As Byers notes: "Climate change is more apparent in the Arctic than anywhere else on Earth… An increase in average annual temperature of just a fraction of one degree can transform vast areas of white sea-ice into dark ocean water… A complete, late-summer melt-out of Arctic sea ice could occur as early as 2013." In this context, it is ironic that the Arctic is also rich in hydrocarbon resources, and there have been some 30 years of competition over extraction of oil and natural gas in the region, from Alaska to Norway.

Competition and cooperation go hand-in-hand for the countries bordering the Arctic Ocean. On the one hand, the melting ice will open up new shipping channels to transport oil and gas from and through the Arctic; on the other, there have been competing claims for portions of the Arctic territory, with Russia perhaps in the vanguard of articulating and enacting claims of "national interest." As Morozov argues, Russia has also taken a lead in advancing prospects for international cooperation in the Arctic, based on an internationally agreed-upon formalization of boundaries in the region, based on the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (which the United States has yet to ratify).

On the whole, we may see a "glass half-full" prognosis for this critical region, with the balance tipping in favor of cooperation rather than competition. Byers describes a "web of international law that extends across the Arctic," and which even extends to a joint U.S.-Russia notification agreement on military flyovers. More generically, the 1996 Arctic Council has "institutionalized cooperation" on non-military (especially environmental) matters among the eight Arctic countries"—a lesson, perhaps, not to be lost in Copenhagen.

David Speedie, Director, U.S. Global Engagement Program

The other paper in this set is:

Cold Peace: International Cooperation Takes Hold in the Arctic

This paper is prepared as a contribution to the Project on U.S. Global Engagement at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. It is not to be cited or distributed without the permission of the author or the Project Director.

The beginning of the 21st century has been distinguished by the intensification of international competition for access to energy resources, the supply of which determines the current state of the economy. Moreover, this dependence will continue despite vigorous efforts to find alternative sources of energy. Meanwhile, known reserves in the actively producing older oil fields are nearly exhausted. The German Institute for Economic Research estimates that the known reserves will last for no more than 30 to 40 years at current extraction rates.

Under these conditions, the Arctic has begun to attract the attention of the developed nations of the world and international alliances as a repository of considerable hydrocarbon reserves,1 as well as an area with convenient transcontinental routes for sea (should global warming occur) and air travel. Mining is already becoming increasingly profitable in some areas, and therefore the number of actors desiring to aggressively develop the Arctic region is growing. This results in conflicts of interest, which is corroborated both by the escalation of disputes over the boundaries of economic zones between the subarctic nations and by the desire of non-Arctic countries to acquire rights to the use of subsurface Arctic resources. In this regard, a number of problems and related challenges are arising in the Arctic, which calls for the development of measures aimed at preventing them from becoming crises and resulting in the emergence on the world map of the next "hot spot" in the sphere of international relations.

The author identifies several key points regarding both the existing problems and challenges of the Arctic region, as well as possible ways to overcome them through joint efforts by the actors operating in the region.

The Significance of the Arctic for the World Community

Physical geography defines the Arctic as that part of the world which is located to the north of the Arctic Circle. It is 21 million square kilometers in size and includes the Arctic Ocean along with adjacent seas, the islands located there, and the adjacent areas of Europe, Asia, and North America. The subarctic countries include Russia, Canada, the United States, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Iceland (see the map).

The Arctic and national jurisdiction boundaries claimed by Canada and Russia.

According to the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the subarctic countries in the region own exclusive economic zones (up to 200 miles in width) and the continental shelf (up to 350 miles), within which they have the sovereign right to develop mineral resources. However, in 1909 Canada extended its jurisdiction to that sector of the Arctic bounded by the meridians extending from its land borders on the Arctic Ocean and converging on the pole. This claim was supported by Russia, which passed a similar law in 1916. And while the other three subarctic states have not undertaken a legal formulation of this type for their holdings in the Arctic, they have raised no objections to Canada and Russia for doing so. Therefore, the principle of sectoral division of the region has become a recognized reality, and calls for its revision have only recently been heard.

The reason for this was the discovery in the Arctic of a wide range of mineral resources in sufficient quantities for industrial development. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that up to 20 percent of the world's hydrocarbon reserves are located in the Arctic Ocean, with potential oil reserves of 90 billion barrels, gas reserves of 47.3 trillion cubic meters, and gas condensate reserves of 44 billion barrels.2

The Arctic, its Main Geological Features, and the National Jurisdiction Boundaries Claimed by Canada and Russia

The Arctic shelf may in the future become an important or even the primary source of crude hydrocarbons. In addition, significant deposits of various ores, including rare-earth metals, have been discovered there. Finally, a huge amount of bioresources are concentrated in the Arctic Ocean, including more than 150 species of fish alone,3 some of which (cod, flounder, herring, navaga, etc.) play a key role in the world fishing industry.4

However, widespread development of the Arctic's natural resources is limited by severe and even extreme weather conditions; extremely low temperatures, heavy permanent and seasonal ice cover on the sea, permafrost on the land, and polar nights. Business operations and daily activities in the Arctic entail high levels of energy consumption and depend on the delivery of fuel, industrial equipment, food, and basic necessities from outside. For this reason, activities are localized in areas important to business and industry.

Another limitation is the fragility of the Arctic ecosystem which is due to the extreme shortage of solar heat. At the same time, this region plays a special role in the global meteorological and hydrological processes that govern the earth's climate. It affects the movement of air masses in the atmosphere and the circulation of water in the oceans, which determine the weather across the northern hemisphere. Therefore, large-scale human activities there should be undertaken with extreme caution.

The Arctic is also of great strategic importance. There are convenient locations for launching ballistic missiles at all possible targets, as well as locations for missile defense systems, missile early warning systems, and other elements of strategic deterrence systems, all of which make the region vital to national security. Across it are the shortest sea and air routes linking North America and Europe, and the eastern and western regions of the Eurasian continent. For example, the distance from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok on the Northern Sea Route (NSR) is 14.8 thousand kilometers, whereas the distance through the Suez Canal is 23.2 thousand kilometers; and around the Cape of Good Hope it is 29.4 thousand kilometers. However, the use of these routes is hindered by the serious difficulties entailed in sea navigation and flight at high latitudes, as well as by the poor transportation infrastructure in the region as a consequence of the restrictions imposed on its development by the severe climatic conditions. Moreover, the projected moderation of the planet's climate is not a given, as evidenced by the severe and early winter of a few years past that prevented even Russia, which is experienced in operating under such conditions, from fully executing the "northern delivery" program for providing raw materials, food, and goods to its polar stations.

In addition, if the observed warming—which is probably based on as yet unknown planetary development cycles—manifests itself as a marked change in climate constants, many decades and more than one generation of mankind will pass by before it happens. Therefore, for the foreseeable future navigation in the Arctic waters will continue to be possible for just a few warm and bright summer months, and even then it will not be possible to completely dispense with icebreaker escorts on some relatively long routes, for example between Novaya Zemlya and Wrangel Island (over 3,000 kilometers). It will also not be possible to avoid upgrading transport vessels (reinforcing hulls at the waterline; installing equipment to protect the propeller-rudder group against ice damage; and installing heating systems for the work spaces, living quarters, and cargo bays).

All this significantly reduces ship speed (e.g., upgrading a ship reduces its speed by 10 to 15 percent; floating ice reduces it by a factor of two; and convoy travel reduces speed by a factor of three), which offsets the gain a given route provides in comparison with alternative routes. In addition, it is necessary to consider the possibility of ship ice accretion, which reduces the maximum amount of cargo a ship can accept; other factors include increased fuel consumption, higher insurance rates due to elevated risk, cost of icebreaker services, and crew incentives. For now, these and other circumstances involving the use of the sea route along the coast of Siberia as an international shipping corridor make it far less economically attractive compared to the southern corridor, let alone the route along the North American continent, which passes hundreds of kilometers closer to the Pole.

Therefore, for now only Russia needs this route to implement its "north delivery" program, to transport raw materials mined by its companies in the northern regions, and for a few other purposes (a substantial portion of Russia's territory is north of the Arctic Circle). Note that these difficulties with navigation in the region have led Russian experts to explore the feasibility of developing nuclear submarine cargo vessels for use in the circumpolar seas. This once again confirms the validity of the above assessment concerning the possibilities for using this shipping artery for transit both now and for the foreseeable future.

Therefore, it would seem that the assessment of this route as a route that has already become very promising for commercial shipping among America, Europe, and Asia has a different goal. According to some experts, it is most likely that this is one of the ways in which the transnational and large national companies of the developed countries are seeking to enter the Russian polar region with the objective of securing a footing there and expanding business operations in order to subsequently control the extraction of resources, especially energy resources, in this resource-rich region of the planet.5

This means that international organizations, such as the Arctic Council6 and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council7, as well as other formats for international cooperation in the Arctic, such as the Northern Dimension,8 which are designed to promote the stable development of the region, balance interests and iron out differences, and in an increasingly competitive struggle for the region's resources discourage attempts to solve problems by military force, rather "amass a portfolio of missed opportunities," than function as agents for strengthening the positions of their participants.

Thus the strategic importance of the region and attempts to initiate a revision of the principles and existing international norms governing the procedure for demarcation of the possessions of the subarctic countries carry a serious potential for conflict. Initiation of this revision will destabilize both the regional and the global situation. As far as the Arctic Council and the Northern Dimension are concerned, they can become platforms for the development of international cooperation in the region, or they can be a stage for intensifying conflicts both within the organizations and between their members and other countries. Nor should the UN be excluded from the solution of this problem, since increased competition for control of raw materials resources could turn the Arctic into a zone of major international conflict that will affect the entire world community.

Russia's National Interests in the Arctic

Due to the increased significance in the Arctic, Russia adopted a strategy for its development at the end of 2008.9 It defines the basic principles of Russian policy in the Arctic up to 2020 and is designed to refine the system for monitoring the situation in the region, where Russia intends to cooperate with the other Arctic powers in its development. It identifies the following as Russia's national interests: the use of Russia's Arctic zone as a strategic resource base to assist the state in the social-economic development of the country; the preservation of the Arctic as a zone of peace and cooperation; the conservation of the unique ecological systems of the region; and the use of the NSR as an integrated national shipping lane for the Russian Federation.

These interests define the main goals, major objectives, and strategic priorities of Russia's policy in the Arctic, which are spelled out in a number of areas:

  • In the field of socio-economic development—expand the resource base of Russia's Arctic zone, which is largely capable of supplying Russia's demand for hydrocarbon resources and other strategic raw materials;
  • In the field of military security—ensure favorable conditions for Russia in the Arctic, to include the maintenance of the required combat capabilities of the force groupings of Russia's Armed Forces;
  • In the field of environmental security—preserve and protect the natural environment of the Arctic, eliminate the environmental impacts of business activities in the context of increasing economic activity and global climate change;
  • In the sphere of international cooperation—ensure mutually beneficial bilateral and multilateral cooperation of Russia with other nations based on international treaties and agreements to which it is a party.

The following were announced as the strategic priorities of the government policy:

  • Active engagement of Russia with the subarctic countries in order to demarcate the spaces of the region based on international law and mutual agreements, and resolve issues regarding international legal validation of the external boundary of the Russian Arctic zone;
  • Strengthening of bilateral relations and relations in regional organizations, including the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council; good neighbor relations with other states; and intensification of interaction and cross-border cooperation in the effective management of natural resources and conservation of the natural environment in the Arctic;
  • Intensification of efforts by the subarctic countries to create a unified regional system for search and rescue, as well as for the prevention of man-made disasters and elimination of their effects, including the coordination of actions by rescue forces;
  • Facilitation of the organization and efficient use of transit and transpolar air routes in the Arctic, as well as the use of the NSR for international navigation in accordance with the international treaties of the Russian Federation.

These goals will be met with the completion of the following tasks:

In the field of socio-economic development—the execution of geological, geophysical, hydrographic, and cartographic work in preparing materials to validate the external boundary of the Russian Arctic zone; the development and introduction of new forms of technology for the development of marine mineral deposits and aquatic biological resources under Arctic conditions; the restructuring of the volumes of cargo transportation on the NSR and optimization of the "northern delivery" program through the use of renewable and alternative sources of energy; the reconstruction and modernization of spent power plants; and the introduction of energy-saving materials and technologies.

In Russia's Energy Policy—Russia plans an expansion of the resource base of its Arctic zone capable of providing hydrocarbon resources and other strategic raw materials to meet future needs. This provides for development of the resource base through use of new technologies and a new icebreaking fleet under construction in the shipyards of St. Petersburg and the Far East. Despite economic constraints, work is also progressing on oil platforms designed to operate in severe Northern conditions. Their completion by 2011 will allow for the harvesting of stocks of minerals from the Arctic Sea deposits, and also the beginning of extraction of oil and gas deposits in the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation.

In the sphere of military security—the establishment of a general-purpose force which include the Russian Armed Forces and the other forces and organizations in Russia's Arctic zone capable of providing military security for the country in the region; refinement of the system for integrated monitoring of the situation in the Arctic, including monitoring of border crossing points and the NSR; establishment of a functioning coast guard system in Russia's Arctic zone; and increased interaction with the border agencies of neighboring states.

In the field of environmental security—ensuring the conservation of the biological diversity of Arctic flora and fauna by expanding the network of protected natural areas and waters in the context of expanding economic activity and global climate change; the planned recycling of ships with nuclear power plants that have reached the end of their service life.

The plan is to complete these tasks in stages:

1) 2008—2010: work on preparing materials to validate the outer boundary of Russia's Arctic zone; expansion of international cooperation opportunities for the effective management of natural resources in the region; and implementation of investment projects under public-private partnership in line with the strategy for developing it.

2) 2011—2015: international legal formulation of the outer boundary of the Russian Arctic zone; solution of problems involving its structural refinement.

3) 2016—2020: should witness the transformation of Russia's Arctic zone into a key strategic resource base for the country.

Later, the plan is to increase the competitive advantages of the zone in an integrated fashion, strengthen international security, and maintain peace and stability throughout the Arctic. In so doing, it is planned to implement all of these actions while giving due consideration to the peculiarities of Russia's Arctic zone, which influence the development of Russian policy in the Arctic and affect success in solving the basic problems of the region.

Problems and Challenges in the Arctic region

Environmental challenges. Nature in the Arctic is highly sensitive to anthropogenic influence and recovers very slowly from gross interference. Human business activities there have a particularly negative impact on the environment, which previously was considered the reference standard for a clean environment. The main air and sea currents and effluents from rivers in the northern hemisphere converge here, bringing contaminants from distant locations. During the winter and spring polluted air masses quite often come into the region from distant areas of Eurasia. For example, an Arctic Council report states that substances resistant to decomposition are continually being carried into the region and have been detected not just in the soil but in animals, as well. Their concentration levels throughout most of the Arctic zone can only be explained by transfer from lower latitudes.

In Russia's Arctic zone, 27 areas called "impact zones" have been identified; pollution in these zones has already resulted in a significant transformation of the natural geochemical background, atmospheric pollution, degradation of vegetation and soil, and a high incidence of disease among the local population. The disposal of industrial wastes that have accumulated in large quantities around factories has become an acute problem. The Russian company Apatit alone stores approximately 30 million tonnes of waste annually. Tens of thousands of boreholes have been drilled during the relatively short time the Arctic has been under development. Officially, it has been estimated that accidental releases have occurred at half of them.10

There is a potential danger of radioactive contamination of the region. Its cause: the poor technical condition of radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel storage facilities. There are about 250 reactor cores just in the nuclear submarines of Russia's Northern Fleet sitting at docks, and in on-shore storage facilities on the Kola Peninsula.11

Similar examples of negative effects on the ecology of the Arctic could also be cited from the activities of the other Arctic nations. Therefore, the environmental problems in the Arctic cannot be viewed as purely national or regional, because they are indicators of global trends. Then too, the effects of the disruption of the ecological balance sooner or later transcend the borders of individual countries. Such important projects as validation of the "ecological capacity" of territories for acceptable "anthropogenic loads" and the development of resource management standards for Arctic conditions can only be accomplished through the efforts of all of the subarctic nations.

The problems of transarctic shipping. Russia began systematic use of the NSR in the mid 1930's. This was the end result of government efforts to develop the northern regions of the country over the course of several centuries. In 1991 Moscow opened the NSR to foreign shipping with some limitations because its route mainly traverses waters under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation. According to some estimates the potential volume of NSR shipping alone may reach 8 million to 12 million tonnes per year. However, this is less than 0.05 percent of the volume of shipping now carried out through the straits of Southeast Asia, which exceeds 2 billion tonnes a year.

Nevertheless, Russia is interested in expanding NSR shipping as an additional source of foreign currency for developing its infrastructure. Today, according to Ambassador-at-Large A. V. Vasilyev of Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Russia's Arctic territories contribute 21 percent of national GDP, and their export products make up 17 percent of Russia's total exports. Moreover, 5 percent of the known reserves of oil and 15 percent of gas are concentrated in the Arctic territory of the Russian Federation.12 All of this requires appropriate transportation services. It is estimated that the increasing production of gas in Yamal and plans for its liquefaction in the field, of gas condensate in the Ob and Yenisei regions, and of oil in the fields of the Timan-Pechora Basin, as well as the increased production of mineral fertilizers, timber, and nickel will require transportation services to support up to 50 million tonnes of freight in the region by 2020.

Therefore, in addition to the task of attracting foreign investments to modernize northern companies without losing national control over them, there is a need to attract foreign carriers to transport their products without reducing efforts to restore the tonnage of Russia's merchant fleet, develop the coastal port infrastructure, and replace obsolete icebreaker support vessels. With this objective in view, Russia has already opened a significant number of its northern ports to ships bearing the flags of other nations.

Similar motives are behind Russia's interest in the development of transpolar air routes in the Arctic, and this was reflected in documents defining the priorities of a Russian policy for the region that has a realistic chance of succeeding and having a significant economic impact. Taking into account the contribution of the Russian Arctic to the economic activities of the country, the Russian foreign office has formulated major objectives for the region. They are the preservation of stability in the Arctic zone, as well as the development of international cooperation and partnership in the Arctic. On the international level, provisions should be made for the people living there to have exclusive rights to the exploitation of the region's mineral resources and transport routes.

Against this backdrop, the desire to "internationalize" the NSR (or at least parts of it) looks damaging to Russia's interests; the United States, Canada, the Scandinavian countries, and a few others have been most active in this effort. Under the pretext of increasing instability in the Arctic region, the European Union (EU), most of whose member states are quite distant from the Arctic region, insists on expanding the range of actors that would take part in solving the problems of the region and exploiting mineral deposits there; and it also imparts a legal basis to the idea of internationalizing the NSR while ignoring the existing legal framework. Meanwhile, the NSR passes through waters of varying legal status. These are internal, territorial, and adjacent waters, as well as areas belonging to Russia's exclusive economic zone and the open sea.13

Behind these proposals, including a proposal for the establishment of an international transport consortium for the management of the NSR, it is hard not to see a desire to exclude Russia from control of this important artery, i.e., from the formulation of new conditions for operational and tariff policy, regulations on environmental security and monitoring of their implementation, as well as other provisions consistent with its sovereign status in these waters. Moreover, should proposals of a similar nature be made regarding the possessions of the initiators of this proposal, they would hardly even consider them. Therefore, the Fundamentals of State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic emphasize that the NSR is Russia's "integrated national transportation route in the Arctic."14

The problems of demarcation of polar possessions. In December 2008 Russia's president assigned the following tasks to the government and legislative agencies: formulate a solid legal framework governing Russia's activities in the Arctic and secure the outer limits of the Russian continental shelf in the region. In particular, Russia must provide a special UN commission with scientific proof that the underwater Lomonosov and Mendeleyev ridges and the Makarov Basin between them are parts of the North Asian continental margin. This will become the definitive justification for the inclusion of these regions in Russia's Arctic continental shelf. According to State Duma member A. N. Chilingarov, this work is nearing completion. It is hoped, therefore, that Russia's claim will be met with the same understanding as Norway's claim, which was approved by the UN in April 2009.

The revitalization of Russia's efforts in the Arctic seems to have led outgoing President George W. Bush in January 2009 to sign one of his last directives concerning U.S. policy in the Arctic. This document states that the "United States has broad and fundamental national security interests in the Arctic region and is prepared to operate either independently or in conjunction with other states to safeguard these interests,"15 and as areas of interest it identifies missile defense and early warning, strategic deterrence, and maritime security operations in the region. This directive charged the government to pursue peaceful resolution of all disputes in the Arctic.

One paragraph of the directive calls on the U.S. Senate to ratify the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea as soon as possible, because without having ratified it the U.S. finds it difficult to find common ground in multilateral discussions on zonation of the Arctic with countries that have ratified it. Washington's long (more than 25 years) "consideration" of this issue is linked to the position of a group of influential Republicans in the Senate who believe that the ratification of this convention will cause the U.S. to give up part of its sovereignty and will "tie its hands." Such a move probably would temporarily reduce the level of criticism by Americans concerning the document, certain provisions of which certainly need to be improved. Take, for example, the need to develop a legal framework to combat piracy, currently a hot topic. In general, however, the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which is based on a number of previous international agreements in the area and the signing of which anticipated a longstanding agreement on many legal issues, should remain a firm foundation in this arena of international relations.16

At the same time, each subarctic state has issues in their sectors that are in conflict with other countries in the region. For example, Canada does not want the Northwest Passage connecting the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to become an international strait (this is "their passage" and not a route along the coasts of Russia, the internationalization of which they are actively promoting). Denmark cannot come to an agreement with Canada concerning jurisdictional boundaries in the waters separating their possessions. Denmark is also at odds with Norway and Russia over a number of issues regarding use of the Arctic. Significant challenges accompany the negotiations between Norway and Russia on the division of gas fields and fisheries in the Barents Sea, as well as on the status of waters adjacent to the Svalbard (Spitsbergen) Archipelago.17

However, as far as the disputes between the subarctic countries are concerned, one can not ignore the fact that all except Russia are members of a military-political alliance—NATO. Therefore, Moscow cannot rule out the possibility that they will act to some extent as a bloc, especially on defense-related issues. This is somewhat justified by the recent NATO exercises held in the land and sea areas of Norway that were aimed at improving the tactics for operating under conditions found north of the Arctic Circle. The exercise scenarios were based on the possibility of a conflict in the Arctic zone resulting from the struggle for access to its resources.

This adds a disturbing note to the debate on the possible future course of events in the Arctic. It also gives impetus to the desire of nearby states to adopt measures to protect their interests there.

Militarization of the region. In 2008, several EU commissioners drafted a joint report for EU member states warning of the danger of possible conflicts in the Arctic. Based on this conclusion, the NATO Secretary General expressed the view that the alliance will need to expand its military presence in the Arctic as global warming melts the polar ice.18

Reasoning along the same lines, the Scandinavian countries have announced plans to establish their own military bloc. Denmark, Iceland, and Norway, which are already members of NATO, intend to join the bloc, as do Finland and Sweden, which until recently have held to a policy of avoiding membership in military-political alliances. They announced that their association will seek to "enhance security in the Arctic."19

For this purpose, in particular, they are planning to organize constant patrols of their arctic zones and the airspace above them as far as Iceland; to do so they will form joint rapid reaction forces and a common satellite-based sensor system. However, whereas such actions are justified for Denmark and Norway, which have corresponding sectors in the Arctic, and Iceland, which adjoins them but does not have armed forces of its own, it is not at all clear what interest Sweden and Finland have in a "Scandinavian bloc" since they have no direct access to the Arctic. It can be assumed that Stockholm and Helsinki intend to become involved in revising the status quo in the region and desire to put pressure on Moscow, which is stiffening its positions on energy and the sale of timber, on which the Scandinavian paper and wood-working industry is largely reliant.

Training to carry out acts of violence lies at the core of any military alliance, and that requires an objective that focuses the need for such training. However, the map of the northern part of the world shows no nation apart from Russia that meets that need. And while Stockholm has traditionally accused Moscow of excessive militarization, Helsinki is now subscribing to the same line. For example, a document from the Finnish Ministry of Defense states: "The eastern region adjoining Finland will be of vital strategic importance, because Russia continues to concentrate its armed forces there."20

Under this pretext the "Scandinavian bloc" intends to create its own "military fist," which will be able to compete with and even prevail over Russia's general-purpose forces in the Arctic. This "fist" will consist primarily of air and navy forces, which are the most effective in the conditions of this region. The total forces of the new bloc will consist of about 600 combat aircraft, 24 submarines, over 30 major warships, and as well as up to 220 smaller ships and boats, including various types of support vessels. The Arctic and predominantly anti-Russian orientation of this military bloc is quite obvious. However, this could take an unexpected turn in the long run. For example, it could even lead to the "regional separation" of the Scandinavian countries from NATO.

The United States has not remained on the sidelines as regards this trend. In 2008, the United States conducted "Northern Edge 2008," a large 12-day military exercise that took place in the Arctic. This is an example of a pattern of increased, U.S.-led NATO military activity in the Arctic region, and only leads ro mutual distrust between Moscow and Brussels, instead of the stability that could be brought to the region through joint efforts based on mutual trust. Similar maneuvers have been conducted by Canada, which is concerned about American and Russian activities in the region and is therefore taking steps to protect its sovereignty in the north, including military actions. Under the circumstances, Russia also intends to create a separate grouping of forces in the Arctic with the mission of ensuring the security of Russia's Arctic zone in various military-political situations. In this regard, Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev, the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Russian Navy, has confirmed that the submarine forces of Russia's Northern Fleet will participate both in studying and defending the Arctic shelf adjacent to Russia. Another innovation is "the establishment of a functioning coast guard system in the Arctic zone under the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation."

In so doing, the Russian government is fully aware of its responsibility for maintaining security in the Arctic and is prepared to work cooperatively with all other concerned countries in order to solve common problems. However, if partners are not prepared for joint actions, Russia will be forced to act independently to protect its national interests, but always on the basis of international law.21

The Prospects for International Cooperation in the Region

Russia considers that a prerequisite for mutual cooperation in the Arctic is an objective account of the interests of all actors operating there and the development of non-contentious methods of engagement on the basis of agreements already reached and with due consideration for the future development of the situation in the region. Russian experts believe that the basis for the development of integration processes in the Arctic should lie with the common interests of the subarctic nations, including improvement of the ability to counter various kinds of threats by responding to them jointly. The fundamental tasks in the sphere of international cooperation in the Arctic could be the following:

  • International legal formalization of the boundaries of possessions in the region in accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea;
  • Maintenance of regional peace and stability and the solution of environmental and other challenges in the Arctic zone through joint efforts;
  • Transit flights in the Arctic and the use of the Russian NSR for international navigation; and the establishment of a unified regional system for search and rescue, as well as for prevention of man-made disasters and the elimination of their effects, including the coordination of rescue forces.

In order to accomplish these tasks, it appears necessary to:

  • Strengthen good neighbor relations between nations on both a bilateral basis and within the framework of regional organizations; practice mutually beneficial economic, scientific and technical, and other types of cooperation in areas of common interest; and resolve disputes through negotiation to prevent hotbeds of tension and confrontation from emerging in the Arctic;
  • When drafting international documents on the Arctic, pursue a line of assigning the subarctic countries a leading role in the region and granting them special rights over the non-arctic states while making them responsible for the development and prosperity of the region;
  • Refrain from broad internationalization in decision-making on Arctic issues and prevent attempts to revise the existing international legal framework for the Arctic;
  • Facilitate transit flights in the Arctic, as well as the use of NSR for international navigation on the condition that it be done in accordance with the regulations of the subarctic countries;
  • Create conditions needed for expansion of transfrontier cooperation.

Accomplishment of these tasks necessitates a study of forms and methods for non-confrontational cooperation by international actors operating in the region, as well as a sound rationale for their mutual structural augmentation. In general, the countries in the region can interact in a number of different ways, but it seems appropriate in this article to place special emphasis on cooperation in the field of ecology.

The reality of climate change as a result of global warming has a significant impact on the outlook of many countries that are actively developing this circumpolar region of the Earth. The movement of ice masses is a risk factor for maritime shipping, oil recovery, and fisheries. All this proves once again that many Arctic issues can only be resolved on the basis of broad international cooperation. The International Arctic Research Council was established in 1990 with the goal of promoting dialogue and developing programs for cooperation between countries with interests in the Arctic. Shortly afterwards in 1991, the Northern Forum was founded. In 1996 the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, Finland, and Sweden formed the Arctic Council. Its main focus was on protection of the Arctic environment and support for the sustainable development of the region. These organizations have collected a variety of materials and advanced many sound pro-posals, the approval and immediate implementation of which should be a priority for the practical activities of, primarily, the subarctic countries.

In Place of a Conclusion

Concerned by the increased tension in the Arctic, Russian experts from several institutes, i.e., the United States and Canada institute, the Europe institute, and the Far East institute, intend to perform studies from 2009 to 2011 under the auspices of the project "Outlook for Northern Dimension in the Context of International Relations in the Arctic Region." To obtain the most complete and objective information on issues of the Arctic region, the Russian scientists believe it is vital for them to take part in a joint project with research centers of the subarctic countries. The Russian side has already nominated a group of its experts (including specialists on the issues to be addressed in the project) and has invited American, Canadian, Norwegian, and Danish experts from appropriate national centers and universities to join the group.

The following goals have been proposed for the project:

  • Assess the situation in the Arctic region and the place and role of the subarctic countries and the external actors operating in the region in shaping the situation;
  • Develop recommendations regarding a development strategy for the Arctic region and the areas of concern for Northern Dimension in order to ensure global stability.

The research is planned to yield the following results: draw conclusions from the analysis regarding trends for development of the situation in the Arctic region during the near and mid term; assess existing and potential challenges and threats to national and regional security in the Arctic; and develop proposals for an Arctic development strategy and for areas of international cooperation within the Northern Dimension framework, including recommendations to national authorities and international bodies to improve the forms and methods of cooperation adapted to conditions in the Arctic region.

The research plan includes an evaluation of the prospects for improving the work of Northern Dimension and the formulation of proposals for improving its potential as a factor in strengthening international cooperation in the world economy and politics, and a study of alternative models for how the situation in the Arctic region will develop. And in the event of disparity between the positions of the national research centers participating in the project on some issues, proposals should be developed based on unconditional congruence of interests, while those on which consensus is lacking should be put on the list of possibilities that can be put off until a more opportune time.

Thus on the international level, Russia is taking the lead in providing a rationale for the main fields of joint activities in the Arctic and developing long-term projects aimed at transforming the region into a zone of peace and stability. And if the subarctic countries have the same desire to act and not just engage in rhetoric, it will be worthwhile for their scientific centers to join this research project, as the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs has already done. The importance of this activity stems from the fact that the evolution of international relations in the Arctic compels the subarctic countries to take a fresh look at the situation in and around the region and rethink their foreign policy priorities by taking into account existing realities and taking more responsibility for events occurring there.


1 The international experts consider that more than 13 percent of the world's undiscovered oil reserves (about 90 billion barrels) are located in the Arctic region; gas volumes can exceed 30 percent of estimated world reserves.
2 V. Kashin. "The Arctic Repository," Gazeta Vedomosti [Vedomosti Newspaper], 25 July 2008.
3 Steve Robinson & Ben DiPierto. Seafood International. t
4 The Arctic: Prospects for Development. Informatsionno-analiticheskiy byulleten' RISI [Research and Information Bulletin of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies], No. 4, 2008,
5 Svend Aage Cristensen. Are the northern sea routes really the shortest?
6 The "Arctic Council," which was founded in 1996, includes the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, Finland, and Sweden.
7 Barents Euro-Arctic Council is made up of a number of northern European Union countries and Russia.
8 The initiative for the "Northern Dimension" belongs to Finland; it was established by the EU in 1997.
9 The Principles of Russian Government Policy in the Arctic for the Period up to 2020 and Beyond were approved by President Dmitry Medvedev on 17 December 2008.
10 B. A. Morgunov. A Methodology for Taking the Environmental Factor into Account in Developing a Strategy for the Stable Development of Russia’s Arctic Zone [Metodologiya ucheta ekologicheskogo faktora v protsesse vyra-botki strategii ustoychivogo razvitiya arkticheskoy zony Rossii]. Saint Petersburg, 2006.
11 "Radionuclide Contamination of Russia's Arctic Seas," Arktika segodnya [The Arctic Today],
12 Proceedings of the meeting of the Expert Council the Federation Council of Russia, "State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic: The Parliamentary Dimension [Gosudarstvennaya politika Rossiyskoy Federatsii v Arktike: parlamentskoye izmereniye]," 24 April 2009.
13 Speech by the scientific editor of the journal Mirovaya energetika [World Energy] by academician N. A. Simoniya at a round table held in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "The Arctic in Political Landmarks [Arktika v poli-ticheskikh oriyentirakh]" 19 May 2009.
14 Fundamentals of the Government Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic [Osnovy gosudarstvennoy politiki Rossiyskoy Federatsii v Arktike], 14 June 2001.
15 National Security Presidential Directive and Homeland Security Presidential Directive. NSPD-66 / HSPD-25. January 9, 2009.
16 New chances and new responsibilities in the Arctic Region. International Conference of the German Federal Foreign Office in cooperation with the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and Norway, Heidelberg 11-13 March 2009, Berlin.
17 Russia's position on the Svalbard (Spitsbergen) Archipelago is defined by the Concept of the Russian Policy in the Norwegian Archipelago of Svalbard [Kontseptsiyey politiki RF na norvezhskom arkhipelage Shpitsbergen], approved by Presidential Decree No. 1386s, dated 31 December 1997.
18 "NATO warns of tensions as ice thaws in the Arctic." The Associated Press. 30/01/2009.
19 "Scandinavian Countries Develop an "Arctic Fist," Pravda.Ru,
21 Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, 12 July 2008.

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