Idealist approach to resolving arctic conflict through international institutions or economic interdependence does not hold up to scrutiny
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The primary argument against the potential for conflict in the Arctic is that political leaders are appealing to international institutions to resolve disputes before they become militarized. A corollary to this argument is that, via the trappings of economic interdependence, Russia’s need for advanced technology to locate and exploit its potentially vast reserves of hydrocarbons will sufficiently weigh in Moscow’s political calculus to prevent Russia from taking militarized action against neighbors to defend its political-economic claims in the region. Given the reality of political objectives, actions, and intentions, coupled with the dearth of reliably interdependent economic ties, this chapter has exposed these “mitigating factors” against conflict as little more than wishful thinking.
While it is undeniable that the Arctic states are using international institutions focused on Arctic issues, they appear to do so out of political convenience—not out of a commitment to peaceful cooperation. The participating nations all actively pursue a combined environmental and safety agenda with their partners through the Arctic Council. Its charter, however, explicitly bans the organization from discussing issues related to military security, a point reinforced by the Ilulissat Declaration of the five Arctic states: that no legal enforcement regime other than the UNCLOS is needed in the region.
Currently, there is no major tension between the Arctic states. They all want peaceful solutions to their border disputes and see the advantages of freedom of navigation through the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage. However, at the time when the coastal nations are able to increase their oil production in the Arctic, conflict can more easily occur. A shortage of energy and other resources will make the nations more determined to solve their border issues, which may increase the tension between them.