The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic. It has eight member countries: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.
The author cautions that while the U.S. leadership role on the Arctic council may be ending, the U.S. should still stay engaged in the Arctic because "how countries respond to an opening ocean will determine whether it remains a zone of peace, or becomes an area of conflict."[ More ]
One year into its two-year term as chair of the Arctic council, the U.S. is still struggling to achieve its goals of promoting Arctic ocean safety, security and stewardship, improving economic and living conditions in the Arctic and addressing the impacts of climate change.[ More ]
The authors report on the findings of a recent conference study report on how the U.S. should manage its upcoming leadership role on the Arctic Council to best ensure a continuation of international cooperation in the Arctic.[ More ]
Arctic experts and policymakers gathered at a Washington, D.C. think-tank today to focus on how the U.S. might wield its leadership when it assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year.[ More ]
Oil and gas resources in the Arctic are an important resource to guarantee China's sustained economic growth and the country should actively look at developing it, state media on Wednesday cited a Chinese military think-tank as saying.[ More ]
The author argues that the U.S. needs to increase its efforts to develop an Arctic strategy and fleet now before the future of the Arctic is decided for it by other states.[ More ]
The author argues that the induction of six new states to the Arctic Council as "observer states" reflects "two developments: first, the great interest of these states in the commercial opportunities made possible by a transformed Arctic region; and second, the Council’s need to reinforce its position as the preeminent body for the discussion of Arctic matters."[ More ]
As lucrative oil reserves, rare mineral deposits and shipping lanes emerge amid the rapidly disappearing Arctic ice sheet, the eyes of many nations are turning north. This week, the eight member states of the Arctic Council decided at their meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, to admit six non-Arctic nations as observers, most notably China. New Scientist examines the implications[ More ]
The Arctic Council, a once-obscure regional forum that had little to show for itself, has nations queuing to participate, as melting ice makes shipping, tourism and resource extraction a reality in the nebulously delineated region.[ More ]
China has been cosying up to Arctic countries as part of its effort to secure "permanent observer" status on the Arctic Council, an eight-country political body that decides regional policy. Norway was initially sniffy at the approaches because of the Nobel row, but appears to have changed its tune before a formal decision in May.[ More ]
Chinese activity in the Arctic to some extent mirrors that of other non-Arctic countries, as the region warms.
The European Union, Japan and South Korea have also applied in the last three years for permanent observer status at the Arctic Council, which would allow them to present their perspective, but not vote.
This once-obscure body, previously focused on issues like monitoring Arctic animal populations, now has more substantive tasks, like defining future port fees and negotiating agreements on oil spill remediation. “We’ve changed from a forum to a decision-making body,” said Gustaf Lind, Arctic ambassador from Sweden and the council’s current chairman.
Even so, Arctic nations and NATO are building up military capabilities in the region, as a precaution. That has left China with little choice but to garner influence through a strategy that has worked well in Africa and Latin America: investing and joining with local companies and financing good works to earn good will. Its scientists have become pillars of multinational Arctic research, and their icebreaker has been used in joint expeditions. And Chinese companies, some with close government ties, are investing heavily across the Arctic. In Canada, Chinese firms have acquired interests in two oil companies that could afford them access to Arctic drilling. During a June visit to Iceland, Premier Wen Jiabao of China signed a number of economic agreements, covering areas like geothermal energy and free trade. In Greenland, large Chinese companies are financing the development of mines that are being developed around discoveries of gems or minerals by small prospecting companies, said Soren Meisling, head of the China desk at the Bech Bruun law firm in Copenhagen, which represents many of them. A huge iron ore mine under development near Nuuk, for example, is owned by a British company but financed in part by a Chinese steel maker. Chinese mining companies have proved adept at working in challenging locales and have even proposed building runways for jumbo jets on the ice in Greenland’s far north to fly out minerals until the ice melts enough for shipping. “There is already a sense of competition in the Arctic, and they think they can have first advantage,” said Jingjing Su, a lawyer in Bech Bruun’s China practice.
Meanwhile, U.S. influence in the region is waning, which will only exacerbate America’s ability to secure its interests in the region. Within the Arctic Council, the primary venue for promoting cooperation in the region, the United States remains the only member that has not ratified LOSC. The Arctic Council is a consensus-based forum which often debates and makes decisions regarding issues already governed by previous agreements and international law, such as the natural resource exploitation protections provided by LOSC. Considering agreements within existing frameworks such as LOSC can make it easier to level the playing field and hold discussions with countries – except the United States. Given its failure to date to ratify LOSC and subsequent lack of international legitimacy and protections provided under the International Seabed Authority for its natural resource claims, the United States remains excluded from important mechanisms for promoting economic cooperation and respect for rightful natural resource claims by all Arctic countries.
No region so rich in resources, both real and man-made, can avoid attracting the attention of China for long. Indeed, right on cue, Beijing has begun a concerted effort to make inroads in the Arctic—especially in Iceland and its semiautonomous neighbor, Greenland—with far- reaching geopolitical implications. In May, the Arctic Council granted observer status to China, along with India, Italy, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea.
China sees Iceland as a strategic gateway to the region, which is why Premier Wen Jiabao made an official visit there last year (before heading to Copenhagen to discuss Greenland). China’s state-owned shipping company is eyeing a long-term lease in Reykjavik, and the Chinese billionaire Huang Nubo has been trying for years to develop a 100-square-mile plot of land on the north of the island. In April, Iceland signed a free-trade deal with China, making it the first European country to do so. Whereas the United States closed its Cold War–era military base in Iceland in 2006, China is expanding its presence there, con- structing the largest embassy by far in the country, sending in a constant stream of businesspeople, and dispatching its official icebreaker, the Xue Long, or “Snow Dragon,” to dock in Reykjavik last August.
The United States’ continued failure to ratify the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, or UNCLOS, despite broad, bipartisan consensus on its importance undermines our nation’s credibility in international marine affairs and diminishes our influence in international forums such as the Arctic Council. Since it was negotiated under Ronald Reagan, every president has supported ratification, and failure to ratify is preventing the United States from defining territorial claims in the Arctic under international law. This leaves us at a disadvantage to every other Arctic Council member. The Obama administration, as part of its comprehensive planning for the Arctic Ocean, should elevate efforts to secure Senate ratification of this treaty after the midterm elections. This effort should include renewed coordination with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, as well as high-level outreach to all members of the Senate to convey the vital importance of UNCLOS to U.S. commercial, scientific, and security interests in the Arctic Ocean. The administration should call on former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to jointly encourage ratification.
The United States is assuming the chair of the Arctic Council at a critical time. The Arctic Council has proven itself to be an effective and cooperative forum in which the eight Arctic States and Permanent Participants (organizations representing Arctic indigenous peoples) can come together to develop effective ways for managing this relatively pristine region of the world. We would like to continue strengthening the Arctic Council by moving it toward more practical, on-the-ground activities that will improve the environment and contribute to sustainable economic development for the people who live there.
The areas we are proposing to highlight during the U.S. Chairmanship are:
- Arctic Ocean Safety, Security, and Stewardship
- Improving Economic and Living Conditions
- Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change