Arctic Geopolitics: Week in Review

There are several big headlines about Arctic geopolitics this week concerning four of the Big Five: Norway, Russia, Canada, and the U.S.

  1. “Norway, Russia reach deal to turn down heat on Arctic claims,” The Montreal Gazette. Norway and Russia have finally concluded a process that began last April to officially delimit the maritime border between the two countries in the Barents Sea. Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev met in the Russian Arctic city of Murmansk to sign the treaty. Norway will soon also be reopening a consulate in nearby Arkanghelsk.  Governor Mikhaltsjuk made some very interesting remarks at the opening of the consulate, which can be read here. I’d am excerpting a few passages of his speech in which he indirectly refers to the tenets of the Ilulissat Declaration, saying,

“Norway and Russia share the view that there is no need for an international treaty in the Arctic. Because we have the legal framework in place, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The five Arctic coastal states, Norway and Russia together with Denmark, the United States and Canada agree on our duties and responsibilities as coastal states to the Polar Ocean, under the Convention. The same obligations and responsibilities shared by other states in other waters according to the same legal framework.

What we need is to fill this framework with specific regulations and codes of conduct. This is what we do in the Arctic Council, and this is also what our new bilateral agreement is all about.”

He ties this statement of Norwegian and Russian Arctic policy into a discussion of how the border resolution will help build mutual values in the Arctic, almost reading like textbook regime theory:

“Now, what can we expect as concrete results of our new bilateral agreement on the border issue?

What business, fisheries, big oil and everybody else should expect, is clarity, normality and stability. The agreement may be seen as a bilateral contribution to the multilateral framework, doing away with the anormality of a disputed area and a grey zone for fisheries.”

What the agreement is not, is a quick fix for any business solutions. It may instead be seen as a political contribution to the favorable framework conditions for creating values, I mentioned earlier.”

  1. “Norway urges Canada-Russia accord on Arctic,” The Foreigner. Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon is on a tour of Norway and Russia, two countries which have now finally resolved a long-frozen dispute. Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre remarked, “This is the way to go. I’m certain that Canada and Russia, being Arctic coastal states, have real steps to explore on a number of area.” Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said of his meeting with Cannon, “We thoroughly went through the whole agenda of Russian-Canadian relations, including collaboration in the Arctic, which we appreciate, and the prospects for expansion of mutual economic cooperation, with emphasis on investment.” It’s no surprise that economic concerns are fuelling government’s desires to engage in diplomacy.
  2. “Medvedev: The Arctic is better without NATO,” The Barents Observer. Continuing the view of the Arctic-5 that they do not want other multilateral institutions like the Arctic Council or even NATO involved in the Arctic, Medvedev stated in Murmansk, “The Arctic can manage fine without NATO… this [area] is part of our common wealth, which does really not have any relation to military objectives.” (Transcript of his speech here, in Russian.)
  3. This comment is interesting because on September 10 and 11, Russian navy aircraft buzzed a US frigate, coming up to 50 yards away from the ship, the Marine Corps Times reports. The incident was enough to warrant a personal discussion between U.S. and Russian naval commanders at the Pentagon. The Russian comamanders had already been scheduled to visit Arlington, so it is unclear whether the discussion between U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Admal Gary Roughead and Russian Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy still would have taken place had the Russians not been present.

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