The Danish Defense Intelligence Agency (Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste) released an intelligence risk assessment on September 1 warning of possible diplomatic conflicts in the Arctic arising due to disputes over territory and resources.

The assessment can be found on the FE’s website here (in Danish). Page 20 is devoted to the Arctic.

The FE’s main conclusion in regards to the Arctic can be summarized as follows (translated from the Danish):

  1. Firstly, climate change will lead to increased strategic interest in the Arctic’s energy resources and shipping routes.
  2. Secondly, growing demand for oil will cause tensions as countries attempt to control the resources around the Arctic. The Northern Sea Route will also increase in popularity, as the route will reduce shipping times and costs. In turn, this will augment the possibility of minor clashes and diplomatic crises between the coastal states in the Arctic region (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States) in the medium to long term as countries’ strategic and energy policies rub up against each other. Conversely, military conflicts will most likely not transpire.
  3. The types of conflicts the FE does envision are military harassment of other countries’ forces and exploitation of resources in disputed areas.
  4. More countries will turn to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf as a forum in which to work out Arctic disputes, putting a heavier burden on an already backlogged body.
  5. Russia’s apparent Arctic expansionism, along with its willingness and capability to use military power, could pose a problem to the other Arctic states.

In the end, it doesn’t seem like the Danish assessment offers a particularly groundbreaking view of Arctic foreign relations. Of course, this is a report meant for the public, so any sensitive information would remain under wraps. Still, the report does bring up one point not often noted, and that is in regards to the UNCLCS. Already, the commission lacks enough staff members to wade through all of the claims. The body doesn’t just deal with claims pertaining to the Arctic, as its main job is to rule on the submissions of every country that has ratified UNCLOS and believes it has a valid claim to some territory outside of its 200 mile EEZ. As the Arctic becomes an ever more contested area, the UNCLCS will have to act quickly to resolve diplomatic disputes.

Denmark is also participating in the rush to arms. In July, the military issued a position paper stating that it is looking to enhance its Arctic strength. The paper suggested creating a northern force with army, navy, and air force capabilities. Thus, Russia might not be the only antagonistic force in the Arctic, though Denmark might prefer to see it that way. [1]


[1] Arctic Blog, “Denmark plans on increasing Arctic presence”


Danish Defense Intelligence Service warns of diplomatic riffs

  1. The Danes may have one point wrong (if their reference to disputes between states refers to inter-state boundaries). The Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf can make recommendations on the establishment of the outer boundary of the extended continental shelf. It does not, however, involve itself in disputed about how to divide the claims to extended shelves beyond the EEZ – that remains a tasks for negotiation and diplomacy between the states involved. They may, at their choice, turn to the conciliation and dispute settlement mechanisms of the Convention, but do not need to.

    In fact, the maritime boundary disputes in the Arctic are few and are expected to be resolved peacefully or postponed by the states involved. Russia and the US already have their boundary in place, and Norway and Russia are working on the areas in which claims overlap. Perhaps the most difficult though unlikely to result in more than diplomatic conflict, is the dispute over the drawing of the boundary in the Beaufort Sea north of the Alaska-Canada boundary.

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