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ISSN 2294-1274

ATLANTIC TREATY ASSOCIATION

Volume 2 - Issue 10, October 2012

ARCTIC CLIMATE CHANGE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR GLOBAL SECURITY Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the implications of Arctic climate change for global security. Analysts are concerned that competition over newly accessible natural resources could lead to conflicts. The five states bordering the Arctic Ocean, known as the “Arctic Five” nations - Canada, Russia, the United States, Denmark, and Norway - are all highly interested in these resources, as are other entities including the EU and China. Despite the potential for conflict, the changes in the Arctic also present certain opportunities. As the Bering Strait is increasingly less blocked by ice, especially in summer, travel time between Asia and Europe can be reduced through this northern

As Arctic ice melts, ships have a easier time passing through (Photo: SeaNews)

Contents:

“shortcut.” This has the potential to reduce costs and

Global Pulse: Why the Arctic Matters: Care More, Worry Less

increase trade.

Jason Wiseman examines the issues surrounding global efforts to sustain a cooperative

The role of the international community, includ-

framework among nations with a stake in the Arctic Circle. He argues that Canada, with the

ing NATO, should be to ensure that disputes over

assistance of NATO, should take the diplomatic lead and work to prevent conflicts.

Arctic resources can be resolved peacefully. One of

Arctic Security: All Quiet on the Northern Front

the key organizations is the Arctic Council, an inter-

Djan Sauerborn and Bastian Matteo Scianna examine the claims that climate change in the

governmental forum which consists of the “Arctic

Arctic will lead to an economic “gold rush” in which various countries come into conflict

Five” plus Finland, Iceland, and Sweden. In May

over Arctic resources. The authors conclude that the risk of such conflicts is overstated, and

2011, the Council members signed their first binding

that most disputes in the area have a high probability of being resolved peacefully.

agreement, the International Search and Rescue

The Canadian Arctic Dossier

Treaty. The Council should build on this positive first

Amina Abdullayeva presents an overview of the various disputes between Canada and other

step and continue to promote cooperative measures.-

actors over Arctic territory. She concludes that Canada should attempt to resolve these

Linda Benesch

conflicts through diplomatic skill and scientific evidence rather than force.

Atlantic Voices, Volume 2, Issue 10

1


GLOBAL PULSE Why The Arctic Matters: Care More,Worry Less By Jason Wiseman

As one of the most important emerging challenges for sever-

nautical miles if possible.

al NATO members in the 21st century, the Arctic Circle has

Second, in an effort to avoid political tensions, each country

become a critical issue for the future of the northern hemi-

in the area founded and joined the Arctic Council in 1996 to

sphere.

establish a forum where issues can be discussed and resolved. This Council is made up of eight members: Canada, US, Nor-

Overview

way, Denmark, Russia, Iceland, Sweden and Finland but has

Although it is a massive area overlapping the nautical borders of several states, the Arctic is also a highly regulated area making legal and political questions simpler than expected.

both permanent and ad-hoc observer states that includes France, Great Britain, Germany, China and several others. For the eight member states, each country is obligated to

For starters, the Arctic Circle

submit its claim in the Arctic with-

is a sea surrounded by a landmass

in 10 years of ratifying UNCLOS.

(not vice-versa) and is thus regu-

This ensures that each state

lated by UN Laws of the Sea

acknowledges the framework and

(UNCLOS). Under international

is bound by international law to

law, this means that all states own

resolve any disputes through the

up to 200 nautical miles off their

forum.

own coasts. Thus, Canada, Den-

Third, as the ice caps continue to

mark and Norway each own the

melt the Arctic takes on a whole

fish, minerals, oil and gas within

new meaning. Transit.

200 nautical miles of their north-

With the opening of the Arctic

ernmost landmasses. In addition,

Passage Way, the need to rely on

each state can claim an extra 150

these routes is much reduced. So

miles if they can scientifically

much so that the Arctic Passage

prove that the seabed is connected

Way will save roughly 40% of the

to the continental slope within

distance, fuel costs and carbon

their own 200 nautical mile range.

footprint for all sea traders using

According to a US geological survey, the Arctic region holds

this new transit route. The Arctic Circle (Photo: Wikimedia)

roughly one fourth of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas, 84% of which lies beneath the ocean floor. Oil companies already involved in the region include:

Challenges

There are several issues that have arisen in the arctic that have complicated the framework for cooperation.

ConocoPhillips, Statoil, ExxonMobil, BP, Imperial Oil, Chevron

First, as a resource rich and strategically important area,

and Royal Dutch Shell. Due to the potential richness of this re-

Russia views the Arctic as the solution to their socio-economic

gion, it is safe to assume that each state will claim the extra 150

problems and are dead set on being the dominant player in this

Atlantic Voices, Volume 2, Issue 10

2


spite having Permanent Participant status at the Arctic Council, region. Because of this, Russia has begun a major drilling and

the role they will play in the future of the Arctic is uncertain.

expansion program in the area which has made fellow Arctic

Finally, as Arctic states compete to strengthen their hand,

states weary of developing their own Arctic borders too much

they will need to invest more heavily in vessels and equipment,

out of fear of provoking Russia.

something everyone but Russia seems reluctant to do. As of

Having recently established the world’s northernmost port

now, Russia leads the world with 25 icebreakers, with Finland in

in Dudinka, while also planning on establishing an Arctic brigade

second place with 9, while Canada is third with only 6 icebreak-

on the border with Norway, Russia is heavily invested in devel-

ers. Many of which desperately need to be refurbished.

oping this area and occasionally sends submarines around the Arctic to remind its neighbours that it is not to be ignored.

According to the US Congressional Research Service, the Americans need at least $3 billion in additional vessels and

Second, Canada has a territorial dispute with Denmark at the

equipment just to provide basic services along their coastline.

top of the world on a little rock called Hans Island. This issue is

Without a sufficient amount of functioning icebreakers, we will

yet to be resolved.

all have to rely on Russia’s generosity to clear the paths for

Third, due to the high volume of Rare Earth Elements (REE)

trade.

in the Arctic, China has become a very interested party in the region. Since 97% of the worlds REE are currently exported by

Conclusion

China, resources in the Arctic have forced Beijing to pay close

It is critical that NATO members adhere to the established

attention to this region. Having already signed energy agree-

framework and continue in their efforts to sustain a cooperative

ments with Iceland, China has used its economic influence to get

framework amongst Arctic nations. The current lack of Canadian -Russian cooperation, US investment and

a proxy seat at the Arctic Council. What kind of role Chinese investment and political influence will play is largely dependent on the future of US-China relations.

For the future of NATO’s Arctic Policy, its members must encourage Canada to take the diplomatic lead

formulated EU policy are all major obstacles to resolving any problems. Since the US role is small and the economic pressures facing the EU will continue for the foreseeable future, Canada

Fourth, Russia, China and the EU are all weary of the NATO card being played by anyone in the re-

is in the best position to lead diplomatic efforts and ensure that

gion. This has led to a suppression of security dialogue and am-

the Arctic be adequately shared while avoiding any potential

biguous communication between Arctic member states.

danger of conflict. For the future of NATO’s Arctic policy, its

Fifth, environmental disasters cannot be ruled out. Since it’s an iced environment, prevention and emergency response are

members must encourage Canada to take the diplomatic lead to ensure that policy remains focused and conflicts are prevented.

even more difficult. The ability to clean up an oil spill or per-

NATO must assist in this effort by encouraging and support-

form a rescue mission on a sea of ice requires a high level of pro-

ing its Arctic members by taking small measures such as joint

fessional training and operational capability that is yet to be real-

scientific and environmental projects or joint coastal training of

ized by any of the Arctic states.

search and rescue missions, to help ease the tension and build

Sixth, states are currently unable to agree on how best to

trust between all Arctic players. Failure to do so undercuts

deal with threats such as eco-terrorism, “COD Wars” or the

NATO’s potential as a stabilizing force and incentivizes states to

potential for Greenland to “Break Away” from Denmark. Con-

disregard the institutional framework set forth by the Arctic

tingency plans must be crafted for all these scenarios. Failure to

Council.

do so can polarize the Arctic Council due to each state’s own national interests and domestic pressures, causing a rift throughout the Council that can eventually lead to a massive disruption in Arctic dialogue and cooperation. Seventh, people live in this area. Depending on where you

Jason Wiseman is the Program Assistant for the Atlantic Treaty Association and a Senior Research Analyst with the Atlantic Council of Canada. He holds an MA in Government with a Specialization in Counter-Terrorism and Homeland Security and a BAH in Political Science. .

draw the boundary, almost four million people inhabit the Arctic today. This includes indigenous peoples and recent arrivals. DeAtlantic Voices, Volume 2, Issue 10

3


Arctic Security: All Quiet on the Northern Front by Bastian Matteo Scianna and Djan Sauerborn

W

north. A US geological survey found that the Arctic contains

hen Russia planted a flag on the ground of

around 30% of global unexplored gas and 13% of the unexplored

the Arctic in August 2007 numerous articles

oil, with most of it in off-shore regions. This led to claims that the

followed

upcoming

Arctic has the potential of turning into the backbone of 21st century

“scramble for the Arctic”, a new geopolitical hotspot with conflicts

oil producing. However, estimates vary greatly and all numbers

being waged in the high north. Climate change has an effect on this

have to be read with caution. Predictions about easy access to these

region and will continuously transform its economic and political

resources have proven to be incorrect, and even with rising oil pric-

character. Yet, the often openly postulated panic does not match the

es the costs of exploiting oil and gas in the Arctic remain too high to

realities on the ground.

be economically feasible. Unlike gold, oil needs large investments,

that

described

a

infrastructure and companies. Additionally, the costs for transport

An Arctic “Gold Rush”?

to distant locations remain too high, with gas prices rising. There-

Climate change has turned into an overarching global phenome-

fore, the Iceland based expert Professor Valur Ingimundarson wrote

non and one area that will be visibly affected in its entirety is the

in a report for the European Parliament that the complexity of prob-

Arctic. Man-made global warming differs in intensity across the

lems facing beneficial exploration of natural resources in the Arctic

globe. The Polar Regions are experiencing the greatest temperature

is further enhanced by the rough climate in the high north which

increase and are often considered to be a global “early warning sys-

makes other, more easily accessible, resource locations more attrac-

tem”. The repercussions of an increasingly ice free Arctic has already

tive. Fishing grounds and agriculture are also affected. While the

altered the daily life of the indigenous populations within the region,

former introduces new possibilities for exploitation and possible

as traditional lifestyles can no longer be pursued and patterns of life

quarrels and fishing rights, the latter influences the very way of life

have had to be changed accordingly. Additionally, if ice on Green-

for the population in the Arctic.

land breaks off from the landmass, this will cause sea levels to rise. Thus, the local effects in the Arctic will turn into a global concern.

With the Arctic ice melting rapidly, new sea lanes might become a reality sooner rather than later. The speed of trade could

Yet, ironically, the Arctic has gained more attention in

be enhanced and geopolitical hotspots such as the Suez Canal, the

recent years because the consequences of climate change also bear

Gulf of Aden or the Strait of Malacca could be circumvented. The

possibilities for a “race towards resources.” New sea trade lanes and

new route would also save fuel, thus reducing costs. However,

geopolitical concerns led many to fear a “Gold Rush” in the high

there are also obstacles to an increase in Arctic shipping. Protecting trade littoral waters, and the environment are paramount for a potential success story. Charles Emmerson (The Future History of the Arctic, 2011, p.185) states that a less icy Arctic may see more storms. Ice variability may pose too many risks and could lead to time delays regarding the shipment of sensitive cargo. Emmerson concludes that “large-scale trans-Arctic shipping is a decade or more away.” The shifting dynamics of the Northeastern and the Northwest Passage have the potential to spur tensions between Norway and Russia and the US and Canada, respectively. In summary, the exploitation of resources and an economi-

The Polar Regions are Experiencing the Greatest Temperature Increases Due to Climate Change (Photo: CBC)

cally feasible transport to the customers remain medium-term goals. There is no easy way to access the resource rich Arctic. Additionally, the great majority of resources were found to be situated in the

Atlantic Voices, Volume 2, Issue 10

4


Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of the states and not in “disputed” territory.

Who Owns What? UNCLOS and the Arctic Council Given the numerous resources spread over such a vast territory, a number of countries raise claims and have interests. There are mainly three forms of mediation: the UN, the Arctic Council and several bi- and multilateral treaties. Generally, the Arctic states consist of the “Arctic Five” being Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and USA. Additionally the Arctic states are usually considered

NATO Troops in Norway (Photo: Wikimedia)

to include Finland, Sweden and Iceland, but the indigenous population has very little accurate representation. The Arctic Five held

as a result of global warming. The changes would be too small to be

meetings which ended in declarations to respectfully and peacefully

worth the diplomatic and political costs of reopening discussions.

solve disputes (Ilulissat Declaration 2008), yet led to outspoken

Maritime borders in the Arctic will probably remain as they

frustration by Finland, Sweden and Iceland. However, only the

are.”(2011, p.116)

Arctic Five can legally claim rights on Arctic territory which still

There is a second tool used to mediate between the Arctic

leaves us with the pressing question of: “who owns what” in the

Five - the Arctic Council set up by the Ottawa Declaration in 1996.

Arctic?

It combines several initiatives of peace, fostering dialogues and susThe United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

tainable development in the Arctic. The initiative goes back to Gor-

(UNCLOS) serves as a legal framework where states have submitted

bachev’s call for a “peaceful Arctic” and bundles all Arctic states in a

claims since 1982, for example regarding seabeds that go beyond

flexible forum. Whilst meeting every two years at the ministerial

their exclusive zones of 200 nautical miles. UNCLOS is generally

level, there are also numerous permanent bodies who mainly tackle

accepted as arbiter, even though the US did not sign the convention.

environmental concerns and development. Besides indigenous

Yet, beyond the seabed, states can also claim that their continental

groups, a great variety of stakeholders can benefit from and take

shelf forms a natural extension and thus is their territory. Different

part in this process of knowledge creation. The Council formulates

court responsibilities and regulations of international law make it

guidelines and recommendations and can thus function as a forum

very difficult to create a binding character. Thus, maritime border

for dialogue and exchange of knowledge and interests. It should not be dissolved prima facie as a “paper tiger”

disputes and land questions are intertwined. Time also plays a role as states only have 10 years after signing UNCLOS to submit their claims. Making such a claim involves a lot of documents

Disputes Do Not Necessarily Lead to Tensions or Conflicts.The will for cooperation was demonstrated in the case of Norway and Russia in the Barents Sea.

authority. It remains however a matter of fact that neither the UN organs nor the Arctic Council has any legal authority in settling disputes. Unsurprisingly, this

and research material which is expensive. For this reasons, countries such as Canada and the US have pooled

just because it does not possess binding

often leads to insecurity.

resources and strengthened cooperation. Disputes do not necessarily

Certain parties, especially non Arctic Five states, occasion-

lead to tensions or conflicts. The will for cooperation was demon-

ally call for a more binding legal framework and list the Antarctica

strated in the case of Norway and Russia in the Barents Sea. A con-

treaty as an example. However, the Arctic is different as no one

flict between the US and Canada over the Beaufort Sea also seems

owns it and it is a sea surrounded by land not vice versa. Additional-

highly unlikely.

ly, there is no support by any of the Arctic Five for such a treaty and

So beyond the aspect of uncertainty and overlapping legal

such a complex multilateral task could take very long and would

frameworks, there is a modus vivendi and customary law approaches

constitute an effort no one is willing to accept. Nonetheless, with

to settle different interests. As Charles Emmerson stated in his “The

decreasing ice coverage and more trade in the Arctic, it will gradual-

Future History of the Arctic”: “Coastal states in the Arctic are un-

ly become more difficult for the Arctic states to prevent initiatives

likely to accept a redrawing of their maritime borders, even if some

aimed at generating greater internationalization and reluctance to

areas of land, say in northern Siberia or Alaska, become submerged

accept an Arctic Five mare nostrum with climate change in this partic-

Atlantic Voices, Volume 2, Issue 10

5


ular region having global effects.

gion. As a nation dependant on energy exports, the ice cannot melt

Beyond the group of states mentioned one has to consider

fast enough for Moscow. This strategic train of thought also unveils

more players involved. The EU and China share a great interest in

itself in the Russian Federation’s State policy “In the Arctic until

the possibility of new resources and shipping lanes and were there-

2020 and beyond”. This program is aimed at training and equipping

fore always interested in influencing the Arctic Council and attaining

specifically trained “Arctic warriors”. A closer look unravels the fact

an observatory status. The problem of the indigenous people cannot

that these Special Forces would mainly be used to protect the north-

be highlighted enough. The Arctic Council solves some of the disad-

ern regions of Russia. Most of the Russian air fleet is not capable of

vantages they face. As it is often the case the weakest lobby group is

operating in the Arctic region. Surveillance and reconnaissance

hit by the consequences the hardest. Globally operating companies

flights have, however, been on the rise since 2007 as have Ship Sub-

such as Exxon and Shell and environmentalists such as Greenpeace

mersible ballistic Nuclear (SSBN) missions. Russia’s biggest asset is

are also important groups who pursue their own interests.

the high end ice breaker fleet and the experience of navigating through the Arctic.

A “Great Game” in the High North?

The increasing role played by non-state actors and the resulting

Together with the fear of a new “Gold Rush” and the hardships

security concerns make the protection of the new coastal waters

in governing the Arctic, there is a perceived threat of a militariza-

more important and the Kremlin is not alone in acquiring new

tion of the Arctic. During the Cold War this marked the shortest

equipment and technologies. Yet, Russia has the know-how but

possible way for the US and the Soviet Union to attack each other

lacks the complete port folio, especially regarding finances and tech-

directly. Thus, countries like Iceland had a strategic role for NATO. Today the problem remains that the Arctic Five remain skeptical about outside interference by other organizations, such as the EU, NATO

nology.

The Arctic Five remain skeptical about outside interference , yet can be truly pragmatic when it comes to eradicating diverging interests

or states like China, yet can be truly prag-

In his background paper “Military Capabilities in the Arctic”, Siemon T. Wezeman summarizes and analyzed the repertoire of Arctic States and found that even though all other Arctic Five states are

matic and cooperative when it comes to eradicating diverging inter-

NATO members, their stance on NATO involvement and the secu-

ests.

rity concerns differ. Canada is very skeptical about using the NATO Russian muscle flexing rhetoric and repeated “public rela-

-Russia forum to negotiate, where the European states have Russian

tions” statements on the importance of the Arctic for the Russian

interests “next door” and often feel neglected and unsupported as

energy sector should not be overstated, as they often have domestic

the NATO “front line” states in this respect. Canada and Norway

policy motivation. Moscow showed remarkable willingness to coop-

invested in new coast guard ships and shifted some interest to

erate with the Arc-

“Arctic

tic states and negoti-

whereas the US and

ate disputes. A clear

Denmark do not see

lack of environmen-

any benefits in such a

tal concern marks a

policy.

contrast

to

this

Washington did not

positive

develop-

get influenced by the

security”

Especially

ment. Nevertheless,

“Arctic

Russia strictly op-

whereas Copenhagen

poses the involve-

has to fear a Green-

ment of any other

landic

organization

independence

states

in

or

fever”

strive

for with

Arctic

increasing resource

affairs and it should

richness. A SIPRI

not come as a sur-

The Canadian Rangers (Photo: Canadian National Defense)

prise that Russia is very keen on shifting its focus to the Arctic re-

Atlantic Voices, Volume 2, Issue 10

report by Kristofer

Bergh thus highlights the need for a closer alignment of US and

6


Canadian interests for an improved standing and leading example for

position, Denmark profits from multiple different geostrategic bases

Arctic stewardship.

and outposts. Thus, when looking at recent developments one has

Canada has made it quite clear in the recent years that its

to put this in context. It might be true that the Canadian rangers

arctic claims should be taken seriously. In 2010 Foreign Affairs Min-

have been strengthened, that the Russians set up brigades of Arctic

ister Lawrence Cannon made this abundantly transparent during his

military personnel and that Norwegian military units have been

visit to Moscow, basically stating that Canada’s “Arctic Sovereignty”

shifted further north, but these are all steps implemented to patrol

was a priority. Both Russia and Canada claim the 1,800 kilometer

and protect the borders that are and NOT the borders that should

submarine Lomonosov range, between Canada’s Ellesmere Island

be. Further, given the size and scope of these steps one cannot iden-

and Russia’s new Siberian Islands which both countries see as a po-

tify any form of aggressive militarization. Additionally, the US, as

tential source for large fuel deposits. Canada has not only found a

the greatest military power, is pursuing a wait-and-see strategy as

new sense of confidence, but also has the technical and organization-

Washington could increase Arctic forces rapidly if the need should

al clout to back its aspirations. From an operational standpoint,

arise.

Canada is able to act flexibly and swiftly due its four secondary air-

Conclusion

craft bases in northern Canada. The 1.5 billion Canadian dollar project “Joint Uninhabited Surveillance and Target Acquisition Sys-

The economic gold rush is not likely to happen under current

tem” (JUSTAS) for maritime and Arctic patrol, is another indicator

circumstances. Additionally, the resources do mainly not lie in dis-

for Canada’s commitment. Besides five large and six small icebreak-

puted territory. Economic exploitation will still take decades to be

ers and fifteen major surface warships and four conventional subma-

fully effective and economically reasonable. Everyone seems willing

rines, the numbers of the Canadian Rangers, a lightly equipped,

to settle and to negotiate disputes or confronting interests. Even

highly professional paramilitary unit have increased from 4,100 in 2008 to 5,000 in 2010. Canada is well prepared, but the question remains for what exactly? The Arctic region is at best a low

though the international organizations and

The demand for security and stability amongst the actors will surely not melt as rapidly as the ice.

profile security concern for the US. It was

councils in place are far from perfect they constitute an effective and flexible tool for negotiation. Stewardship is needed as well as a balance between national egoisms and global solutions for global concerns. It is an

not mentioned in a 2012 report on security priorities of the 21st

imperative to find equilibrium between legal rights, states interests

century. Although the US has the most capabilities of all five actors

and accountability for their actions.

it has hardly any troops specifically trained for Arctic missions. It has

The increase of Arctic military capabilities by some nations

less high end Ice breakers than Russia and the Navy only had one

does not mark militarization or a military build-up. A conflict would

experimental vessel, the MV Susitna, which was eventually sidelined

only become a realistic scenario if the Arctic were to get enmeshed

and reused for civilian purposes only. The SSB’,s however, do regu-

in other disputes or if rigid nationalistic momentum prevailed over

larly patrol the arctic waters. The trend at the moment is investing

pragmatic cooperation.

in civilian ice breakers which are deployed to the region for scientific purposes.

Clashing interests may only delay this process and no immediate threat of an escalation or militarization in the region is foresee-

The focus of Norway’s Arctic strategy lies in balancing Rus-

able or realistic. The demand for security and stability amongst the

sia’s influence. The nature of relations between Moscow and Oslo

actors will surely not melt as rapidly as the ice. So for the moment

has improved over the course of the last years. Cooperation is on

all is quiet on the Northern Front.

the rise in the European Arctic Area and military joint exercises between Norway and Russia have been held repeatedly. The fact that the Norwegian chief of defense has called for shutting down one of the two battalions of the “Brigade Nord” is a clear indication for the diminishing fear of Russian aggression. Denmark has forged the Arctic Military command between Greenland and the Faroe Island as a result of the adoption of a special Arctic Strategy adopted in 2011. Due to Greenland’s favorable

Atlantic Voices, Volume 2, Issue 10

About the authors Djan Sauerborn is currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Political Science of South Asia and Anthropology at the Heidelberg University. His main interests are ethnic and civil conflict, civil-military relations, EU-South Asia relations. Bastian Matteo Scianna is pursuing his MA/MSc in International and World History at Columbia University and the LSE and Political Science. He focuses on European military history, the development of strategic thought and current European defense policy. 7


The Canadian Arctic Dossier by Amina Abdullayeva

Each year the ice shrinks by approximately 70,000 km2, the equivalent

N

of Lake Superior. o action is taken until a crisis hits, and the Arctic has

Whereas exact boundaries in the Far North were not of great

been no exception to this rule. Climate change brings

concern before, it is becoming increasingly important to delineate

with it unexpected developments, and suddenly we

Arctic territory clearly. The United Nations Convention on the Law of

find that a large swath of the ocean that used to be permanently un-

the Sea (UNCLOS), which came into effect in 1994, is the mechanism

der ice has turned into a source of major international disagreements.

used for this purpose. Countries that ratified the Convention can file

Canada, being among the five nations with an Arctic coast-

claims to parts of the world seas, in this case the Arctic Ocean, to the

line, is anxious to prove irrevocably its rights to the Arctic territory

UN Commission that will then evaluate them based on a scientific

that it considers its national property. To that end, Ottawa has been

method. According to UNCLOS, a country is entitled to 200 nautical

undertaking various projects, mostly military in nature, to assert its

miles of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) off its coastline, in which it

sovereignty in the Far North. For example, Canada has embarked

controls the rights to marine resources. However, if a state can prove

upon the largest shipbuilding program in its history, which will in-

that its continental shelf extends beyond its EEZ, it gets the right to the

clude a $25 billion (CAD) order on warships. Some observers argue

seabed and the minerals that come with it for as long as its continental

that these and other recent defence expenditures are not justified by

shelf extends, but not the waters above that shelf outside of the EEZ.

Canada’s commitments in Afghanistan and other parts of the world, but by its policy of increasing militarisation in the Arctic.

There is currently no unified set of multilateral norms and agreements that govern the Arctic. The fast pace of the global warming

This article explores Canada’s Arctic policy by first setting

is forcing the states implicated in this region into action now, and any

the stage and explaining the background of the issues. Next, Canada’s

decisions made by the Arctic powers today will have a long-lasting

Arctic disputes are listed, followed by an examination of their signifi-

influence in the coming years.

cance. Finally, mechanisms of resolving these disputes are discussed.

Canada’s Arctic Disputes Background

Canada has unresolved territorial disputes with three other arctic

Before the rise in global temperature, the Arctic was regarded as

nations. They range from the big question of the ownership of the

“a massive quantity of ice and no one had particular pretensions to

Beaufort Sea to the small but potentially highly consequential disagree-

it,” says Russian energy expert Ser-

ment over Hans Island. The former issue

gey Pikin. Climate change has trans-

is between Canada and the US, while the

formed the situation – not only

latter involves Denmark. Canada also

drastically, but also rapidly. This is

needs to agree with Russia over certain

because the results of global warm-

continental ridges. The biggest question,

ing in the Arctic are far more dra-

that virtually pits Canada against the rest

matic than elsewhere due to the

of the world, is the status of the North-

sharper angle at which the sun’s rays

Northwest Passage Routes (Photo: Wikipedia)

strike the polar region during summer

west Passage.

Canada vs. the World

and because the retreating sea ice is turning into open water, which

The Northwest Passage is a sea route that connects the Atlantic and the

absorbs far more solar radiation. This dynamic is creating a vicious

Pacific Oceans by passing through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.

melting cycle. According to Jacinthe Lacroix, senior science adviser

Seafarers and explorers dreamed for centuries of discovering this fabled

for Environment Canada, the ice in Canada's Arctic has shrunk 32%

passage that would serve as a shortcut to the riches of the Orient. Many

since the 1960s. In addition, global warming has raised the tempera-

lives were lost in the pursuit of this seaway, but when it was finally

ture in Canada’s northern archipelago by 1.2 degrees over the last

discovered, it became obvious that it would be unusable to the shipping

century - twice the average rate the temperature is rising worldwide.

industry, as most of it was permanently covered in ice with only small

Atlantic Voices, Volume 2, Issue 10

8


parts navigable for a few summer months. However, with the advent

Canada uses the 1825 St. Petersburg Treaty between the British and

of global warming scientists are now predicting that it will be fully

Russian Empires, while the US asserts the principle of equidistance in

navigable in the coming decades. The Northwest Passage is roughly

determining the boundary. In practice this means that Canada

7000 kilometres shorter than the current shipping route through the

“contends that the maritime boundary should follow the land bound-

Panama Canal, which equals about two weeks of travel time. This

ary along the 141st meridian out 200 miles,” essentially extending

translates into millions and even billions of dollars in savings for the

the land boundary between Yukon and Alaska out to the ocean in a

shipping industry, as well as large potential gains for governments

straight line. The US, on the other hand, relies on the principle of

controlling the passage, and constitutes one of the primary reasons for

equidistance, which draws the boundary along a median line equidis-

Canada’s claim to it.

tant from the shores of both Canada and the US.

The problem is that many countries – notably the US – be-

As the two sides use different methods of measuring their

lieve that the Northwest Passage is an international strait. A waterway

Arctic maritime boundary, the dispute –not surprisingly – remains

that connects one area of high seas to another is considered an interna-

unresolved. In the meantime, the disputed area is a wedge the size of

tional strait, and the proponents of this argument claim that the

Lake Ontario, or approximately 21,000 km2. Ironically, beyond the

Northwest Passage qualifies as such because it links the Davis Strait

200 mile EEZ, “the Canadian line is better for the US - and the US

with the Beaufort Strait, both of which are

line better for Canada”.

part of high seas. To be clear, this does

Canada vs. Denmark

not question Canada’s territorial rights

One of the smallest disputes in the Arc-

over the passage, but challenges the no-

tic is the question of Hans Island. It is literally

tion that Ottawa can decide which vessels

the smallest issue, because the island has an area

could pass through. In case of internal

of only 1.3 km2. There are no reserves of any

waters, it is at the discretion of the con-

valuable minerals either. It is just a tiny island

cerned government to open or close pas-

between Canada’s Ellesmere Island and Denmark’s Greenland.

sage for any vessel; but if the Northwest Passage is acknowledged as an international water-

Hans Island (Photo: Wikipedia)

way, Canada’s permission will not be necessary.

Both countries have a strong claim to it, and

each has tried to assert its own sovereignty over the island via official

There have been several instances when the US sent its sub-

visits over the years. Each time a Canadian politician or squad of

marines or icebreakers through the Passage without asking Ottawa for

soldiers lands on the island, the Danish side issues an official state-

permission. The most serious case occurred in 1985, when the US

ment of protest and vice versa.

Coast Guard icebreaker “Polar Sea” travelled through the passage

Recently there have been reports that the two sides are pre-

without notifying the Canadian government. It was considered a di-

pared to reach a settlement whereby the island would be split into

rect challenge to Canadian sovereignty and caused a diplomatic row,

two - almost exactly in half, but these reports are as of yet uncon-

which resulted in the signing of the Arctic Co-operation Agreement in

firmed by either government. It can be politically embarrassing to

1988 by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and President Ronald

acknowledge a compromise when each side had been signalling re-

Reagan. According to this agreement, the US promised never to send

lentless determination.

vessels through the Northwest Passage without Canada’s consent; in

Canada vs. Russia

return, Canada promised always to grant its consent. In addition,

This argument is over stretches of the Arctic Ocean as deter-

Canada reserves the right to send an accompanying vessel with the one

mined by the geology of the Lomonosov Ridge, a long trench run-

it lets through.

ning along the floor of the Arctic Ocean from Siberia to Ellesmere

Apart from that agreement, which was a diplomatic way to

Island. Whoever can prove that the ridge is an extension of their

overcome an embarrassing incident, no formal treaty has been reached

continental shelf will earn the right to claim the ocean floor and all

as to the status of the Northwest Passage. It remains a murky issue to

the minerals trapped in it, although not the waters over the seabed

this day, but time is running out.

itself.

Canada vs. the US

It turns out that there are two scientific ways to measure

The dispute between the US and Canada revolves around the delimita-

continental shelf, which is where the problems arise. “The juridical

tion lines that divide the Beaufort Sea between the two countries.

definition of continental shelf is broad in scope, as it does not differ-

Atlantic Voices, Volume 2, Issue 10

9


entiate between the different types of continental margins.” Of

Another security issue is not environmental, but human. If

course, each country prefers the measurement that will give it more

the Passage becomes fully navigable, chances are that not only com-

territory. Those are the measurements they will put into their claims

mercial vessels, but various groups with malevolent intentions can

to UNCLOS. Matters get even more muddled because these claims

also take advantage of this route. Such groups could be comprised of

are confidential, thus, no one knows exactly what the others will

pirates, or terrorists, for example. Although a distant and unrealistic

write in their claims, turning it into a guessing game. One thing that

proposition for the moment, it is probably not more remote or un-

is certain is Canada’s obligation to submit its claims to UNCLOS

likely than Arctic ice melting at a rate no one had envisioned fifteen

before the 2013 deadline.

years ago. If temperatures rise enough for the Northwest Passage to become a profitable and preferred sea route, it is possible that smug-

The Stakes

glers, traffickers, or even pirates will try to take advantage of the

As the ice melts in the Arctic, Canada has both economic and securi-

business going through here. Once again, if that happens, Canada will

ty interests at stake. Security is mainly an issue with the Northwest

be the country most exposed to risk. Having the Northwest Passage

Passage, while the disputes over the Beaufort Sea, Hans Island, and

as its internal waters would give it the right to close it to any vessel it

the Lomonosov Ridge are about potential economic gains or losses.

chooses, but without that power it would have no control over who

If Canada loses the Northwest Passage to the international

goes through.

community the government will not be able to enforce Canadian

The second issue concerns economic interests. It is no secret

laws and regulations over it. As the environment of the region is

that the Arctic has large amounts of minerals and fossil fuels that

fragile, any accident could disrupt it dramatically. If an oil tanker, for

were previously unreachable. It is not known exactly how much

example, causes an accident

there is, but interestingly, most Eng-

while crossing the Passage,

lish-language sources state that Arctic

Canada will be the one to clean

energy reserves are roughly one-

up and pay the highest price –

quarter of the world’s supply, while

both literally for the clean-up

the Russian-language sources pre-

costs and in terms of the health

dominantly claim it is one-third. The

of its natural environment and

higher estimate on the Russian side

people who live in the North.

betrays their hope for more, which

We saw, for example, the

has to do with the fact that the energy

disastrous results of oil spills in

sector comprises 18.5% of the Rus-

the much safer waters of the

sian GDP, compared to 6.9% in Can-

Gulf of Mexico. According to World Wildlife Fund Canada,

“If an oil tanker causes an accident...Canada will pay the highest price (Photo: Wikipedia)

ada. Since Russia relies so much on its energy sector, it will try hard to make

an oil spill in the Arctic would be “impossible to clean up.” “[T]here

large gains in the Arctic. This is where the Lomonosov Ridge ac-

is a lot more capacity to respond to an oil spill in the Gulf; there is no

quires a price tag.

capacity in the Arctic – there is not even a harbour on the Arctic

In fact, none of the Arctic disputes are purely symbolic, despite the

slope of Alaska, which could be a staging base to respond to a spill.”

word “sovereignty” being used more often than any other.

Besides, the waters of the Northwest Passage are practically

While the issue with Russia is about economic power, the

uncharted, which makes sailing in them dangerous even when the ice

question of the Northwest Passage, as explained above, can seriously

has melted. Therefore, if Canada had more control over this seaway

undermine Canadian security. The wedge in the Beaufort Sea claimed

as part of its internal waters, it would have the right to impose tight-

by both the US and Canada is also potentially very rich in minerals,

er regulations on vessels passing through in order to ensure the safety

while Hans Island – worthless on its own – is important for Canada

of its land and people.

to be able to show that it can get what it claims. If it loses that, it may be difficult to reach favourable agreements in the other, more important, disputes.

Atlantic Voices, Volume 2, Issue 10

10


Dispute Resolution Mechanisms

these countries do not have an Arctic coastline, they would like to

There are three ways a country can choose to pursue dispute resolu-

be included, even if only as observers, in the decision-making pro-

tion in the Arctic: bilateral, multilateral, and institutional.

cess concerning such a large and important part of the world.

The bilateral method is the best, because often a dispute is just be-

Canada has the upper hand here, being the founding mem-

tween two states, so they can reasonably negotiate a settlement.

ber of the Arctic Council, which was created by the decree of the

Moreover, it was the method officially adopted by the five Arctic

1996 Ottawa Declaration. In addition, Canada will resume chair-

nations in the 2008 Ilulissat Declaration. It proved to be very effective

manship of the Council in 2013 for two years, which it can use to

when in 2010 Russia and Norway surprised the world by settling their

achieve peaceful resolution of the remaining disputes. However, it

40-year-old dispute over the Barents Sea. While Russia has a reputa-

needs to approach its future chairmanship with the right mindset and concrete goals. Diplomacy must take priority over

tion as a difficult partner, it can be surprisingly cooperative when it is in its interests. As Russia is heavily dependent on Arctic energy resources, it was in its interest to resolve the

Canada chairmanship of the Arctic Council must archive diplomatic success.

Barents dispute as soon as possible and start

populist rhetoric.

Conclusion Considering what is at stake - the security and

exploration. Canada should keep that in mind when dealing with Rus-

prosperity of Canada, as well as the health of its Northern environ-

sia over the Lomonosov Ridge.

ment - the government should base its Arctic strategy not on flashy

Instead, Canada tends to overreact to certain Russian actions

demonstrations of force and military capability, but on a flexible

in the Arctic. For example, Moscow lowered its flag to the Arctic

approach firmly rooted in legitimate international agreements and

seabed in 2007, and in June 2011 symbolically sailed two koch boats

backed by scientific proof. The Arctic Council should continue to be

(an ancient wooden boat used by early Russia explorers) in the Arctic

the forum to discuss all Arctic issues and UNCLOS should be the

Ocean. These actions caused a stir in Canada with angry official state-

tool to lay territorial claims. It should be reformed, if the current

ments condemning Russia’s “flag planting antics.” According to Mi-

version causes confusion, but this multinational institutional frame-

chael Byers, an international law professor from the University of

work should not be discarded at any cost. It is important, because it

British Columbia and an outspoken expert on Arctic issues, “everyone

bestows legitimacy on state actions in the Arctic, and also because it

else is sorting out their differences, we really are the laggards.”

makes bilateral agreements possible. Without the overarching

In this situation a multilateral and institutional framework can

framework provided by UNCLOS, countries would not be able to

be helpful. When Canada-Russia relations became particularly tense,

centre their negotiations on any accepted basis. Therefore, Canada

Norway offered to mediate, based on its recent success with Russia

has a unique opportunity coming up: the timeline of the fast-melting

over the Barents Sea. Such cooperation should be expected to happen

ice overlaps with the schedule of Canada’s chairmanship of the Arc-

more and more, because there are only five countries in the Arctic

tic Council. This is an important moment in history, and decisions

and it is easier to agree in smaller groups. Also, nothing can be re-

taken in the next few years will have a profound impact on the fu-

solved by resorting to military action, and all the implicated actors

ture of the region. Canada must use its international reputation,

know that. It is clear that talking with each other and cooperating is

legitimacy and diplomatic skill to achieve the best results.

the only way to move forward, even if they are ultimately competing against each other for a bigger piece of valuable territory. Finally, multilateral cooperation is possible within a clear

About the author

institutional framework, where norms and rules are understood by all. This is why the Arctic Council and UNCLOS are so important. Although the Arctic Council is merely an advisory body, it is the only one

Amina Abdullayeva

created specifically for the Arctic and it is taken seriously. This is

Amina Abdullayeva is a Security Analyst with the Atlantic Council of Canada

evident by the fact that six non-Arctic nations - France, Germany, the

focusing on the European Union, Russia and the former USSR. She holds a

Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and UK - have a permanent observer

Master’s Degree from the University of Toronto – Centre for European, Russian,

status. Even China is showing strong interest in joining. Although

Eurasian Studies.

Atlantic Voices, Volume 2, Issue 10

11


ATA Programs More information on ATA programs are available online

On 13th, 14th and 15th September, the German Youth Atlantic Association visited Brussels for briefings at NATO and ATA.

Atlantic Voices is the monthly publication of the Atlantic Treaty Association. It aims to inform the debate on key issues that affect the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, its goals and its future. The work published in Atlantic Voices is written by young professionals and researchers.

15 German students and young professionals attended the briefings.

The Atlantic Treaty Association (ATA) is an international nongovernmental organization based in Brussels working to facilitate global

On October 29th, the ATA is hosting a panel on the ‘US Presi-

networks and the sharing of knowledge on transatlantic cooperation and

dential Candidates’ Foreign Policies and their views on NATO’.

security. By convening political, diplomatic and military leaders with

Speakers include the Director of Gallup Europe and Representa-

academics, media representatives and young professionals, the ATA

tives from the Democratic and Republican Parties.

promotes the values set forth in the North Atlantic Treaty: Democracy,

On November 13th, the ATA is organizing a Brainstorming Debate with EPC’Ideas Factory-Europe on the future of Transatlantic relations at the Residence Palace in Brussels. The brainstorm will contribute to refreshing ideas on the future relations between Europe and North America. Join the ATA Mediterranean Debates, an online platform to spur debate on Mediterranean Security Issues among young emerging leaders from the region.

Freedom, Liberty, Peace, Security and Rule of Law. The ATA membership extends to 37 countries from North America to the Caucasus throughout Europe. In 1996, the Youth Atlantic Treaty Association (YATA) was created to specifially include to the successor generation in our work. Since 1954, the ATA has advanced the public’s knowledge and understanding of the importance of joint efforts to transatlantic security through its international programs, such as the Central and South Eastern European Security Forum, the Ukraine Dialogue and its Educational Platform. In 2011, the ATA adopted a new set of strategic goals that reflects the constantly evolving dynamics of international cooperation. These goals include:

Atlantic Voices is always seeking new material. If you are a young researcher, subject expert or professional and feel you have a valuable contribution to make to the debate, then please get in touch. We are looking for papers, essays, and book reviews on issues of importance to the NATO Alliance. Further enquiries can also be directed to the ATA Secretariat at the address listed below. Editor: Linda Benesch The views expressed in these articles are entirely those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of the Atlantic Treaty Association, its members, affiliates or staff. mages should not be reproduced without permission from sources listed, and remain the sole property of those sources.

the establishment of new and competitive programs on international security issues.

the development of research initiatives and security-related events for its members.

the expansion of ATA’s international network of experts to countries in Northern Africa and Asia. The ATA is realizing these goals through new programs, more policy

activism and greater emphasis on joint research initiatives. These programs will also aid in the establishment of a network of international policy experts and professionals engaged in a dialogue with NATO.

Atlantic Voices Vol.2, no.10  

Jason Wiseman examines the issues surrounding global efforts to sustain cooperative frameworks in the Arctic Circle. Amina Abdullayeva prese...

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