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An Arctic Council Security Agreement: Preventing Militarization and Ensuring Stability and Security of the Arctic Olin Strader January 2012 


Imagine in 2040 the Arctic Ocean is navigable for an extended period each summer. Then imagine Arctic states navies going to war, head to head, in the Arctic Ocean over natural resources. A computer game set to be released in the second quarters of 2012 called Naval War: Arctic Circle, imagines just such an environment. According to CPU Gamer, “In the future, civilization is still reliant on petroleum, but the easily accessible land-based oil reserves are dwindling rapidly. The nations of the far north struggle to harness the rich untapped wells of the Arctic Circle and will go to war to guarantee control of the black gold.”[2] The irony of the scenario Naval War: Arctic Circle projects is exactly why an international mechanism is needed to preclude such a scenario.
 So it isn’t to hard to imagine an Arctic where every Arctic nation has its own fleet of armed Arctic patrol ships like the one pictured above. What would that kind of Arctic be like? Would it constitute a militarization of the Arctic? Would such a development encourage conflict? The more important question is how can Arctic states undertake Arctic Patrol Ship construction programs without jeopardizing the stability of the Arctic? The answer is to commit to an Arctic Council Security Agreement centered around the creation of a multi-national Arctic Response Force that recognizes and respects states, and their indigenous populations sovereignty. Arctic states are actively undertaking major Arctic shipbuilding programs. The latest pronouncement came from the Russian Federation, who on 20 December 2011 announced the Zvezdochka yard in Severodvinsk will begin construction of ice-class vessels crewed by a complement of sixty and designed to transport military hardware.[3] By the same token, on 19 October 2011 Canada’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) Secretariat announced Irving Shipbuilding, Inc. had been selected to build the Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship.[4] Norway and Denmark currently possess armed Arctic patrol ships. The Norwegian Svalbard class and 


the Danish Thetis-class ice- capable patrol ships current operate in Arctic waters.[5] Despite the projected proliferation of ice-capable Arctic patrol ships, this does not currently constitutes a threat to Arctic security. To avoid jeopardizing the current stability of the Arctic, brokering an Arctic Council Security Agreement is perhaps the best way to avoid militarization of the Arctic in the longer-term. Long-term stability in a region could be jeopardized by misunderstandings and further exacerbated by a general lack of a shared vision. The Arctic region comprised of five littoral states, eight Arctic Council member states and several indigenous nations all have a vested interest in a stable Arctic today for economic and security reasons. However, a regional security agreement should be put in place as the Arctic opens to increased exploitation to guarantee stability and security. Without one, events are left to chance and chance is a fickle partner. But under which international body should a regional security agreement be brokered? Preliminarily, there are significant obstacles to creating an Arctic Council agreement because the council’s charter precludes it from dealing with matter related to military security.[6] But the obstacles associated with an Arctic Council Security Agreement aside, let’s consider possible options. Possible candidates include the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU), the United Nations (UN), the Arctic Council (AC) and perhaps an ad hoc organization. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization cannot be considered a likely candidate because some of the Arctic Council nations are not member states and Russia would interpret the Alliance’s presence in the Arctic as tantamount to encirclement. The EU is not a likely candidate because not all Arctic Council nations are part of the EU and some of these countries overtures to join the EU have been spurned. The UN could be likely a candidate, however, were the United States inclined to join, Congress would likely interpret participation under the UN as an encroachment on its sovereignty. One has only to look at opposition within the U.S. Senate to accession to the Law of the Sea Treaty to understand the challenge associated with this option. That leaves either the Arctic Council or an ad hoc organization. One way of looking at these options is to ask oneself which organization represents the best guarantor of Arctic nation’s, and their indigenous population’s, security? Success being defined as all Arctic nations agree to collectivized security and the Arctic opens in a peaceful manner consistent with international norms. 


In short, the logical answer is a fundamental change to the Arctic Council’s charter. Caution is strongly recommended when amending international treaties or agreements. That is why this author recommends a more nuanced approach. The question then is what kind of challenges would encourage Arctic littoral nations to collectivize security? The immediate challenge facing Arctic nations and their indigenous populations are safety and security related. The recent Arctic Council Search & Rescue Agreement highlights a principle concern of its member states. Discussions about environmental response and fisheries protection are further examples of contemporary safety and security needs. And these challenges will mainly come on the periphery, along the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage for the immediate future. But, if the satellite record data continues to reveal a receding ice cap, one can only assume that in twenty years time much more of the Arctic Ocean will be navigable. Therefore, it is vital to plan today for tomorrow’s safety and security challenges. Arctic nations like Canada, Denmark and Norway are in varying stages of building a fleet of armed Arctic patrol ships. What will happen when these nations, and perhaps other Arctic nations, commit to armed, ice-capable ship building programs? Will this lead to a militarization the Arctic? Will a nation or nations feel threatened and jeopardize the stability and security of the region? One might ask what would jeopardize stability and security? The answer is economic interests. Where economic interests proceed, security must follow. There should be little need to highlight the reported natural resources of the Arctic, not to mention its cost-saving routes to high latitude ports. There was a war in the name of the Cod fish in the last century, lest we forget. If that is not persuasive enough, consider the recent rhetoric of China’s Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo: "The Arctic belongs to all the people around the world as no nation has sovereignty over it...China must play an indispensable role in Arctic exploration as we have one-fifth of the world's population.”[7] To avoid misperceptions and an Arctic ship building race, in addition to an Arctic Council Security Agreement, nations should also commit themselves to a multilateral Arctic Response Force. The idea of an Arctic Response Force is not new. Denmark, according to their Arctic strategy, has proposed creation of a national Arctic Response Force, designed to provide security for its Arctic waters.[8] The concept put forward in this article is simply a regionalization of 


the Danish model. Collectivized security by its very nature is intended to be a guarantor of transparency, cooperation, collaboration and trust. Some Arctic member states inherently realize collective security is the right idea. What may concerned them is surrender of their sovereignty. The ideas put forward in this article seek to preserve the integrity of each nations sovereignty, but link together national efforts under a single agreement that provides security for the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas. Furthermore, the notion of an Arctic security agreement and an Arctic Response Force is not expected to pool resources or levy a membership fee. Rather, it seeks to link, in a coherent way, each nations territory into a regional security architecture. Assuming for a moment Arctic nations were willing to collectively secure the Arctic region, what is it an Arctic Response Force would be expected to do? Possible missions might include assisting in Search & Rescue efforts, environmental response assistance, maritime security, prevent illegal fishing, poaching and whaling, ensure the freedom of navigation, prevent eco-terrorism, just to name a few. The Arctic today consists of two primary shipping routes, the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage. While the preponderance of these two routes lie within the Russian Federation’s and the Government Canada’s territorial waters, the approaches and exits are adjacent to other Arctic states. Consequently, Arctic risks are assumed by all the Arctic states and their indigenous populations, whether it’s a vessel originating in the Baltic destined to transit the Northern Sea Route or an Asian-based vessel intending to transit the Northwest Passage. If originating in the Baltic, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Russia and the United States all have an interest in this vessel’s safe passage in or near their territorial waters. If originating in Asia, the United States, Russia and Norway have a direct interest, but so might Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark. The point is the challenge associated with an opening Arctic is one that should be undertaken by all and codified in an agreement. Before discussing the content of an Arctic Council Security Agreement, it is worth mentioning that leadership is a key component of this agreement. Arctic 


challenges are shared by governments and by national defense and security organizations. Therefore, to sustain security and stability of the region, defense and security leadership should form an Arctic Council Chiefs of Defense and Chiefs of Coast Guard forum. The regularity of their meetings should be in keeping with standard Arctic Council procedures. The nation who holds the chairmanship of the Arctic Council should host the aforementioned forums. It maybe necessary to form sub-committees, but these should be limited. So, what should an Arctic Council Security Agreement contain? What are its essential parts? Arctic Council Security Agreement An Arctic Council Security Agreement should comprise at least eight elements: 1) shared interests, 2) sovereign responsibilities, 3) shared challenges, 4) shared missions, 5) state resources, 6) organization of Defense and Coast Guard Chiefs Council, 7) exercises and conferences, and 8) specific instructions. Governing states willingness to commit to such an arrangement is their shared interests. Chief among states interests should be a peaceful opening of the Arctic. This high ideal should serve as the preamble to the Arctic Council Security Agreement. Next, a clear statement of sovereign responsibility should be articulated at this point. Following a statement of shared interests and sovereign responsibility, states should outline their shared challenges. Challenges may include Search & Rescue, Environmental Response, Fisheries Management, etc. Framed by a comprehensive list of defined challenges, Arctic states should outline agreed missions to meet the challenges. Both challenges and missions should be framed in time-horizons, because not all challenges will be realized today. Challenges and missions should also be informed by the permanent representatives to the Arctic Council. To gain consensus on the challenges and missions it will be necessary to look for the common challenges resident in Arctic states’ strategic documents. Furthermore, states should frame their commitment of resources to preserve Arctic security and ensure a peaceful opening of the Arctic. Resourcing should attempt to link indigenous efforts such as the Canadian Rangers and other analogous indigenous security forces. Ideally, Arctic states should look to their indigenous populations to serve as the backbone of their Arctic Response Force, structuring them as first responders and guides. And as discussed previously, organization of a Chiefs of Defense and Coast Guards forum and 


necessary sub- committees should be expressed. Sub-committees might include Maritime Domain Awareness, aids to navigation and other security and defense related matters. Additionally, guidance as to the regularity of regional exercises and conferences should be communicated. Finally, states should draft specific instructions to cover remaining issues that do not fit neatly into previous mentioned categories. For example, there are invariably nature seams in the transition zones between state’s boundaries that should be addressed to promote cooperation and collaboration. The Arctic is changing rapidly; more rapidly perhaps than Arctic nations are preparing to meet the challenges associated with an opening Arctic. Therefore, it is paramount that Arctic Council nations codify an Arctic Council Security Agreement that can serve to govern safety and security in a changing Arctic. Additionally, they should create an Arctic Response Force as a means to address safety and security challenges. Without such an agreement, militarization, increased defense spending, heightened national security risks and other concerns may lead where Arctic nations do not seek to go. Therefore, shared security interests are an essential starting point to ensure a peaceful opening of the Arctic. Sources: [1] National Defense and Canadian Forces, “Arctic Offshore Patrol Photo Gallery”, accessed at: [2] CPU Gamer: PC Gaming, Naval War: Arctic Circle Developer Diary Video, accessed at [3] Barents Observer, “Navy gets new Arctic transport vessel”, accessed at: [4] CG Blog, “Canadian Icebreaker, Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship, Shipyard “Rationalization”, accessed at: rationalization/ [5] Canadian American Strategic Review, “Background--Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS) Naval Icebreaker”, accessed by: [6] Declaration on Establishment of the Arctic Council: The Ottawa Declaration 1996, (Ottawa: Arctic Council, 1996), 2. 


[7] The Diplomat, “Chinaʼs Arctic Play”, accessed at %E2%80%99s-arctic-play/ [8] Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands: Kingdom of Denmark Strategy for the Arctic 2011-2020, (Copenhagen: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011), 20. [9] United National Environmental Program, “Arctic sea routes-Northern Sea Route and Northwest Page”, accessed at [10] Arctic Council," Arctic Council Logo", accessed at 


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An Arctic Council Security Agreement  

Preventing Militarization and Ensuring Stability and Securityof the Arctic

An Arctic Council Security Agreement  

Preventing Militarization and Ensuring Stability and Securityof the Arctic