Arctic 2014: Who Gets a Voice and Why It Matters

May 21, 2014 // 9:00am12:00pm
Event Co-sponsors: 
Kissinger Institute on China and the United States
Asia Program
Canada Institute
China Environment Forum
Kennan Institute
Global Europe Program

Tensions over security, access, and environmental impacts in the Arctic are rising. While members of the Arctic Council (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, the United States) assert their established rights under new circumstances, an increasing number of non-Arctic states (including China, Korea, Japan, and Singapore) seek an active role in the region. Who are the key players and what are their primary objectives? What institutional framework will guarantee fair use and security in the Arctic? The discussion will focus on emerging challenges facing Arctic governance, analyze the goals and policies of key stakeholder nations, and evaluate means of promoting international cooperation in dealing with a rapidly changing environment.

The event is co-hosted under the Wilson Center’s new Polar Initiative by the Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States, Asia Program, Canada Institute, China Environment Forum, Kennan Institute, and Global Europe Program and features analyses analyses by:

Heather A. Conley, Center for Strategic & International Studies, on U.S. Arctic Policies
Marlène Laruelle, George Washington University, on Russia’s Arctic Policies
Rob Huebert, University of Calgary, on Canada’s Arctic Policies:
Willy Østreng, Norwegian Academy of Polar Research, on the Arctic Policies of Nordic states
Aki Tonami, University of Copenhagen, on Arctic policies of Korea, Japan and Singapore
Anne-Marie Brady, Woodrow Wilson Center and the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, on China’s Arctic Policies

6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
Event Sessions: 

Part 1:

Robert Daly, Director, Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute (3:03-8:12)

Heather Conley, Center for Strategic and International Studies (8:19-19:48)

Marlene Laruelle, The George Washington University(19:57-34:14)

Rob Huebert, University of Calgary(34:30-50:54)

Willy Ostreng, Norwegian Academy of Polar Research (50:58-1:07)

Aki Tonami, University of Copenhagen (1:10:40-1:24:49)

Anne-Marie Brady, Wilson Center and the University of Canterbury, New Zealand(1:24:59-1:36:40)

Robert Daly (1:36:43-1:37:15)

Part 2: Questions and Answers Session (21:52-1:22:39)

Robert Daly (Moderator) (1:21:53-1:22:29)

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Event Resources: 

The Globe and Mail's Paul Koring cites Rob Huebert's comments from the event. 

Event Summary

U.S. Arctic Policy

Heather Conley, Center for Strategic and International Studies

Conley discussed the current U.S. approach to the Arctic, which has mostly included studying and assessing the region. Though not an ineffective approach, Conley noted that the United States should pursue the following policies:

  1. Define a strategy to improve long term decision-making. Even though the United States has conducted a lot of research on ocean policy, the federal government remains undecided on its strategy to develop, preserve, and/or protect the Arctic.
  2. Make the Arctic a policy priority before it becomes a policy crisis. U.S. policymakers tend to give priority to areas only when there is a crisis, but the United States should not let that happen in the Arctic.
  3. Secure funding. The United States needs to develop a budget for its Arctic strategy.

Conley also proposed several agenda items for the United States’s Arctic Council chairmanship starting in 2015, including shipping safety, examining the climate/black carbon initiative, and developing a resilience plan for northern communities.

Russian Arctic Policy

Marlène Laruelle, The George Washington University 

Laruelle noted that Russia has one of the largest, and most all-encompassing, Arctic policies. With more than 20 percent of its GDP originating from north of the Arctic Circle, Russia has both land and sea based interests in the Arctic.

Currently, Russia’s Arctic priorities are security, new resources, and infrastructure. Internationally, Russia promotes a dialogue centered on border security and new transportation routes, as both would allow Russia the chance to integrate Siberia into the larger Russian economy. Russia has cooperated on international initiatives and multilateral efforts, specifically related to Arctic research and development.

Canadian Arctic Policy

Rob Huebert, University of Calgary

As the Arctic landscape changes, Huebert noted that key areas to watch include resource development, cultural interaction, and climate change. Canada’s priority has been to protect its Arctic sovereignty—land, water, and ice protection—and to involve indigenous peoples, which is why indigenous peoples are considered permanent participants.

As Canada continues to focus on protecting its sovereignty, Huebert stated that five regions are currently being contested: the Northwest Passage, a politically sensitive potential sea route because Canada and the United States and other countries disagree over whether its waters are international or external; the Beaufort Sea; the continental shelf; Hans Island and the Lincoln Sea; and Davis Strait.

Huebert recommended the following Arctic policies for Canada:

  1. Avoid political misunderstandings over the Northwest Passage (particularly relevant for Canada and the United States).
  2. Modernize NORAD. With melting ice, an increase in sea traffic is expected.
  3. Avoid involving NATO in Arctic security. Canada needs to be in balance with Russia, and involving NATO will only heighten the chance for conflict.

Nordic Arctic Policy

Willy Østreng, Norwegian Academy of Polar Research

Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, though diverse, tend to act together as a voting bloc, according to Østreng.

He found three similarities in Arctic policies for the Nordic states: governance, sovereignty, and security. Østreng noted, though, that these states do not always agree on everything. The decision on whether to include or exclude states in Arctic related multilateral organizations has yielded much debate. For example, although the Arctic Council has eight members, the Nuuk Declaration proposed that another organization should be created which would only include countries with direct access to the Arctic Ocean, an “Arctic 5”.  However, not all states agree with this proposal as it would likely lead to too much exclusivity and essentially render the original Arctic Council ineffective..

East Asian Arctic Policy

Aki Tonami, University of Copenhagen

Discussing the Arctic interests of Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, Tonami noted that in May 2013 each state was accepted as a permanent observer on the Arctic Council, despite their non-Arctic status.

She outlined the reasons for East Asian interest in the Arctic: high dependence on fuel imports—“they are energy hungry”; major ports and shipping industries, especially in South Korea; state-led development structures; and economic security is a priority, shaping political agendas and forcing the use of economic diplomacy for strategic advancement.

Chinese Arctic Policy

Anne-Marie Brady, Wilson Center and University of Canterbury, New Zealand

Brady stated that, contrary to popular opinion, the Arctic has always been an area of strategic interest for China, but that China has only recently been able act on those interests. The Chinese have already established many Arctic ties, specifically as an official observer on the Arctic Council.

China’s main Arctic interests include security—economic, political, and military; resources—minerals, fishing, transport routes, and biological prospecting; and science and technology, specifically weather and space science. China’s position on sovereignty differs from some of the larger Arctic states, such as Russia. For example, China says that outside of current border claims, the Arctic Ocean remains international waters. Similarly, it considers all shipping routes international lanes and that international bidding should be allowed on all mineral deposits—and part of the global market.

China’s polar strategy:

  1. Pursue ambiguity and assertiveness in areas which benefit it the most.
  2. Be explicit when expressing policy domestically and be discreet to external audiences. 
  3. Maintain bilateral diplomacy with other Arctic states, especially with the Nordic states.
  4. Use scientists and social scientists for Arctic diplomacy. 
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