The future of the Arctic region is built upon competing interests from the need for a deeper climate of cooperation between Arctic states to the fight over Arctic resources by any means, including military ones. Comparing the strategy papers published by the Arctic littoral states (Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway,etc.) and the European Union proves that the legal basis for the resolution of disputes does exist. Moreover, concrete spheres for cooperation have been pointed out by their respective foreign ministers in the Ilulissat Declaration of 2008.
Cooperating with Russia on Arctic Issues is Feasible and Desirable
A cooperative future in the Arctic region can be illustrated by clear examples of cooperation with the US, Canada, Russia and Nordic countries within the Arctic Council. Extensive programs of cooperation are being realized by the Council of Euro-Arctic Region. Norway for instance considers developing its relationship with Russia to be the necessary precondition for successful implementation of its national strategy in the High North. The Norwegian government proposed to establish a Russian-Norwegian economic "Pomor Zone," which was supported by the Russian government.
The Arctic littoral states are responsible for governance of Arctic areas under their jurisdiction. Any legal basis for making other states or organizations responsible for this governance instead of them does not exist. Naturally, they have to follow international treaties, regulating regimes of these maritime territories.
Overcoming Territorial Disputes with the Help of UN Agencies
Disputes in the Arctic region can be resolved on the basis of international law in general, and of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in particular. Joining the UNCLOS convention is currently on the US political agenda. The UNCLOS legally entitles Russia and other Arctic littoral states to continental shelf of 200 miles in the Arctic. These states and Russia have also the legal right to pretend under certain conditions to additional continental shelf up to 350 miles. Decisions on this matter are to be taken by the UN Commission on limits of continental shelf. Russia and some other Arctic states have already addressed their claims to this Commission. Polar areas beyond this limit may constitute an "open sea" Arctic space. This option should be considered as feasible only after final decisions of the above mentioned UN Commission are taken.
Russia as the Leader the Development of the Arctic Region
Russia strives to transform its Arctic maritime and land possessions into an asset to further develop the Russian national economy. This does not exclude, but rather presupposes, involvement of other states by their financial resources and technologies in fully exploiting these resources, a process which is already underway.
It is evident that further economic exploitation of the Russian Arctic zone will be followed by increasing intensity of maritime and coastal shipping in the Arctic seas adjoining the Russian territory. According to the Russian Arctic strategy, the utilisation of the North East Passage (NEP) as a national unified transport route, connecting Russian Northern provinces corresponds to the Russian national interests.
The geographical position of Russia makes it particularly relevant to use its territory and airspace as well as the NEP for transit transportation of commodities from the Asian-Pacific region and China to Europe. Utilisation of the NEP for international shipping within the Russian jurisdictional framework and in accordance to international treaties is among Russia's strategic priorities.
Russia Gets Permanent Access to the Arctic Sea
The possible melt-down of the ice cap may promote this development. Inclusion of the NEP and the North West Passage in permanently operating lanes of transportation may result in the emergence of new global maritime routes in the Arctic. This could create profitable large industrial clusters, centers of logistics and port hubs first and foremost in Russian and Norwegian zones.
Russia's non-frozen Northern ports in the Arctic, as large industrial centers with significant resources of skilled labour workforce, high scientific potential and high-grade power supply systems, are the main candidates to become the largest centres of transportation, logistics and industry in the Arctic zone. An active utilisation of their capacities will enable Russia to have year-round direct access to European and global markets and to provide Russian international partners with important transport and logistical services in the Arctic.
Lev Voronkov is a Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations' Department of European Integration. He is currently researching on the actors and interests and Russia's and Norway's role in the High North.
Related Material from the Atlantic Community:
- Klaus Dodds: Sea and State Change
- K. S. Yalowitz & R. A. Virginia: The Arctic Region: Great Game or International Cooperation?
- Paal Sigurd Hilde: Norway and the Arctic: The End of Dreams?