Who does the Arctic belong to?
Who has a right to a share of “the Arctic pie”, only coastal nations or all of the countries of the world?
The coastal countries insist that the Arctic Region is their domain, and geographically, they have a reason for thinking so. While trying to settle any issues of discord within the Arctic Council, Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark have each developed their own strategy for tapping the resources of the disputed region.
In September 2008, Russia adopted The Basic Principles of State Policy regarding the Arctic, and Norway its Northern Strategy. In January 2009, the United States passed its Arctic Doctrine, and in the summer of 2009 Canada introduced its Northern Strategy.
Some of the provisions of the four strategies overlap. The Arctic Region is described as a strategic resource base for each of the nations and for the world as a whole. In addition, each state is to undertake the tasks of developing the economic and social spheres, protecting the environment, improving the management of, and promoting scientific research in its sector of the Arctic.
The Russian exploration program for the Arctic falls into several stages. One of the provisions stipulates that laws to define the external border of Russia’s Arctic zone should be adopted by 2015. In the meantime, scientific research groups are collecting more evidence to the effect that the Lomonosov Undersea Ridge is a continuation of the Russian Arctic shelf.
The data is to be submitted to a special UN panel. Russia is also planning to realign the region’s economy through building the necessary infrastructure and an effective system of communications to ensure safe passage of cargo via the Northern Sea Route. The Arctic zone should become Russia’s major strategic resource base by 2020.
Norway’s Northern Strategy provides for establishing a research base for the development of the region. Norway has launched a number of Arctic research projects and some of the programs are carried out with the participation of Russian students and scientists.
Canada claims the leading role in international Arctic research efforts. According to the Canadian Foreign Ministry, Ottawa is monitoring the Arctic territories and waters and is demonstrating maximum responsibility in the process. It also assured the international community that all border issues will be settled on the basis of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea.
The American strategy stands separately, as usual. The United States favors none of the Arctic territory division options suggested by the coastal countries. Washington says that the moves taken by the Arctic nations towards obtaining legal rights on the Arctic shelf threaten the US national interests.
Denmark remains the only country whose relations with other claimants on Arctic resources can be described as balanced. Despite its membership in the EU and NATO, Copenhagen adheres to neutrality and for this reason, is the most agreeable participant in the “Arctic dispute”.
Iceland, which is planning to enter the Arctic talks too, may well become a “window to the Arctic” for other countries.
This summer, a Chinese businessman acquired 300 square kilometers of wilderness in the northeast of Iceland. This might be Beijing’s first move towards claiming part of the Arctic.
The Arctic states are sure, however, that they are capable of addressing the problems facing the region on their own. Whatever the outcome, given that resources from the Arctic will be supplied to other countries as well, the development of the Arctic will benefit all countries of the world.