Arctic challenge for Arctic Council
Traditionally a forum for Arctic science and low-tension political questions, the Arctic Council plans to change as the Arctic itself is rapidly changing. Ministers meet in May.
Foreign Ministers representing the eight Arctic states will fly to Nuuk on Greenland on May 12th to form the future of Arctic politics and cooperation. All four Barents Region foreign ministers will be there.
The Arctic is undergoing significant changes. Global warming results in less sea ice; less sea ice results in increase shipping; increases shipping results in increased environmental risks. Increased environmental risks results in need for better search and rescue services; and effective search and rescue services is only possible with increased cooperation between the Arctic nations.
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When the Arctic Council was established back in 1996 the member states mainly produced environmental status reports from science cooperation, like the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme. Today’s challenges needs quite another political attention.
Therefore, the foreign ministers will meet well prepared when they are going to form the future of Arctic cooperation in Greenland’s capital Nuuk this spring.
The member states of the Arctic council are Russia, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Denmark, Canada and USA. One of the issues to be decided is who to invite as observers to the council, as Arctic issues are becoming a “hot-potato” also in global politics. India, South-Korea, China and the EU are all showing great interest in the Arctic and want to have a say in future decisions.
Speaking at a conference in China last year, Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said: “It is Norway’s view that the Arctic Council will benefit from having officially sanctioned observers”... and .. “Norway supports the application from China and hopes that consensus will be reached among the Arctic Council members. We also hope that China will continue to take active part in the work of the Council in its present status as an ad-hoc observer.”
Different countries have conflicts of interests. Not like it was in the Arctic during the Cold War when the flight over the ice-cap was the shortest route for intercontinental missiles and the ice-cap was the best place to play cat-and-mouse for nuclear powered submarines. Today’s conflicts of interests are more on issues like petroleum drilling vs. environmental protection, specified shipping rules vs. freedom of oceans, etc.
Norway and Russia have proved for the other Arctic nations that disputed ocean border areas can be solved in accordance with international laws and practice and in highly friendly manners. Lack of Arctic borders does not lead to Arctic conflicts.
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At the Nuuk meeting, Demark will hand over the Arctic Council chair to Sweden and Norway will suggest making its temporary Arctic Council secretariat in Tromsø permanently.