High North, Low Tension

KIRKENES: U.S. Ambassador to Norway Barry B. White says there is no competition for resources or a race for the Arctic. “We all have a common interest in preserving the Arctic area even as we pursue sustainable development.”


Barry B. White participated at the large Arctic business- and energy conference taking place this week in Kirkenes, near Norway’s border to Russia in the north.

US Ambassador to Norway Barry White in mUrmansk with a nuclear powered icebreaker in the background.
Barry B. White with one of Russia’s nuclear powered icebreakers in the background.
Photo: Thomas Nilsen

The Ambassador presented how the U.S. views the Arctic, including Arctic energy development.

It seems that too often the concept of “race to the Arctic” is bandied about, whether in popular press articles or a number of recently published books. While these makes for interesting reading, the United States government doesn’t believe that we in the middle of a race to the Arctic,” says Barry B. White. 

He argues that there is no completion for resources. “In fact, the large majority of the known and expected oil and gas resources in the Arctic are located in the exclusive economic zones of the five Arctic coastal states. And to the extent discoveries are made in areas beyond exclusive economical zones, they will probably be under national jurisdictions of the coastal states as well, given that all five either are mapping or have already mapped the extended continental shelves,” says Barry B. White.

In 2009, Norway became the first Arctic nation to settle an agreement with the U.N. Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf in the Arctic. Russia, Canada and Denmark (via Greenland) are making claims that are believed to be decided on within the coming years.

Only countries that have ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea can make claims to an extended continental shelf in the Arctic. The United States has signed, but not yet ratified the treaty.

Ambassador White is optimistic and hopes the Sanate soon will ratify. “Our politics is often difficult to explain. We will like to see the treaty ratified. If Obama is re-elected we will likely see ratification next year,” says Barry B. White.

U.S. and Russia disagree on the status of the Northern Sea Route, says Ambassador White.
Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Although the United States has a relaxed attitude and points to the Arctic as an area of low tension, the Ambassador named a few disagreements linked to shipping. The U.S. believes that both the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage are international straits.

The U.S. and Canada disagree over the status of the Northwest Passage and the U.S. and Russia disagree over the statues of the Northern Sea Route. I would note that although these are fundamental disagreements, and they are based on legal principles that have existed for decades, they have never caused major problems,” says Barry B. White.