Arctic Governance

Adele Buckley, Canadian Pugwash Group, Pugwash Council

July 18, 2010 for Global Issues Project,

The icy high Arctic, isolated and inaccessible, is melting rapidly. Within a decade or two, in the summer months, goods will be carried in active shipping lanes using shorter routes through the ice-free waters of the Arctic Ocean. The Arctic Ocean littoral states agreed under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on methodology for territorial claims to the coastlines and seabed. Joint protocols, both bilateral and multilateral, are being developed to protect indigenous populations, northern communities, and their environment, plan search-and-rescue operations, implement shipping regulations, and plan sustainable exploitation of fisheries and seabed hydrocarbon resources. These changes are creating a new security environment, and for some time, circumpolar nations have been adding to their military capabilities for the new Arctic. These means of governance are the standard methodologies that the international community has developed to address cooperation between sovereign nations. Even the military buildup is considered to be a means of conflict prevention. [It was always thus – however, peace is not attained by preparing for war] We should be gratified to note, however, that the Canadian government, amongst its allies, is encouraging a demilitarized Arctic .

Nevertheless, due to climate change, there is a major evolution beginning in the Arctic. Massive resources are required from the global nations to support the “opening” of the Arctic. A major adaptation is necessary in the way of life for Arctic indigenous peoples. A significant number of environmental refugees will be created as a result of major storms and sea rise in coastal regions. Adaptation will be required from a culture of the sea to a culture of the land. Traditional aboriginal knowledge must be passed on to both northerners and southerners, at the same time as assuming that that knowledge also requires some adaptation! Youth of the north must be educated to participate in the whole life of the new frontier, so that they can be employed in senior technical and management positions. The population mix will be augmented by many “southerners”. Strategies of adaptation and governance need to be developed jointly by all concerned. Whether the change is to support sustainability and environmental protection, or human security, or it is a question of territorial jurisdiction and increased military presence, inclusiveness for decision makers from all stakeholders must be paramount.

The existing means of governance of Arctic affairs involves sovereign nations and their internal governance systems, together with joint activity through bilateral and/or multilateral agreements. Canadian Pugwash hopes that the Canadian government pronouncements on a demilitarized Arctic would lead to Canada taking the lead in starting negotiations for an Arctic Nuclear Weapon Free Zone. This treaty would be a giant move toward denuclearization, because it involves two nuclear weapon states – the United States and Russia, and it would provide an impetus toward the next reduction of nuclear weapons, beyond START II. Nuclear weapons free zones encompass virtually the whole southern hemisphere, and a few northern hemisphere territories – 116 countries in all. It is generally accepted that the NWFZ is valuable as a Confidence Building Measure, contributing to the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world. An Arctic NWFZ, of course, would be a significant step, but far from being the only action required, toward a world without war

Canada was the country that spearheaded the Arctic Council several decades ago. The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental circumpolar forum that collaborates on Arctic issues generally, with recent emphasis on environmental protection and sustainable development. Indigenous peoples are permanent participants. The observer list is growing rapidly. It consists of representatives from non-polar countries and an extensive list of non-governmental organizations. The mandate of the Arctic Council does not include security; there is beginning to be considerable pressure to enlarge that mandate, so that it can take a stronger role in governance. Observers would like a role in decision making, but the circumpolar nations and indigenous groups oppose this.

There are other tools for Arctic governance. One of the most powerful is UNCLOS, the UN body that rules on ocean sovereignty, including the limited but powerful sovereignty in EEZs – Exclusive Economic Zones. An Arctic Treaty, parallel to the international Antarctic Treaty has been proposed by some, but opposed by others as potential unwarranted interference in the affairs of the Arctic. The multinationals anticipate great economic benefit from accessing Arctic resources such as oil and gas also. They too will have a strong influence, indirectly, on Arctic governance. The cost of putting in place, and enforcing, many new and upgraded systems of regulations, and of adding much new infrastructure, will be very high. As the multinationals stand to greatly benefit from new resources and new shipping lanes, it is important that they must actually contribute funds to the overall public good as well as their own expenses. This idea has no presence in public-private discussions now underway, but it is vital to introduce it in the immediate future.

Now it is apparent that successful Arctic governance involves intentional and intensive international collaboration, and avoidance of military conflict. Joint funding of many international initiatives, to support the huge costs about to be required, may require letting go of some sovereign prerogatives. It has to be acknowledged that present means of governance do not fill the need, and therefore the international community requires innovations in governance. As Queen Elizabeth pointed out in her recent visit to Canada, “clear and convening leadership” is the key. This can benefit the world at large by testing out new means of governance. The positive end result could be that successful new governance in the Arctic could be a model for the world, and a demonstrated path of cooperation that would eventually lead to a world without war.