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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 29, July 4, 2009

Internationalisation of the Arctic: A Move Fraught with Dangers

Tuesday 7 July 2009, by Benjamin Todd


On April 29 this year the eight Arctic Council Ministers signed the Tromso Declaration, The Declaration is a guideline for the work in the Arctic Council in the next two years.

The Arctic Council has been meeting at the Foreign Ministers level every second year, approving projects and guidelines. However, due to the increased activity and interest in the Arctic, the Tromso meeting in Norway decided that the Council would henceforth meet at the political level once a year.

According to Jonas Gah Store, Norway’s Foreign Minister and the retiring chair of the Council, future generations of politicians and scientists will speak about the Tromso Declaration as a major step towards reducing global warming. Elaborating on the subject, he said:

As human activity in the Arctic increases, we need new policies. I am therefore delighted that the Arctic Council today has agreed to focus on search and rescue in the Arctic, to recommend safety standards for maritime transport and oil and gas production in the Arctic, and to establish a task force to limit emissions of non-CO2 drivers of climate change, such as black carbon and methane, recognising their importance in Arctic climate change.

What is striking is that the Declaration welcomed the

Report on Arctic Energy and its observations on activities that the Arctic states could consider for future implementation, in particular in relation to the Arctic as an energy consumer, and the importance of environmentally friendly economic activity in the energy sector to ongoing Arctic social and economic development.

Meanwhile, a row with Canada is learnt to have retarded the European Union’s efforts to join the Council whose members represent nations bordering the resource-rich Arctic Circle. These are the US, Russia, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden and Canada.

The EU had applied to join the group as a permanent observer obviously because of the Council’s attraction on account of increasing information regarding the Arctic’s stores of oil, gas and fish as well as other natural resources. This has, however, been turned down with the Council deciding to defer the issue of accepting new applicants until its next gathering in 2011.

The EU irked several Council members by not consulting them before launching its own Arctic Study in late 2008, according to informed sources. Canada in particular was annoyed with the proposed EU legislation to ban all imported seal products; the legislation has also drawn complaints from Norway.

However, it is being stated that the Council’s decision is not directed only at the EU and covers all new applicants, including China, South Korea and Italy.

As is well known, the fate of the Arctic has become an increasing priority for policy-makers as nations compete for resources and influence in one of world’s most environmentally sensitive areas. At present several non-Arctic countries are enjoying the status of permanent observer that the EU is seeking to attain, and these include the UK, France, Spain and Poland.

Currently the US, Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Iceland have begun the exercise of demarcating the Arctic Ocean shelf—especially a part of the Barents Sea and Beaufort Sea. Some non-Arctic countries are also interested in joining the venture. The aim is to use different possibilities to level the Arctic states with a view to internationalise the Arctic. Significantly some Indian officials too are of the opinon that New Delhi should support such internationalisation of the Arctic in order to avail a part of the big attractive pie.

Such a move is fraught with considerable dangers as any effort in this direction could lead to deterioration of India’s ties with Washington, Ottowa and Moscow and also result in internationalisation of the Kashmir problem. Therefore the best option for South Block would be to support the Arctic states in exploring and exploiting oil and gas fields in the Arctic. Indeed it is necessary for New Delhi to maintain the established order based on Maritkme Law and respect for the sovereignty of Arctic states.

What is noteworthy is that Hariharan Pakshi Rajn, the Secretary of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, has now strongly come out in favour of helping the Arctic countries in this regard by emphasising the importance of such a step. Close observers of the Arctic scene also feel that this would be most beneficial in the circumstances.

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