On March 16 and 17, members the Arctic Council will gather in Copenhagen. The Arctic Council is a regional forum that promotes international cooperation on environmental protection and sustainable development in the Arctic.
Valdaiclub.com interview with Viktor Kremenyuk, Deputy Director of the Institute for US and Canadian Studies.
This year the Arctic Council will mark the fifth anniversary of its foundation. How would you assess its contribution to strengthening cooperation and coordination between its members? To what extent is it living up to its mission statement? What influence does it have on the policies of countries in the region?
The Arctic Council doesn’t have much clout yet, primarily because it is a relatively young organization. It first needs to prove its worth and build a good reputation. But the very fact of its existence is already a good sign, especially now that the global economy is starting to confront a significant resource deficit. The Arctic is thought to be resource-rich and has yet to be developed.
But no nation can take up the challenge of exploring and developing the Arctic on its own. This has to be a joint undertaking, involving all Arctic states, as well other countries that want to be involved.
From this perspective, the Arctic Council’s creation was the right step in the right direction. It means we are already in a position to undertake the initial work to coordinate the activities and interests of the different countries that have a stake in the Arctic. This is why I believe that the establishment of the Arctic Council was a positive signal, but we put all our efforts into further expanding its governance role. I’m sure this role will increase as the international community’s interest in the Arctic region grows.
How active is Russia in the Arctic Council? What interests does it have in the Arctic and how do they tally with those of the other nations?
Russia has adopted the ideal stance. Too much activity on the Arctic Council might raise suspicions that it wants to use the Council as an instrument to secure its dominant position in the region. This would be a mistake because Russia’s purview in the Arctic is already broad enough. At the same time, it should not allow other big countries to use the Council for their own benefit and as a means of furthering their agenda.
Russia’s position should be one of moderate and rational involvement, making it clear to everyone that it Russia is not seeking exclusive status in the region but also that it will not consent to any other nation to attaining such status.
The EU, China and the other countries involved would like to join the Council as permanent observers. How expedient is the involvement of non-Arctic states and how might that influence its operation?
If the current Arctic Council members say they can do without non arctic countries, like the EU or China, and refuse to admit them, a serious conflict will ensue in the United Nations – Arctic states will be accused of monopolizing resources that are regarded as the treasure of mankind. After all, the Arctic is not part of any one state.
The Arctic is a special region; only after enlisting the support of the Arctic nations can you start working there. This is why I don’t think the Council should develop along those exclusive lines as some kind of monopoly. Quite the reverse, we somehow need to agree the status that non-Arctic states will have on the Council. Given that Arctic nations bear a greater responsibility for the region’s future than the other countries, it would be sound to grant non-Arctic nations observer status.