The High-level Meeting of the 67th Session of the General Assembly on the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels will take place at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 24 September 2012 followed by general debates to last till October. This is a unique occasion for member states, non-governmental organizations and civil society to discuss a forward-looking agenda at the highest level. Greenpeace intends to appeal to the UN General Assembly with a proposal to give the Arctic Ocean conservation area status. Though the possibility is low, there is a risk the plans to develop the Arctic shelf may be frustrated at the international level at the time the humanity faces grim prospects of exhausting resources for future development. Still, it’s the very fact the Arctic issue will make part of agenda that is important. It is more blessed to start serious and comprehensive discussions of the Arctic situation at all levels now than convert the region into a hotbed of international tension and discord for a long time to come.
The Arctic was peacefully divided between the Soviet Union, Norway, Denmark, the USA and Canada till 1982. No disputes had been raised. It was not an ax to grind. Actually the region was viewed as nothing more than a useless desert covered by ice. Since then the borders are still not clearly defined and tested by international law.
The discovery of hydrocarbons and other natural resources deposits changed it all. The Arctic region has 22% of the world’s undiscovered energy resources – and 84% of those resources are expected to occur offshore (so 18.5% of the undiscovered resources are on or under the Arctic seabed). The Arctic’s natural riches have made it a very lucrative place for exploration – and potentially a «hot» one. Now we have stiff competition supported by new national security strategies stressing the territorial claims as matters of vital importance.
But it’s not about resources only. Scientists warn that the record-breaking melt is part of an accelerating ongoing trend with profound implications. They say ice-free Arctic is becoming a not-so-far-fetched prospect. Several promising shipping routes pass through the region. The Northern Sea Route (NSR) is the most significant of them. It is several thousand miles shorter that any of the traditional shipping lanes. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the Northern Sea Route could one day rival the Suez Canal in terms of ship traffic. Compared to the current routes via the Panama and Suez Canals, commercial shipping transits from the Pacific to the Atlantic through the Northwest Passage could save two weeks of travel time. In its turn it translates into lower fuel costs, less ship steaming time and a reduction in labor costs for the commercial shipping industry. In the recent years some countries have suggested that the Russian Federation should renounce its jurisdiction over the Route which is considered its national seaway. Quite naturally such suggestions cause deep concern in Russia.
Region of disputes
The USA does not recognize the internal status of the Northern Sea Route and a significant part of the continental shelf claimed by Russia. The Lomonosov Bridge is the main object of territorial dispute between Russia and another NATO country - Canada. It stretches 1800 km from the New Siberian Islands cross the Arctic Ocean to the Canadian Ellesmere Island. Canada has already displayed its resoluteness by conducting military exercises in the area. Right now it’s clear the Murmansk Treaty between Russia and Norway is not fully up to expectations. A series of incidents in the Barents Sea have proved that the Norwegian side pushes Russian fishermen away from Spitsbergen. Norway does not recognize the Russia’s rights over the Northern Sea Route. Norwegian experts argue that the priority in the development of the NSR belongs to the expeditions of the Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen in the 1890s. The II International Arctic Forum, held in Arkhangelsk in September 2011, confirmed that Russia and Norway have a different vision of the future of the Route, a very worrisome and frustrating development caused by another NATO member. Apart from the five Arctic powers, the Forum’s permanent members are Finland, Sweden and Iceland – subarctic countries without any Arctic sectors. Two of them have serious claims against Russia. Defeated in the Winter War (1939–1940) against the Soviet Union, Finland lost an exit to the Arctic Ocean. Sweden challenges the status of the NSR as a national heritage of Russia. Stockholm argues that the first NSR was passed by the Swedish expedition of Nils Adolf Erik Nordenskiöld in 1878. There is a danger of forming a common Scandinavian policy on the Route. Canada and Norway openly stick to tough rhetoric far from diplomatic civilities. Actually talking by the divisions there is a certain pattern taking shape along the NATO and non-member Scandinavian states against Russia. That’s the rub. Along with unexpectedly rapid ice melting making sea routes and resources exploitation a tangible opportunity, the region is becoming a place of division along the «West against Russia» lines. A cursory look at the recent military activity corroborates the fact.
In 2010 Supreme Allied Commander in Europe US Navy Admiral James G. Stavridis gave warning that: «For now, the disputes in the north have been dealt with peacefully, but climate change could alter the equilibrium». Russia's ambassador to NATO, Dmitry Rogozin, has hinted at similar concerns. He said: «NATO has sensed where the wind comes from. It comes from the north.» The region starts to buzz with military activity. Norway, Denmark and Canada have declared their intent to resume regional military exercises that they had abandoned or cut back on after the Soviet Union’s partition. Even non-Arctic nations such as France have expressed interest in deploying their militaries to the Arctic. In March NATO and Sweden wrapped up the largest Arctic maneuvers ever — Exercise Cold Response — with 16,300 troops from 14 countries training on the ice for everything from high intensity warfare to terror threats in harsh weather conditions. The pattern of NATO-Sweden training event proves once more that the Arctic is the region, where the military alignment hasn’t changed since the Cold War, i.e. Russia is opposing other countries. Before that the 1st Canadian Mechanized Brigade held its own exercise honing skills of operating in winter conditions. This year it was the first time the NATO states participated collectively in the Canada-led annual Arctic military exercise. A few days before the Nanook maneuvers were held by the end of July Canada deployed CF-18 aircraft openly saying the step was taken against Russian Tu-95 bombers. The Canadian government has committed to buying 65 F-35 stealth fighters and restarting Joint Support Ship project to boost its naval capability. Besides that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has announced the plans to build a new icebreaker, patrol vessels and an Arctic warfare training center. The Conservative government of Canada has pointed to the military activities of Russia as a reason for the buildup of Canadian armed forces presence in the North.
The US Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century, that saw light in 2009, includes the Arctic into the list of major challenges to be ready for. The document outlined expansion of naval and air military presence in the region. The US nuclear submarines participated in Ice Exercise 2011 (ICEX-2011) in the Arctic Ocean, conducted in March 2011 along with elements of Canadian and UK navies.
Meanwhile the Arctic conflicts have already become inspiration for computer games designers. For instance, the recent game called Naval Warfare: Arctic Circle tells a story about navies and air forces of Russia and NATO fighting for Arctic dominance… Perhaps, major world powers are too busy wrestling with global economic crisis to let this story out of its cyber realm. But no one knows what the nearest future has in store for us.
USA – no «reset» in Arctic
The United States has lagged dangerously behind other nations in these preparations and is at a strategic crossroads if it wants to influence and shape the Arctic for its benefit. The US refusal to join international law and sign UNCLOS cannot be construed otherwise but as a demonstration of its willingness to operate in a unilateral rather than cooperative manner on the international arena. The idea put forward by US and international experts to collaborate with Russia while holding regular search and rescue Operation Arctic Light is ignored. The proposal to discuss the issue of forming the Multinational Arctic Task Force (MNATF) including Russia has never been responded to. The idea of UNCLOS ratification meets rebuff from Conservative quarters that fiercely oppose the treaty believing that ratification would weaken American sovereignty. One can hardly imagine the USA fulfilling its stated desire of being a chief mediator concerning the disputes in the South China Sea or keeping the Strait of Hormuz open while refusing to act according to international law. Obviously, as the issues in the Arctic become complex and necessitate multilateral solutions, it becomes more urgent for the US Senate to ratify UNCLOS, but it’s not the case, and that is a sad story for all parties involved.
The «reset» policy has hardly influenced the situation here. The USA and Russia have unsolved bones of contention. Moscow insists on maintaining the internal status of the NSR and recognition of the part of the continental shelf of the Arctic Ocean as its territory according to the evidence provided to the UN. The US does not recognize the claims and seeks to internationalize areas in question outside commonly accepted legal pattern.
Russia claims a large extended continental shelf as far as the North Pole based on the Lomonosov Bridge within their Arctic sector. Since 2001, Russia is still the first and only state to initiate the procedures envisaged by international law to launch territorial claims by making an official submission into the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf as required by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. A wide scale research effort is launched to complete the research by 2015 as recommended by the UN Commission. The national Arctic policy is defined by the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation until 2020 (2009) and the Fundamentals of State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic in the Period up to 2020 and Beyond (2008).The documents stress the importance of international legal formalization of the outer boundary of the Arctic zone. The plans for the creation of two brigades that would be stationed in the Arctic announced in July 2011 by Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov are hardly an exaggerated measure in view of growing military activities of NATO and the states mentioned above. It should be noted that all of the Arctic countries, except Russia, are NATO members. Whenever the question of the Arctic’s non-military stature is raised another issue comes to the fore - how Russia should respond to a situation when the other four Arctic states are full-fledged NATO members and are bound to comply with the military bloc’s nuclear doctrine?
Many a time Russia emphasized the importance of legal framework provided by UNCLOS and to the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims.
Experts believe that Russia's rights to these areas of the continental shelf are unconditional from a scientific point of view, but once again politics could interfere due to U.S. influence on international organizations. Russia's entry into a new initiative to control and reduce emissions of carbon, methane and other pollutants, which occurred after the G8 summit at Camp David, satisfied environmentalists who believe that this will help to protect the Arctic nature. It’s an important contribution into global environment protection. Economic opportunities for all is an element of the officially declared Russian stance. It states that the NSR is the path that can be used by all states and all companies. Russia is building an appropriate infrastructure; it provides security on this route, including ecology protection. It is planned that a specially established administration of the Northern Sea Route will be responsible for the passage of goods. Any foreign company can work on the Arctic shelf on the same conditions as any private company. In March 2012 Putin challenged Canada to set up a joint scientific council with his country to investigate issues over Arctic sovereignty and help the United Nations draw new boundaries in the northern regions, where fast-melting ice is opening channels for oil drilling, mining and shipping. The door for cooperation is open. The ball is on the other side.
The only way the Arctic nations can effectively manage the risks of increased activity, protect against asymmetric threats and maintain safety and regional order is to cooperate with one another. A closely coordinated regional approach to Arctic governance under the framework of the Law of the Sea Convention will minimize uncertainty, build confidence and deepen regional stability.