The Stockholm Peace Research Institute’s Arctic Futures Project , in cooperation with Russia’s Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO), organized an international workshop in Moscow from 30 September to 1 October 2013 on Russia’s Strategy for Developing the Arctic Region Until 2020: Economics, Security, Environment and International Cooperation.
The workshop explored key recent developments in the Russian Arctic and the Arctic region as a whole, and brought together Russian officials and experts from Russia, Europe and North America. For the first time in Russia, the discussion on the Arctic included speakers from North East Asian states including China and the Republic of Korea.
Keynote speeches were delivered by Ambassador Anton Vasiliev, Russia’s Senior Arctic Official to the Arctic Council, and Veronika Bard Bringéus, Sweden’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation.
In his keynote speech, Ambassador Anton Vasiliev, Russia’s Senior Arctic Official to the Arctic Council, stated that it was Russia’s assessment that the current situation in the Arctic can be characterized as positive, stable and predictable. He noted that the Arctic is becoming ‘a model for other less stable regions of the world’. Ambassador Vasiliev emphasized the fact that the Arctic Council is the central institution of cooperation in the Arctic. The Arctic Council has demonstrated its ability to flexibly expand its area of activity and has proved to be able to respond to changes in the region.
According to Amb. Vasiliev, Arctic states have actively expanded their cooperation with non-Arctic states and while ‘there was a lot of speculation about it, however, in reality we were able to normalize these relationships’. Arctic states have developed principles and rules of engagement with states outside the region, including respect for the sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the Arctic states, the facilitation of the implementation of the Arctic Council’s goals, and respect for the culture and traditions of indigenous peoples.
Ambassador Veronika Bard Bringéus, Sweden’s Ambassador to the Russian Federation, presented some lessons from Sweden’s recent chairmanship of the Arctic Council. She highlighted transparency as the most important factor to promote cooperation in the region and as a means to avoid misunderstandings between Arctic states. Amb. Bard Bringéus indicated that Sweden will continue its work on the Arctic by focusing on four priorities: climate and environment, populations in the Arctic, economic development, and science.
Dmitry Afinogenov, a representative of the Apparatus of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, emphasized that the Arctic represents a number of strategic interests for the Russian Federation, including national defence, economy and business and energy security. This intersection of interests requires a deeper understanding of the threats in the region and of Russia’s strategic goals. One of the main tasks of Russia’s policy in the region is maintaining the Arctic as a zone of peace and cooperation.
Mr Afinogenov emphasized the view that ‘Russia does not see the need for military blocs in the Arctic’. However, he noted that there are security challenges and that a priority is to provide protection to the region’s critical infrastructure such as offshore oil rigs, the newly-built sea ports and other onshore infrastructure. According to Mr Afinogenov, ‘it is crucially important to minimize the risk of illegal interference with the operation of these facilities’. In this regard, it is vital to strengthen border guards and anti-terrorist dimensions of Arctic security. Mr Afinogenov pointed out that steps to address such issues are not examples of militarization but ‘ensuring and improving security in the region’.
Participants agreed that an armed conflict in the Arctic is highly unlikely and that the Arctic is one of the most stable regions in the world. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the Arctic is regulated by a set of institutions and regimes that allow for the resolution of most disputed issues through diplomatic means, notably on the basis of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. Second, Arctic states are part of different security arrangements, which significantly reduce the possibility of conflict between them. Four of the Arctic states are NATO members. The relationship between Russia and NATO is regulated by a special agreement. Additionally, all states are part of the OSCE system.
At the same time, the possibility of future conflict cannot be completely overruled but if conflict does happen it is more likely to be the result of spill-over from conflicts elsewhere. There may be a need to develop confidence-building mechanisms to avoid misunderstandings between the Arctic states in respect to traditional security issues. There are several options for establishing such arrangements. For example, the experience of the European security community (e.g. the confidence-building measures of the OSCE) could be used in the Arctic. Furthermore, a political agreement on confidence building and mutual deterrence could be concluded. This might draw upon the existing Russia-NATO agreements, notably the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation. Finally, although the Arctic Council is prevented from addressing conventional military security questions, it is still possible to create an ad hoc group for confidence building outside of the Council.
Shipping along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) has significantly increased over the last couple of years and by 2012 shipment on the NSR amounted to 3.75 million tonnes, which is 2.5 times higher than in 1998, the year of minimum shipment volume. However, shipping has still not reached the maximum volume of 6,59 million tonnes attained in 1987. Overall, despite the growth in shipment and the increasing importance of the NSR as an alternative sea route from Asia to Europe, the NSR will not be a serious competitor to the Suez Canal until far in the future. Among the main obstacles to the NSR’s development, experts pointed to the difficult weather conditions along the route, the short period of navigation, and the underdeveloped infrastructure. The future prospects of the NSR will also significantly depend on the progress of oil and gas development in the Russian Arctic.
Energy resources development
Most of the Arctic oil and gas reserves are located within uncontested zones of state jurisdiction. Conflict is highly unlikely because there will be no basis for disputes over ownership of the resources. The prospects for the future exploitation of Arctic oil and gas will be, to a high degree, determined by energy market conditions elsewhere. The shale gas revolution in the United States and the scale of Asian demand for resources will be among the key factors determining energy developments in the Arctic.
All of the key issues in the Arctic are regulated by international law – primarily the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) UNCLOS, but also by a number of other international regimes and national legislation. The agreement to recognize non-Arctic states as Permanent Observers within the Arctic Council was the right decision since this permitted their voices to be heard, and prevented non-Arctic states seeking an alternative (competitive) platform to express their interests and concerns. The voice of business has often been omitted in discussions of Arctic governance. However, it is becoming more difficult to ignore business, as commercial interests are very likely to drive regional developments in the future. In this regard, the establishment of a circumpolar business forum is an important initiative.
Interests and policies of non-Arctic states
Participants pointed out that there are common interests between Arctic and non-Arctic states, including the protection of the Arctic environment and the promotion of Arctic research; the development of infrastructure and logistics in the High North and sea/air transport routes; and the strengthening of regional governance systems (through UNCLOS, the Arctic Council, BEAC, maritime regulations and so on). Furthermore, while there was recognition that the Arctic states bear primary responsibility for Arctic affairs, non-Arctic states also have rights and obligations. Being engaged in the mechanism of Arctic affairs, the non-Arctic states will more clearly understand their own limitations, obligations and contributions. Supporting effective measures taken by Arctic states to protect the Arctic environment, and their positive role in enhancing global environmental cooperation.
The future development of the Russian Arctic – the significance of Asia
During the conference discussion, cooperation with Asian countries, notably China, emerged as an important issue for the future development of the Russian Arctic. Indeed, there is an emerging interdependence between Russian and Chinese energy and transport interests that will be crucial to developing the Russian Arctic.
Due to recent shifts in European and US energy markets, demand for Russian oil and gas has declined in these regions despite growing demand from Asian markets. Economic growth and rising energy demand in Asia, notably China, is therefore likely to be a key factor in shaping the extent to which Russia’s Arctic energy resources are developed. The recent agreements to grant China’s state company CNPC access to some of Russia’s Arctic energy projects in partnership with Russia’s leading state and private companies are an indication of the increasing energy cooperation between the two states.
China could potentially become both consumer and investor into NSR shipping as China has expressed its interests in this transportation route. Russia is also supportive of this possible cooperation. During the recent APEC summit, Vladimir Putin invited the Asian states, including China, to invest in the NSR infrastructure.
- The Arctic is an area of increasing cooperation, with Russia focusing on finding ways to promote constructive and supportive cooperation while strengthening its sovereign rights in the region.
- Since the initial ‘Arctic euphoria’ of the last five years, a better understanding has emerged of the substantial challenges in the Arctic, which has resulted in a more realistic assessment of the prospects for future economic development, and of the timeframe and resources necessary to develop the Arctic region.
- The Arctic is an area of interdependence. The future of the Arctic largely depends not only on what happens within the region but also outside the Arctic. The development of the region will also hinge upon establishing an effective and mutually acceptable balance in relationship between established Arctic countries, notably Russia, and emerging international actors such as China.
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