The central Arctic Ocean is considered a “global commons”. This means it is not under the national jurisdiction of a single state, but – like the high seas, the Moon, outer space, and the deep seabed – jurisdiction is shared between multiple states or by the international community.
There is a distinction, however, between the Arctic Ocean and the Arctic region as a whole, where the “Arctic Five” coastal states (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the US), and the eight Arctic Council states (which includes the Arctic Five as well as Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Arctic Indigenous communities) dominate the discussion. Nevertheless, some countries (such as China) have been pushing for the “internationalisation of the Arctic’s regional governance system”, especially given the potential future impact of climate change on the region.
Climate change is already affecting the Arctic region more severely than most of the rest of the world. As well as massive disruption to ecosystems and human populations, some states see new economic and geostrategic opportunities. Rising temperatures have lead to melting sea ice, potentially opening up new shipping and trade routes through Arctic waterways, and the Arctic is rich in natural resources which may now be easier to exploit thanks to new technologies and retreating sea ice.
Curious to know more about international relations and the Arctic region? We’ve put together some facts and figures in the infographic below (click for a bigger version).
What do our readers think? We had a comment come in from Catherine, who says the US, the EU and Russia are “already looking to the arctic region to grab what is there”. Is she right? Are we seeing a scramble for the Arctic and its resources?
To get a response, we put Catherine’s question to Elle Merete Omma, Head of EU Unit of the Saami Council, a voluntary, non-governmental organisation of the Saami people made up of nine Saami member organisations in Finland, Norway, Russia, and Sweden. What would she say?
For another perspective, we also put Catherine’s comment to Michael Mann, EU Special Envoy for Arctic matters. How would he respond?
Next up, we had a comment from Barry, who says: “We need to work together to reduce the risks of armed conflict in the Arctic region. It should be demilitarised immediately to reduce unnecessary confrontations!”
The Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1959, successfully demilitarised the southern polar region of Earth. In the 1980s, there were proposals floated by the Soviet Union to demilitarise the Arctic as well, transforming it into a “zone of peace”, but the idea was viewed with suspicion in the West. Should there now be a renewed push for demilitarisation in the Arctic?
How would Michael Mann, EU Special Envoy for Arctic matters, respond to Barry’s suggestion?
Finally, we had a comment sent in from Jayne, who says: “We can’t argue the fact that our polar ice caps are melting away and Arctic animals will lose their homes in the matter of a few years.” What impact will climate change have on the wildlife and people living in the Arctic region?
To get a response, we spoke to Elle Merete Omma from the Saami Council. What would she say?
How would Michael Mann, EU Special Envoy for Arctic matters, respond to the same question?
Our sister think tank, Friends of Europe, has been publishing a series of reports looking at today’s security challenges, authored by Paul Taylor, a Senior Fellow at Friends of Europe and Contributing Editor for Politico. In September 2020, they published a report on Arctic security issues titled “After the ice: the Arctic and European security”.
Who owns the Arctic? Are we seeing a scramble for the Arctic and its resources? How will climate change affect people and wildlife living in the Arctic? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!