Else Berit Eikeland
The Arctic Council is the only government-level, circumpolar body for political cooperation. In recent years the Council’s international influence and importance has grown considerably. The Arctic Council provides a forum for discussion between the Arctic states and representatives of indigenous peoples on issues of common interest. In this respect, the Arctic Council is unique. There are currently several international arenas in which issues related to the Arctic region are discussed. Only the Arctic Council, however, brings together all the Arctic states and representatives of the indigenous peoples.
The Sochi 2014 Olympic Torch Relay, which was carried by the Russian icebreaker “50 Years of the Victory”, reached the North Pole on the 19th of October 2013 at 2:37 pm. The Olympic flame was lit in the cauldron at the North Pole during the same day.
An international delegation of the Arctic states brought the Olympic flame to the North Pole as part of the Torch Relay for the XXII Olympic Winter Games and the XI Paralympic Winter Games of 2014 in the City of Sochi. The delegation was led by Arthur Chilingarov, a famous Russian polar explorer and the Special Envoy of President Putin to the Arctic and the Antarctic. It consisted of members who represented scientific communities of the Arctic states, with many of them active in international scientific higher educational cooperation. Among other honorary torchbearers were Professor Elena Kudryashova, Rector of the Northern Arctic Federal University (NArFU), Russia; Dr. Christian Marcussen from Denmark; Dr. Jan-Gunnar Winther, Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute; and Professor Lassi Heininen from the University of Lapland, the chairman of the Northern Research Forum Steering Committee; as well as two Olympic medallists, Pat Pitney from USA and Steve Podborski from Canada. I was invited by the Northern (Arctic) Federal University, NArFU – “…from the list of people who are well-known for their contribution to the development and exploration of the Arctic region”, and the Organizing Committee of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Torch Relay to become a honorary torchbearer, and the representative of my country, of the Torch Relay to the North Pole (see my personal notes in that capacity: http://www.arcticinfo.eu/en/features/90-the-olympic-flame-visited-the-north-pole.
Deng Beixi & Yang Jian
In May 2013, China, together with five other states, was granted observer status in the Arctic Council. By December that year, with joint efforts by Nordic and Chinese research institutes, the China-Nordic Arctic Research Center (CANRC) was established and has evolves from a nascent and immature conception to now a reality and functioning entity that is to eventually develop into a full-fledged platform for academic exchanges between China and Nordic countries. The initiative and development of CNARC has aroused attention from other Arctic and non-Arctic states, marking a highlight of international cooperation on Arctic issues.
Committed to increasing an in-depth and comprehensive awareness, understanding and knowledge of the Arctic and its global impacts and to promoting cooperation for sustainable development of Nordic Arctic and coherent development of China in a global context, CNARC is currently composed of 11 member institutes, 6 from Nordic states and 5 from China, all leading think-tanks and institutes in Arctic studies in their respective country and endowed with capacities to influence, coordinate and initiate Arctic research in their professional fields. CNARC is structured with an Assembly of Member Institutes, a Director and a Secretariat. The Assembly, formed by representatives from each member institute, convenes annually and operates by consensus. The Director and Secretariat are currently hosted at the Polar Research Institute of China, responsible for the routine operations of CNARC and carrying out advice for development from the Assembly.
The head of the Barents Regional Council, Arkhangelsk Governor Igor Orlov, told his Oblast government in September 2014 that complicated geopolitics should not affect Barents Cooperation. This cooperation is beyond big politics, Orlov argued.
Traveling the Barents Region after Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsula in March, and meeting the different official players, the organizations and people in the Russian north, it is easy to see that the Arkhangelsk Governor has a good argument. More than 20 years of people-to-people relations across borders can’t be torn down overnight. Despite a way colder political climate between the trio of Stockholm, Helsinki and Oslo towards Kremlin’s rule of Putin in Moscow, the contacts between regional capitals like Murmansk, Rovaniemi, Tromsø and Luleå goes on. So do the non-governmental networks.
H.E. Thordur Aegir Oskarsson
The considerably successful work of the Arctic Council since its launch in 1996 has increasingly been characterized by the pragmatic cooperation among the eight Arctic state members in various fields.
The Arctic Council has enjoyed a solid political tailwind for almost two decades, resulting in a robust institution that has moved away from being exclusively a policy shaping body into the territory of pragmatic policy making reflected in two Arctic-wide agreements on search and rescue and prevention of oil spills.
However, currently the Council is facing increasing challenges, not only rising from its agenda, but more acutely from challenges stemming from events external to the Arctic region. Juha Käpylä and Harri Mikkola, in a previously published briefing paper, have argued that “should an interstate conflict surface in the Arctic, the source is most likely to be related to a complex global dynamics that may spill over to the region and which cannot be addressed with existing Arctic governance mechanisms.” The crisis in the Ukraine is a testament to this argument. Last September the United States and the European Union introduced economic sanctions against Russia that directly affect offshore hydrocarbon resource development in the Arctic. These sanctions are not high on the political and economic risk scale, but they confirm that the Arctic region is not absolutely immune from external events.
The Republic of Karelia is a cross-border region of the Russian Federation, which has an approximately 800 kilometer long border with a European Union country – Finland. A cross-border location has had a great impact on the development of international cooperation in the Republic of Karelia since the Soviet period, where in the mid-1960s, twin-city relations appeared. Later, in the 1980s and 1990s, twin-city relations transformed into active contacts among authorities, governmental and non-governmental organizations. The first interregional agreement was signed in 1989 with Vermont State in the USA.