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Arctic Yearbook 2012
New Directions for Governance in the Arctic Region
The biggest challenge to exploiting the Arctic’s many resources has been how to export the goods in
a region that lacks basic infrastructure and is often hundreds if not thousands of kilometers away
from the nearest regional transportation hub. Newly accessible shipping lanes – the Northwest
Passage (NWP) was seasonally ice-free for the first time in the summer 2007 – promised that the
transportation of resources out of the Arctic would soon become more feasible. The prospects for
transpolar shipping also generated significant interest from Asia, in particular China, which as a huge
exporter of goods is interested in diversifying its shipping options; and Japan and South Korea, with
their enormous shipyards.
Finally, the Arctic became more important geopolitically when the events described above – climate
changes and high commodity prices – led states to reconsider their plans for defending and securing
their Arctic territory, following a general decline in Arctic military investment following the end of
the Cold War. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provided the
opportunity for states to delineate their extended continental shelf
claims back in 1982, and requires
them to do so within ten years of ratifying the Convention. But until Artur Chilingarov’s scientific
expedition planted a titanium Russian flag on the seabed of the North Pole in August 2007, little
media and political attention was paid to that particular clause and the fact that the Arctic Ocean
holds over one quarter of the Earth’s continental shelf.
Combined with the release of United States
Geological Survey (USGS) figures in July 2008 indicating that the Arctic contains about 22% of all
undiscovered global hydrocarbon resources, most of them offshore
(USGS, 2008), the Arctic
became, for a brief period, a hot spot in international affairs. It was portrayed in media and political
reports as a new ‘cold war’, fuelled both by climbing oil prices and the South Ossetia War between
Russia and Georgia in August 2008, which intensified concerns of Russia acting as an aggressor. A
succession of military investments were announced by the Arctic states between 2007-2010
, and
military exercises, such as Norway’s
Cold Response,
contributed to concerns that competing interests
could result in conflict.
Possible Directions for Arctic Governance
As a result of these events, media, politicians, indigenous organizations, environmental groups, and
academic commentators all started to pay more attention to the Arctic as a geopolitical complex.
With the Arctic Council not in a position, legally or politically, to respond to growing attention to the
“scramble for the Arctic”
, an ad hoc group of foreign affairs ministers and other top officials of the
five littoral Arctic states (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States) met in Ilulissat,