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Non-Arctic States: The Observer Question at the Arctic
Heather Exner-Pirot
In 1991, when the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy was signed by the eight Arctic
states, three non-Arctic states (as well as three indigenous organizations) were invited to
participate as observers for historical and scientific reasons: Poland, the United Kingdom
and Germany.
When the Arctic Council was established in 1996, it was stated in the Ottawa Declaration
that observer status would be open to “(a) non-Arctic states; (b) inter-governmental and
inter-parliamentary organization, global and regional; and (c) non-governmental
organizations, that the Council determines can contribute to its work.” Poland, UK and
Germany, along with The Netherlands, were subsequently invited to remain as observers, a
position they accepted and which was affirmed with the 1998 Iqaluit Declaration.
State interest in Arctic Council observership grew slowly, with France being accepted in
2000 and Spain in 2006. However as the Arctic’s geopolitical stock rose post-2007 as a
result of climate change, high commodity prices, and territorial claims, more states became
interested in obtaining a formal role, and the influence and participation in Arctic affairs it
was perceived to provide, via observership in the Arctic Council.
During the Norwegian chairmanship (2006-09), China, Italy, the European Commission
(EC) and South Korea were all granted ad hoc observer status, although the question of