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Arctic Yearbook 2012
Non-Arctic States: The Observer Question at the Arctic Council
permanent status was deferred at the 2009 Ministerial in Troms
. Japan applied soon after,
however the question about whether and how to involve new (and existing) observers in the
Arctic Council was once again deferred at the May 2011 Ministerial in Nuuk. However this
time the Arctic Council at least adopted some criteria for accepting new observers, which it
promised to apply at the 2013 Ministerial, including (among other things) the extent to
which applicants:
Recognize Arctic States' sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the Arctic.
Respect the values, interests, culture and traditions of Arctic indigenous peoples and
other Arctic inhabitants.
Have demonstrated a political willingness as well as financial ability to contribute to
the work of the Permanent Participants and other Arctic indigenous peoples.
Singapore is the most recent state to apply, which it did in December 2011.
The inability of the Arctic states to make a decision on the question of observers is linked to
the need for eight-party consensus to accept new observers, or indeed conduct any business,
at the Arctic Council. Canada has been the most vocal on its decision to defer the EC
application, linking it to its policy on seal hunting; however there a number of underlying
factors likely holding up a joint decision addressing all applicants, not least the diplomatic
leverage it has provided the Arctic states in relations with their suitors, if only temporarily.
The question of accepting new observers, and the rise in interest of non-Arctic states in the
work of the Arctic Council in particular and Arctic affairs in general, is a significant one in
current Arctic policy discussions. The following section provides an in-depth look at the
Arctic interests of a number of prominent non-Arctic observers (UK, Poland and France);
applicants (China, Japan and Singapore), and, in the case of Scotland, perhaps a future
applicant; as well as commentary on the EU and Chinese perspectives.