| FNI NEWS
No "Armed Mad Dash for Resources" Foreseen in the
(17.12.2009) With climate change making
the Arctic gradually more accessible, some observers have suggested that
interest in Arctic natural resources and disputed marine borders could take on
a military aspect. A new FNI study refutes this view, finding that
dispassionate diplomacy is a more likely and rational way of dispute resolution
than military confrontation.
'Contrary to the general picture drawn
by the media and some commentators over the last couple of years, the Arctic
region does not suffer under a state of virtual anarchy. The era when
states could claim rights to territory and resources by simply planting their
flag is long gone' says law of the sea expert Øystein Jensen, one of researchers behind
the study. He refers to the 2007 Arktika expedition that planted a Russian flag
into the seabed below the North Pole point, an event which raised concerns in
Arctic capitals, and sparked off a round of media reports on an "Arctic race
for territory and resources".
'The basic fact here is that the Arctic Ocean is an
ocean, and as such, regulated by the law of the sea. Previous tendencies
to question the legal status of the Arctic Ocean as a sea area due to it
being predominantly ice-covered stand no chance of being accepted today.
At the outset, there is thus no support in international law to treat the
waters of the frozen North differently from other maritime spaces,' Jensen
'Notably, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
the relevant legal framework for national legislation in most
state-to-state relations today contains a clause reserved especially to
ice-covered waters. The Convention thus leaves little doubt that a broad
consensus exists as to the question of the applicability of the law of the sea
to all parts of the Arctic Ocean,' he explains.
This was confirmed at
the Ilulissat summit in Greenland in 2008 where all the Arctic coastal states
including the US, not yet a party to the Law of the Sea Convention
recognized the law of the sea as the starting point and a solid
foundation for how regional and outside actors should act in the
'Since the issues some call "security policy challenges" are, in
fact, already largely regulated by international law that most states find it
to their benefit to observe, the room for conflict is limited. Issues and
disputes whose resolution procedures are not clearly lined out in international
law, are relatively minor. Under a sober realpolitik analysis, trying or
threatening to solve these disputes by military means would simply not be worth
it, the negative political and legal ramifications would be too large,' says
political scientist Svein Vigeland Rottem,
co-author of the study.
In their study, the researchers have focused on
case studies involving Norwegian-Russian relations in the Barents Sea,
including delimitation of unresolved maritime boundaries, the status of the
waters and continental shelf around Svalbard and management of marine
resources. The results of each of these case studies support the overall
conclusion that there is little legal space and little rational role for
military conflict resolution in the Arctic.
Although the case studies
were limited geographically as well as topically, Jensen and Rottem believe
their results are generally applicable to the entire Arctic as it is the same
legal framework that applies across the region.
'A description of the
situation in the Arctic as an "armed mad dash for resources" seems not only
overdrawn, it disregards the specific contexts of foreign policy and
international law,' the two researchers conclude.
The results of the
study are being published as:
Jensen and Svein Vigeland Rottem:
'The Politics of Security
and International Law in Norway's Arctic Waters'.
Record, Vol 46, No 1, 2010, pp. 75-83.
About FNI's research
on Polar and Russian Politics
FNI's research on Marine Affairs and Law of the
|The Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI) is an
independent foundation engaged in research on international environmental,
energy, and resource management politics.
The Institute maintains a
multi-disciplinary approach, with main emphasis on political science,
economics, and international law.