2 – Russia’s sanctions backlash
EU USA Russia Ukraine Canada
BSSB.BE http://geopolitical-info.com 08.04.2015
These priorities closely match those of previous administrations, both Democrat and Republican.
The State Department has announced that the theme for the US chairmanship will be ‘One Arctic, Shared Opportunities, Challenges and Responsibilities’.
The three ‘overarching’ goals will be to continue strengthening the Council as an intergovernmental forum; introduce new long-term priorities; and raise Arctic and climate change awareness within the US and across the world.
There are three so-called ‘organisational thematic areas’: addressing the impacts of climate change in the Arctic; stewardship of the Arctic Ocean; and improving economic and living conditions.
Even though the Obama Administration has presented an ambitious agenda for the American chairmanship, delivering results will be very difficult for two main reasons: relations between the West and Russia, and bureaucracy inside the US government.
It is no secret that cooperation on a wide array of matters between the West and Russia – especially Ukraine, Syria and Iran – has severely deteriorated. There is nothing to indicate that Arctic cooperation between the two powers would be immune to this breakdown.
The Departments of Interior, Energy, Commerce (NOAA), Transportation (FAA) and Homeland Security (Coast Guard), the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, the Arctic Research Commission and the State of Alaska all have some degree of Arctic policy competency.
Because there are so many different levels of government in the US which have powers over various Arctic issues, consensus is often difficult to achieve. Consequently, there are many viewpoints on what the top priorities should be for the US chairmanship.
For example, differences have been aired publicly between Alaskan state officials and the Washington government on the main issues in the region.
Because of the possibility of increased economic activity, some non-Arctic countries and actors now have a stake in the region in ways they never did before.
This is why the Arctic Council has an observer status category, open to states outside the area, intergovernmental and inter-parliamentary organisations, and global and regional non-governmental bodies.
Canada, the Greenlander representatives in the Danish parliament, and Russia have traditionally opposed EU accreditation, primarily because of the body’s ban on the seal trade
There are currently 26 observers, including China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom. They are allowed to attend all meetings and working groups, make oral statements, present written ones, submit relevant documents and provide views on issues under discussion. Importantly, they do not have voting rights.
The European Union has long sought to gain observer status. During the last Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Kiruna, Sweden, in 2013 its application was rejected for the second time.
It is likely it will be considered again – and rejected – at the ministerial meeting on Canada’s Baffin Island in Iqaluit, Nunavut on April 24-25 at which the US takes over the chairmanship from Canada.
Since the EU is a supranational body and not an intergovernmental organisation, some observers question whether it even meets the criteria established by the Arctic Council in 2011 to become an observer.
Canada, the Greenlander representatives in the Danish parliament, and Russia have traditionally opposed EU accreditation, primarily because of the body’s ban on the seal trade. Since 2013 the EU and Canada have been working on a compromise and even signed a free trade agreement, so Ottawa could soften its opposition.
The chairmanship of the Arctic Council is not necessarily a powerful position. As it is an intergovernmental organisation, decisions are made with unanimity. However, the country holding the chair is offered the opportunity to set the council’s agenda.
The most likely scenario for the US chairmanship is that it will keep the council in a holding pattern until relations with Russia improve and allow opportunities for cooperation. Consequently, Washington will do the bare minimum to ensure that its term is not a failure.
Russia will see the council as another forum to respond to US and European economic sanctions. As an intergovernmental organisation, decisions in the council are made with unanimity. Therefore, it is likely Russia will agree only to initiatives which have a direct link to Moscow’s national interest.
As the war in Ukraine continues, Obama Administration insiders say the White House is considering a ‘compartmentalising’ policy with Russia to deal with major issues including Iran, Syria and international terrorism separate from Ukraine.
Even so, it is unlikely the US will try this new strategy inside the framework of the Arctic Council because the region is not viewed as a priority in the same way as other issues, including Iran’s nuclear programme and terrorism.
Although Mr Kerry is expected to represent the US at the next council meeting it is unlikely he will devote much of his time or energy to the chairmanship.
Nothing in recent months has indicated that the Arctic is a high priority for him. For example, he recently delivered a major speech at the Atlantic Council – a US think tank – on the impact of climate change and did not mention the word ‘Arctic’ once or refer to the forthcoming chairmanship.
In terms of increasing the number of observers in the Arctic, the most likely scenario will see Moscow block the EU’s application because of the trade sanctions imposed upon it.
The US will have other initiatives during its term for which it will want Russia’s support – so it is unlikely Washington will push the observer issue.
Overall, expect the status quo to continue under the US chairmanship. Beyond any superficial or low-level announcements, do not expect any major initiatives to improve economic activity or security in the Arctic.
Since Russia has a veto in the council, this will probably be the case for the foreseeable future, as long as US and European relations with Russia remain strained over Ukraine.
Author: Luke Coffey
Luke Coffey studies and writes on foreign policy and geopolitical matters as the Margaret Thatcher Fellow at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, USA. He focusses in particular on defence and security matters, including the role of Nato and the European Union in Eurasian security.
Photo: A Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker in Lancaster Sound in the Arctic (photo: dpa)
*This is the second part of the article about a possible conflict in the Artic. More information You can find in the first part of this article.