Δευτέρα, 17 Σεπτεμβρίου 2012

THE HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF THE ARCTIC TERRITORIAL DISPUTES UNDER THE REALIST PERSPECTIVE



The rivalry over the Arctic territory is undoubtedly a game of power. In such a game new territories are conquered, held, assimilated, and serve as a starting point for new advance”.[1]  Territorial claims over the Arctic region are traced to 1920, where the littoral states began to claim territory based on the so called ‘sector principle’.[2] The latter appeared as a unique opportunity for expansion to the north. The Arctic states were claiming all land territory within sectors based on their coastline between the outermost limits towards neighbour states and straight longitude lines to the top at the North Pole.[3] However, the principle was not a rule of international law and found little support in states’ practice.[4] For more than sixty years, the Arctic states were engaging in sovereignty disputes for predominance mainly over the Northwest Passage, the Northeast Passage, the Beaufort Sea and the Northern Continental Shelf. Throughout that period the absence of a common regulatory mechanism made the balance of power in the region fragile, since the pressures from the anarchic international environment towards balancing and against cooperation were reinforced by the relativity of power.[5] It is noteworthy that throughout the Cold War realism was a “plea for statesmen and, above all, US and Soviet leaders, to recognize the need to coexist in a world of opposing interests and conflict”.[6]


A new situation emerged due to the prospect for a warmer climate, acceleration of the polar ice cap melting, and the 1982 agreement on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)[7]. The latter came up, as a result of the ‘necessity’[8] to move from the fruitless practices of the past to new ones, more effective at settling perennial frontier disputes. The end of the Cold War and the otherwise anomalous peaceful transformation from bipolarity to multi-polarity[9] brought extensive collaboration between Russia and the other Arctic states, mainly on environmental and natural-resource issues, particularly through the Arctic Council.[10] For classical realists, “transformation is a broader concept, and one they associate with processes that we have come to describe as modernization. It brings about shifts in identities and discourses and, with them, changing conceptions of security”.[11] Such a change took place in May 2008 where the five Polar states issued the Ilulissat Declaration.[12] In doing so, they declared their commitment to the legal framework provided by the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea[13] (UNCLOS) and the orderly settlement of any possible overlapping claims.[14] Undoubtedly, such an agreement among the Arctic powers does not eliminate the danger of a military conflict, but it does limit its scope. In fact, Kissinger suggests that “conflict within the framework has been more limited than conflict about the framework.”[15]

Under the defensive realism’s spectrum someone could also assume that the Ilulissat Declaration was a result of the Polar nations’ will to demonstrate to the world that there was no “resource war” in the Arctic region. At the same time the inclusion of only these states was a signal to the other littoral states, Finland, Sweden and Iceland that this region and its resources are under their control.[16]

What has been mainly achieved by the agreement in Ilulissat is a balance of power among the Arctic nations. Nonetheless, it is not the balance of power itself, but the consensus upon which it is built that preserves peace in Arctic. “Before the balance of power could impose its restraints upon the power aspirations of nations through the mechanical interplay of opposing forces, the competing nations had first to restrain themselves by accepting the system of balance of power as the common framework of their endeavors.” Such a consensus “kept in check the limitless desire for power, potentially inherent, as we know, in all imperialisms, and prevented it from becoming a political actuality.”[17]

However, the balance of power is not the only constituent element of peace in the broader Arctic region. Diplomacy also plays a crucial role to it. Kissinger defines diplomacy as “the adjustment of differences through negotiation,” which flourishes only in international systems where “legitimacy obtains.”[18] Its effectiveness as a technique for managing power depends on four conditions: i) It must be divested of its crusading spirit; ii) The foreign policy objectives must be defined in terms of national interest and must be supported with adequate power; iii) Nations must view foreign policy from the point of view of other nations; and iv) Nations must be willing to compromise on issues that are not vital to them. Morgenthau assumes that having restored diplomacy to a position of importance within the international political arena, will contribute to “peace through accommodation”, as well as to the building of an international consensus upon which more adequate world political institutions can be built.[19] 

Beyond no doubt, the agreement in Ilulissat was a result of effective diplomacy and collective national interests. In fact, “what is historically conditioned in the idea of the national interest can be overcome only through the promotion in concert of the national interest of a number of nations”.[20] To this extent the prospective financial profit from the peaceful settlement of the dispute will be of great significance for all the Arctic nations. Morgenthau assumes that “the actions of states are determined not by moral principles and legal commitments but by considerations of interest and power”.[21]

Almost a year later, a U.S. Geological Survey study was published, assessing “the area north of the Arctic Circle and concluded that about 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas and 13% of the world’s undiscovered oil may be found there, mostly offshore under less than 500 meters of water”.[22] According to Daily Tech the oil reserves could fetch a price of $10.6 trillion dollars at current oil prices.  In a time of global financial recession none of the arctic states are to leave such an amount of wealth unexploited.

Following the global struggle for energy, in May 2009 the Russian Security Council introduced Russia’s National Security Strategy through to 2020, which identifies the rivalry for the control over the Arctic’s energy resources as a potential source of conflict and does not exclude the possibility of military confrontation on this issue.[23] Respective strategies have been developed from all the Arctic nations, mainly emphasizing the advance and expansion of their military capabilities.

According to Morgenthau, in power struggles, states establish and follow strategies either to preserve the status quo, to achieve imperialistic expansion, or to gain prestige. In particular, he divides international politics into three types: “a political policy seeks either to keep power, to increase power, or to demonstrate power.”[24] Each of the three types applies to the Arctic case, differentiating by the specific interest of each of the Arctic nations. However, it is not always clear which policy is been followed. For instance, on the one hand, the Russian foreign policy in the region seems to be a mixture of the three policies. Firstly, as a great power, is willing to preserve the status quo in the area, since it follows the rule[25] of the international law both as a party of the UNCLOS and the Ilulissat Declaration. Nevertheless, like the USA, it will act only against change which may cause fundamental shifts in the international distribution of power.[26] Secondly, actions such as the planting of the Russian flag[27] on the seabed below the North Pole in August 2007, by two Russian mini-submarines, clearly show imperialistic objectives. The third constitutive element of the Russian foreign policy is its objective to impress the other Arctic nations by demonstrating its military power and further upgrading its Arctic military capabilities.[28] Such a policy of prestige according to Morgenthau succeeds only when a nation gains such a reputation of power that its actual use becomes unnecessary.[29]  


On the other hand, Canada, Denmark and Norway seem to implement a combination of status quo and prestige policy. The three nations share common beliefs as member states of NATO and mainly focus on the preservation of the status – quo in the Arctic region and the peaceful settlement of territorial disputes, within the UN framework. However, the gradually increasing military presence of Russia in the Arctic drives them to an armaments rivalry, in a game of pyrotechnics, aiming to thwart any change of the balance of power in the region. Undoubtedly, such a policy, as well as the plurality of actors in the Arctic minimizes the risk of a military conflict. According to Kaplan “the greater the number of essential actors involved in these compensatory trade – offs, the better the chances of maneuvering among contending parties and of preventing future disputes by establishing buffer zones in areas of potential friction.”[30] 

Under the same motive with their respective allies in NATO, the US, the most powerful of the Polar states – most realists would say a modern hegemon – follow a mediocre policy in Arctic. For many years, especially during the first decade after the end of the Cold War, the Arctic was a region of low interest. Whereas the other Arctic states were competing in power, seeking scientific evidence to support their territorial claims, the US showed little or no interest in the region. It is noteworthy that not earlier than January 2009, the US set out its national policy towards the Arctic by the National Security Presidential Directive 66.[31] In general the US on the basis of their global hegemony see it in their interest to wield influence to their allies in the area, investing in future financial profits.[32] In fact, in August 2008, the US and Canada decided to lay aside a long-standing dispute in the Arctic’s Beaufort Sea “in the name of defending against Russia’s Arctic claims, which clash with those of the US, Canada, Denmark and Norway.”[33] The latter is a proof that “competitors in any given arena may be partners somewhere else.”[34] Any state can be a new ally.

The puzzle of power politics in Arctic is completed by two of the most powerful global institutions, NATO and the UN. However, Kennan and realism, in general, reject the significance of international law and international institutions in the preservation of peace. In detail he assumes that “the function of a system of international relationships is not to inhibit this process of change by imposing a legal straight jacket upon it but rather to facilitate it; to ease its transition, to temper the asperities to which it often leads, to isolate and moderate the conflict to which it gives rise, and to see that these conflicts do not assume forms to unsettling for international life in general.”[35]

The Arctic’s current political history shows that NATO’s military presence in the High North during the last decade has impressively increased. Particularly, “with its integrated air-defence system, including fighters on alert and airborne warning and control surveillance flights, has begun to adopt a higher profile”. In fact, “NATO has taken over from the United States a scaled-down version of air patrolling over Iceland”, while it has enhanced its collaboration with Sweden and Finland, countries of great strategic significance to Russia.[36] The Alliance has also launched military exercises such as Cold Response[37] and Tiger Meets[38] in the broader Arctic sea region. Applying to realism, all the above actions have resulted in the enhancement of Russian fears and distrust against NATO’s intentions and its Arctic member states, as well as resulting in Russia boosting its military presence in the region and enhanced its strategic isolation.

The UN’ role in the Arctic territorial disputes is restricted to the field of law. In particular, via the 1982 UNCLOS, the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the UN Environment Programme, it constitutes the legal framework to settle the territorial disputes. Nevertheless, most of the territorial claims are yet to be settled. A period of 10 years has been given to the Arctic states to submit their final claims to the UN Commission for the limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). It is noteworthy that in April 2009 the UN backed Norway’s claim for the vast chunks of seabed in the Norwegian Sea, the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean.[39] However, in one chuck of the Barents Sea the CLCS granted legitimacy both for Norway and Russia, which both have to come into a mutual agreement[40]. Such decisions by the UN bring the efficacy of the mechanism into question, triggering more tensions and uncertainty than ensuring peace and stability in Arctic. Overall the UN stance regarding the Arctic’s challenges can be summarized in Kennan’s words that to expect the UN to play a major role in the settle of East – West disputes is to impose on it burdens it cannot bear.[41]



The study of the Arctic historical background under realism is a complicated task to manage, since realists have criticized each other, largely on their proposed policy strategies. Concepts such as the national interest[42] and the balance of power have triggered extensive criticism among its advocates. Although realism provides significant insight into the drive for national security, it fails to adequately answer crucial questions related to the political processes regarding the Arctic, such as “what policies best serve the national interest? Do alliances encourage peace or instability? Do arms promote national security or provoke costly arms races and war? Are states more prone to act aggressively when they are strong or weak? Are the interests of nations served only through competition with one another, never through cooperation?[43]

The above questions show the challenges that realism faces. However, based on its main assumptions, the Arctic historical background appears cohesive. In fact, the Arctic arena is characterized by a struggle for power and wealth. So far the Arctic states work closely to promote cooperation and prosperity in the region, since the cost of a war over the Arctic disputed territories is not affordable to them. Rationality is what mostly characterizes their mutual relations and policies. The same rationality although can lead to a war, since a possible change in the balance of power will reduce its cost and increase the profits from such a strategic choice. In fact, realism does not exclude the possibility of an armed conflict as long as it ensures absolute benefits to the winner.

BY PANAGIOTIS I. PSYLLOS AND ELPINIKI KARAKOSTA


[1] Spykman, J. Nicholas, and Rollins, A. Abbie, Geography and Foreign Policy, American Political Science Review, Vol. 33, (June, 1939), P. 447-8.
[2] Churchill, Robin and Ulfstein, Geir, (1992), Marine Management in Disputed Areas: The Case of the Barents Sea, UK: Routledge.
[3] See Franckx, Eric, (1993), Maritime Claims in the Arctic: Canadian and Russian Perspectives, Dordercht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
[4] Brownlie, Ian, (2008), Principles of Public International Law, 7th (ed.), New York: Oxford University Press, P.11.
[5] Donnelly, Jack, (2005), Realism, in Burchill Scott, Linklater Andrew, Devetak Richard, Donnelly Jack, Paterson Matthew, Reus – Smith Christian, and True Jacqui, Theories of International Relations, 3rd (ed.) New York: Palgrave Macmillan, P. 38.
[6] Lebow, Ned Richard, (2007), Classical Realism, in Dunne Tim, Kurki Milja, and Smith Steve, International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, New York: Oxford University Press, P. 63.
[7] The UNCLOS was signed on 10 December 1982 and entered into force on 14 November 1994. As of 20 July 2009, 159 states were parties to UNCLOS and an additional 18 had signed. All major maritime states except the USA are parties. See United Nations, 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, (21st July 2010), Available at: http://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/convention_overview_convention.htm Accessed on: 2010-08-08.
[8] Machiavelli, Niccolo, (1970), The Discourses, Book 1, Ch. 2, Harmondsworth: Penguin, P. 58. 
[9] Mearsheimer, J. John, (1990), Back to the Future: Instability in Europe After the Cold War, International Security, Vol.15, No.4, P. 5 – 56.  
[10] The Arctic Council was established in 1996. See Arctic Council, About the Arctic Council, (22nd October 2007), Available at: http://arctic-council.org/article/about  Accessed on: 2010-08-08.
[11] Lebow, Ned Richard, (2007), Classical Realism, in Dunne Tim, Kurki Milja, and Smith Steve, International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, New York: Oxford University Press, P. 61.
[12] Ocean Law, The Ilulissat Declaration 28 May 2008, Arctic Ocean Conference Ilulissat, Greenland, (27-29 May 2008), Available at: http://www.oceanlaw.org/downloads/arctic/Ilulissat_Declaration.pdf Accessed on: 2010-08-08. 
[13] UNCLOS allows littoral states to extend the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone off their shoreline, with control of and extraction rights on the seabed, if they can provide scientific evidence that the continental shelf beyond that limit is a nautical extension of their territory. All the coastal states are now gathering such evidence. The United States has not formally ratified UNCLOS (it has been blocked by determined opposition in the Senate) but successive administrations have recognized most of its provisions as customary international law. See UN, UNCLOS, P.27, 44, Available at: http://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/unclos_e.pdf                          Accessed on: 2010-08-08. 
[14] Rayfuse, Rosemary, Warm Waters and Cold Shoulders: Jostling for Jurisdiction in Polar Oceans, University of New South Wales Faculty of Law Research Series, Available at: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/UNSWLRS/2008/56.html Accessed on: 2010-08-08.
[15] Dougherty, E. James and Pfaltzgraff, L. Robert Jr. (1971), Contending Theories of International Relations, New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, P. 88.
[16] Huebert, Rob, The Newly Emerging Arctic Security Environment, Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, (2010), P. 10. Available at: http://www.cdfai.org/PDF/The%20Newly%20Emerging%20Arctic%20Security%20Environment.pdf Accessed on: 2010-08-08.
[17] Morgenthau, J. Hans, (1985), Politics Among Nations:The Struggle for Power and Peace, 6th ed. revised by Thompson, W. Kenneth, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, P. 214.
[18] Kissinger, A. Henry, (1964), A World Restored – Europe After Napoleon: the Politics of Conservatism in a Revolutionary Age, New York: Grosset and Dunlap, P.1.
[19] Kennan, F. George, (1966), Realities of Foreign Policy, New York: W. W. Norton and Company, P. 11.
[20] Morgenthau, J. Hans, (1958), Decline of Domestic Politics, Chicago IL.: University of Chicago Press, P. 73.
[21] Morgenthau, Hans, (1970), Truth and Power: Essays of a Decade, 1960 – 70, New York: Praeger, P. 382.
[22] Gautier, L. Donald, et al. Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas in the Arctic, Science, (May 29, 2009), Vol. 324. No. 5931, P.1175 – 9. Available at: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/short/324/5931/1175 Accessed on: 2010-08-10.
[23] Zysk, Katarzyna, Russia’s Arctic Strategy: Ambitions and Constraints, Geopolitics in the High North, (2009), Available at: http://www.geopoliticsnorth.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=84&Itemid=69&limitstart=1 Accessed on: 2010-08-10.
[24] Morgenthau, J. Hans, (1985), Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 6th (ed.), revised by Thompson, W. Kenneth, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, P. 36.
[25] In 2001, Russia submitted documents to the UN commission on the limits of the continental shelf seeking to push Russia's maritime borders beyond the 200 mile zone. However, the Russian claim was rejected. 
[26] Dougherty, E. James and Pfaltzgraff, L. Robert Jr. (1971), Contending Theories of International Relations, New York: J. B. Lippincott Company, P. 77.
[27] Parfitt Tom, Russia Plants Flag on North Pole Seabed, Guardian, (2nd August 2007), Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/aug/02/russia.arctic Accessed on: 2010-08-11.
[28] Morgenthau, J. Hans, (1985), Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 6th (ed.), revised by Thompson, W. Kenneth, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, P. 70.
[30] Kaplan, Morton, (1957), System and Process in International Politics, New York: Wiley, P. 130.
[31] National Security Presidential Directive NSPD-66 / HSPD-25, White House, (9th January 2009), Available at: http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/nspd/nspd-66.htm Accessed on: 2010-08-13.
[32] Lebow, Ned Richard, (2007), Classical Realism, in Dunne Tim, Kurki Milja, and Smith Steve, International Relations Theories: Discipline and Diversity, New York: Oxford University Press, P. 63.
[33] Mason, Christopher. US and Canada Bury Hatchet to Curb Russia’s Arctic Bid. Financial Times, (18th August 2008), Available at: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/acb798e8-6cba-11dd-96dc-0000779fd18c.html?nclick_check=1 Accessed on: 2010-08-13.
[34] Kaplan, Morton, (1957), System and Process in International Politics, New York: Wiley, P. 130.
[35] Kennan, F. George, (1957), American Diplomacy, 1900 – 1950, New York: Mentor Books, P. 96.
[36] Blunden, Margaret (2009), The New Problem of Arctic Stability, Survival, Routledge, Vol.51, Issue 5, P.129.
[37] BarentsObserver.com Cross-Border News, Large NATO exercise starts in Northern Norway, (18th February 2010), Available at: http://www.barentsobserver.com/large-nato-exercise-starts-in-northern-norway.4749025-58932.html Accessed on: 2010-08-13.
[38] NATO, NATO Tiger Meets, NATO Tiger Association website, Available at: http://www.natotigers.org/tigermeet/index.php Accessed on: 2010-08-13.  
[39] Canwest News Service, UN Backs Norway Claim to Arctic Seabed Extension, (15th April 2009),
[40] Finally, Norway and Russia signed the Treaty on maritime delimitation and cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean on September 15 2010 (entered into force on July 7 2011) ending a 40-year dispute. The two countries have decided to divide a 175,000 square kilometres (67,000 sq miles) disputed area, half the size of Germany, to the north off their coastlines. See Vladimir Koptelov, Russia and Norway in the Arctic, Russian International Affairs Council, (28th May 2012), Available at:  http://russiancouncil.ru/en/inner/?id_4=436 Accessed on: 2012-09-16.  
[41] Kennan, F. George, (1958), Russia, the Atom and the West, New York: Harper and Brothers, P. 27. 
[42] Cook, I. Thomas and Moos, Malcolm, The American Idea of International Interest, American political Science Review, XLVII (March, 1953), P. 28.
[43] Kegley, W. Charles Jr. and Wittkopf, R. Eugene, (1993), World Politics: Trend and Transformation, 4th (ed.) New York: St. Martin’s Press, P. 24. 

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