The Future of Arctic Co-operation

The Auditorium of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs · 12.12.2014 09:00 - 10:30

With the end of the Cold War, the Arctic lost most of its geostrategic relevance and witnessed an increase in co-operation in non-strategic areas of environmental protection and sustainable development. The Arctic became commonly understood as a territory of peace, cooperation and dialogue. However, during the last decade, the Arctic has once again re-emerged as a component of contemporary high politics. As an opening geopolitical frontier with exciting economic opportunities and serious environmental challenges, the Arctic is attracting an increasing amount of attention from a range of political actors, both within and without the Arctic itself. As a result, the Arctic can no longer be understood as a confined region, nor as a set of specific soft issues dealt with by the Arctic states and local communities themselves. The seminar discusses the future of Arctic co-operation not only in the in the context of an increasingly economic and political ‘global Arctic’, but also in relation to the enduring East-West tension stemming from the crisis in Ukraine.
Heather A. Conley, Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic and Director of the Europe Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
Heather A. Conley is Senior Vice President for Europe, Eurasia, and the Arctic and Director of the Europe Program at CSIS. Prior to joining CSIS in 2009, she served as Executive Director of the Office of the Chairman of the Board at the American National Red Cross. From 2001 to 2005, she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State in the Bureau for European and Eurasian Affairs with responsibilities for U.S. bilateral relations with the countries of Northern and Central Europe. Ms Conley is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the Arctic and is frequently featured as a foreign policy analyst on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, NPR, and PBS. She received her MA in international relations from the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).
Aleksi Härkönen, Ambassador, Arctic Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland
Aleksi Härkönen was nominated as Arctic Ambassador of Finland this year. Prior to this, he served as Ambassador of Finland to Estonia from 2010 to 2014 and as Foreign Policy Adviser to the President of the Finnish Republic from 2009 to 2010. From 2000 to 2007 he worked as Permanent Representative of Finland to the OSCE, before a two-year spell as head of the OSCE chairmanship Task Force of Finland. From 2000 to 2002 Mr Härkönen served as Deputy Director General of the Political Department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. In the 1980s and’90s he worked in the Finnish Embassies in Caracas, Bonn and Washington, and had various roles in the Political Department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. He received his MA in Political Science from the University of Helsinki in 1977.
Harri Mikkola, Senior Research Fellow, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs
Harri Mikkola works as a Senior Research Fellow at the Finnish Instititute of International Affairs. He received his PhD in Political Science from the University of Tampere in 2013. Mikkola has published several expert analyses on the Arctic region’s transformation. In addition to the Arctic, his other fields of expertise include defence and security policy, as well as defence market and security of supply issues. Prior to joining the FIIA in 2011, Mikkola worked as a Researcher at the Finnish Defence Command, at the University of Tampere, and as a Visiting Researcher at the University of Minnesota, USA.
Mika Aaltola, Programme Director, the Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Further information: Sannamari Bagge, tel. +358 9 432 7711,

Summary of the seminar

The seminar was opened by its chair Dr Mika Aaltola who welcomed the speakers and the audience. He explained that Arctic co-operation is one of the key crosscutting themes in the global security context. The Arctic has an important role in the future developments. At the same time many challenges exist. The purpose of the seminar was to examine the future of Arctic co-operation, not only from the economic and political points of view, but also in relation to the enduring East-West tension stemming from the crisis in Ukraine.

The first keynote speaker Ms Heather A. Conley contemplated the future of Arctic co-operation in three perspectives: the recent change in the geostrategic environment in the Arctic, the recent change in geo-economics, and how the previous two impact the upcoming US chairmanship of the Arctic Council. By a change in the geostrategic environment she meant the current unpredictable environment caused by the recent tension between the East and West arising from the Ukrainian crisis. Before the crisis, Arctic co-operation was predictable, the relationship between partners was stable, and borders between Arctic countries were clear. There were legally binding treaties and a mutual understanding. Now, because of the crisis there are new features – caused by the actions of Russia – in the co-operation, and it is difficult to understand what these features mean. The predictability of the co-operation has been lost and there are no more rules. The question is, according to Ms Conley, how all this will affect Arctic co-operation. In this context should also be mentioned that Russia is a superpower in the Arctic region; it has many ideas for the region’s development and sees it as a significant resource base in the future. However the recent surprising actions – such as Russia’s military exercises in the region – are worrying.

According to Ms Conley there has also been a change in geo-economics. Arctic energy resources have been discussed already for years. They are considered to be an important part of geo-economics in the future. However, as a result of the decreased oil prices many stakeholders are recalculating whether they can afford to develop Arctic energy. This may have a significant impact on the economic development of the Arctic region.

Lastly Ms Conley evaluated the impacts of the changes in these two areas on the upcoming US chairmanship of the Arctic Council. Ms Conley assumes that these changes will not have that much effect on the chairmanship. So far Russian colleagues have been co-operative in Arctic issues, even more co-operative than before the Ukraine crisis. The chairmanship has – according to Ms Conley – an ambitious agenda that includes three pillars. The first pillar is related to climate change, one target being the reduction of black carbon. The second and according to Ms Conley most ambitious pillar concentrates on the ocean policy. The purpose is to create a regional seas agreement. The third pillar focuses on the people who live in the Arctic region. The goal is to promote the health and wellbeing of the people and to concentrate on renewable energy.

Concluding her presentation, Ms Conley mentioned a few questions that should be considered in the future: how should the Arctic Council be developed during the next 20 years, and will the same structure still be effective in the future? She also noted that due to the forthcoming presidential elections the upcoming US chairmanship will run through two administrations. This may have an effect on the key points of the chairmanship and there is a risk that the continuity will be lost.

Ambassador Aleksi Härkönen concentrated in his speech on the fundamentals of Finland’s Arctic and northern policies. He also took a brief look at the challenges in the co-operation and said a few words on the current situation. Ambassador Härkönen agreed with Ms Conley on the importance of long-term planning in the future of Arctic co-operation. Finland, however, has to consider also the near future because Finland will act as chair of the Arctic Council after the US.

According to Ambassador Härkönen, the deepening of Arctic co-operation is strongly supported by the Finnish Parliament and Government. The Parliament took the initiative approximately five years ago to formulate a coherent policy for Arctic and northern activities. The Government responded by issuing two versions of Finland’s strategy for these issues. Finland was one of the initiators of Arctic co-operation as well as an initiator of the Rovaniemi process in 1991 which concentrated on the preservation of the endangered Arctic nature. In 1992 Finland joined the Barents Euro-Arctic Council as a founding member and in 1996 it joined the Arctic Council. Also, when Finland became an EU member one of its first goals was to establish the Northern dimension of the union.

According to Ambassador Härkönen, in many questions related to the Arctic, co-operation has been possible and there are compelling reasons for continuing the co-operation in the future. One of the reasons is climate change – tackling it is not only in the interest of the inhabitants of Arctic countries, but also of people in other countries. The other reason for continuing the co-operation is the sustainable development of the region, where a common understanding of international norms and long-term planning of economic development has a key role.

Ambassador Härkönen stated that in Finland’s view, a door for interesting observers to the Arctic Council should be kept open. Their participation would increase the awareness of Arctic issues globally. China, Japan and India are now observers, which is important in the economic perspective. The EU should also be accepted as an observer. This would increase the human and material resources and the predictability of Arctic co-operation.

To conclude, Ambassador Härkönen said that in order to be successful, Arctic co-operation requires openness and trust among the stakeholders, especially among Arctic states. During this year trust has not been self-evident; the old East-West confrontation is making a comeback and generates mistrust. Russia has been questioning the international order and there is no easy way out from the crisis. To end the crisis both sides must reconsider the fundamentals of the international order. Even though there are challenges ahead, Arctic co-operation must continue and it cannot be frozen.

Dr Harri Mikkola, who acted as a commentator, concentrated on the challenges that Arctic co-operation is facing when the region is becoming more global and political and economic stakes are getting higher. According to him, Arctic co-operation is usually considered an exceptional case. It is seen as an apolitical issue that is detached from global politics and global political dynamics. However, he argued that this contemporary Arctic paradigm is somewhat problematic due to its inherent regional focus that often brackets out global dynamics and their impacts on the region. Arctic co-operation is not a closed system and its regional development is not separate from global dynamics. Dr Mikkola illustrated with two empirical cases why the exceptional nature of Arctic co-operation should be reconsidered. These two cases were the Greenpeace protest in Prirazlomnaya oil rig in 2013, and the ongoing Ukraine crisis.

Dr Mikkola stressed that Arctic co-operation has in practice been sustained by various confident building measures including the 2008 Ilulissat Declaration where the five coastal states of the Arctic Ocean reaffirmed their commitment to settle Arctic disputes in accordance with international law and especially the United Nations Law of the Sea. The commitment was also reiterated in the Arctic Council in 2013. In general the treaty has been working as assumed, because it works for the benefit of the coastal states. However, according to Dr Mikkola, the treaty was not tested prior to last year’s Greenpeace protest on the Prirazlomnaya oil rig in the Barents Sea. The case did not go as expected, nor was it in accordance with the international agreement. Russia failed to follow provisions and its own explicit commitment to the treaty on two accounts: first it captured the Greenpeace ship illegally, violating a fundamental element of global maritime law, the principle of freedom of navigation. Secondly Russia’s unwillingness to accept UNCLOS arbitration mechanisms to resolve the dispute raised serious doubts about Russia’s consistent commitment to the common agreement when its vital national interests are threatened. According to Dr Mikkola, this case showed at least the limitations of the agreements of Arctic co-operation as a reliable governance framework, and this case can be seen as a serious setback for the co-operation. It also transposed the Arctic cooperation from technocracy towards politics.

Whereas the Greenpeace case took the Arctic away from apolitical co-operation, the crisis in Ukraine has accentuated the role of high politics and international dynamics. The crisis has brought external politics to the Arctic, and this has had direct and indirect effects on co-operation at least in four aspects. First the crisis has influenced the established discourse on the Arctic, and now the actions of Russia are interpreted with more caution and worry. This could become a new normal which would be detrimental for the Arctic co-operative spirit. Secondly, the crisis has affected established security co-operation practicalities in the Arctic region. For example, the Northern Eagle naval exercise and meeting between the chiefs of defence of the Arctic states have been cancelled. Thirdly, Arctic governance structures have been affected by the crisis. Prior to the crisis there was an agreement on the sheltered nature of the Arctic Council, that the Council is sheltered from turbulences and world politics. This has been possible because the focus of the Arctic Council has been on non-strategic issues such as environmental protection and sustainable development. To a certain extent this is still true today. And fourthly, it is the economic sector where the most significant effects have been seen. A number of Arctic stakeholders promote the Arctic governance spirit in order to generate a stable investment environment for infrastructure development and resource exploitation.

In sum, the Arctic is not shielded from global dynamics. The Arctic is similar to any other region in the contemporary world of interconnections where the development is either enabled or hindered by global forces, whether they are economic, political or environmental in nature. Dr Mikkola also noted that the Arctic has not yet reached its full potential, and there is still a lot to develop.


Mika Aaltola's opening remarks
Heather Conley's keynote
Aleksi Härkönen's keynote
Harri Mikkola's comments