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On March 21, 2017 RIAC hosted an expert discussion “Science Diplomacy: US–Russia Cooperation in the Arctic”. Paul Berkman, Professor of Practice in Science Diplomacy of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Director of US-Russia Relations Project supported by the Carnegie Corporation, and Oran Young, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, told Maria Smekalova about recent events in the region.

On March 21, 2017 RIAC hosted an expert discussion “Science Diplomacy: US–Russia Cooperation in the Arctic”. Paul Berkman, Professor of Practice in Science Diplomacy of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, Director of US-Russia Relations Project supported by the Carnegie Corporation, and Oran Young, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, told Maria Smekalova about recent events in the region.

How do you assess the results of the two year U.S. chairmanship in the Arctic Council? What’s your opinion on what has been achieved?

Paul Berkman: I think that one of significant steps is the science cooperation agreement that is anticipated to be signed in May of this year at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska. That is an important element of relations among the arctic states, a vehicle for them to discuss, to cooperate without the complications of the geopolitics of the world intruding. I think that the agreement will be a landmark not only for the Artic but for other regions where scientific cooperation is an important pathway to promote cooperation and prevent conflict.

Was there something that the U.S. sought to achieve but did not manage?

Paul Berkman: What we see in terms of results are largely end products. We don’t necessarily see the ongoing and productive processes as a result. The U.S. continued to promote cooperation in the Arctic through the Arctic Council as well as develop applications of the Arctic Economic Council. Another element that has emerged during the US chairmanship is the Arctic Coast Guard Forum. In May, after the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council ends at moves to Finland, the chairmanship of the Arctic Coast Guard and the chairmanship of the Arctic Economic Council will also move. I am sure Finland will proceed productively with these institutions during their upcoming chairmanship as well. One of the main challenges i is the relationship between 3 organizations that involve all of the arctic states as all of them have different purposes and different functions. Presumably these three organizations have some synergy yet to be developed. The Arctic Economic Council can focus on certain economic issues, the Arctic Coast Guard Forum can focus on security and regulatory mechanisms in a way that the Arctic Economic Council or Arctic Council could not. So identifying the strengths and remits of these organizations, rather than thinking about each organization being premier and paramount is a pending challenge.

Paul Berkman
Science Diplomacy and Its Contribution to
the International Cooperation in the Arctic
Discussed at RIAC.

Video: Expert discussion “Science Diplomacy:
US-Russia Cooperation in the Arctic”

If we speak about globalization and all environment-related processes, is there any possibility of globalization processes being stopped in the Arctic? If not, who are the main beneficiaries of such an international organization of the region?

Paul Berkman: Russia will be the biggest beneficiary of the changes in the Arctic for a variety of reasons. One reason is that Russia’s coastline in the Arctic Ocean is the largest coastline of any nation with sovereignty in the Arctic. The other reason is that the area that is ice free during the summer in the Arctic Ocean is largely on the Russian coast — the Northern Sea Route. Opening of the Arctic Ocean provides opportunities for fisheries, tourism, energy exploration, all of those available across the continental shelves and Exclusive Economic Zones of the surrounding Arctic coastal states, recognizing the continental shelves of the Arctic Ocean are the broadest and the shallowest of any on Earth.

If you talk to the residents of the Arctic they want economic activity there. It is largely the people that do not live in the Arctic that are talking about limitations. The question is how to develop the Arctic in a way that neither undermines the fabric of the cultures nor the integrity of the environments and their ecosystems. Here the challenge is to think beyond short-term gain, concentrating on sustainability that balance economic prosperity, environmental protection and societal well-being. But the reality is that there is interest in the arctic for development. We need to elaborate how the development of the Arctic can mature in a way that allows for the environment and ecosystems to be protected, the cultures to be continuous and uninterrupted and at the same time to achieve some level of prosperity for the region and its residents.

What are, from your point of view, the most promising areas of scientific cooperation between Russia and the U.S. in the Arctic?

Dr. Oran Young: There are a number of promising areas. First, there is a lot of collaborative work going on today regarding the changing biophysical characteristics of ecosystems. A second area covers the impacts of climate change on both marine and terrestrial systems in the arctic. And a third concerns the circumstances of social systems, often fairly small remote communities frequently with a sizable proportion of indigenous peoples. We have quite a lot of experience with cooperative research in all these areas.

Nowadays there are a lot of talks about the militarization of the region. Do you think military related issues can negatively affect cooperation or they can actually stimulate it in some way?

Oran Young

Dr. Oran Young: Accounts of the militarization of the Arctic are greatly exaggerated. There is a certain increase in military activity in the Arctic, but in case of Russia, for example, much of this is simply reoccupying facilities that were abandoned during the period of economic crisis. I don’t think this is an indicator of any sort of serious political or military conflict in the Arctic. The problem I see is that both in the West and in Russia there are some people who still have a Cold War mentality and jump to conclusions about militarization of the Arctic when any small developments occur. So my biggest concern is the misinterpretations of the events rather than what’s actually happening.

If we are talking about international law, do you think the existing norms are enough?

Dr. Oran Young: There are legal developments occurring all the time. For example, just at the beginning of this year, we’ve had the Polar Code regarding commercial shipping in the Arctic come into force. We are in the process of negotiating what is quite likely to be a legal arrangement regarding potential fisheries in the Arctic. The new international agreement on scientific cooperation is likely to be a legally binding document. So the framework is in place, and I don’t think it needs to be changed. This framework provides a basis for developing additional specific agreements.

What is your attitude towards the growing interest in the Arctic on behalf of Asian states? How can the Arctic states effectively cooperate with them?

Dr. Oran Young: I think this is just one more indication of the worldwide growth of interest in the Arctic. I don’t find it surprising or problematic. Certainly, the interest is very strong in scientific cooperation and I do not see any serious problems with that. Some of the interest will take the form of bilateral initiatives especially regarding the development of natural resources. There are other developments regarding matters like the opening of the Northern Sea route. I think that countries like China and Japan are interested in the development of options. For example, much of international commerce goes through the Suez Canal and the Strait of Malacca, both considered to be vulnerable to piracy and other disruptions. It is appealing for these countries to have alternatives. And I think they perceive the Northern Sea route as a useful alternative that could become very attractive under certain circumstances.

RIAC would like to express gratitude to Valery Zhuravel and Pavel Gudev for the questions to the speakers asked in this interview.

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