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On October 12-13, 2016, RIAC held the “International Cooperation in the Arctic: New Challenges and Vectors of Development” conference organized under the auspices of the Government of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Paul Berkman, Professor of Practice in Science Diplomacy (Tufts University), David Benton, Commissioner on the United States Arctic Research Commission and Scott Highleyman, Director of International Arctic Program (The PEW Charitable Trusts) shared their views on the Arctic possibly becoming a new area of confrontation and the most promising spheres of cooperation in the region.

On October 12-13, 2016, RIAC held the “International Cooperation in the Arctic: New Challenges and Vectors of Development” conference organized under the auspices of the Government of the Russian Federation and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Paul Berkman, Professor of Practice in Science Diplomacy (Tufts University), David Benton, Commissioner on the United States Arctic Research Commission and Scott Highleyman, Director of International Arctic Program (The PEW Charitable Trusts) shared their views on the Arctic possibly becoming a new area of confrontation and the most promising spheres of cooperation in the region.

Russia and the USA are having difficulties in bilateral relations, including cooperation on Syria. Do you see any possibility of the Arctic becoming an area of confrontation as well?

Paul Berkman: The Arctic at the diplomatic level is seen as a region of low tension. All of the Arctic states view economic opportunities in the Arctic, and in a sense of common interests in the economic future that will lead to stability of the region. The challenge is to continue the work to balance national interests and common interests, which starts with building common interests. While the tensions are low in the Arctic, there is opportunity to think in terms of both promoting cooperation and preventing conflict. There also is opportunity to move the dialogue from foreign ministers to heads of state to insulate the Arctic from global geopolitics. Hopefully, we will be able to maintain the Arctic as a region of peace, stability and cooperation.

David Benton

David Benton: It’s hard to predict the future. We have had bad times and we have had good times. We’ve had challenges and we’ve had times when we were really on the same page across the border. We are facing challenges right now, and we do all recognize those. The cooperation in the Arctic even back in the Cold War days was actually not bad, and I worked with colleagues from the Soviet Union on various things back in the 1980-s: we still were able to work together because we had a common interest there. In fact, we have the benefit of good working relationship at a level that is beyond the issue at the moment. And it’s still the case today. I’m optimistic that ability of the United States and Russia to work together is going survive this time.

Scott Highleyman: I really hope not. So far, I think that both countries and the other technicians stick to their convictions that the Arctic is a special place. We surround the Arctic Ocean, we form the shores of the Arctic Ocean and so we have to stay together. People in the North know that you have to cooperate to survive. I think that as long as we keep that very pragmatic perspective, it’s in everybody’ interests to keep talking and cooperating.

So you don’t see the Arctic becoming the arena of some military confrontation between any kind of things?

Paul Berkman

Paul Berkman: I’ll tell you a story. A few years ago I wrote an article for the New York Times. The New York Times reserved the right to give a title to this paper. I was talking about peace and cooperation in the Arctic, and when they actually published the paper the title was “Preventing an Arctic Cold War”. There is a challenge to speak in terms of hope and inspiration when the media speaks in terms of doom and gloom. We are responsible to continuously introduce strategies that build common interests.

David Benton: You see some press people trying to make the militarization of the Arctic a sensational issue. But the reality is you don’t see that. Not really, you know. I am always optimistic about such issues. I think, our ability to talk to each other, our common interests and personal relationships are a solid enough foundation for a fruitful cooperation in the Arctic in the foreseeable future.

From your point of view, what is one most promising, area of cooperation between the Arctic states, in Russian and the US in particular?

Paul Berkman: There are examples in both Polar regions. In Antarctica at the height of the Cold War science was used as a tool of diplomacy, and brought the United States and Soviet Union together to sign the Antarctic Treaty in 1959. That treaty became the first nuclear arms agreement in the world, and it set aside nearly 10% of the Earth for peaceful purposes only. Science again is being recognized as a tool of diplomacy in the Arctic. An agreement on science cooperation that is co-shared by the United States and Russia with the other Arctic states is planned to be signed in May of 2017. The agreements that are coming out of the Arctic, each one individually and collectively strengthen the bonds of cooperation, building common interests. We already have a search and rescue agreement, a marine pollution preparedness and response agreement, and soon we are going to have a new agreement on scientific cooperation.

David Benton: My bias is for science, and I think that with some creative thought, not a lack of goodwill, we can dramatically enhance our scientific cooperation, both across America and under it. I come from the Pacific side, so in the Bering Sea, in the Chukchi Sea and also in the greater Arctic Ocean we can do so much more.

Scott Highleyman

The Bering Strait is a gateway for anybody who wants to go up into the Arctic Ocean at least from the Pacific side. It’s also very important from a biological, transit and human movement standpoint. We have got to get it right in the Bering Strait, because that is an area where we can strengthen our ability to work together. Bering Strait has not yet become a crisis point, but people always wait for emergency, and I would like to try and get ahead of the curve. I think that we can come up with a practical way without it being complicated. We can do something that would make it safer for people and environment, in practical cost-effective way.

Scott Highleyman: The very next cooperative agreement that the Arctic countries is on Arctic fisheries. It is aimed at preventing fishery development and unregulated commercial fishing in the high seas area around the North Pole before we have the adequate science. The Russian International Affairs Council’s done a really good job over the years to gather experts from different countries to talk about it. The countries have actually met several times, and they are very close to an agreement. So that’s a very pragmatic example of how we can deal with the shared resource, and cooperate.

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Poll conducted

  1. Korean Peninsula Crisis Has no Military Solution. How Can It Be Solved?
    Demilitarization of the region based on Russia-China "Dual Freeze" proposal  
     36 (35%)
    Restoring multilateral negotiation process without any preliminary conditions  
     27 (26%)
    While the situation benefits Kim Jong-un's and Trump's domestic agenda, there will be no solution  
     22 (21%)
    Armed conflict still cannot be avoided  
     12 (12%)
    Stonger deterrence on behalf of the U.S. through modernization of military infrastructure in the region  
     4 (4%)
    Toughening economic sanctions against North Korea  
     2 (2%)
 
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