Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ministerial Meeting of Arctic Council in Tromsø

In conjunction with the Ministerial Meeting of Arctic Council, convened today, April 29, 2009, in Tromsø, Norway, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg has laid out avenues for cooperation between the United States and other Arctic Council member states. Making special reference to the differing U.S. and Canadian positions on the Northwest Passage he indicated that the two countries could "work through" their differences. He also highlighted the opportunity for new forms of cooperation with Russia. The agenda and related documents for the Ministerial meeting can be accessed here.

Although the EU is seeking permanent observer status at the Arctic Council, the EU Commission decided not to send Commissioners in any official capacity to this year's Ministerial meeting. Canada is opposing EU observer status in part because of a ban on imported seal products expected to be passed by the European Parliament next week. The Commission's Communication on the EU and the Arctic Region, COM(2008) 763 final, published in November 2008, generated criticism from some arctic states, one unattributed source querying how Europeans would react were, say, Canada to issue a policy statement on the Mediterranean.

Other voices have recognized Europe's interest in the Arctic not only by virtue of the fact, as the Communication states, that "three EU member states Denmark (Greenland), Finland and Sweden — have territories in the Arctic [and t]wo other Arctic states — Iceland and Norway — are members of the European Economic Area." One such voice is Jessica Shadian who, writing in Canada's Policy Options, and elsewhere, acknowledges Europe's interests in the Arctic yet concludes that the "ultimate authorities" over the future course of the Arctic must be "the Arctic nations and the Arctic’s indigenous peoples."

Actions taken at the Tromsø meeting included adoption of the long-awaited Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment.

Icebreaking into the Arctic

The USCGC HEALY embarked Barrow, Alaska, in August 2008 to map the US extended continental shelf, or ECS, in the Arctic Ocean (HLY 0805). Healy sailed again from 7 August to 16 September, 2009 (HLY 0905) to continue ECS mapping, joining with the Canadian icebreaker, the Louis S. St.-Laurent. The two vessels mapped together again in 2010 (see HLY1002) and 2011 (HLY1102).

As the only law professor on the science crew, I was along on HLY 0805 and 0905 to better understand
the science behind the legal process that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea establishes for states making ECS submissions. As to why the US is mapping now, even though it has not yet acceded to the Convention, read on both here, and in the Law of the Sea notes below.

Thanks to
Vermont Law School and especially to Larry Mayer, Director of the University of New Hampshire's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, for making my part in the trip possible.
Thanks, as well, to Adriane Colburn, for opening new windows on and for the deep.