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by Steve Dobransky

The Arctic region is becoming an increasingly significant factor in international relations. In recent decades, global warming and the melting of the polar ice caps have been major issues. Now, economic and security issues in the Arctic are coming to the forefront. Trillions of dollars of oil, natural gas, and other mineral resources are becoming accessible. It is estimated that the Arctic holds approximately 20-25% of the world’s oil and natural gas reserves and this figure will increase to 50% in the next several decades as the rest of the world’s resource reserves are depleted. Moreover, billions of dollars worth of gold, silver, platinum, and other metals are located in the Arctic, as well as an estimated one-third or more of the world’s diamonds. Thus, the Arctic is a treasure trove that is only now becoming accessible for any willing “adventurers.” This massive amount of resources combined with the world’s rapidly depleting natural resources and economic troubles will make the Arctic an increasingly important issue in the coming years. It has the potential to lead to serious conflict. There, currently, is no international regime for the Arctic region.1

This paper analyzes the Arctic issue and the key actors involved. It presents briefly a history of the Arctic region and its geographical significance. It stresses the basic economic potential of the region, both in terms of natural resources and shipping lanes. It examines the policy positions of the major regional players. It emphasizes the economic and security issues that are emerging as the ice melts and there is now year-round sea traffic. The paper highlights the present period and current trends. It stresses the need for an Arctic Regime and it lays down in some detail the basic structure of what this proposed Arctic Regime could entail. Furthermore, the primary international theories of Realism and Liberalism underlie this case study. International regimes are critical to Liberalism, yet power politics could abound in the Arctic in the coming decades. This raises the question as to whether countries can utilize regimes to not only promote Liberalism (international cooperation) but also to possibly preempt Realism (power politics). The Arctic case may suggest theoretically that the timeframe of an issue determines whether Realism or Liberalism is the dominant paradigm. Countries may choose to institute an international regime before an issue’s key variable(s) increase significantly in value in the overall national/international equation. In other words, the further out an issue takes precedence and value, the more likely for Liberalism and international regimes to occur. Hence, a window of opportunity can come years/decades before an issue reaches critical mass or after a major war. The higher in value an issue becomes over time, the more likely for Realism. Thus, the Arctic could be a very good policy to analyze, evaluate, and test multiple theories on from here on out. Scholars can observe closely how and why the key actors behave and, then, what the results are, in order to find conclusive evidence to support their theory or model. The Arctic is not a vital issue at this time, which suggests that Liberalism and international regimes may be possible. But, Realism may still be a prism for some at the present and an opportunity for an international regime may be lost. In time, as the Arctic issue grows in value and, possibly, becomes a vital national interest for one or more countries, then Realism may become the dominant force and the Arctic region could become much more tense and conflict could occur.

Overall, this paper encourages a new and more open debate on the Arctic, and it attempts to move away from the past nationalistic claims of some actors to a more internationalist and cooperative approach to preserving the Arctic as an area of peace and harmony. An Arctic Regime, this paper argues, is the best means of promoting long-term security, stability, and prosperity in the region and it holds the best chance of establishing a mutually beneficial system for all the key actors involved. The paper contends that it is best to pursue an Arctic Regime now rather than wait for an energy crisis to emerge and a potential major power onslaught in the region to occur. Sooner or later, the Arctic will become an area of vital national security. Hence, an Arctic Regime is highly recommended. This paper provides details of a potential Arctic Regime and it makes suggestions on how best to establish it. It concludes with a number of recommendations for future policy analysis and implementation of this international regime.

The Historical and Geo-Economic Context

For centuries the Northwest Passage was believed to have been a myth. Some scholars and scientists have acknowledged that the myth was actually a reality approximately 5,000 to 7,000 years ago. The great quest to use the North American hemisphere as a quick trading route to Asia has been pursued since Columbus’ voyage in 1492. The earliest explorers may have had information passed down to them by generations of seafarers. The ancient Sumerians were believed to be the first people who may have traversed the globe and the Northwest Passage, along with reaching the southern parts of the Western Hemisphere. Ancient native histories speak of such people. When the Europeans tried to find this passage way, they seemed to have expected it to exist without question. They, of course, found it blocked by ice. This led eventually to shipping lanes thousands of miles out of the way down to the tip of South America and then later in the early 1900s through the Panama Canal. Only recently with global warming and the melting of the Arctic ice, ships are now making the Northwest Passage a viable sea lane since possibly the ancients.2

2007 became the first time in thousands of years that there was a completely ice-free shipping lane through the Northwest Passage. Each year since then there have been at least two months of ice-free shipping. And, for the first time ever, there is year-round passage through the Arctic, since the new ice that comes back is thin ice and much easier to break. Up until 2007, substantial ice held back shipping and only the most modern and heavy-duty icebreakers could go through. With all the ice layers now having melted in many areas, it means that from here on out there will be nothing more than a thin layer of ice in 10 months of the year or less. Experts, moreover, believe that at the current rate of global warming in the Arctic, it may be as early as 2013 or as late as 2020 that there will eventually become an ice-free shipping lane throughout the year.3

Many of the ships that are currently traveling the Arctic are built with strengthened hulls. Many of them have been led by icebreakers but the most recent innovation in ship building has the very ships themselves having icebreakers. More specifically, these ships, often called dual-direction ships, traverse normal waters and, then, coming upon any ice they turn around and use their back-end propellers to mull through the ice. Finland and South Korea have taken the lead in building these types of ships. More Arctic-conditioned ships will be built in the future by many other countries as well. In the next decade and beyond, there may not even be a need to have these icebreakers.4

It will only be a short while longer that shipping through the Arctic will become a normal and major operation. The Northwest Passage will be as much a northwest as a northeast passage. From Asia to the United States and vice versa there will be a major new shipping lane in the Arctic. Europe also will be on the new shipping lane. The Arctic lanes will cut shipping miles by more than 3,000 miles from Asia to the U.S.’s East Coast. To Europe it will save up to 6,000 miles from the original routes. This will be a tremendous savings in standard costs, fuel, and time. It is estimated that each standard shipping carrier will save approximately $2-3 million per trip.5 This will be a great incentive for the ships and international businesses. It also may lead to major changes in the international economy, as durable goods that are too heavy and costly to ship now become less expensive and more competitive to ship via the Arctic route. Specialized containers may be necessary for certain temperature-sensitive products. But, the overall impact on the international economy and existing trade relations could be tremendous in the coming decades.

And, once the shipping becomes normal practice with minimal risks and problems, the insurance costs should become normal if not lower. Arctic waters are calm and there is no risk of a major hurricane and other storms, let alone other possible dangers. If the ships are properly fitted, then any errant iceberg in the near future can be dealt with. If and when the entire shipping lanes become ice-free, then it probably will not take longer than 5-10 years of shipping to establish a normal benchmark for shipping companies and insurers to determine that this new shipping lane is relatively safe and, thus, should have normal insurance pricing. As a result, when combined with the thousands of miles and one or more weeks of time saved, the overall insurance costs should go down significantly for companies. This will make it even more attractive financially to traverse the Arctic route.

The Security and Energy Dimension

The United States has yet to fully assess the great opportunities that are quickly arising in the Arctic area. The U.S. policy has for long been to claim the Northwest Passage area as international waters and thus apply the freedom of the seas principle. This became a dominant theme during the Cold War as the U.S. maneuvered its submarines under the Arctic Circle. Canada, on the other hand, continues to claim this entire area as internal waters, since the land archipelago exists beyond its continental territory, though much of it has been covered by ice throughout history. Now, the waterways and the islands are emerging with the melting of the ice and this has led to increasing tension and discussion of what is to come. The U.S. and other countries still do not recognize Canada’s comprehensive territorial claims, and they continue to advocate the international jurisdiction of the Arctic passageways, both on the sea and in the air above.6

The Arctic situation has been compounded by the rapid and strategic maneuvering of Russia. Russia has been the most active in the area and has produced the largest number of Arctic-capable ships. Canada and the U.S. have just a handful of surface ships that are meant for the Arctic. The Russians are laying down claims throughout the Arctic region and are preparing a whole new fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers. Most recently, Russian oil company Rosneft signed an agreement with Italy’s Eni to explore for oil and natural gas in the Arctic, an investment costing up to $125 billion. Furthermore, scientists declared in 2008 that for the first time ever, there was an ice-free passageway around the entire coast of Russia all the way to Canada. This has led to a lot of speculation that Russia will be able to transform this area into a major shipping route, especially once there is an ice-free passageway year-round.7 With the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and detailed topographical studies, Russia may be able to make a legitimate claim to at least half to two-thirds of the Arctic region. The Russians, then, may try to push further. The Russians made a recent claim in 2001 to approximately 460,000 square miles of the Arctic but it had insufficient data at the time to be accepted by the United Nations. The Russians followed up with a much more aggressive exploration and claiming process that continues to this day. The U.S. is not a member of UNCLOS and, thus, is reluctant to accept these claims, even from an established international legal body. The U.S., historically, has had issues with substantial territorial and resource claims made by other countries based upon their relatively minimal presence or power in an area, which would deprive the U.S. of significant wealth, advantages, and critical raw materials The lack of a common legal framework may have serious ramifications for the U.S. and other countries in the future as tensions are likely to mount to acquire new energy resources, especially if UNCLOS-members accept eventually all or most of Russia’s Arctic claims, or any other country’s claims.8

The critical issue that is emerging is the estimated 90 billion barrels of oil under the Arctic area and up to one quadrillion cubic feet or more of natural gas. And, these figures are likely to become much higher in the future as more detailed explorations for resources are done. The existing Arctic oil and natural gas reserves are worth trillions of dollars. With the rapid depletion of energy resources in the coming decades, these Arctic oil and gas reserves are expected to make up to half of the world’s remaining supplies. This, as a result, would make the Arctic of vital strategic importance to the U.S. and others in the near future. Moreover, there are massive amounts of gold, silver, platinum, and one-third or more of the world’s diamonds in the land archipelago that is now emerging through the melted ice. Thus, a huge amount of natural resources and minerals are becoming accessible with the Arctic melting. Trillions and trillions of dollars worth of commodities are there, which are likely to attract many international corporations and investors. And, there is yet to be an international convention on the matter.9

The Canadian Perspective and the Regional Issue of Sovereignty

Canada has talked substantially about its complete sovereignty over the North American Arctic. It, however, has been relatively modest in backing up its claims with any large-scale and permanent physical presence and activities. Canada declares that the North American Arctic archipelago is its territory and therefore the waterways around the islands are part of Canada’s internal waterways. Canada has been developing a small fleet of ships and personnel for operating in the Arctic as part of its Northern Strategy, mostly for search and rescue. Canada has improved its efforts in expanding its Arctic forces over the recent years, but it is still incremental and a far ways off from being sufficient.10 This has led to questions of whether Canada can defend its claim to the Arctic region, especially if seriously challenged in the future. The U.S. and other countries refuse to accept Canada’s claim to the waterways in which all the oil and natural gas are now to be found. The U.S. and others have made this clear for nearly a century. Moreover, Canada’s claims to the Arctic archipelago have had muted recognition by the U.S. and others and, thus, cannot be considered an absolute acceptance of Canada’s claim to the iced-over or melting islands themselves. Much still needs to be resolved.11

It is important to note here that all of Canada’s claims come from England and centuries ago. Canada recently has taken the unique step of using the native Inuit as a bulwark to their territorial claims further north beyond the continental landmass. And, the Inuit have only recently seemed to have realized that their relatively autonomous territory of Nunavut may have been intended primarily to help the Canadian government claim the areas in which the Inuit have operated for centuries, and not for any altruistic or social justice reasons. The Inuit have not acceded to this Euro-Canadian argument. And, moreover, the Inuit have traveled only a relative short distance beyond the continental landmass and, thus, do not have any historical claim to the vast majority of the Arctic.12

In addition, the Danes have made their own historical claims to parts of the Arctic based upon their sovereign control over Greenland and their ethnic activities in the region, and they have extended their claims westward into the Arctic region but only a short distance. There have been a few relatively small diplomatic and economic disputes between the Danes and Canadians over the decades.13 The U.S., it should be stressed, has been ambivalent at best to all of these historical claims and disputes. It has not recognized any Danish or Canadian claims that may hinder its freedom of the seas or air over the Arctic region. Thus, centuries to thousands of years of historical activity are not sufficient for the U.S. or other countries to sacrifice their economic and security interests now or the vast opportunities that are emerging. And, the Arctic’s rapidly increasing value in energy resources and strategic value can only solidify the U.S. position towards the Arctic. Most countries have followed the U.S. lead. Canada is relatively alone on its claims and endeavors in the Arctic. Even the Danes have had very limited territorial goals and activities. Canada, on the other hand, has been the most aggressive in supporting its original imperial claims, though the actions have been relatively minor to what could have been done up to now. Needless to say, the U.S. and rest of the world do not appear open to changing their decades-long policies on the Arctic regardless of any increased Canadian or Danish activities or vocals.14

Canada’s apparent inability in winning over the international community on its Arctic argument has been a growing concern for a significant number of Canadians, especially some conservative politicians and nationalistic citizens and scholars. A good number of books and articles have been written on the Arctic. A large number have come in the last 15-20 years, corresponding to the recognition that the Arctic ice was going to start melting and, thereby, open up increased international activities in the region.15 Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party came into power in 2006 with Canadian sovereignty over the Arctic as a major political issue. After proclaiming its desire to increase Canada’s Arctic forces and ships, the Harper government ordered only 6-8 icebreakers, which later turned out to be the wrong type of ships and the orders have yet to be completed. Canada is carrying out better and stronger actions on its Arctic policy, but its economic and force limitations are being exposed and creating a difficult political dilemma for the future.16

If Canada is to achieve its territorial and diplomatic ambitions, then it likely requires a much greater civilian and military presence in the Arctic all year-round. Yet, there is no indication that Canadians are willing to sacrifice their current social system of extensive benefits for a much larger military budget and Arctic force. And, there is no evidence that Canadians want to pay much more in taxes or commit to a military draft. Canada has only around 70,000 active-duty military personnel, 30,000 reserve forces, and a $20 billion/year military budget. Its Arctic-ready forces and equipment are just a handful, a few thousand personnel at best who are truly specialists, mainly the Canadian Rangers. Moreover, there is no indication that Canada’s economy will greatly expand in the foreseeable future to produce the necessary surplus wealth to pay for a sizeable increase in an Arctic force. Canada’s economic growth has not been great over the last decade, let alone ever. Thus, Canada presents a very vocal case for the Arctic but has been unable to completely back up its claims with the necessary increases in personnel, materials, ships, and money, which is very telling for the future. If not by now, then when?17

If Canada is unwilling to shift or produce enough resources to create a sufficient Arctic force that is capable of fully securing the region over the three thousand miles of waterways, plus above and beneath the surface, then it opens up the possibility that other forces outside the region may move in and claim the trillions of dollars in natural resources. Russia is an obvious pursuer. The U.S. is another option. China, with its massively growing need for oil—especially when it runs out of much of its own domestic sources in approximately 10 years—will be looking everywhere for oil opportunities. Any country that can move oil rigs and mining companies into the Arctic area, operate them and maintain them, and have enough forces to possibly defend them will have trillions of reasons to act pro-actively. Hypothetical but quite possible. Can or will Canada defend this entire region on its own? Can or will Canadians risk an all-out war with Russia, China, or some other major power for control over all of the Arctic resources? Is Canada even capable of going into the ring against any of the major powers, especially if and when there is a great need and crisis in energy resources?18

Canada can make many public proclamations and scholarly materials on its claims to the Arctic, but its inability or unwillingness to move aggressively to secure the emerging Arctic region is a signal to all that this could become an open-season area in the near future. The Arctic is increasingly looking like the grounds for a potential rivalry similar to the Western World’s colonization, an Oklahoma land rush, a California gold rush, and of course an Alaskan and Klondike gold rush. Maybe all rolled up into one. There are so many valuable resources in this Arctic area that one can only imagine how aggressively countries will act in the coming years and decades as natural resources become increasingly scarce and they become increasingly desperate for more resources and revenues. The massive amount of resources in the Arctic are there for the taking unless Canada is willing to make significant sacrifices to secure the area. Much greater taxation, a major reduction in social welfare benefits, lower wages, longer work hours, much greater economic production, and a significantly larger military that may require a draft, are all one and together necessary options if Canada is to establish fully a sizeable force to secure the entire Arctic region on its side year-round. Canadians spent years debating whether or not to spend the money for 6-8 ships for the Arctic, which is miniscule but indicative of Canadian priorities and intentions. Much greater resources and sacrifices have to be made. Ironically, Canadians may have to give up being Canadian and become more like Americans in order to make and implement the necessary policy changes and play successfully the game of power politics. So far, most Canadians do not appear willing to give up most of what it is to be Canadian. But, will this change in the future?19

Canadians can hope that other countries do not eventually move into the Arctic region, but it appears increasingly obvious that Canadians are passing the torch and initiative to other countries to make the final decision. Canadians, of course, will reject this but the lack of major action and investment in the Arctic region over the past several decades suggest that Canada’s claims to the region rests more on political and legal talk than real power and action. There has been no indication for the last several years in which the Arctic is now being freely traversed year-round that Canadians have changed in any significant way. If Canadians have chosen to rest their claims on the hope that other countries in the future will sacrifice their wealth, power, and standard of living, let alone trillions of dollars in economic opportunities, just on their own goodwill or moral conscience, then it would be a truly dangerous gamble for Canadians. But, in the end, if Canadians are not willing to make the major sacrifices to protect the Arctic and all of its resources, then it is their free choice. Other countries will take note and act accordingly when the time is right and the imperative arises. Power usually trumps legal arguments and paper trails. The Arctic may be the quintessential example in the future.20

The U.S. Perspective and Future Interests and Policy

The United States may sooner or later come to the official recognition that Canada does not appear willing to commit the necessary resources to maintain adequate security in the Arctic. It may already have done so, unofficially. The U.S. has maintained some strategic forces in the region, mainly submarines, but the U.S. has yet to make anywhere near the aggressive moves and forces as Russia. The U.S. does not have a modern fleet of Arctic icebreakers, but it certainly has the capability to build one. The Russians are expanding rapidly in the Arctic region in terms of claims, exploration, and slowly but surely oil and mining activities. The U.S. must soon determine its policy on this matter or else the Russians may make the decision for it. The U.S. has worked with Canada on joint security throughout the Cold War, mainly through NORAD and the multiple layers of radar across Canada up to the Arctic. Both the U.S. and Canada have laid down many sonar devices as well. The primary threats to both countries for much of the last half century have been Russian submarines, bombers, and ICBMs. There is less of a threat now with the end of the Cold War, but the security issue remains and could emerge again in the near future.21 The existing international security and energy situations are precarious. Any Middle East crisis that cuts off significant amounts of oil will lead many countries to desperately search for new oil reserves to quickly replenish their lost ones. How long the Arctic will remain off the front stage of world affairs is a question that may be answered sooner rather than later.

In the future, the greatest threat to U.S. interests in the Arctic may be Canada’s inability or unwillingness to develop an adequate security plan and force to the emerging economic opportunities in the Arctic. The U.S. does not recognize Canada’s claim to the waterways and, thus, cannot establish an official joint security program in areas in which it does not recognize Canadian sovereignty. Canada cannot do this as well without a major diplomatic backlash by the U.S. and others. Neither side can maintain a fiction for long without having the other renounce its claims and oppose its policy. Thus, strategic threats to North America above and below the Arctic may continue to be addressed jointly by the U.S. and Canada through NORAD and other existing security bodies, but the emerging economic opportunities and subsequent security threats have yet to lead to a plausible joint policy program or organization. This, in the end, may require multinational negotiations or bilateral and individual actions vis-à-vis other countries outside the area. But, this likely will be a very weak and limited policy option with highly questionable results.

The U.S. needs to address this growing threat with Canada, the international community, and its own energy and mining corporations. There must be a multiple-track approach of trying to establish an international convention on the Arctic, possibly similar to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, and trying to ensure the U.S.’s future energy needs to sustain its growing and modern society. But, Canada’s adamant claims to the Arctic may undermine this possible convention because it presupposes international waterways and not Canadian sovereignty. On the other hand, the U.S. may have to be prepared to go it alone and open up the way for its own companies to move in and exploit the area for its own best interests as well as to prevent other countries from doing so. This would be preemptive action on the U.S.’s part. And, it would give American companies trillions of new opportunities, as well as give the U.S. more than enough oil to last for several more decades if not to the end of the century. But, this could set off a major race by other countries into the Arctic to establish economic and territorial claims and this may lead to serious conflict. Thus, an Arctic Regime seems imperative. Yet, any one country, especially a minor one, claiming sole possession over approximately half of the Arctic appears to be a non-starter or game breaker. The U.S. expects equal and free access to much of the Arctic. Canada, therefore, appears to be the primary obstacle in the U.S.’s eyes to the creation of any future Arctic Regime.22

It is important to emphasize that the U.S. is the only North American power capable of maintaining comprehensive security coverage over the North American Arctic at this time and into the foreseeable future. The Russians likely will seek control over at least one-third to one-half of the Arctic in the coming years. The question is whether the Russians will go further and, if so, can they be stopped if they proceed to make a claim beyond half of the Arctic. And, what will prevent the Chinese and/or other countries from moving in as well and basically claiming squatters’ rights or just plainly taking by force and injecting their oil, natural gas, and mining industries into the region? A Russian-Chinese alliance on this issue may be even more threatening, especially if Russia agrees to support Chinese operations in the North American Arctic in return for Chinese recognition and support of Russia’s claim to half or more of the Arctic. Only the U.S. can conceivably alter this potential security equation in favor of North America. But, if Canada refuses to allow and support the U.S.’s perspective on the Arctic region, then this could become a major international problem that could lead to serious tensions and conflict. Once again, hypothetical now but too important to ignore.

The Creation of an Arctic Regime

An Arctic Regime may be the best solution to stabilizing and securing the Arctic for the long term. Canada, however, should consider giving up its existing claims to most of the area. If Canadians continue to demand it all, they in the future may be seen internationally as hoarding mass natural resources while much of the world starves of energy resources. This very likely may increase tensions and conflict. Do Canadians truly believe that they can actually defeat a determined and desperate power in the Arctic? Just like the natives centuries ago, a small population with huge natural wealth is a great temptation for many great powers, especially in times of intense conflict, competition, and need. Canada may be perfectly right and moral in its position, but it may not be enough. Canada has only around 30 million people with minor population growth throughout its history, yet it has one of the largest landmasses in the world and huge natural resources. With the Arctic region, it will become even more massive in territory and natural wealth—and, extremely tempting to many peoples and countries, especially with such a tiny security force. Canadians either can be pro-active in supporting an Arctic Regime or they can go it alone—with all of its potential consequences and risks.

In terms of similar international regimes over obscure but potentially very valuable land masses, the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, and the Moon Treaty of 1979 stand out as three notable regime models, for various reasons. The Antarctic Treaty, very interestingly, was only meant by the U.S. to be a temporary solution until the U.S. had mapped out the southernmost continent and learned where all of the valuable strategic resources were. Once the U.S. could make an informed territorial claim, then the Antarctic Regime was expected to end or be transformed fundamentally. The seven formal claimants to Antarctica (Britain, France, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, and Chile) were joined by the U.S. and Russia, as well as Belgium, Japan, and South Africa, in delaying any major land rush and conflict in 1959 and the decades beyond. Thirty-five more countries signed on to the Antarctic Regime. The Antarctic Regime promoted the delaying of territorial claims, demilitarizing the continent, encouraging scientific research and exchanges, and ensuring sufficient inspections and verification. The seven formal claimants based their claims mainly on their territorial locations and their past explorations and scientific activities. The U.S. expected to claim well beyond the explored areas and demand a substantial portion of the strategic resources. Other claimants and signatories like Russia were assumed to be ready to do the same when the time necessitated it. Thus, the Antarctic environment may be similar to the Arctic, but the Arctic region is mapped out more extensively and many of the resources have been determined and located. As a result, an Arctic condominium similar to the Antarctic would have to be adjusted significantly to meet the existing circumstances.23

In addition to the Antarctic Treaty, the Outer Space Treaty and Moon Treaty are two other international regimes. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 internationalized outer space and the moon. It did not prevent conventional weapons in orbit, although it outlawed military bases and weapons testing in space and on the moon. It declared open-access to all and denied any country from making territorial claims. At the present, the Outer Space Treaty has 98 countries as signatories, including the U.S., Russia, and China. The Moon Treaty, however, was proposed in 1979 but was rejected by the U.S. and other space-faring countries. Only 13 states have ratified it. The Moon Treaty sought to claim global ownership and distribution of the moon’s resources. Similar to Antarctica, the U.S. had insufficient information on the moon to make a sizeable and informed claim to the most valuable areas. But, contrary to the Antarctic, there was no clear and present threat of any other country making a legitimate and enforceable claim to the moon, let alone extracting resources from it. Thus, the U.S. continues to support the Outer Space Treaty’s convention on demilitarizing the moon, along with the earth’s orbit, and maintaining open-access to all. But, the U.S. continues to explore the moon to determine the best locations to make potential claims if and when the time necessitates, and it reserves the right to extract resources from the moon on its own and not through any international organization. The emergence of Helium-3 as a potentially powerful and profitable energy source on the moon may bring these issues and regimes to the fore in the near future, especially as Russia, China, Europe, Japan, India, and others now race to the moon to get access to Helium-3.24

Any Arctic Regime must take these unique factors and circumstances mentioned above into account. Canada, above all, must consider relinquishing its sovereignty claims to at least the Arctic waterways if not the archipelago, if any Arctic Regime is to have any chance of being formulated and supported by the international community. The U.S. cannot proceed if it is expected to pay and risk the most but have relatively little ownership in the region. The U.S. and American companies cannot rely on the whim and decisions of a foreign power in terms of freely operating in the Arctic region. Furthermore, the primary participants in an Arctic Regime must be limited to just the most relevant countries to avoid over-complicating the matter and any future regime operations. This means that the U.S., Canada, and Russia should be the Big Three. Denmark and Norway should be given supporting but minor roles in the regime. The other Scandinavian countries and Iceland may become signatory but not principal members. All of them are relatively small and weak and have had very little activity in the region. Their claims are based far from their home territory and on tiny populations. Allowing them a significant role would most likely complicate the operational and decision making process and it could raise serious questions about the regime’s credibility and substance. And, they cannot be expected to contribute sizeable Arctic forces for security purposes. They, nevertheless, can express their opinions and interests and utilize the Law of the Sea Convention, but the Arctic Regime needs to be based on the three most important countries in the Arctic region. The Big Three need to be the primary administrators of an Arctic Regime.

The U.S., Canada, and Russia need to define clearly the Arctic in terms of international waterways for traversing by all and, on the other hand, specific economic and security areas for the Big Three to take care of. The U.S. and Canada should have a joint and equal partnership in negotiating with Russia. The U.S. government and companies should have equal legal rights and access to the U.S.’s designated side of the Arctic. If the U.S. will be a major protector and actor in the region, then it must have direct access and control over its legitimate claims and monetary resources from American companies. Canada should not be allowed to deny U.S. companies access or prevent the U.S. government and people from benefiting fully and financially from the Arctic region. A joint partnership should mean joint ownership. Canada has more than enough resources and very little need, while the U.S. has tremendous requirements and its government is in desperate need for more income. And, the U.S. has by far the most capabilities to develop and protect the Arctic well into the future. The Arctic region, therefore, should be a shared endeavor that is mutually beneficial to all regime members.

The Arctic Regime, most likely, will come down to Canada accepting a joint partnership and territorial governance with the U.S. over the North American half of the Arctic. If and when this occurs, negotiations with Russia can commence. Details of territorial claims should be defined and agreed upon. Since a sizeable part of the Arctic has not been fully researched in detail, this may assist in facilitating a quick and mutually beneficial agreement by all three parties. Most of the Arctic should be legally opened to all non-military vessels above and below the water. The standard territorial water limits (12-mile sovereignty and 200-mile exclusive economic zone, with a 350-mile possible continental shelf recognition) cannot really be applied with all the islands (melted or still iced over), but they can be stated with regards to the continental landmass of the home countries. In terms of economic and security claims, the splitting of the Arctic into halves or an approximate 40-40-20 split would appear best. If halves, then Russia can oversee its half of the Arctic and the U.S. and Canada can jointly oversee the North American half. Decision making on overall Arctic issues should be based upon unanimity. If there is the other type of split, this would entail a neutral zone around the North Pole area that would be closed to all economic and military activities and would be administered by the Big Three and possibly other countries. The Arctic divisions would all be for economic exploitation and licensing by the home countries. The U.S. and Canada on one side. Russia on the other. Both sides could have the right to hand out licenses to other outside participants. Each member should receive a portion of all the license fees and natural resource royalties (severance taxes) acquired by the other members, in order to ensure a truly cooperative and profitable joint venture; although the largest share of the fees and royalties should go to the member approving the operation. Furthermore, both sides would have the right to secure militarily their Arctic zones. Thus, the U.S. and Canada would have and develop a North American defense perimeter in the Arctic that would include an economic zone. If a neutral zone is established, then an agreed upon international observation force could be used.

The Arctic Regime could have four sections, or commissions to govern various aspects of it. There can be an Economic Commission, with the U.S., Canada, and Russia. This would be for coordinating and informing each side of ongoing and planned economic operations in the Arctic. Each side would not be allowed to interfere in the other side’s area, as long as each was abiding by the terms and conditions of the regime. The U.S. and Canada would have an economic sub-section or sub-commission for their side of the Arctic. Furthermore, there can be a Security Commission, with the Big Three establishing specific numbers and types of military forces allowed in the region. Each side would be required to inform the other of all military operations and movements in the Arctic. No other countries beyond the Big Three would be allowed to operate militarily in the region without serious consequences from the Big Three and international community. In addition, there can be an International Freedom of the Seas Commission, which would be open to all countries in the world and would ensure completely free movement of non-military vessels through the Arctic. And, there can be an Environmental Commission to help oversee and make recommendations for protecting the Arctic region. There already are a number of small environmental forums and agreements on the Arctic region, including the Arctic Council, so they can be built upon and possibly incorporated into this new regime. Finally, if a neutral zone is part of the Arctic Regime, then a Neutral Zone Commission can be added, with open membership for all countries but led by the Big Three.25


Overall, an Arctic Regime is highly advisable. Canada should consider taking the high road, likes its diplomatic forbears of Lester Pearson and other magnanimous Canadians. But, Canada may be diverted towards power politics and nationalistic and opportunistic territorial claims. This raises the theoretical issue of whether there is a ongoing premature and unnecessary use of Realism on an issue which, in turn, is undermining the chances of Liberalism and an international regime to reduce the chances of conflict in the long term. Although emotional and psychological factors can be attributed to the basic claims of sovereignty, Canadians should look beyond these types of attitudes and behaviors. Canada is at a crossroads and the Arctic region presents a major decision for Canada’s future and character. Should Liberalism or Realism predominate on this issue and at this time?

The U.S. has been willing to ignore politely Canada’s claims, but it is unknown for how much longer without serious consequences. Other powers may not be so polite in the future. Canada has the opportunity to lock-in and secure its economic and security interests for the long term. Stabilizing the Arctic region for the rest of this century and beyond should be a top priority for Canada. Sharing the Arctic should be foremost on Canadians’ minds. Hoarding much of the Arctic will only antagonize the major powers, especially its primary friend and neighbor. A joint ownership and partnership would be a truly magnanimous thing for Canadians to choose. It also would be a very sly and strategic policy of securing a substantial amount of the Arctic and ensuring that its closest threats and competitors are part of this international regime. Canadians should remain Canadians and not go down further the power politics road that would require much greater hardships, sacrifices, and risks. Canadians can achieve a sizeable part of their policy objectives by agreeing to give up their nationalistic claims to the Arctic archipelago and pursue a cooperative internationalist approach to the Arctic. An Arctic Regime should be a top priority for all Canadians.

Overall, Americans stand ready to grasp the hands of their Canadian neighbors in friendship when they are ready to do so. The Arctic power vacuum should be filled as soon as possible. A path of peace and prosperity should take precedence over some narrow, hawkish views on the subject. An Arctic Regime can preempt future international competition and conflict and a region dominated by Realism. And, it is possibly the best hope for much of the world in the coming decades in terms of natural resources, shipping lanes, and protecting the regional environment. The world can only hope that an Arctic Regime can be established in due time and diligence. America stands with arms stretched out to Canada. Will Canada reciprocate? An Arctic Regime stands at the precipice of formation. The world awaits Canada’s answer. Scholars and theories await as well.


1. Aslaug Mikkelsen and Oluf Langhelle, eds., Arctic Oil and Gas: Sustainability at Risk? (New York: Routledge, 2008), 2-5, Ed Struzik, The Big Thaw: Travels in the Melting North (Mississauga, Ontario: John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd., 2009), 232-234, Michael Byers, Who Owns the Arctic? Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in the North (Berkeley, CA: Publishers Group West, 2009), 41, and Paul Dittman, “In Defence of Defence: Canadian Arctic Sovereignty and Security,” Journal of Military and Strategic Studies 11, no. 3 (Spring 2009) online: 1-62. See also Frances Abele, et al., eds. Northern Exposure: Peoples, Powers and Prospects in Canada’s North (Montreal: The Institute for Research on Public Policy, 2009), 396-397, Bob Reiss, “The Race to Own the Arctic,” Parade (June 1, 2008): 4-5, and Doug Tsuruoka, “Melting Arctic Ice May Unlock Energy, Ore, and Shipping Lanes,” March 19, 2009
2. Byers, 36-40, John Honderich, Arctic Imperative: Is Canada Losing the North? (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), 56, Andrew Revkin, “A Push to Increase Icebreakers in the Arctic,” August 17, 2008,
3. Alun Anderson, After the Ice: Life, Death, and Geopolitics in the New Arctic (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), 215-219, Byers, 11, 38-40, Jonathan Cribbs, “Arctic Shipping Lanes Open,” February 16, 2009,, Tsuruoka.
4. Byers, 11, 41-42, Anderson, 214-215, Revkin.
5. Reiss, Byers 39-42, Anderson 215-219, Struzik, 234-236, Cribbs.
6. Ken S. Coates, et al., Arctic Front: Defending Canada in the Far North (Toronto: Thomas Allen Publishers, 2008), 82-83, 138-139, 168-183, Byers 2-3, 6-7, 42-44, 48-51, 58, Donat Pharand, The Law of the Sea of the Arctic: With Special Reference to Canada (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1973), 168-179, Abele, 110-117, 120-121. See also the Government of Canada website, including
7. Struzik, 230-236, Byers, 7, 10, Reiss, Revkin, Stratfor, “Italy, Russia: Oil Companies Sign Deal For Arctic Exploration,” April 25, 2012,, Fred Weir, “Global Warming Opens New Arctic Shipping Lane,” October 15, 2009,, and Clifford Krauss, et al., “As Polar Ice Turns to Water, Dreams of Treasure Abound,” October 10, 2005,
8. Byers, 88-93, Scott G. Borgerson, “Arctic Meltdown: The Economic and Security Implications of Global Warming,” Foreign Affairs 87, no. 2 (March/April 2008): 63, Reiss, Abele, 110-113, Struzik, 230-231, Krauss. The United States has signed but not ratified the UNCLOS, while Canada just ratified it in 2003. Russia has ratified UNCLOS. Just before President Bush left office, his administration initiated on January 9, 2009 National Security Presidential Directive/NSPD-66 Arctic Region Policy in which, among many things regarding the Arctic, it called on the U.S. Senate to ratify UNCLOS. For NSPD-66, see United States White House, National Security Presidential Directive/NSPD-66 Arctic Region Policy, January 9, 2009,
9. United States Geological Survey, USGS Arctic Oil and Gas Report: Estimates of Undiscovered Oil and Gas North of the Arctic Circle, July 2008,, Struzik, 232-233, Mikkelsen and Langhelle, 2-5, Byers, 10-11, 41-42, Dittman, 3, Tsuruoka.
10. Byers, 42-44, 48-51, 62-67, Coates, 82-83, 168-183, Government of Canada online, Abele, 116-117.
11. Pharand, 168-179, Byers, 2-3, 6-7, 42-44, 80-83, Coates, 82-83, 168-169. Byers, 80-81, interestingly quotes Donat Pharand before a government committee as saying that “The United States will never agree to recognize our full control over those waters unless they know that we have the capability to exercise that control, which we do not have at the moment” (80). Byers goes on to say that “From a U.S. perspective, Canadian sovereignty combined with a lack of enforcement capacity might be worse than a waterway that was wide open to all. In an international strait, the United States could at least exert a military presence and, on the basis of the inherent right of self-defence, interdict vessels posing an imminent threat to itself or its citizens” (80-81).
12. Byers, 48-51, 112-113, 119-123, Coates, 178, Barry Scott Zellen, On Thin Ice: The Inuit, the State, and the Challenge of Arctic Sovereignty (Toronto: Lexington Books, 2009). There are approximately 30,000 Inuit in Nunavut and 150,000 overall in Canada. There are about 4 million indigenous people around the entire Arctic region.
13. Struzik, 228-231, Byers, 24-25.
14. Byers, 2-3, 48-51, Krauss, Struzik, 230-231, Abele, 110-115.
15. See many of the sources listed above in addition to Elizabeth B. Elliot-Meisel, Arctic Diplomacy: Canada and the United States in the Northwest Passage (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1998), William C. Wonders, ed., Canada’s Changing North (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003), Fikret Berkes, et al., Breaking Ice: Renewable Resource and Ocean Management in the Canadian North (Calgary, Alberta: University of Calgary Press, 2005), Antoni G. Lewkowicz, Poles Apart: A Study in Contrasts (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1999), John E. Udd and A. J. Keen, eds, Mining in the Arctic (Brookfield, Vermont: A. A. Balkema Publishers, 1999), and Diane Andrews Henningfeld, ed., The North and South Poles (New York: Greenhaven Press, 2010).
16. Byers, 62-67, Abele, 114-117.
17. Government of Canada and the National Defense and the Canadian Forces websites, particularly, and their links, Byers, 62, 67. Coates, et al., grade Canada’s past performance on the Arctic and give it an F grade, but they give the Harper Government and its proclaimed goals a B minus for heading in the right direction, although little substance has been achieved yet (pp. 191-196). Coates, et al., also call on Canada to give up on its “internal waters” claim to the Arctic, arguing that the U.S. and world have not and will not accept this claim and that it is an unnecessary barrier to accomplishing much more important Canadian objectives.
18. Struzik, 232-234, Anderson, 198-199, Krauss, Tsuruoka. For more on world energy security, see also Michael T. Klare, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008), Antonio Marquina, ed., Energy Security: Visions from Asia to Europe (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), and Kurt M. Campbell and Jonathon Price, The Global Politics of Energy (Washington, D.C.: the Aspen Institute, 2008).
19. Ibid., Byers, 10-11, 41-42, 88-89, Reiss.
20. Byers, 88-89, Government of Canada, Struzik, 236-237, Abele, 114-115, 134, Coates, 169, 191-196.
21. Byers, 2-3, 74-78, Abele, 117. For more on NORAD and the Arctic, see Charles F. Doran and John H. Sigler, eds., Canada and the United States: Enduring Friendship, Persistent Stress (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1985), Suzanne Holroyd, Canadian and U.S. Defense Planning Toward the Arctic (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1989), John Honderich, Arctic Imperative: Is Canada Losing the North? (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), Charles F. Doran, Forgotten Partnership: U.S.-Canada Relations Today (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), and Joseph T. Jockel, No Boundaries Upstairs (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1987).
22. For more on international regimes, see among many others Stephen D. Krasner, ed., International Regimes (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983). Also, Byers presents a number of other ideas and recommendations for improving the Arctic situation (84-86). Coates, et al., encourage Canada to be less adamant on the internal waterways claim and work with the U.S. on a wider variety of Arctic issues. See also Tsuruoka.
23. Krasner. For more information on the politics of Antarctica and its potential to be a model for the Arctic, see Peter J. Beck, The International Politics of Antarctica (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986), Jeffrey D. Myhre, The Antarctic Treaty System: Politics, Law, and Diplomacy (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1986), M. J. Peterson, Managing the Frozen South: The Creation and Evolution of the Antarctic Treaty System (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988), and Deborah Shapely, The Seventh Continent: Antarctica in a Resource Age (Washington, D.C.: Resources for the Future, 1985).
24. Charles D. Lutes and Peter L. Hays, et al., Toward a Theory of Spacepower: Selected Essays (Washington, D.C.: National Defense University Press, 2011), particularly 266-269.
25. This Arctic Regime proposal is completely the author’s own. More proposals, discussions, and debates are highly encouraged to promote a free exchange of ideas that may help improve the Arctic situation.


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Steve Dobransky
Steve Dobransky

Steve Dobransky is an Adjunct Professor at Lakeland College. He is completing his Ph.D. at Kent State University and is ABD. He has an M.A. from Ohio University and a B.A. from Cleveland State University. He majors in International Relations and Justice Studies. Contact:

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