What everybody can be absolutely certain of is the Soviet Union's profound and certain interest in preventing the North of the planet, its Polar and sub-Polar regions and all Northern countries from ever again becoming an arena of war, and in forming there a genuine zone of peace and fruitful cooperation. (Mikhail Gorbachev, “Murmansk Initiative Speech”, Oct 1, 1987)
The foundations of the current framework of international cooperation in the Arctic – perhaps most clearly manifested in the Arctic Council and other circumpolar organizations like the University of the Arctic (UArctic) – can be traced to a speech by then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in Murmansk in 1987. In his speech, Gorbachev called for the Arctic to be established as an international ‘zone of peace’ and called on the Arctic states and other regional actors to cooperate on issues of scientific research and environmental protection. This call was taken up through the Rovaniemi Process in 1991 that established the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy, which in turn resulted in the creation of the Arctic Council in 1996. The International Arctic Science Committee was created in 1990 as part of the same process. UArctic, founded in 2001, and the Arctic Economic Council, founded in 2014, were both established on the initiative of the Arctic Council to complement its functions.
Those of us engaged in international cooperation in the Arctic have now enjoyed 25 years of active collaboration with our Russian colleagues and friends – a situation we now consider completely normal, but that was extremely rare during the Cold War. The region and the world as a whole have benefited from this cooperation as evidenced in the drive behind the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), the focus on the role of the Arctic in global climate change, the unique position of indigenous peoples in the Arctic Council, regional demilitarization, coastal state cooperation through the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and joint ambitions for the safe and fair transportation and resource utilization.
The Arctic states have both the resources and instruments for cooperation, and their peoples have the will. The wise stewardship of the North will benefit not just the Arctic but the whole world, and we can also be an important inspiration to others globally. This is particularly the case now, at a time when humankind needs to find a new way forward for future generations and the healthy stewardship of this unique planet.
Even as geopolitical insecurity elsewhere in the world creates tensions that influence the Arctic, we have continued with ‘business as usual’– not because we are ignorant of threats to cooperation, but precisely because of them. Our best way to ensure mutual understanding and focus on common interests is to maintain cooperation and keep an open dialogue. Through UArctic we have strived to create a common Arctic region and circumpolar identity among researchers, students and leaders. We will work with business and regional and national governments to ensure that the generation leading the Arctic in 2030 does not have to start over, but can continue on a platform of mutual understanding and partnership.
[Read the article in the Shared Voices magazine here.]