Cooperation in Arctic science has usually preceded other forms of Arctic cooperation, possibly because political implications were less controversial, or because it served as a more neutral testing ground as compared to governmental cooperation.
The Cold War acted as a barrier to broader collaboration, even if some limited cooperation took place. However, we smelled a change when we learned about concepts such as glasnost and perestroika, followed by Soviet invitations to bilateral cooperation in the North.
Oddly enough, the first informal discussions started in the South. As most of the countries engaged in Arctic research were members of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), the first contacts were initiated through this network in 1986. It was agreed that discussions should be started by Arctic countries, as the Arctic area was still very sensitive. At that time, Arctic rim nations was the term used, so communication with them was started with a view to broaden the cooperation to all countries with a land area north of the Arctic Circle.
We had a simple working vision: the organization should cover all the Arctic and all areas of science. With those big ambitions, we started corresponding with a number of people and drafting some of our ideas. At the first International Arctic Science Committee (IASC) planning meeting, held in Oslo in February 1987, a small working group – myself, Fred Roots and Jørgen Taagholt – was appointed to elaborate on the ideas presented at the meeting as well as those drafted earlier. The outcome “International Communication and Co-ordination in Arctic Science: A Proposal for Action” was a comprehensive report on the need for an organization like IASC and how to create an entity that would meet those needs. It also drew attention to ‘an intergovernmental forum on Arctic science issues’.
Two outside events had a strong impact on further IASC planning, namely the Finnish Initiative and a speech by Gorbachev in Murmansk. The roots of the Finnish Initiative can be found in the discussions over the location of the IASC Secretariat. This initiative led to the founding of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS), a precursor of the Arctic Council. Gorbachev’s Murmansk speech, on the other hand, had a tremendous impact as it gave a strong signal on opening up multilateral cooperation in the Arctic. Suddenly the IASC planning process gained momentum, and Arctic intergovernmental cooperation was also within reach.
After more than three years of discussions and planning, IASC was founded in 1990. It has been called the ‘John the Baptist’ of international Arctic cooperation. Clearly, IASC pointed the way for international science cooperation in the Arctic. Furthermore, the IASC planning process pointed to the need for governmental contacts (‘intergovernmental forum’) which materialized through AEPS and later the Arctic Council.
For historical accounts and documents of the 25-year history of IASC, visit iasc25.iasc.info