Russia and the Changing Geopolitics of the Arctic

Russia and the Changing Geopolitics of the Arctic

Over the past two years, the Arctic Circle has been the object of both exciting and alarming speculation. The planting of the Russian flag on the North Pole sea floor led to stories of a race to claim its resources. The opening of the fabled Northwest Passage and Russia's Northern Sea Route led to reports of shortened trade routes -- saving thousands of miles and many days at sea -- between Europe and the Far East. Government forecasts of large -- if as-yet undiscovered -- oil and gas reserves have given rise to concerns over sovereignty, security and sustainability throughout the region. Finally, the plight of the polar bear in an era of greatly reduced ice cover raised conservation concerns over protecting endangered species.

The highlights of the past two years are in fact the result of changes over the past 30. Over that time, winter ice cover has declined by nearly 10 percent. Summertime observations in 2007 revealed the area of ice cover reduced by one third from its 1979-2000 average. These changes have raised hopes of economic development and concerns for the environment. In preparation for possible discoveries of resources on the sea floor, attention has first turned to securing recognition of jurisdictional claims in the Arctic seas, which in turn determine rights to mineral resources on the ocean floor.

While it might appear as if recent Arctic activities are without precedent, most of the rules for resolving matters of jurisdiction and responsibility have been around for more than 25 years, in the form of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The convention is extensive in its determination of the rights and duties of states in all areas of the world's oceans. However, it is more a constitution than a body of law. In many cases there are ambiguities and gaps that must be resolved through additional international agreements or national action. Nevertheless, the convention ensures that, despite alarmist forecasts, Arctic disputes, when they arise, are likely to be matters of law and diplomacy rather than conflict or stalemate.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.