Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Polar Conference

On Monday, Secretary Clinton opened a Joint Session of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting and the Arctic Council with a speech that highlighted the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty, and vowed to work on a similar effort in the Arctic.

This speech was important, because it was the first time that the Obama Administration has laid out its policy for the Arctic. Recall, the Bush Administration had issued a "Presidential Directive" on Arctic Policy on January 9, shortly before leaving office. Controversial sections of that policy included an assertion that the Northwest Passage should be treated as international waters, the ratification of the U.N Convention on the Law of the Sea, and an assertion that “energy development in the Arctic region will play an important role in meeting growing global energy demand.”

Up to now, the new Administration had not signaled the direction of its policy in the Arctic, and how they would follow-up on the Bush Administration directive. Clinton’s speech served notice that the U.S. sees the way to engaging in the Arctic through cooperation, as opposed to competition. We will continue to maintain the right of open passage through the Northwest Passage, but President Obama will also work to resolve that issue, though dialogue (and his personal charm).

From my conversations with people involved in Arctic defense policy, the Russians – aside from occasional blatant publicity stunts – have been the model of cooperation in the Arctic. The same can be said for the other Arctic nations. One thing that’s convenient about the Arctic is that the nations with a defined interest up there are very limited. In small groups (5 in this case), its much more difficult to make trouble and much easier to have a helpful dialogue and cooperate on areas of concern.

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