The US and Russia are going toe to toe in the Arctic Circle. As climate change shrinks the polar ice caps, new shipping routes are opening up and Russia wants to set the rules. And it’s using its new chairmanship of the Arctic Council to do that. If that doesn’t work, there’s always the Russian military.
For decades, Russia’s oil giants have been polluting parts of the country’s once thriving landscape, often in secret, spilling oil onto the land and into the Arctic Ocean, poisoning the water and destroying the livelihood of local communities and Indigenous Peoples.
A map of Arctic Council members. Member countries are in dark blue. Observers are in light blue.
The Arctic Council is a high-level intergovernmental forum that addresses issues faced by the Arctic governments and the indigenous people of the Arctic. The eight countries with sovereignty over the lands within the Arctic Circle constitute the members of the council: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States. Outside these, there are some observer states.
Observer status is open to non-Arctic states approved by the Council at the Ministerial Meetings that occur once every two years. Observers have no voting rights in the Council. As of May 2019, thirteen non-Arctic states have observer status. Observer states receive invitations for most Council meetings. Their participation in projects and task forces within the working groups is not always possible, but this poses few problems as few observer states want to participate at such a detailed level.
Observer states consist of the following (2019):
- Germany, 1998
- Netherlands, 1998
- Poland, 1998
- United Kingdom, 1998
- France, 2000
- Spain, 2006
- China, 2013
- India, 2013
- Italy, 2013
- Japan, 2013
- South Korea, 2013
- Singapore, 2013
- Switzerland, 2017
In 2011, the Council clarified its criteria for admission of observers, most notably including a requirement of applicants to “recognize Arctic States’ sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the Arctic” and “recognize that an extensive legal framework applies to the Arctic Ocean including, notably, the Law of the Sea, and that this framework provides a solid foundation for responsible management of this ocean”
Read more here: Arctic Council – Wikipedia