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Geopolitics and Arctic governance between cooperation, strategic resources and sustainability

Geopolitics and Arctic governance between cooperation, strategic resources and sustainability

Climate change and the potential for energy resources generated international interest in the Arctic. Starting from what emerged at the conference organized in Rome at the SIOI by the Norwegian Embassy in collaboration with Nord University, the Centro Studi Italia Canada has deepened the theme of the "Arctic question", the new Canadian strategy of the North, the international and Italian positions.


Laura Borzi*


On September 18 in Rome was held at the SIOI (Italian Society for International Organization) a conference organized by the Embassy of Norway in collaboration with the Nord University and sponsored by ENI SpA, entitled "Arctic Connections, Italy and Norway in the Arctic: between cooperation and future challenges ". The meeting analyzed the geopolitical dynamics in the Arctic, a region that has long occupied the attention of the international community, especially since climate change, which in the area manifests itself in advance and with a greater rapidity than the rest of the planet, has focused the attention on the numerous problems that this involves on a regional and global scale: what happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic. Experts, academics, Italians and foreigners, and diplomats participated in the symposium. Among the guests we noticed the presence of Alexandra Bugailiskis, Ambassador of Canada in Rome. Canada, which is among the five states bordering the Arctic, is among the most involved countries in the northern issues.


The President of the SIOI, Franco Frattini, opened the works, underlining the widespread and growing attention to the Artic on a global scale and the need for the development of the North to be carried out in the name of sustainability or respecting the fragile ecosystem, both in terms of physical environment that for what concerns to the human component constituted by the approximately four milion inhabitants of the area.



As is known, there are two main reasons for this renewed interest: first of all the impact of global warming, which opened the area to the perspective of circumpolar navigation and, secondly, the enormous potential of economic resources that the Pole North hosts. It is estimated, based on probabilistic models, that the Arctic contains about 22% of the world's reserves undiscovered hydrocarbons, but technically exploitable.

The analysts' predictions in this regard range from a race to resources, which sees scenarios of conflict looming to claim the riches of a region that is now accessible, to a furor of greater international cooperation, a prospect actually supported by Arctic states that well understand the the value of a responsible management based on a consistent institutional structure that, at least up to the present, has guaranteed a good degree of governance and stability.



The growing interest in the planet Arctic is clearly manifested by the attention given by a multiplicity of actors to what constitutes the pivot of Arctic governance, the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum which has been promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction between the Arctic States for over 20 years. The Membership consists of five coastal states of the Arctic Ocean: Canada, Denmark, United States, Russian Federation and Norway joined by Sweden, Iceland and Finland. In recent years, participation in the work of the Council has greatly increased with the request for the status of permanent Observer by countries also geographically distant from the North Pole, a status obtained by Italy in 2013. Finally, in recent years, many Arctic countries have produced strategic documents at various levels, defining priorities and objectives in the region where there was at the same time a constant increase in military infrastructure.




Indeed, if in the past century, with the exception of Russia and Norway, the Arctic remained a matter of secondary importance, even in the international politics of the Arctic States, the current dynamics constitute significant opportunities and challenges for a group of actors involved in the policies Arctic. The presence of Ambassador Bugailiskis at the SIOI Congress confirms how the Arctic remains for Canada an important issue of domestic politics, since the North, as the Canada's Northern Strategy of 20091 says, is essential to the Canadian identity. To this must be added the awareness that Canada will be able to act as a relevant global player on the management of the Arctic dossier in the years to come. In this sense, we would follow the model already followed in the past, since the Canadian Government was decisive in promoting international collaboration in the North, actively engaging in the process that led to the creation of the Arctic Council with the Ottawa Declaration (1996) and , subsequently, participating in the work of the various working groups in which the consistent activity of the forum was developed.

Canada is currently in the final phase of the development of a new Arctic Strategy, a project undertaken by the Federal Government since 2016 with the aim of updating the previous Arctic Documents (2009-2010) and respond more promptly to the problems developed in the last twenty years.

Changes in the global geostrategic landscape have also forced Canada to rethink priorities and objectives. In this sense, the response that Ottawa is elaborating is the result of a "bottom-up" policy that sees the active involvement of the indigenous peoples in the consideration that it is the Arctic peoples who are the ones who have the greatest voice about the modalities through which their requests can be addressed and resolved. The environmental, legal and international agenda is complex as the instruments available to Ottawa are available to guarantee the well-being of the population and national interests. It seems that the Arctic is a fundamental dossier capable of containing many aspects of the Canadian future: sovereignty, military capability, resource management, respect for the environment, international relations.

Actually, in the past Canadian rhetoric on the importance of the Arctic for national identity had not benefited from adequate resources in view of the concrete implementation of the necessary infrastructure in the North. Differently, the times seem now ripe for a real integrated strategic approach that could make the North a stimulus of Canadian foreign policy for a long time to come.


The Rome conference emphasized how the themes to be taken into account in the development of policies in the Arctic are innumerable. All the participants, in the context of the various issues addressed, in terms of geopolitics, sustainable socio-economic development, scientific research and not least of the human dimension, underlined how at a time of great tensions and international instability it is necessary for the Arctic to re-establish a zone of the world marked by cooperation. Climate change and new geostrategic imperatives have profoundly and irreversibly transformed the region, which has become a real barometer of the state of health of the planet.

If we add energetic and commercial interests and also the potential territorial rivalries, the area is also a lens for observing the world to come, so it must be present. As for Italy, our country, which owes a lot to the commitment that President Frattini has made to the Arctic in the institutional offices in which he operated, has provided for the elaboration of an Arctic Strategy2 in 2015, a signal of a significant choice in foreign policy.