Arctic Yearbook 2014 - Page 466

  Commentary ENTERING ICY WATERS: THE ARCTIC AGENDA AT A CROSSROADS H.E. Thordur Aegir Oskarsson The considerably successful work of the Arctic Council since its launch in 1996 has increasingly been characterized by the pragmatic cooperation among the eight Arctic state members in various fields. The Arctic Council has enjoyed a solid political tailwind for almost two decades, resulting in a robust institution that has moved away from being exclusively a policy shaping body into the territory of pragmatic policy making reflected in two Arctic-wide agreements on search and rescue and prevention of oil spills. However, currently the Council is facing increasing challenges, not only rising from its agenda, but more acutely from challenges stemming from events external to the Arctic region. Juha Käpylä and Harri Mikkola, in a previously published briefing paper, have argued that “should an interstate conflict surface in the Arctic, the source is most likely to be related to a complex global dynamics that may spill over to the region and which cannot be addressed with existing Arctic governance mechanisms.” The crisis in the Ukraine is a testament to this argument. Last September the United States and the European Union introduced economic sanctions against Russia that directly affect offshore hydrocarbon resource development in the Arctic. These sanctions are not high on the political and economic risk scale, but they confirm that the Arctic region is not absolutely immune from external events. Apart from external effects on Arctic cooperation, it is irresponsible to disregard the possibility of emerging tensions arising among the member states of the Arctic Council on Arctic specific Thordur Aegir Oskarsson is the Ambassador of Iceland to the United Kingdom.