Arctic Yearbook 2015 - Page 257

257 Arctic Yearbook 2015 which addressed in its programme the question of greater involvement of Observers in the work of the Arctic Council. Moreover, whereas occurrence of the Arctic Five format that followed signing of the Ilullisat Declaration in 2008 only by Arctic rim states raised a number of questions about the legitimacy of various forums relevant for debating Arctic issues, the Arctic Council eventually came out of those debates “revived and even strengthened” (Pedersen 2012: 205), when in the Ministerial meeting in Nuuk in 2011 ministers announced the first legally binding agreement (on search and rescue) negotiated under the auspices of the AC and decided to “respond to the challenges and opportunities facing the Arctic by establishing a standing Arctic Council secretariat” (Arctic Council 2011).16 However, external events may have also potentially strong adverse effects on circumpolar cooperation. At present, one much discussed issue is whether cooperation at the Arctic Council can continue after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, an act strongly condemned by the other Arctic states. Even though the situation is still unfolding, arguably the AC chair can play a role in those processes. We may be seeing this happening presently, with the United States in its position as AC chair, taking a much more conciliatory approach towards Russia on Arctic matters than it is able to take on nonArctic matters. Such appeasing, rather than belligerent, rhetoric adopted by the US AC officials helps to insulate the Council from broader geopolitics as well as maintain the circumpolar platform as an open channel of communication and collaboration at times of tensions and much worsening relations in other parts of the world. Conclusions It seems fair to say that the office of the Arctic Council chair has grown in stature over time by default rather than design. In course of negotiations over establishment of the Arctic Council, wrangles over the design and the procedural issues, as noticed by David Scrivener, represented in fact debates on more fundamental questions of purpose and direction (Scrivener 1999: 57). Since the United States strongly opposed an idea of a new international organization with circumpolar focus, it consistently held the minimalist view of the role the Council, objected to the creation of a permanent secretariat and insisted on confining the actual role of the AC chair. Yet it appears that the AC rules of procedure approved first in 1998 and revised in 2013 left enough scope for action for the Arctic states, as they consecutively assumed the chair office, to use it to advance their national priorities and interests, even though they were constrained to some degree by the consensual nature of decision-making in the Council. In addition, the international environment and relative détente following the end of Cold War, along with the upfront exclusion of controversial, military security matters from the Council deliberations enabled the chairs to carry out functions extending beyond strictly assigned procedural tasks and formalities. Perhaps the most noticeable example of the AC chair’s discretion has been