By MARY SIMON
Published November 1, 2010
While most international leaders prefer to talk about cooperation in the Arctic rather than competition and confrontation, there is risk of another Cold War developing over who owns and controls the Arctic.
As the people who call the Arctic home, Inuit have no interest in returning to a Cold War mix of sterile politics, misplaced resources, and missed opportunities.
The last Cold War saw our homeland dotted from coast to coast with Distant Early Warning Sites to ensure that no country came over the North Pole and caught North America militarily unaware. When that Cold War ended those systems were scaled back, and our homeland was left dotted with the debris: abandoned military buildings and equipment; rusting oil drums; and, toxic waste sites.
Other parts of the Arctic outside Canada, such as the Kola Peninsula in Russia, have suffered even worse environmental degradation. We have spent decades working towards having our lands and waters restored to a healthy state. And that work must now be factored into the much larger threats of climate change adaptation.
History tells us that a military build-up by one Arctic state will result in the military build-up of other Arctic states. On the one hand, Arctic states speak of international cooperation and working together through peaceful means and dialogue. On the other, they are engaged in expanded military capabilities in that region.
Those following Arctic sovereignty issues recently saw Russia host an international forum dubbed, “The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue.” Yet while President Putin discussed the importance of cooperation and partnerships in the Arctic at the meeting, Russia talks tough about foreign threats and reveals its plans to increase its combat potential in the Arctic with new ships and stations.
Earlier this year Denmark released a discussion paper recommending the creation of its own dedicated Arctic military contingent. Last year, Norway set in motion the purchase of 48 F-35 fighter jets, in part, because of their Arctic patrol suitability. The United States is bolstering its Arctic capability. Canada has set in motion the purchase of 65 F-35 fighter jets stating Arctic sovereignty concerns as part of its decision, and our nation’s annual military exercises in the Arctic are growing in size and scope.
Every four years, Inuit representatives from across the circumpolar world—Greenland, Alaska, Russian and Canada—meet to state a shared Inuit view on breaking global and regional events. Last summer, Inuit met in Nuuk Greenland. The very first paragraph of the Nuuk Declaration adopted at the Inuit circumpolar meeting reads: “Remembering that the respectful sharing of resources, culture, and life itself with others is a fundamental principle of being Inuit, and is the fabric that holds us together as one people across four countries….”
That is not just “feel good” political rhetoric. It is a statement of core Inuit belief and intention.
It is incumbent upon all Arctic states to work cooperatively with each other, and with Inuit, in a manner consistent with both the spirit and the letter of the Law of the Sea, the 2007 UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the 2009 Circumpolar Inuit Declaration on Arctic Sovereignty, and the 2010 Nuuk Declaration. It is only through full respect for established and emerging international law and human rights standard that we can effectively settle disagreements and disputes that arise with regard to territorial claims, the management of shared natural resources, and common environmental challenges.
Every nation state has the responsibility to defend its territorial borders. But unchecked militarization of the Arctic is neither necessary nor responsible. Nor is the rhetoric that so often is used to sell militarization at home and abroad.
I call upon the leaders of all Arctic states to remember the last Cold War. To remember the lack of trust it created, the international tension, the lost opportunities, the billions of dollars that were spent on military hardware and posturing throughout its course that could better have been spent enriching the lives of ordinary people. No reasonable person should want to return to those stressful and expensive times, especially in an era of global fiscal constraint and austerity.
Inuit seek to make their Arctic homeland a region of peace. And an enduring example and inspiration to the rest of the world of how common sense and common advantage can prevail over Cold War habits and risks.
Mary Simon is president Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.