It has been a pleasure to share the reports from students who participated in the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik last month. The final report comes from Kevin, who is in the LLM program.
Over a long weekend in October, Fletcher’s Maritime Studies Program led a 37-person contingent to the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland. Hosted by a non-profit and non-partisan organization based in Reykjavik, the assembly brings together an interdisciplinary network of representatives from government, academia, NGOs, and indigenous communities to discuss development of the Arctic and its global relevance. For students honing the skills required to address complex problems from a multi-disciplinary perspective, the Arctic Circle Assembly offered a robust opportunity to learn about issues that will demand growing international attention in coming years.
While the conference agenda included a broad range of topics, as an American attorney with a Navy background, I found three to be particularly compelling. Each illustrates the multi-disciplinary nature of emerging issues: (i) East Asian Engagement in the Arctic, (ii) Legal Uncertainties in a Changing Environment, and (iii) The Role of the U.S. Coast Guard in the Arctic.
East Asian Engagement in the Arctic. Diplomatic representatives from China, Japan, and South Korea spoke during plenary meetings of the Arctic Circle Assembly, taking advantage of the opportunity to discuss their nations’ respective records of Arctic engagement and cooperation. The representatives emphasized their nations’ contributions to Arctic scientific research, while referencing their desire for an increased role in Arctic governance. The Chinese and Japanese representatives also specifically addressed opportunities for shared economic development. Taken together, the statements illustrated the geopolitical implications of opening Arctic sea lanes and prospective resource development in the central Arctic.
Legal Uncertainties in a Changing Environment. A number of speakers present for the Arctic Circle Assembly addressed implications of a changing Arctic environment for relevant legal regimes, from application of environmental protections under the Endangered Species Act in Alaska to unresolved questions associated with the United States’ voluntary exclusion from the UNCLOS regime and development of its continental shelf. Senior representatives from Iceland, Russia, and the United States also discussed questions related to fisheries management and migrating fish populations, a topic with significant implications for both domestic economies and international relations.
The Role of the United States Coast Guard in the Arctic. On the second day of the assembly, the Vice Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, Admiral Charles Michel, spoke to the combined delegation from The Fletcher School and Harvard Kennedy School. In a wide-ranging conversation, Admiral Michel discussed the size and significance of the United States icebreaking fleet, the Coast Guard’s support for scientific research in the Arctic, as well as the unique role the Coast Guard plays in building and maintaining relationships in the maritime domain.
On the whole, the Arctic Circle Assembly presented a vibrant opportunity to learn about matters of interest from people of differing experience and perspective, many of them at the forefront of their disciplines. It also proved an opportunity to build relationships with counterparts both from Fletcher and around the world. And, perks being what they are, many of us from the Fletcher contingent capped off the assembly with a drive over the Continental Rift. On the whole, a productive weekend!
(Kevin notes that the statements in this post are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Defense, U.S. Navy, or any of their components.)