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Norway told Canada what to do about maritime disputes

Original title of the following document is Canada, take note: Here’s how to resolve maritime disputes

The Arctic agreement between Russia and Norway provides valuable lessons on trust and the long-range view, write Sergej Lavrov and Jonas Gahr Støre.

It is often said there are few truly untamed places left on Earth, but the windswept horizons of the Arctic surely qualify. Some political analysts maintain that the geopolitical landscape is equally harsh – a lawless region poised for conflict due to an accelerating “race for the North Pole.”

We disagree. Instead, we firmly believe that the Arctic can be used to demonstrate just how much peace and collective interests can be served through the implementation of the international rule of law. Moreover, we believe that the challenges in the Arctic should inspire momentum in international relations, based on co-operation rather than rivalry and confrontation, and we believe that important steps have already been taken toward this goal.

Here is a prime example: On Sept. 15 in Murmansk, Russia and Norway signed the bilateral Treaty Concerning Maritime Delimitation and Co-operation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. The agreement divides a previously disputed area of about 175,000 square kilometres, one potentially rich in natural resources. Our two countries will also adopt detailed treaty provisions regarding co-operation on the exploitation of hydrocarbon deposits and on fisheries management.

Why is this agreement a notable milestone? Because unresolved maritime boundaries can be among the most difficult disputes for states to resolve. Indeed, this agreement was 40 years in the making. In the end, however, the Law of the Sea provided a framework that allowed us to overcome the zero-sum logic of competition and replace it with a process focused on finding a win-win solution.

We hope that the agreement will inspire other countries in their attempts to resolve their maritime disputes, in the High North and elsewhere, in a way that avoids conflict and strengthens international co-operation.

Our experience offers three lessons.

The first is that enormous value can be created – both for individual countries and for the international community at large – when states consider their interests in a long-term perspective, aiming for sustainable solutions. This is exactly the case for the boundary in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean. The value unlocked for each country by settling this boundary now will far exceed the potential advantage one country could have gained by holding out for a larger gain in maritime space for itself. Reaching an agreement also opens up the possibility of collaborating in other areas – from scientific co-operation to setting maritime safety and environmental standards – that will benefit the northern communities in both countries in the future.

Second, the Russian-Norwegian experience proves that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides a solid framework for addressing issues that will arise as the climate in the Arctic changes and the Arctic Ocean is transformed. That point was also stressed in 2008 when the five states bordering the central Arctic Ocean – Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia and the United States – jointly issued the Ilulissat Declaration. It acknowledges the challenges posed by climate change and the melting of the Arctic ice, and confirms that the extensive international legal framework applies to the Arctic Ocean. Of course, the UN convention does not outline specific policy answers to all the challenges we face in the North. However, it represents the primary and indispensable legal basis for future negotiations and co-operation concerning the Arctic region.

Finally, our experience teaches us that investing in patient dialogue is crucial in order to build trust between parties in international relations. Without trust, parties will not engage in the type of exploratory and creative discussions that are required to reach solutions. Vital arenas in this regard are the Arctic Council (where eight Arctic states meet at the political and expert levels) and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. These are important forums for fostering dialogue, building trust and integrating new knowledge into policy and decision-making. Thus, strengthening these institutions is an important investment.

Co-operation is not always easy. And putting these lessons into practice will certainly take time and require effort. But we are convinced that working together in these ways greatly improves the odds of developing collective solutions whose value far exceeds the sum of the individual parts. For if there is one lesson that the biting cold and the dark winters of the Arctic should teach us, it is that no one survives alone out there for long.

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