Tag Archives: law of the sea

Leif Christian Jensen & Geir Hønneland (eds.), 2017 Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2017)

Over the last four decades, the study of Arctic politics has developed into a considerable disciplinary niche, extending to also incorporate perspectives from other fields such as developmental studies and law. Leif Christian Jensen and Geir Hønneland’s edited collection, Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic is a large and useful addition to this body that supplies current topics of relevance to the overall field. Employing contributing authors from multiple areas of expertise and institutions, this handbook provides an extensive and dynamic overview of the Arctic’s most pressing political issues and topics.

As pointed out in the introduction, Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic was compiled in response to a change in political climates, from the “age of the Arctic” to the “scramble for the Arctic”. This volume consists of twenty-nine unique articles of impressive assortment, separated into four thematic sections: ‘Geopolitics and Strategic Resources’, ‘Law of the Sea’, ‘Arctic Institutions and Specific Fields of Cooperation’, and ‘National Approaches to the Arctic’. As the title suggests, the collection was intended cover the breadth of political development and change experienced by today’s Arctic, with all manner of expertise addressed by many contributors from European countries, North America and Australia. As the editor remarks, other additional functional fields are also covered, such as climate change, energy, indigenous issues, jurisdiction, marine resources, pollution and preparedness and emergency response.

The first section is “Geopolitics and Strategic Resources”. In this part, articles such as “Arctic Securitization and Climate Change”, and “Strengthening US Arctic Policy through US-Russia Maritime Cooperation” trace the developments and conundrums transforming the political arena of our contemporary Arctic. Of particular interest in this section is Mark Nuttall’s piece “Subsurface Politics: Greenlandic Discourses on Extractive Industries”. In his article, Nuttall takes an ethnographic approach to explore and discuss the challenges of Greenland’s position as a new resource frontier, emphasising how political discourse surrounding the subsurface (what it entails and how it is imagined) intersects with resource development. Nuttall details the politics surrounding resource development in Greenland with sufficient enough range as to give the reader a general snapshot into the overall resource debate encountered by other Artic nations. Other articles in “Geopolitics and Strategic Resources” have also been chosen for their ability to render specific issues into their larger implications.

The second section, “Law of the Sea”, confronts many of the Arctic’s delicate legal enigmas, such as maritime boundary disputes, Arctic marine mammals in environmental and trade law, legal frameworks of outer continental shelf claims, and Canada’s Artic sovereignty. Purposely approached from a legal point of view, these articles manage to dissect the various arguments encompassing these legal dilemmas without any accompanied personal opinions. Unique to this book of Arctic politics is a dedicated legal section. Its utilization helps to both separate the many voices of this collection and lend clarity to overall debates in current Arctic politics.

The third section, “Arctic Institutions and Specific Fields of Cooperation”, is a carefully chosen collection with the specific purpose of highlighting the abundance and importance of cooperation in the Arctic. Well known topics, such as the Arctic council, are blended with newer subjects, such as China’s increasing Arctic ambitions, and together generate fresh ideas and areas of research pertaining to Arctic cooperation. This section is of particular interest due to its bridging of cooperation topics with alternative social concepts, such as Carina and Keskitalo’s article on “The role of discourse analysis in understanding spatial systems”, in which the concept of the Arctic is analyzed through discourse topics. While this section’s inclusion into the overall work is important for its coverage of new topics in cooperation, it has gathered some of the articles that may not have been easily classified into the other three sections, such as “Arctic change through a political reading” by Monica Tennberg. As a result, this section does seem to lack a general cohesive theme with regards to the articles presented. Regardless of its slightly miscellaneous nature, this section still helps take in the pertinent articles that would have been perhaps otherwise overlooked due to their contrasting content.

The final section is “National Approaches to the Arctic”, an interesting juxtaposition to its preceding section on Arctic cooperation, whose articles command the final pages of this collection to illustrate the various political interests, policies and complexities of Arctic and non-Arctic nations. This section exhibits the new and current policies in regards to national interests produced in the last while. This section particularly succeeds at demonstrating the book’s theme of demonstrating the changing from the “age of the Arctic” to the “scramble for the Arctic”, with articles on Russia’s northern interests, the European Union’s Arctic policy and Poland’s new science diplomacy approach. It is this collection that helps allude toward the plausible political topics and conundrums of the future, and leave the reader with these possibilities churning in mind.

Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic is superb overall. One of the volume’s few drawbacks is its size. In reality, the book’s title as “handbook”, may justify its extensiveness, however the length of this 617-page collection simply doesn’t make for light reading. Consequently, the targeted audience is slightly limited by its size and specialized content. Indeed, this book can be enjoyed by all readers, however it is better employed and possibly appreciated by Arctic scholars, students, and experts.

This minor criticism aside, Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic serves as an excellent and essential compendium of current topics in Arctic politics. This collection should be celebrated as a fundamental staple to any person involved in the field or study of Arctic politics.

Timo Koivurova, QIN Tianbao, Sébastien Duyck & Tapio Nykänen (eds.), Arctic Law and Governance: The Role of China and Finland (London: Hart Publishing, 2017)

This edited collection of essays is the product of a two-year project to assess and compare Chinese approaches to the Arctic with Finnish and/or EU approaches. These three entities are quite distinctive in population, politics and power and hence are not an obvious triumvirate. Nevertheless, the books’ chapters draw out interesting points of comparison. China is a relative newcomer to international relations and economic development in the Arctic. Backed by both military and economic clout, it triggers concerns amongst Arctic inhabitants and other stakeholders regarding its ambitions. Such worries are not helped by China’s closed political decision-making and limited official statements on its Arctic policies. This project, therefore, aims at increasing knowledge and understanding of China’s interests and expectations in the region.

The introduction to the book provides a good summary of the analyses that follow in the self-standing chapters which are themselves grouped into three Parts: Chinese Perspectives; Comparison between Finland and China; and Comparison between the EU and China. As a collection of essays, the book does not have a single or overarching thesis as such but a number of common themes are identified in the introductory and concluding chapters (by the 4 editors). One repeated them is climate change and pollution. Climate change is not coming to the Arctic: it is already here. China is the World’s biggest fossil fuel consumer and responsible for 29% of global greenhouse gas emissions (the EU, 11%). However, black carbon – a short term climate forcer – in the Arctic comes mostly from Europe. Europe is also a more significant source of the persistent organic pollutants (POPS) that end up in the Arctic (7). Another theme is economic development: even if the rights to exploit natural resources lie with the Arctic States and the peoples within them, the viability of doing so pivots on demand – and that demand is predominantly Chinese and European (8.)

The chapters go a long way to making up for China’s decision not to publish a comprehensive Arctic strategy or make regular and clear statements about its Arctic plans. China is not necessarily to be blamed for this: China is a lot more significant in the Arctic than the Arctic is for China, even if the book demonstrates that Chinese interest (and interests) in the Arctic have grown swiftly in recent years.

QIN Tianbao and LI Miaomiao’s chapter, “Strengthening China’s Role in the Arctic Council” calls for an official Chinese Arctic strategy but is itself rather more candid than an official State policy document is likely to be and as a result, probably more useful. The two authors make a rather bold proposal that China become a fully-fledged member of the Arctic Council (42), which will raise a few eyebrows amongst the more territorially sensitive of the Arctic States. Let’s just say that an official, published Chinese Arctic strategy is the more likely of the two scenarios in the near-term!

Ren Shidan turns to Chinese Arctic research and points to, amongst other things, frustration with Russia regarding access (53). She argues for freedom of research in the Arctic and rejects arguments that Chinese research is a foil for long-term plans to strip the region of resources. However, her concerns regarding Norway’s interpretation of the Svalbard Treaty (concerns shared by a number of European states) turn the chapter back to resource development (55-57).

Julia Jalo and Tapio Nykänen identify Chinese priorities in the Arctic based on World Affairs (a government-controlled magazine and unofficial mouthpiece). Only nine articles on the Arctic have been published since 2004 (indicating that the Arctic is still a relatively peripheral zone in Chinese politics). However, eight of these articles were published in 2008 or later, peaking when Chinese sought and accepted its seat as an observer at the Arctic Council in 2013, suggesting that interest is growing. The authors recognise that China is often viewed as a ‘threat’ in the Arctic, especially by those taking a classical realist approach, but they conclude that either China is indeed playing down its real intentions or that (more likely in their view) China is genuinely concerned about climate change and other environmental problems in the Arctic. In either case, they agree with QIN Tianbao and LI Miaomiao that a published strategy would help to clarify the situation.

Xiaoyi Jiang and Xiaoguang Zhou then consider maritime sovereignty and rights in the Arctic, looking in particular at the potential of the Northern Sea Route as an alternative to (or at least a supplement to) the Malacca route – even if they also note that Chinese shipping companies are adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach (96). They comment that China “has virtually no influence on the decision-making process at ministerial meetings” (of the Arctic Council)(90) and, like the other Chinese contributors, note that China is trying to be viewed as a partner in the Arctic rather than a threat (95).

Part II brings us to Finland with Lassi Heininen’s assessment of Finland, the EU and China and the asymmetry between them. Climate change – and China’s potential to take a lead role – is once again a key theme (107). Heininen sees common interests in shipping (Finland builds; China ships) (109); scientific research; resource governance and international cooperation (129). However, Finland and China also have shared interests in resource development in the Arctic (Finland produces; China buys) (118-120).

Tapio Nykänen presents the other chapter in this Part, using critical geopolitics to explore how the Arctic is framed in Chinese and Finnish Discourses. He agrees with the other writers that China is trying to build trust in the Arctic, seeking to present itself as a constructive partner (137). He analyses China’s position as a self-declared ‘near-Arctic state’, pointing out that geographically, it is extremely far from the Arctic Circle but arguing that instead it is geocritically close (140). Nykänen recognises China’s contributions to Arctic science but sees a political undercurrent to this: science is a ‘door’ through which China can claim a legitimate interest in Arctic governance (140).

Chapter Eight (Timo Koivurova, Waliul Hasanat, Piotr Graczyk and Tuuli Kuusama) is based on interviews with participants in the Arctic Council system, Chinese officials and scholars. It produces original, qualitative research on China’s position within the Arctic Council and identifies issues that would be unlikely to be uncovered by looking only at official publications. For example, the authors report that some Chinese officials are unhappy with the Nuuk criteria on observers (169)). They also identify a problem in the delegations which both lack continuity and do not always match the mandates of the working groups (175-177).

On fisheries, Sébastien Duyck sees shared interests in China and the EU – both being major fisheries jurisdictions and being outsiders seeking to ensure that their industries are considered in any new regime for the Central Arctic Ocean (Chapter IX). China, Duyck points out, is a ‘developing country’ and positions itself as a ‘leader’ of the G77 (196). Its policies on fisheries differ from the EU, being more defensive of High Seas freedoms and rational use, compared to a more conservationist (or even preservationist) orientated EU (197-198).

Adam Stepien considers China’s and the EU’s respective engagement with indigenous peoples. China maintains the questionable position that it has no indigenous peoples inside of China (222).  On the one hand, this means that China is not unnecessarily concerned with establishing precedents that could complicate matters at home (cf its position on international straits and Arctic shipping) but on the other hand, means that it has no experience and limited understanding of the stakes for indigenous people. China talks the talk (for example supporting indigenous rights in the UN – as long as it is clear that they don’t apply to or in China! (223)) but its engagement is uncoordinated and inconsistent (216). Environmental impacts are once more brought to the fore as Stepien explains that European and Chinese emissions are a major threat to indigenous communities (210-211). The EU, recognising the Sámi as the only indigenous people within the EU itself, has a more proactive stance on Arctic indigenous peoples and is, in theory, supportive of indigenous rights (218). That does not mean, however, that the EU always gets things right.

Nengye Liu and Kamrul Hossain address navigation in the Arctic and highlight the dependence of China’s economic strategy on shipping (243). The Northern Sea Route (less so the Northwest Passage) holds the promise of faster, cheaper shipping untroubled by the politics of alternative routes but, for now, this is still only a promise. While the shipping companies take things cautiously, the government has published the first Chinese guidelines on Arctic shipping (244). Like Xiaoyi Jiang and Xiaoguang Zhou, they note that China did not get involved in the development of the Polar Code and wonder if Chinese delegates to the IMO could take a more active role (247). They also suggest that China work alongside Japan and South Korea to promote (and defend) its shipping interests at the Arctic Council (249).

The concluding chapter by the four editors draws together the main findings of the contributions, reiterating the centrality of climate change and the consequent expectations of a natural resources boom (253-254). They note the resistance of the Arctic Eight to (too much) non-Arctic State involvement and how the Arctic Council system keeps the most powerful outsiders – like the EU and China – relatively subdued (261). Like most recent academic work on the Arctic, the final conclusion is that the answers are there and can be reached peacefully. International law has the answer to most questions; and for the others, it has processes by which to find, peacefully, those answers.

Although a number of writers call for a Chinese Arctic policy or strategy, this book gives us much more than any state policy every could. The original research and analysis by both Chinese and European scholars helps readers understand the dragon and, hopefully, fear it less. Nevertheless, there are subtle differences in approaches, with the Chinese authors tending to play down China’s resource ambitions and emphasise science and environmental concerns with some of the European contributors implying that China’s scientific contributions are driven by those very resource ambitions. I would wholeheartedly recommend this collection to anyone working on international law, international relations or economic development in the Arctic. Well edited, it is an accessible read for students as well as more seasoned academics. Even were the Chinese government to respond to the call to publish a formal strategy, it will not replace the excellent scholarship in this book.

Donald R Rothwell & Tim Stephens, The International Law of the Sea (London: Bloomsbury, 2016, 2nd ed.)

This second edition of The International Law of the Sea by Rothwell and Stephens replaces the original title from 2010. The law of the sea is one of the most ancient fields of international law and the basic principles can be traced to Grotius. Nevertheless, as is evident from this new edition, the law of the sea can also evolve very quickly, hence the need for a revised volume. Rothwell and Stephens update the original text with insights from recent judicial rulings and developments in State practice. These include the International Court of Justice judgment in Whaling in the Antarctic, advisory opinions of the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) on Responsibilities and obligations of States sponsoring persons and entities with respect to activities in the Area and on illegal, unreported and unregistered fishing (Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission request), ITLOS decisions on the Arctic Sunrise and Delimitation of the maritime boundary between Bangladesh and Myanmar in the Bay of Bengal, and the arbitral decision in the Bay of Bengal Arbitration (Bangladesh/India) case. Rothwell and Stephens also discuss other recent developments, for example, steps to manage biodiversity in the marine environment, through commitment at the Rio+20 meeting and the ongoing negotiations for a third implementing agreement under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond national jurisdiction.

The book is structured thematically beginning at the State baseline and moving gradually outwards before addressing, inter alia, the rights of landlocked States, rights of passage, resource management, marine scientific research, environmental protection, boundary delimitation, enforcement and dispute settlement. In short, the book covers all the main topics of a standard university law of the sea course. Most chapters take a chronological approach, beginning with the early developments in customary law, codification in the four Geneva Conventions on 1958, evolution of customary law in the period up to the 1980s, the provisions of UNCLOS and later developments.

Rothwell and Stephens are gifted communicators, writing fluently about even the most technical elements of law of the sea. Thus, even the notorious article 76 of UNCLOS on delineation of the limits of the outer continental shelf is presented in an accessible manner (115). The book is eminently readable, one of the clearest expositions of the principles of law of the sea, that one can read from cover to cover and get a holistic sense of the overall principles and structure of this enormous area of law. It is, therefore, an excellent introductory textbook. However, as a textbook, it unsurprisingly lacks the depth and level of critical analysis that one would find in a monograph devoted to specific issues in law of the sea (of which there are hundreds, some of which dealing with a single article of the UNCLOS).

As an instructor, I would recommend this textbook for an undergraduate law of the sea course but would expect students to supplement it with close reading of case law and academic analyses in journal articles. Students may balk at the sight of 500 pages (plus cases and journals!) but the quality of writing is so high that it takes a surprisingly short time to read the book. The law of the sea is simply an enormous branch of international law that cannot be condensed any further. I would also recommend this textbook to scholars from other disciplines seeking to get a basic grasp of law of the sea to support related research. This could include political scientists studying international relations pertaining to ocean governance, natural scientists working on fisheries, ocean geomorphology, climate change and other environmental issues, and business scholars examining marine resource management or shipping.

The main competitors to this book are The International Law of the Sea (Tanaka, 2012), Law of the Sea in a Nutshell (Soh, Juras, Noyes and Franckx, 2010) and the now rather dated The Law of the Sea (Churchill and Lowe, 1999) each of which has its own merits. For sheer readability, however, Rothwell and Stephens have the edge.

 

Marlene Laruelle, Russia’s Arctic Strategies and the Future of the Far North (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2014).

 

 

Nevertheless, in scholarship on the Arctic, Russia is very often the weak link. The reasons for this are principally linguistic. While all other seven Arctic States routinely publish (or at least translate) major research initiatives, laws and policies in English, Russia does not. Nordic scholars can usually make their way around all the Scandinavian languages and Finland publishes all governmental regulations and documents in Swedish (an official language). Most Arctic scholars, the present reviewer included, are ashamedly at a loss in the face of the Russian language.

 

Marlene Laruelle has no such problem. Fortunately for the rest of the World‘s non-Russian speaking Arctic scholars, she has combined her linguistic skills with insightful, sensitive and clearly-expressed analysis in Russia‘s Arctic Strategies and the Future of the Far North. This book is long overdue and has no comparator.

 

The title already gives a clue to the subtlety of Laruelle‘s approach: the use of the plural “strategies” in lieu of the more common “strategy” indicates the complexity of Russian interests in the North and the competition between differing priorities at different times.

 

Russia’s Arctic Strategies and the Future of the Far North begins with a succinct introduction to the Arctic and its many players. Laruelle then devotes a chapter to each of the following topics: 1) Russia’s Arctic policy and its balance between domestic and international agenda; 2) The place of the Russian Arctic in Russian identity; 3) Demographics of the Russian Arctic; 4) the impacts of climate change; 5) Territorial disagreements and their resolution; 6) Military security; 7) Resource management; and 8) the Northern Sea Route. Laruelle concludes with a presentation of “four Russian Arctics”: the Murmansk-Arkhangel’sk Arctic (European transborder region); the Central Arctic (mineral and hydrocarbon rich); the Yakutia-Sakha Arctic; and the Bering Arctic (Chukotka and Kamchatka) (203-201).

 

In each of these chapters, Laruelle explains the historical development of the High North through Soviet times, the disastrous years for the people of the Russian Arctic following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the renewal of interest in economic development in the 2000s. She is sensitive to the history and contemporary challenges facing the indigenous peoples of the Russian North and the difficult balance of power between indigenous communities and “Russian” leadership. In her examination of demographics, she describes Arctic Russia evocatively as “archipelagic”: there are population centres like islands surrounded by wilderness and almost entirely cut off from one another (48-51). Her historical account of the population shifts from Stalin, through Soviet times, and post-1990 is essential if a reader is to understand fully the challenges facing the contemporary North (51-60). Population blips over the 20th Century and collapse post-1990 (attributable not only to low birth rates but also high mortality rates) create intractable problems for Russian development; but Laruelle also notes that these are not uniform through a geographically enormous and ethnically diverse federal republic (54). The North, especially the Far-Eastern North, has been disproportionately affected by internal migration (Southwards): some regions of the Russian Arctic (e.g., Magadan and Chukotka) lost over half their populations, with entire settlements abandoned (57-58).

 

In the account of climate change, Laruelle explains Russian reluctance to commit to mitigation of climate change in light of the perceived advantages to Russia from increasing temperatures (68; 84-85). These advantages will not be equally shared and will be accompanied by many serious problems, not least the melting of the permafrost on which Arctic infrastructure is built, more extreme weather events, fires, invasion of alien species and the end of some ice-roads (77-80). Perhaps reflecting the American discourse by which she is surrounded, she grants a little too much credibility to the “climate change sceptics” and implies that there is a genuine dispute about the causes of climate change, when in fact, the climate science is quite clear about the anthropological contribution to global warming (69).

 

If there is a weakness in Laruelle’s analysis, it is one that is only likely to be evident to pedantic lawyers: sometimes the word choice is insufficiently precise, especially when dealing with law of the sea. For example, in her discussion of the Northern Sea Route, she talks of “international waters” (170) and the right of transit passage, but the technical term is “international strait”. This is important as “international waters” could also refer to the High Seas where there is complete freedom to sail, fish, and conduct research (in addition to “passage”).[1] She also suggests that some States might “bypass” the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea which seems remarkably unlikely given that it is accepted even by the United States (which is not a party) as defining customary international law in this area (198). Nevertheless, her general account and conclusions are convincing: the Northern Sea Route remains ultimately a Russian route for Russian vessels servicing Russian communities and resource developers. The melting of the ice does not necessarily make the route safer: ice is replaced by hazardous and unpredictable weather conditions (high winds and waves), there is still a major shortage in search and rescue and communication services; and harbour infrastructure (for repairs, safe haven in bad weather, etc.) is limited. Similarly, in analysing the respective rights to the outer continental shelf of Norway and Russia, she uses the term “claims” which international lawyers would avoid (99). (The shelf accedes automatically to the coast; it is not “claimed” like terra nullius.) More misleading is her use of “verdict”, “ruling” and “decision” with reference to the recommendations of the Commission of the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) (101-102). The CLCS is an advisory body composed of scientists. There are no lawyers on it. It is most pointedly not a judicial or quasi-judicial body and issues only “recommendations” and not “decisions”, “judgments”, “rulings” or “verdicts”. The CLCS will simply not consider a submission if any other State with a potentially overlapping area of shelf objects. The CLCS can advise on the outer limits of the CLCS; but it has no power to decide between competing States as to which a particular area of seabed pertains.

 

The book was published on the cusp of 2013-2014: just weeks before the dramatic events in Ukraine, Russian intervention and the consequences for Russian-European relations, Western investment (following the introduction of sanctions) and the manipulated collapse in the oil price which distorts the immediate prospects for offshore Arctic hydrocarbon development. The representatives at the Arctic Council have so far attempted to play down the impact of the Ukrainian situation but the speed at which Russian international relations have deteriorated is a warning that one should be relaxed, but not entirely complacent, regarding the peacefulness of the High North. Certainly, Professor Laruelle will not run out of research material over the next few years.

 

In conclusion, Russia‘s Arctic Strategies and the Future of the Far North is essential reading for all those working on Arctic international relations, law, politics and economies, as well as those interested in Russian governance more broadly. I expect to see it on graduate school reading lists around the World and recommend it without hesitation to all scholars interested in contemporary developments in the Arctic.

 

 



[1] See also, e.g., 198 (discussing two treaties that “have been ratified by the Arctic Council”).