On the occasion of the Arctic Council's 20th anniversary, we asked Ambassador David Balton, the current Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, for some of his thoughts on the Council's past, present, and future. This is the last of three segments.
In your own opinion, what elements of the Council’s work hold the greatest promise of making a significant, positive impact on the region in the future?
In 2013, the Arctic Council Ministers adopted a “Vision for the Arctic” that captured the spirit and the promise of the Council quite well. Among other things, the Vision committed the Arctic states to “pursue opportunities to expand the Arctic Council’s roles from policy-shaping to policy-making”. I see ample opportunity to turn these words into reality in the coming years.
One particularly fruitful area of work for the Council concerns the Arctic Ocean – which is, in many ways, a new ocean. Already, much of the work of the Council relates in whole or in part to the Arctic marine environment. In my view, the Arctic states will soon face additional needs for coordinating their actions and policies concerning the Arctic Ocean. Under the U.S. chairmanship, a Task Force on Arctic Marine Cooperation is identifying these shared needs and considering possible mechanisms for meeting those needs. I don’t think that anyone yet knows where this analysis will lead, but I suspect that this work may ultimately lead the Council to make a truly significant, positive impact on the Arctic region in the future.
What’s the most important benefit that the Council offers to its constituents both in the region and outside? Do you think that has changed over time? Do you think it will change in the future?
Compared to many other parts of the world, the Arctic is a peaceful and well-ordered region. The scourges of many other regions – such as armed conflict, terrorism, mass migration and narco-trafficking – do not seriously threaten the stability of the Arctic. I believe that the Arctic Council plays a part, perhaps a large part, in keeping the Arctic blessedly free from these problems by providing the governments and stakeholders with a forum in which to speak plainly to one another and to deal with the actual problems of the region, which are largely environmental and economic.
That role, often underappreciated, may constitute the most important benefit that the Arctic Council provides. I do not see that changing over time.
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