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 second of three segments.
In your own opinion, what are some of the big questions that the Council will need to tackle in order to retain its position at the forefront of Arctic issues in the years ahead?
I see several significant challenges ahead. One obvious need, in my view, is for greater and more predictable resources. The Arctic Council operates on a very small budget, given the significance of the issues on its agenda. Funding for Arctic Council projects and programs, which comes from a variety of sources, is strictly voluntary. Due to the voluntary nature of such funding, the Council has difficulty in developing long-term initiatives that would depend on guaranteed funding over many years.
A second challenge relates to the Permanent Participants. Thanks to the Permanent Participants, the Arctic Council benefits from the insights and wisdom born of countless generations of Arctic residents. The Permanent Participants also imbue the Council with a special legitimacy on the international stage. But the growth of Arctic Council initiatives has placed an exceptional burden on the Permanent Participants who wish to be involved. Some of the burden is financial, particularly a dearth of money for travel. Some of the burden has to do with human capacity – simply finding enough people from the indigenous communities who can afford to spend the time and effort on Arctic Council work.
A final challenge concerns the Observers. As currently constituted, the Council has 8 Members, 6 Permanent Participants, and 32 Observers (plus the European Union, which enjoys Observer privileges but whose status as an Observer remains to be confirmed). The sheer numbers of Observers in comparison to the actual Members has already created an unusual dynamic at the Arctic Council meetings. Many of the Observers have also made clear their wish to be more engaged in the work of the Council, something I think that the Council should welcome. I am nevertheless aware, however, that the Council is currently considering 17 additional applications for Observer status, which has made at least some Arctic Council Members worry about “too much of a good thing”. I foresee some issues in managing the growing number – and expectations – of Arctic Council Observers.
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