Given the increasing interest in the Arctic—from the international scientific, business, and health communities—it seems fitting, and perhaps even imperative, to expose the next generation of policymakers to the inner workings of Arctic diplomacy. During the last week of February, I had the privilege of representing the United States and Dartmouth College at the first ever Model Arctic Council, a role-playing conference with the same goals as the Model UN: expose students to high-level policy negotiations through experience and participation.
The Northern Arctic Federal University (NArFU) in Arkhangelsk, Russia hosted 30 graduate students from over 10 countries to simulate the proceedings of the Arctic Council, the high level intergovernmental forum through which Arctic governments and indigenous peoples discuss and take tangible actions to address the economic, social, health, safety, and security issues that they face.
The first of four days (see program) consisted of lectures and round-table diplomacy discussions led by prominent government figures: US Embassy Public Affairs Officer Steven Labensky, Russian International Affairs Council Deputy Program Director Timur Makhmutov, and Dr. Lev Levit of the Arctic Council Secretariat. Additionally, students engaged in lectures by Arctic experts in academia: Prof. Hitchins of University of Alaska spoke on the history of the Arctic Council, Prof. Nord of Western Washington University shared his tremendous insights on the changes in and challenges for the Council from his involvement over the past 22 years; and Prof. Alexander Sergunin of St. Petersburg State University lectured on international relations and security strategies.
The following days involved simulations of the three types of meetings run by the Council: a biannual meeting for one of the six Working Groups, which implement research and projects related to specific interests; the biannual meeting of the Senior Arctic Officials; and the biennial meeting of Arctic Ministers (the Secretary of State represents the US in this meeting). Each was a progressively higher-level meeting to which participants passed along information discussed and resolved at the lower-level meeting the previous day. Students followed the Council’s Rules of Procedure while representing delegates from the 8 Arctic States, 6 Permanent Participants of indigenous groups, 4 of the 6 Working Groups, and 3 of the 12 non-Arctic observer states. Each role was assigned prior to the meeting, and students prepared written position papers as well as oral statements or presentations for the meetings.
Arctic states are those with territory north of the 66th parallel: Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States (i.e. Alaska). The Arctic Council is unique among international fora in its inclusion of indigenous groups which have a permanent place at the negotiation table. Although they do not have a vote, each group is actively involved in discussions and consultations at every level of the Council’s activities. Representation may change but currently includes the Arctic Athabaskan Council, Aleut International Association, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, and Saami Council. The final category of delegates present was Working Group chairs; working groups focus on a particular subject of interest and include sectoral ministry experts, researchers, and representatives from government agencies. On the Arctic Council, there are 6 such groups:
-Arctic Contaminants Action Program,
-Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme,
-Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna,
-Emergency Prevention, Preparedness and Response,
-Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment, and
-Sustainable Development Working Group.
I played the chair of the Protection of the Marine Environment (PAME) working group during all three levels of negotiation. As the sole PAME representative, I contributed information related to achieving economic and social development while simultaneously ensuring sustainable marine resource use, maintaining biodiversity, and minimizing pollution. I represented the group that provides guidance to the Arctic Council on how to strengthen governance and environmental management, and I contributed environmental considerations to the conversation. The working groups provide the primary pathway through which scientists’ work informs the policy measures and initiatives developed through the Council and was, thus, of particular interest to me as an Earth Sciences PhD student.
Our task and final product was the “Arkhangelsk Declaration.” Emulating those produced every two years at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meetings, this document highlights progress and outlines future goals we agreed upon by consensus. Specifically, the Declaration summarized our work creating and designing initiatives to revitalize indigenous language, facilitate international electronic sharing of historical archives and data, stimulate product development within the reindeer herding industry, and address the incidence of suicide in Northern communities. Overall, the discussions were engaging, the negotiations successful, and the resulting plan both compelling and achievable.