An Arctic Council Security Agreement: Preventing Militarization and Ensuring Stability and Security of the Arctic (Part II)

by Olin Strader Arctic nations like Canada, Denmark and Norway are in varying stages of building a fleet of armed Arctic patrol ships. What will happen when these nations, and perhaps other Arctic nations, commit to armed, ice-capable ship building programs? Will this lead to a militarization the Arctic? Will a nation or nations feel threatened and jeopardize the stability and security of the region? One might ask what would jeopardize stability and security? The answer is economic interests. Where economic interests proceed, security must follow. There should be little need to highlight the reported natural resources of the Arctic, not to mention its cost-saving routes to high latitude ports. There was a war in the name of the Cod fish in the last century, lest we forget. If that is not persuasive enough, consider the recent rhetoric of China’s Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo: "The Arctic belongs to all the people around the world as no nation has sovereignty over it...China must play an indispensable role in Arctic exploration as we have one-fifth of the world's population.”[7]

To avoid misperceptions and an Arctic ship building race, in addition to an Arctic Council Security Agreement, nations should also commit themselves to a multilateral Arctic Response Force. The idea of an Arctic Response Force is not new. Denmark, according to their Arctic strategy, has proposed creation of a national Arctic Response Force, designed to provide security for its Arctic waters.[8] The concept put forward in this article is simply a regionalization of the Danish model. Collectivized security by its very nature is intended to be a guarantor of transparency, cooperation, collaboration and trust. 

Some Arctic member states inherently realize collective security is the right idea. What may concerned them is surrender of their sovereignty. The ideas put forward in this article seek to preserve the integrity of each nations sovereignty, but link together national efforts under a single agreement that provides security for the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas. Furthermore, the notion of an Arctic security agreement and an Arctic Response Force is not expected to pool resources or levy a membership fee. Rather, it seeks to link, in a coherent way, each nations territory into a regional security architecture.

Assuming for a moment Arctic nations were willing to collectively secure the Arctic region, what is it an Arctic Response Force would be expected to do? Possible missions might include assisting in Search & Rescue efforts, environmental response assistance, maritime security, prevent illegal fishing, poaching and whaling, ensure the freedom of navigation, prevent eco-terrorism, just to name a few. The Arctic today consists of two primary shipping routes, the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage. 

While the preponderance of these two routes lie within the Russian Federation’s and the Government Canada’s territorial waters, the approaches and exits are adjacent to other Arctic states. Consequently, Arctic risks are assumed by all the Arctic states and their indigenous populations, whether it’s a vessel originating in the Baltic destined to transit the Northern Sea Route or an Asian-based vessel intending to transit the Northwest Passage. If originating in the Baltic, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Russia and the United States all have an interest in this vessel’s safe passage in or near their territorial waters. If originating in Asia, the United States, Russia and Norway have a direct interest, but so might Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark. The point is the challenge associated with an opening Arctic is one that should be undertaken by all and codified in an agreement.

Before discussing the content of an Arctic Council Security Agreement, it is worth mentioning that leadership is a key component of this agreement. Arctic challenges are shared by governments and by national defense and security organizations. Therefore, to sustain security and stability of the region, defense and security leadership should form an Arctic Council Chiefs of Defense and Chiefs of Coast Guard forum. The regularity of their meetings should be in keeping with standard Arctic Council procedures. The nation who holds the chairmanship of the Arctic Council should host the aforementioned forums. It maybe necessary to form sub-committees, but these should be limited. So, what should an Arctic Council Security Agreement contain? What are its essential parts?

Arctic Council Security Agreement

An Arctic Council Security Agreement should comprise at least eight elements: 1) shared interests, 2) sovereign responsibilities, 3) shared challenges, 4) shared missions, 5) state resources, 6) organization of Defense and Coast Guard Chiefs Council, 7) exercises and conferences, and 8) specific instructions. Governing states willingness to commit to such an arrangement is their shared interests. Chief among states interests should be a peaceful opening of the Arctic. This high ideal should serve as the preamble to the Arctic Council Security Agreement. Next, a clear statement of sovereign responsibility should be articulated at this point. Following a statement of shared interests and sovereign responsibility, states should outline their shared challenges. 

Challenges may include Search & Rescue, Environmental Response, Fisheries Management, etc. Framed by a comprehensive list of defined challenges, Arctic states should outline agreed missions to meet the challenges. Both challenges and missions should be framed in time-horizons, because not all challenges will be realized today. Challenges and missions should also be informed by the permanent representatives to the Arctic Council. To gain consensus on the challenges and missions it will be necessary to look for the common challenges resident in Arctic states’ strategic documents. 

Furthermore, states should frame their commitment of resources to preserve Arctic security and ensure a peaceful opening of the Arctic. Resourcing should attempt to link indigenous efforts such as the Canadian Rangers and other analogous indigenous security forces. Ideally, Arctic states should look to their indigenous populations to serve as the backbone of their Arctic Response Force, structuring them as first responders and guides. And as discussed previously, organization of a Chiefs of Defense and Coast Guards forum and necessary sub- committees should be expressed. Sub-committees might include Maritime Domain Awareness, aids to navigation and other security and defense related matters. Additionally, guidance as to the regularity of regional exercises and conferences should be communicated. Finally, states should draft specific instructions to cover remaining issues that do not fit neatly into previous mentioned categories. For example, there are invariably nature seams in the transition zones between state’s boundaries that should be addressed to promote cooperation and collaboration.

The Arctic is changing rapidly; more rapidly perhaps than Arctic nations are preparing to meet the challenges associated with an opening Arctic. Therefore, it is paramount that Arctic Council nations codify an Arctic Council Security Agreement that can serve to govern safety and security in a changing Arctic. Additionally, they should create an Arctic Response Force as a means to address safety and security challenges. Without such an agreement, militarization, increased defense spending, heightened national security risks and other concerns may lead where Arctic nations do not seek to go. Therefore, shared security interests are an essential starting point to ensure a peaceful opening of the Arctic. 

[7] The Diplomat, “ChinaŹ¼s Arctic Play”, accessed at %E2%80%99s-arctic-play/
[8] Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands: Kingdom of Denmark Strategy for the Arctic 2011-2020, (Copenhagen: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011), 20.
[9] United National Environmental Program, “Arctic sea routes-Northern Sea Route and Northwest Page”, accessed at
[10] Arctic Council," Arctic Council Logo", accessed at