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Arctic vector of Russian foreign policy

Renata Duda

is at stake in the High North? The policy of states towards the Arctic region

Рената Ay^a

Каковы ставки на Крайний Север?

Политика государств в отношении Арктического региона

Abstract. The aim of the article is to present the significance of the High North in international politics of countries interested in safeguarding their strategic aims in the area, as well as the analysis of the main areas of activity of those countries in the subregion. In this context, the key research aim is to answer the question whether the Arctic may become a potential area of competition for both state and non-state actors willing to discuss the future of the region

Keywords: European Union,Multi-Level Governance,Arctic,The Northern Dimension.

Аннотация. Статья показывает значение Крайнего Севера в международной политике стран, заинтересованных в сохранении своих стратегических целей в этом регионе, а также содержит анализ основных направлений деятельности этих стран. В статье ставится вопрос: может ли Арктика стать потенциальной областью конкуренции для государственных и негосударственных субъектов, желающих обсуждать будущее региона.

Ключевые слова: Европейский Союз, Многоуровневое управление, Арктика, Крайний Север Северное измерение.


In international politics, the Arctic has always been of great significance, but not always has the international community seemed to be aware of that. Its strategic importance made itself known to the greatest extent during the Cold War, when the area of the High North became an arena of intense military and strategic competition between the two major powers: the United

States and the Soviet Union. The geostrategic importance of the region resulted from the shortest distance between the northern coasts of the two territories, which granted the possibility of military confrontation. The collapse of the bipolar world order turned the Cold War competition into cool calculation of the sovereign interests of the Arctic countries and redefined their goals towards the subregion. The Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev contributed to relieving the tension of the Cold War. In late 80s, he ordered to make the Arctic a zone of peaceful cooperation. It was a turning point in Soviet politics, an integral part of the perestroika, and an important first step towards the demilitarization of the region [1. P. 290]. Initially marginalized and deprived of the geostrategic context of the Cold War, it was gradually becoming an area of numerous initiatives, mainly Finnish and Canadian, focused on cooperation of the Arctic countries aimed at generally understood ecological safety. Therefore, the end of the Cold War was a beginning of a period of in- stitutionalizing cooperation as part of the activity of the Arctic Council appointed in 1996. At first, the Council focused mainly on ecology related problems and scientific cooperation, but later on the focus shifted also towards international politics.

The aim of the article is to present the significance of the High North in international politics of countries interested in safeguarding their strategic aims in the area, as well as the analysis of the main areas of activity of those countries in the subregion. In this context, the key research aim is to answer the question whether the Arctic may become a potential area of competition for both state and non-state actors willing to discuss the future of the region.

Major players and their strategic interests

The Arctic consists of territories that belong to eight countries, partially located beyond the Northern Arctic Circle. The center of the subregion is the Arctic Ocean. Among the countries that express avid interest in the area of the High North, the greatest significance can be attributed to the so-called Arctic Five (Arctic G5), i.e. countries neighboring with the Atlantic Ocean - the Russian Federation, the United States, Canada, Denmark (Greenland), and Norway. Together with Iceland, Sweden and Finland, the countries form the abovementioned Arctic Council - one of the most important subregional organizations (apart from the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, the Council of Baltic Sea States and the Northern Dimension). Its members also include representatives of the indigenous peoples of the North and permanent observers from 12 non-Arctic countries, including Poland. According to Heather Exner- Pirot, 'This kind of inclusion of indigenous representatives remains unparalleled in the international system and recognized the importance of community and local concerns сопсиггеп^ [7. P. 5].

Among the countries that actively engage in the subregion, one can mention three basic attitudes towards the interests of the Arctic [19. P. 20-22]. The Russian Federation and Canada are among the arctic warriors who see their presence in the Arctic as one of the main elements of the identity of their foreign policies, which determines their role in contemporary international relations. The attitude of these countries is accompanied by reluctance to include the problems of the Arctic to the scope of work of the European Union or NATO, and thereby expand the number of countries having the opportunity to shape the political situation in the Arctic. The Nordic countries — Finland, Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Sweden and Norway — are a group of pragmatists for whom the Arctic is an area of conditioning the economic and social development. They devote scrupulous attention to environmental issues and sustainable development and, in contrast to Russia and Canada, do not perceive the Arctic through the lenses of political ambitions, or playing a leadership role in the subregion. Their attitude is rather focused on maintaining the status quo. They are interested in all forms of cooperation with the European Union and NATO, seeing these organizations as allies that strengthen their position against the major players, notably Russia and Canada. The most active member of this group is Norway, for which the natural recourses of the High North — oil, gas and fish — are the basis of the national income. The most interesting example is the United States which after the Cold War lost interest in the Arctic region, but which now admit that the Arctic has "Enormous and growing geostrategic, economic, climate, environment, and national security implications for the United States and the World" [20]. Moreover, they have begun the process of defining their Arctic policy. Its final shape — the National Strategy for the Arctic Region, presented by the White House on 10 May 2013, was based on three key elements: advancing U.S. security interests, pursuing responsible Arctic region stewardship, and strengthening international cooperation [18. P. 2-3]. Despite the existence of border disputes (two significant disagreements are the border dispute in the Beaufort Sea and the legal designation -international or internal waters — of the Northwest Passage) the United States ensure that, in implementing the policy towards the subregion, they will work together in the first place with its closest neighbor which is Canada. In this document, the United States also emphasize the significance of co-operation with the authorities of Alaska, as well as with the local community, international organizations and the private sector while looking for innovative solutions that would constitute the best solutions to the specific problems of the High North. The engagement of the United States in the Arctic started relatively early, since already in the 1960s, enormous offshore oil recourses were discovered in Alaska in Prudhoe Bay. After having faced the oil crisis and realized the need for independence from crude oil supplies from the OPEC countries, the USA started exploitation of the resources and the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, running from the oil field to Valdez Terminal. The United States were gradually gaining economic and technological advantage in the Arctic, and the collapse of the Soviet Union facilitated the establishment of military domination [14]. However, in recent years, the involvement of the United States in Alaska has significantly lost its intensity due to economic and political reasons. First of all, the technological revolution which enables shale gas exploitation made investing in the exploitation of polar resources unprofitable for American companies. And as far as politics is concerned, the Unites States have not paid enough attention to the subregion due to their primary focus being shifted (especially after 11 September 2001) onto dangers from the Middle East and the war on terrorism. They are reluctant to engage in co-operation with international organizations, the example of which might be lack of ratification of the UNCLOS Convention. Due to this fact, Olaf Osica [ 19. P. 29] refers to the United States as the late player and indicates that the process of formulating their strategy towards the region is just in its initial phase.

Contrary to the United States, Russian Federation shows considerable interest in the Arctic by launching all-out offensive aimed at emphasizing their political and economic position in the subregion. Its direct reflection was planting in 2007 a flag of the Russian Federation on the seabed under the North Pole [4]. Admittedly, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, emphasized that the objective of the Arktika 2007 Expedition was not escalation of claims, but providing evidence that the Russian continental shelf stretches up to the North Pole, which would allow drawing up the limit of the shelf beyond the 200 nautical miles specified by the UNCLOS Convention [8]. Nevertheless, it was a clear signal that the area was Russia's top priority, and it started Russia^ new policy towards the High North. The new direction of Russia's arctic policy, is mainly determined by the key document approved in September 2008 by the Russian government "The fundamentals of state policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic for the period up to 2020 and beyond" [24]. The document was designed under the auspices of the influential Russian Security Council, whose permanent members include the most important centers of power, such as the president, prime minister, ministers of interior, foreign affairs, and defense, and the directors of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation and the Foreign Intelligence Service [23. P. 104]. It identified Russia's objectives and interests in the Arctic, and emphasized key importance of the subregion for Russian economy as a source of income from the exploitation of natural resources and ship transport. Apart from the investment in the exploitation of the deposits, the strategy also assumes the development of communications and transport infrastructure, especially in the area of the Northern Sea Route that connects Europe with Asia. This paper clearly emphasize the importance of the Arctic to Russia's economic and social development, in particular, that the Russia^ ultimate objective is to transform the Arctic into leading strategic base for natural resources' and to ensure free access of the Russian fleet to the Atlantic.

To sum up, it is crucial to point out, that, the multidimensional, i.e. political, economic and strategic transformation in Arctic areas poses a serious challenge for both internal and foreign policy of countries interested in safeguarding their strategic interests in Arctic. The shape of current political cooperation in the subregion is mainly determined by the countries of the Arctic Five, namely Denmark, Canada, Norway, Russia, and the United States the interests of which, due to close geographical exposure to the Arctic Circle, are the ones who are deep rooted in the High North. The group of players also includes other countries of the subregion, i.e. Finland, Iceland, and Sweden, the engagement of which, although much weaker, is still visible in the works of transnational organizations such as the Arctic Council. Whereas involvement in the High North is just one of many significant areas of international activity for the Russian Federation, the United States and Canada, for Nordic countries, this area has outstanding importance due to it being both a source of threats and opportunities that determine their position and activity on the international arena in the years to come [16. P. 253-254]. Growing economic and strategic importance of the Arctic also attracts players from outside the region, who have not had any interests in the High North so far. This group includes China, Japan and South Korea which are interested in the opening of new navigation routes for movement of Asian goods and transportation of energy resources [15. P. 261-262]. Japan and South Korea are the largest importers of natural gas in the world who have practically no own resources. For Japan, all, and for South Korea, 95% of the raw material is imported. Similarly, the European Union cannot remain indifferent towards the growing importance of the High North. However, its engagement should be rather analyzed in terms of interests of member countries, and rot in terms of in- terests of the Community as a whole.

What is at stake in the High North?

The international community finally realized the importance of the Arctic when the process of de-icing of the eternal ice areas revealed not only the potential of natural resources, but also its strategic significance associated with the new navigation routes. On the one hand, climatologists emphasize the fact that it is in the High North where the global climate changes have their beginning, and since the temperature increase there is two times faster than average temperature increase in other parts of the world, the Arctic is the fastest wanning region in the world. On the other hand, oceanographers have noticed that the Arctic Ocean has been covered with less and less ice year by year, and its volume has been visibly decreasing due to the fact that the old thick perennial ice is replaced with thin first-year ice. In summertime, it melts very quickly and exposes the ocean the waters of which absorb most of the solar radiation. Based on satellite observations, the scientists have reached a conclusion that the summertime minimum of the ice cover is currently half of what it was 30 years ago [22. P. 32]. Approximate estimates suggest that in more than a decade or even several decades, in the summertime, the North Pole will be free of ice. The effect of reduction of the ice cover are new opportunities for exploitation of huge natural resources, especially energy resources (oil and gas), fish, ores or even diamonds. It is believed that the Arctic contains large reserves of the world's oil and gas resources. According to an assessment conducted by the United States Geological Survey, USGS, the Arctic holds an estimated 13% (90 billion barrels) of the world's undiscovered conventional oil resources and 30% (44 billion barrels) of its undiscovered conventional natural gas resources [3]. Together with the Antarctic, the Arctic is also a significant reservoir of drinking water since it holds 90% of the water from the glaciers [10. P. 5].

The impact of the effects of global warming which are noticeable in all regions of the world, is at least potentially, felt to the greatest extent in the Arctic. Generally speaking, we can differentiate political impact which is associated with interstate disputes on three main issues: sea boundary delimitation (mainly EEZ — Exclusive Economic Zone), the continental shelf on the high seas and freedom of navigation through the straits, as well as economic impact referring to the possibility of extraction and exploitation of natural resources [19. P. 14]. The boundary between the political and the economic impact of climate change is very fuzzy, because the economic problems are derived from strict political rivalry between the major players in the Arctic. However, for future cooperation in the High North, not only climate changes are important, but rather their strategic nature and concern about whether the traditional problems of the Arctic, i.e. political and economic competi- tion, the presence of military installations and a fleet of warships, will become a source of dispute or even international conflicts in the new post-Cold War international system. They are mainly connected with boundary delimitation and establishing the extent of the continental shelf, which may lead to a range of threats for the stability and development of the subregion.

The situation is seemingly clear since all the countries involved take action aimed at protecting their own interests which all come down to ensuring control over navigation routes and maritime areas as well as the seabed. So far, all activity undertaken by the countries has been consistent with international law effective in the Arctic region. The legal system of the Arctic is markedly different for the status of Antarctica, the legal nature of which regulated by the Antarctic Treaty signed by 12 countries in 1959. The treaty quenched all territorial aspirations of the countries, and made the area of Antarctica common heritage of all mankind, free of any military activity. Arctic does not have a particular legal nature that is effective only in this region, and it is subject to the general law of the sea and oceans specified by the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea — UNCLOS, signed in Montego Bay on 10 December 1982 (it came into force in 1994). Pursuant to the Ilulissat Declaration adopted by ministers of foreign affairs of the Arctic Five, the issues concerning exploitation and exploration of marine resources and the seabed, as well as problems of maritime navigation through straits, are governed by international law, without the necessity for adopting any additional regulations that take into account the specificity of the subregion [11]. All Arctic countries analyzed in this article, except for the United States, are parties to this convention. They all use this document as the most essential tool of shaping their politics towards the subregion. Together with UNCLOS, the legal system of the Arctic is determined by Customary International Law of the Sea and other international treaties, including in particular The Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf oi 1958 (which came into force in 1964) [28] and The Agreement on the implementation of Part XI UNCLOS entered into force in 1994 [26]. The UNCLOS convention resulted in the Arctic countries refraining from territorial aspirations towards the Arctic formulated based on the so-called sector theory. This rule, introduced in 1925 by Canada, gave the Arctic G5 countries territorial control over all areas (both the discovered, and the undiscovered ones) between the North Pole and the extreme points of the meridians of northern coast of the arctic countries. The top of each sector is the North Pole, and the lateral limits — lines drawn along the meridians, from the North Pole to the extremity of Eastern and Western land territory of a given country. The northern coastline constitutes the basis of the sector.

However, this rule was not accepted by international community due to unfair division of influence zones which was blatantly favorable for Russia and Canada. Instead, the legal system effective in the Arctic was based on the so-called theory of the High Seas that originated from the UNCLOS Convention. It means that a country which has access to the sea is authorized to establish its own Exclusive Economic Zone stretching 200 nautical miles seawards. Beyond this area, there is freedom of navigation, with one exception that is the object of the arctic game. As it turns out, sectioning off a 200-mile economic zone that remains under complete jurisdiction of a country is not enough and each country expects more, i.e. stretching their influence zone on the limits of the continental shelf. The limits are specified by the provisions of the UNCLOS Convention which precisely indicates the conditions necessary for countries to gain the right to control and explore areas beyond their own exclusive economic zone. Having detailed and well documented research results at its disposal, a country may officially report its territorial claims to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. According to the Convention, the outer limit of the continental shelf of a country automatically stretches 200 nautical miles seawards and each coastal country (in the case of the High North it is the Arctic Five), i.e. a country that has an arctic coastline, i.e. the Russian Federation, Denmark, Norway, Canada and the United States, has the right to its own continental shelf at this distance, without a need for an official confirmation of this fact on the international arena. At the same time, the outer limit of the continental shelf establishes the boarder of national jurisdiction. According to UNCLOS, outside this limit, there is seabed which constitutes common heritage of all mankind. The limits of the continental shelf are drawn up in accordance with the regulations specified in Art. 76 section 4-6 UNCLOS. The basic limit indicated by the Convention is the limit of 200 nautical miles from the baselines from which the breadth of the territorial sea is measured. However, if the continental margin stretches outside this limit, it is possible to move the outer limits of the continental shelf to the line situated not further than 350 nautical miles from the baseline, provided the countries prove that the shelf they make claims for, is a geological extension of the continental shelf assigned to them in accordance with the Convention. Such a claim requires approval of the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to which an application needs to be submitted within 10 years after the ratification of the UNCLOS Convention. Among the Arctic countries concerned, Russia filed a complete submission (2001,2009), and Norway (2006) [5.a], as well as Iceland and Denmark (2009) [5.b], and Canada (2013) [5.c] announced their partial submission. The United States are not a party to the Convention; therefore, they are not bound by any deadline. So far, only Norway has succeeded in acquiring approval of its submission and asserting its rights to the continental shelf under the Arctic Ocean seabed which mainly resulted from the fact that none of the other countries expressed any reservation concerning the correctness of Norway’s submission.

Already on 20 December 2001 [5.d], The Russian Federation was the first Arctic country to have filed an official submission to the UN Commission on the

Limits of the Continental Shelf concerning the outer limits of the continental shelf that referred to both the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Arctic Ocean. The documents submitted to the Commission were supposed to prove Russia's right to the outer limit of the continental shelf that reaches as far as the North Pole. In order to establish limits located so far away from land, it was decided that the limits would be based on the Lomonosov Ridge and the Mendeleev Ridge located underwater in the Arctic Ocean, in the area that stretches from the conti- nental shelf of Russian New Siberian Islands towards the North Pole. According to Russian government, the ridge is an "underwater mountain that constitutes a natural element of the continental margin” and therefore, an extension of the Eurasian continent [21]. The United States objected to the limits by questioning the grounds on which the observations were made. They issued an official paper in which it was stated that the Lomonosov Ridge should be considered an underwater ridge, in relation to which the Commission sets a 200-mile limit. For that reason, the statement challenged Russia's effort to move the outer limits of the shelf forward.

However, it seems that Russia^ claim for lengthening the limits of the continental shelf on the Arctic Ocean may be successful (the decision is expected to be reached in fall 2014) due to the settlement on the continental shelf limits in northern and central area of the Sea of Okhotsk. Until recently, the area has been a bone of contention with Russia's neighbors who claimed that the water areas beyond the 200-mile border of the Russian economic zone are a part of the high sea. After carrying out carefully documented research, Russia gave the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf evidence that Russia's continental shelf exceeds the 200-nautical-mile limits. The Commission Decision as of 14 March 2014 [5.e] made in favor of Russia, fully proved its claim to all 52 thousand square kilometers of the waters of the Sea of Okhotsk which became a part of Russian continental shelf. Establishing rights to the Sea of Okhotsk is not only of economic significance (according to initial data, approximately 40% of the territory gained by Russia are energy resources, and experts estimate oil resources near Magadan at 3 billion barrels), but it also has considerable political significance due to strengthening the position of the Russian Federation in the High North.

The European Union and the Arctic

In recent years, we have been observing growing interest of the European Union in the area of the High North. Previous lack of intense involvement in the Arctic area was due to a geographical factor, i.e. the fact that till thel990s, the only Arctic country was Denmark which bordered on the Arctic Circle through Greenland. Another justification for lack of avid interest with the subregion was Greenland's withdrawal from the European Communities in 1985. As a result, back then, the European Economic Community did not express the need to shape politics aimed at securing their interests in the sub- region. Not until 1995, when there were prospects of Finland, Sweden and Norway (the interests of which were closely connected with the Arctic) joining the community, did the European Union have to direct all its attention to the North, which at the same time constituted northern extremities of the Union. Despite the accession of Finland and Sweden, the geographic factor was still against the European Union for member countries, i.e. Denmark, Finland and Sweden have only 10% of the Arctic area, whereas the USA have 15%, Canada — 25%, and Russia — 50%. What is worth paying attention to when it comes to the engagement of the European Union in the High North, is the internal competition that we can observe between the EU Council and the European Commission [19. P. 42-43]. Taking into account economic and political aspects of the situation in the High North and its, at least potential, implications for security policy, some member countries may seek to perceive the High North as a new Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) area, or even common defence policy, at the same trying to emphasize the prime role of the UE Council in the area and its decision-making advantage over the Commission. However, the European Commission seems to be determined in its pursuits to perform the fundamental role in shaping Arctic politics. It is therefore crucial for it to define challenges in the subregion in the context of policies (in the case of the Arctic, the main priorities include environmental protection, transportation, fisheries policy, climate changes and energy policy) and instruments of the previous first pillar, in which it has the right of legislative initiative and a strong decision-making position, and not in the con- text of CFSP, where considerable advantage belongs to member countries. For that reason, in the context of accession of Nordic countries to the European Union, the European Commission is trying to promote the expanding definition of the Arctic region, according to which, Finland and Sweden are located in this region, which allows considering the Northern Dimension European Union’s strategic window of opportunity in the High North. The specificity of the Arctic, as set out by the Commission, clearly derives from geographical conditions and climate changes, and not the geopolitical context. This way of thinking was emphasized in the first document issued by the EC towards the Northern areas The EU and the Arctic Region [6], published in November 2008, which was an indicator of the presence of the EU in the subregion and a signal that the way the European Union decision makers perceive the High North was gradually changing. The initial engagement of the European Union in the subregion was problematic since neither EU institutions, nor member countries undertook any initiative in this area. As a result of the accession of Finland and Sweden to the European Union, accompanied by the initiative of Finnish Prime Minister, Pavo Lipponen who in 1997 identified the need for creating politics concerning Northern areas, a qualitative change was observed. Lipponen^ idea implemented through the creation of the Northern Dimension showed how completely different Finland's and Brussels' interests are: Finland mainly cared about focusing its actions in the area of the Barents Sea and the Baltic Sea, and not in the area of the Arctic Ocean, which the EU Council aimed at. The EU activity in the subregion, initiated with the Northern Dimension was originally limited to taking into consideration specific harsh climatic, environmental, as well as social and economic conditions in shaping agricultural and structural policy. Moreover, formerly initiated programs concerning environmental protection and research policy were continued. Nevertheless, despite the fact that these policies have been effective in the Arctic region for more ten years now, there has been no attempt to apply a comprehensive approach to them or ensure coordination of their development [17. P. 162]. However, the situation may change as a result of a recent document issued by the European Commission, i.e. Joint Communication to the European Parliament and the Council. Developing a European Union Policy towards the Arctic Region: progress since 2008 and next steps [27]. This document sets out EU interests and proposes action for EU Member States and institutions around three main policy objectives: protecting and preserving the Arctic in unison with its population, promoting sustainable use of resources and contributing to enhanced Arctic multilateral governance.

The strategies adopted by the European Commission towards the High North show an ambitious direction of engagement of the organization in the subregion. All the same, it is crucial to remember that the set of instruments that the European Union has at its disposal in order to implement their plans is extremely limited. For the time being, the European Union has no legal or economic tools that would enable it to actively participate in the exploitation of natural resources. The only entities that may engage in such activities are companies from particular countries. The European Union may play a key role in lobbying regulations concerning the rules of exploitation and transportation of resources in order to minimize the risk of ecological disasters and preserve the unique fauna and flora of the Northern areas to the greatest extent possible. It is believed that the only parachute Brussels has are its technological resources and research conducted in the subregion by highly qualified scientists who use proper technology [13]. On the other hand, it is worth tak- ing into account the fact that, contrary to both the G5, and Asian countries, the primary objective of the European Union policy are mainly ecological and environmental considerations, which are adopted thanks to effective lobbying of the countries concerned.

Final remarks

To sum up, it is essential to emphasize that the High North is slowly beginning to claim a higher position on the international political arena. All countries concerned aim at safeguarding their strategic interests related to the possibility of exploiting natural resources and the accessibility of navigation routes. However, while making the attempt to find the reasons for such fierce competition among the actors in the Arctic area, it is crucial to take two key issues into account. Firstly, resources of crude oil and natural gas mentioned before, are potential deposits which means that it is the next generations who are going to compete for the resources once the exploitation becomes possible and profitable. What is even more significant is the fact that the potential location of the oil-bearing areas coincide with the marked 200-nautical- mile Exclusive Economic Zones and the span of the continental shelf, which means that they remain under supervision of coastal countries [12. P. 116- 117]. It allows us to assume that the motivations driving future competition may be connected with much more than just economic reasons. What more, the key players in the subregion — Arctic Five, the United States, the Russian Federation, Canada, Norway, and Denmark in the Ilulissat Declaration declared their willingness to cooperate based on norms and regulations of international law, which means, at least potentially, that current and future dis- putes should not become a source of conflicts.


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  • 27. http://eeas.europa.eu/arctic_region/docs/join_2012_19.pdf
  • 28. https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_ no=XXI-4&chapter=21 &lang=en

Digest of world politics of the XXI century Marzia Scopelliti