Tag Archives: Denmark

Russia, the Arctic, and the Healthy Nature of the International Order

The Arctic tends not to get a lot of headlines. But here in Canada, it’s a big deal. Or at least it is rhetorically speaking. Canadians like to think of themselves as a wintery, northern people – as Gilles Vigneault sang: ‘Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver.’ We get all emotional about the north, and pump ourselves up with stirring speeches about defending our sovereignty. After which, we then do nothing – at least until the next time somebody else does something we don’t like in the Arctic. At that point, we make some more stirring speeches, before slinking off back to our local Timmy’s in Toronto or some other place as far from the Arctic as we can get without actually ending up in the United States.

And so it is that the Canadian press was none too happy this week when the Russian Federation deposited its latest submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to advance its claim to a large portion of the Arctic Ocean seabed. ‘That’s our Arctic Ocean seabed, you wretched Russians! How dare you?”

The Commission in question is a product of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), that gives states the right to exclusive exploitation of the seabed up to 200 nautical miles from their continental shelf. To claim such a right, however, states have to provide the Commission with scientific evidence of where the continental shelf extends under the sea. If they can satisfactorily show where the shelf goes, then the UN will approve the claim. If they can’t, then the UN won’t.

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The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses

Headlines often don’t reflect the content of stories. Editors know that it’s the headlines that gather readers, and so they do their best to jazz them up so as to make the stories sound far more important or controversial than they really are. In the current frenzy of Russia-related fearmongering, this has meant that followers of the media have been subjected to a deluge of scary-sounding headlines making it seem as if Russians and their agents are spreading chaos everywhere, only to find on reading the stories that it’s a massive fuss about nothing and that substantive evidence supporting the headlines is almost entirely lacking.

So it is with the Atlantic Council latest report, The Kremlin’s Trojan Horses 3, which is the third in a series purporting to expose high-profile Europeans who are subverting democracy from within as witting or unwitting agents of the Russian government. The title implies that the report is going to be full of hard-hitting revelations of politicians and journalists taking the Kremlin’s money, acting on its orders, and saying or doing things which genuinely threaten the European way of life. And indeed, on its website, the Atlantic Council tempts you to read the report by saying that, ‘the Kremlin’s tentacles do not stop in Ukraine, Georgia, or East Central Europe. They reach far and deep in the core of western societies.’ But the result is a disappointment. For what the report actually tells you is that in Northern Europe there is next to nobody questioning the prevailing narrative about Russia. A better title might be something like The Almost Absolute Conformity of Northern European Elites and the Total Absence of Russian Tentacles. No doubt, however, nobody would read such a thing, and so we get a big scary title instead.

trojan horses

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Copenhagen conference

Today I participated in a conference in Copenhagen to launch a book entitled ‘The New Cold War’, edited by Danish MP Marie Krarup and consisting of interviews she conducted with 17 experts about Russian-Western relations.

Marie opened the conference by saying that she hoped it would move discussion of Russia away from stereotypes and demonization. Next up was Danish defence minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen who set about dashing those hopes by stating that Russia had violated international rules and was challenging her neighbours by, for instance, flying military aircraft close to their borders. Mr Frederiksen called for a combination of deterrence and engagement, but ‘from a position of strength.’

I spoke straight after the defence minister. I made three main points:

1. People in the West need to have a better sense of proportion when discussing the Russian ‘threat’. In the Cold War we worried about invasion by massive Soviet forces. Now we worry about Russian Facebook accounts. It’s not the same.

2. We ought to treat many of the exaggerated claims made about Russia with a bit more caution.

3. We need to blame Russia less and think more about our own contributions to the current problems; we can’t, after all, change Russia, but we can change ourselves, so that is where we should begin.

Following me, General Karsten Moller, former Danish military attache in Moscow, argued for a ‘serious dialogue with Russia’, e.g. reviving arms control discussions. He called for a gradual easing of sanctions to test ‘Russia’s willingness’ to engage.

Andrei Kortunov of the Russian International Affairs Council spoke next. He said that current tensions were at worst a ‘Cold War lite’. Despite sanctions, trade was actually growing again, and Russia remained integrated into Europe in many respects. But unlike in the Cold War, there was a marked lack of respect on both sides for one another. This could be seen in the derogatory language used in both Russian and Western media. Kortunov proposed the development of a ‘hybrid political system’ with elements of the Cold War order (such as arms control) combined with new international regimes on matters such as culture, migration, and terrorism.

Former Danish foreign minister Uffe Elleman-Jensen then took the discussion in a more hostile direction, stating that ‘the recent situation is a result of Russia’s behaviour and can only improve if Russia changes its behaviour.’ The West had been weak, he claimed, and this had encouraged Russian aggression.

Finally, historian Bent Jensen noted that the current crisis was ‘artificial’ as neither the West nor Russia truly threatened the other, while both sides had common interests. Jensen explained that modern Russia was not at all like the Soviet Union, and was not bent on world domination, but would not change its policies as a result of Western pressure. Western ‘impudence and lack of understanding have been massive,’ said Jensen, noting that the West had to share the blame for the decline in relations.

Overall, the discussion was well balanced, causing one questioner to ask during the question and answer session why academic debates could be so reasonable but everything always went haywire once politicians got involved. This led onto discussion of the role of lobby groups, the media, public opinion and the like in determining policy.

Ukraine also came up during Q&A, as did recent legislation in Latvia restricting education in Russian. Andrei Kortunov produced perhaps the most memorable line of the day, saying that ‘Kiev wants its lost territory back, but not the people who live there.’

The last word in the conference went to me. Responding to a comment by Uffe Elleman-Jensen about Russian breaches of the ‘rules-based order’ in which the former foreign minister said ‘we need to follow the rules,’ I said, ‘Indeed, we need to follow the rules.’  A spontaneous round of applause ensued.


Glædelig Jul

What nationality is Santa Claus? The answer to that question depends on who owns the North Pole, which is currently a matter of considerable dispute. Every year the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) tracks Santa’s sleigh as it travels south into Canada from the Arctic. Yet NORAD never dispatches any jets to intercept this obvious breach of Canadian airspace. This presumably reflects the belief that the Pole is Canadian. Indeed, in December 2013 Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird told reporters that, ‘We have asked our officials and scientists to do additional and necessary work to ensure that a submission for the full extent of the continental shelf in the Arctic includes Canada’s claim to the North Pole.’

But Canada is not the only country claiming the Pole. In the past 12 months, journalists, politicians, and academics alike have leapt with zeal on the ‘Russian aggression in the Arctic’ bandwagon, referring often to a 2007 incident when Russian scientists planted a titanium Russian flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole . ‘Russia Is Trying To Bully Their Way Past Canada Into Arctic Sovereignty’, pronounced Vice News in January 2014.  ‘Russia’s aggressive gambit to seize territory in Europe has amplified the need for Canada to fortify its claims to potentially disputed territory in the Arctic’, said Professor Aurel Braun of the University of Toronto in September. ‘Since Mr. Putin returned as President of Russia in 2012, but particularly in the past year, Russian claims to the Arctic have multiplied’, he added.

In fact, claims to Arctic waters are being determined by a well-established legal procedure, in which countries present scientific evidence to the commission established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Making claims under this procedure is not evidence of any form of aggression. Furthermore, Russia has entirely followed this procedure. The Canadian government, by contrast, hasn’t, as shown by Baird’s statement staking a claim to the North Pole despite a total lack of evidence that the Canadian continental shelf extends that far. As James Manicom, a research fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, put it: ‘I don’t think the prime minister, and the Prime Minister’s Office, are literate in deep-sea geology. So if they decided it was important to claim the seabed underneath the North Pole, then they have interfered with an otherwise pretty clear scientific process.’

In any case, Russia isn’t the competitor that Canada really has to worry about. In early December this year, the Danish government submitted scientific data to the UN in support of a claim to the North Pole, on the grounds that the Lomonosov Ridge under the Arctic Ocean is an extension of Greenland’s continental shelf. Experts suggest that the Danish claim is much more credible than those of Russia and Canada. ‘Preliminary work has shown … that Denmark would actually have the strongest claim to encompass the North Pole within its region,’ Ron McNab, formerly of the Canadian Polar Commission, told CBC News.

Santa, it appears, is probably Danish. Ho, ho, ho!