In annual addresses, silence speaks louder than hype

While many Arctic leaders left the region out in the cold during their New Year’s addresses, those who did all agree: big change is ahead

The Arctic: the promised land of 2014? (Photo: Nasa)

Lesley Price

The Arctic has experienced a momentous amount of development in the past year. Despite all the media hype surrounding developments in the region, many Arctic leaders left the region out of their end-of-the-year addresses, but those who did all brace themselves for a significant year ahead.

The recent changes in the Arctic pose a huge amount of opportunity for most coastal states, particularly the Kingdom of Denmark, which includes Greenland and the Faroe Islands. Queen Margrethe, the kingdom’s head of state, made special reference in her New Year’s address to the “increased international interest in the North Atlantic area [which] will have implications for each individual society as well as for the Danish Realm”.

She acknowledged the past years’ developments in the kingdom, including the opening of new shipping routes and exploitation of natural resources in Greenland. Despite recent disputes between the nations making up the kingdom, she said she was confident that each society “will be able to demonstrate the resilience and innovativeness required to navigate under the given conditions”.

The voice of Greenland
In her address, Aleqa Hammond, the Greenlandic premier, placed most emphasis on her country’s leading role in the development of the Arctic, and discussed the historic developments in the region.

“Greenland’s voice is clearer than ever before, we are ambitious and we want to be part of the agenda,” she said.

Ms Hammond stressed that whilst decisions in the past year, including the decision to permit uranium mining, may not reflect the views of many Greenlanders, they are imperative to improve international relations and to “put Greenland on the world map”.

“The exploitation and exportation of the [natural resources] in Greenland is not something that we ourselves can benefit from [but] it is important that we have international partners [and] funds,” she said.

The coming year will be an “exciting” time according to Ms Hammond, and will see the economy grow and move towards dependency on mining rather than fishing, with a significant boost in employment.

Iceland, but not isolated
Iceland is also looking ahead to significant growth in the new year. In his address, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, the Icelandic president, the Arctic is now “the centre of global concerns”. Mr Grímsson made special mention to the implementation of Iceland’s Arctic strategy, which will see various countries in and outside the Arctic help steer and support the future of the region.

Mr Grímsson expressed that Iceland “once isolated in the far north, is now on the global highway in a key position in a region that will play a decisive role during this century”. The new developments in region will bring an array of opportunities to Iceland, however, Mr Grímsson stressed that the Nordic countries should ideally work collaboratively to ensure successful and sustainable development of the Arctic.

All Nordic addresses also placed emphasis on conflict resolution and whilst it may not be clear what disputes were referred to, it can be assumed this will be particularly relevant in the year ahead.

Canada and all the rest
Stephen Harper, the Canadian PM, also discussed the new prospects the changing Arctic will bring, which are set to “keep [the Canadian] economy moving”. Most notably the construction of Inuvik-Tuktoyaktuk highway to the Arctic coast.

Mr Harper also discussed defending the nation’s “sovereignty and long-term prosperity”, with particular reference to his government’s efforts to secure Canada’s claims to the Arctic seafloor.

Despite Russia playing a significant role in the Arctic over the past year, the country’s president, Vladimir Putin, chose not to mention Russia’s recent involvement in the region. The governments of the US (including the Alaskan governor), the Faroe Islands, Norway, Sweden and Finland made no direct mention to the Arctic in their New Year’s addresses either.

Originally published by The Arctic Journal. Re-published here with the permission of the author.

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