Guess who’s coming to Ilulissat

Weekly Cover | Denmark’s celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Ilulissat Declaration is shaping up to be a dud

Is there a foreign minister in the house? (Photo: Daniel Weigert)

Kevin McGwin

Planning a reunion can be tricky: everyone is who was there the first time around gets invited, but you never know until the last minute who’s going to show up.

On May 22 and 23, Denmark, together with Greenland, throws a reunion of sorts when it invites representatives from all eight Arctic states to Ilulissat for a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the declaration signed there by the foreign ministers of the five Arctic coastal states (later dubbed ‘the Arctic 5’).

The official announcement for the meeting, sent out by the Foreign Ministry on Friday, suggests Copenhagen is on pins and needles about the final turnout: no names are named, only that it will have “participation from ministers and representatives” from Arctic states and the region’s indigenous groups.

Tellingly, diplomats in Copenhagen, typically keen on touting convivial Arctic relations, have been uncharacteristically mum about whether their foreign ministers will take part.

On the surface, that the Danes would have trouble getting their Arctic friends to RSVP to their shindig runs counter to the success of the original gathering, widely believed to have been the right meeting, at the right time. Internally, there was concern amongst the coastal states that Russia, which, the year prior, had planted a flag on the ocean floor at the North Pole, would thumb its nose at international conventions and make unilateral territorial claims.

Externally, there was mounting pressure by non-Arctic states to internationalise the region with an Arctic treaty, based on the Antarctic Treaty, which, by and large, permits only scientific activity there.

This time around, it appears that Ilulissat is the wrong meeting at the wrong time. Outside the region things are tense: problems between Russia and the US get most attention, but Moscow is also accused of stirring up trouble in the Baltic region. A Norwegian citizen who served as a border guard on the frontier in Kirkenes, is on trial in Moscow for espionage. If neither Moscow nor Washington will send top-level representatives to exchange pleasantries, no-one else is going to either.

Meanwhile, relations in the Arctic continue along swimmingly. Ironically, this, is due to the fact that the Ilulissat Declaration achieved its purpose. Russia, Denmark, and Canada all appear to agree to wait until the UN to reviews their claims at the North Pole before taking their next steps.

Meanwhile, Iceland, Sweden and Finland, the three members of the Arctic club that lack an Arctic coastline, say they are firmly behind the declaration, despite initially bristling at not being invited to the 2008 meeting.

Taken together, this, according to paper published in February by Jon Rahbek-Clememsen and Gry Thomasen, two Copenhagen-based scholars, suggests that the Ilulissat Declaration succeeded its goals of putting a lid on concerns about an unregulated Arctic and showing to non-Arctic countries that a treaty for the region was “unnecessary and unrealistic.”

The same read may also apply to this week’s meeting.

The Weekly Cover is The Rasmussen’s main story of the week. These articles will sometimes look ahead at one of the more important or interesting topics of the coming week, or they may provide insight and analysis about a current issue.

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