Academics, business leaders and diplomats gathered to discuss the future of the Arctic region at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy’s fifth annual Opening Arctic Conference on Saturday.
The conference, which was organized by a group of 15 Fletcher students, was a part of its Warming Arctic International Inquiry Series, according to the event’s pamphlet. Through three panels, various speakers and a reception hosted by the Government of Japan, the conference served to address modern diplomacy infrastructure and commerce in the Arctic region, which conference panelists argued is newly open in the global market due to the rapidly melting sea ice.
Following a brief introduction from conference organizers and Fletcher second-years Molly Douglas and Rabia Altaf, the event began with a recorded video address by Senator Angus King (I-ME). King made a case for the necessity of infrastructure development, international cooperation, collaboration with indigenous populations and research as climate change reshapes the Arctic region.
“We have an opportunity to move through the development process of opening up the Arctic in a stable and peaceful way,” King said.
After King’s remarks, Admiral James Stavridis, dean of the Fletcher School, facilitated a panel discussion on Arctic diplomacy, in which six diplomats spoke about the need for cooperation in the Arctic.
Panelist Susan Harper, the director general and senior Arctic official of the Department of Global Affairs Canada, said that residents of the Arctic must be given opportunities for sustainable development.
Finnish Ambassador Hannu Halinen talked about the critical need for research in the Arctic, and American Ambassador Mark Brzezinski applauded President Barack Obama‘s focus on the Arctic.
“If we do not act jointly, that will accelerate the worst challenges and struggles that we face as they pertain to the Arctic,” Brzezinski said.
American Ambassador David Balton, who is the current chair of the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials, praised the Arctic Council for keeping the risk of conflict in the region extremely low, and American Ambassador Robert Barber spoke about Iceland’s partnership with the United States.
Japanese Ambassador Kazuko Shiraishi said that, as an observer state, Japan hopes to have an increased role in the Arctic Council. Later in the discussion, Halinen, Balton and Harper all agreed that observer states should enjoy larger roles.
Following their remarks, the panelists took questions from the audience about funding for Arctic research, climate change mitigation and the potential for conflict over petroleum.
Later in the day, Fletcher School Professor Paul Berkman moderated the second conference panel, titled “Advancing Pan-Arctic Infrastructure.” The five panelists, who represented both government and business interests, discussed the importance of developing regulatory architecture, investing robustly in infrastructure in the north and cooperating to ensure the safety of maritime traffic.
“[Arctic development] is no longer a question of research,” Berkman said. “It is a question of implementation.”
After the first two panels, Odaiko New England, a Japanese music group, performed for conference participants, and the conference hosted several roundtable discussions to address Arctic commerce and indigenous interests.
“The reality is that we are desperate for economic development in our territory,” Madeleine Redfern, the mayor of Iqaluit, which is in the Nunavut territory of northern Canada, said.
A third afternoon panel, which covered entrepreneurship and innovation in the Arctic, was moderated by Fletcher School Professor Rockford Weitz and hosted six panelists from government, business and academic spheres. The event concluded with remarks by Shiraishi and an evening reception.
Ultimately, most of the panelists and participants appeared optimistic about the future productivity of Arctic diplomacy and trade.
“The Arctic region can and probably will be a zone of cooperation,” Harper said.