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Michael Byers: there is no alternative to cooperation in the Arctic!

The book «International Law and the Arctic» of the famous Canadian researcher of problems of the Arctic development Michael Byers was published in Novosibirsk in publishing house of the Novosibirsk State University. The recognized expert in international law, professor of University of British Columbia (Vancouver), arrived to Russia to present the work and willingly answered various questions of the Arctic:

- How Canada and the USA perceive Russia when we speak about the Arctic? There is such impression that not always this perception is based on positive information. Therefore, it is so important to explain to people what occurs constantly. Science and the law are international and policy and the personal point of view — not always. For example, our prime minister shows displeasure of that the Russian planes fly up close to the territory of Canada. But every time he forgets to mention that the Russian bombers don’t fly in air space of Canada — they are always nearby. That is the international law isn’t violated by no means, but there is reaction to it, of course.

What represents the force and power of the Russian state in the Arctic? Ice breakers! But when Canadians see them on pictures, they notice not the power of the Russian science, but military superiority. Or let’s take «Peter the Great» — the most powerful ship, basing place of which is just the Arctic. Those who is well informed, know that this ship is not the ice breaker and it doesn’t ply in the Arctic, but it is in Murmansk, in the Barents Sea. Perhaps, it shows the Russian military advantage. But actually it is there, showing that Russia has an access to the open ocean.

Or let’s look at the known photo of Artur Chilingarov — the scientist-polar explorer, the former deputy of the State Duma. Some will think that Russia raises a claim for all Arctic, but those who has information, know that Russia goes in for cartography of an ocean bottom. That the flag of Russia is at a depth of 4400 meters on the North Pole is rather impressing scientific achievement. After all placement of a flag on the North Pole doesn’t create any legal precedent, in the same way as well as the American flag on the Moon! That is, we often see symbols and if we have no enough information, we see some threat. And what we do has to be first of all lawful.

We remember the time when Russia was negative to the Greenpeace organization and those defenders of the nature who acted illegally, but from our point of view it was too sharp reaction from its party. But the perception of the past can differ from reality and there can be a misunderstanding.

For decades two biggest countries in the world Russia and Canada cooperated in the Arctic. I will remind that in 1969 the USA sent the tanker across the Northwest Passage and they arrived so, without having informed Canada. In reply Canada started developing international law in this question. And we managed to do it — there was the article 234 in the Convention of the UN on a marine law. In 1982 the representatives of the USSR, Canada and the USA met and we managed to convince the Americans. But in 1988 the USA sent one more vessel and the only country which supported Canada was the Soviet Union. And our common position was based on international law. Today from the legal point of view Russia and Canada support identical strategy in such question as navigation regulation in the Arctic waters.

Now we meet new problems and challenges. Owing to climate change the ices thawing grows. And it creates both new opportunities and new problems. More and more vessels want to pass the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route. At the moment the route across Northern sea way lies completely in waters of Russia but when more and more vessels try to use this route under the flag of various states, they will try to call in question the rights of Russia and Canada. Everything can change — where the ice breakers went, there will be able perhaps to pass regular vessels. Therefore, the question of legal norms is important for our countries. I am deeply convinced that cooperation of Russia and Canada in the Arctic has to proceed. Together it will be easier for us to assert the rights, than one by one.

And I am very glad that our cooperation proceeds. For example, I managed to spend two weeks on the Russian vessel «Academik Ioffe» which is the best vessel for the Arctic waters. And it worked in the Canadian waters from a full consent both Russian and the Canadian authorities. And this summer one more Russian vessel participated in very important expedition when the remains of the ship of John Franklin expedition who was gone 160 years ago were found. Detection of this ship is one of the main achievements of the Canadian archeology.

The prime minister of Canada said more than once that Canada is in good relations with Russia. And he confirmed this three months ago. And I would like to quote Vladimir Putin’s expression which already became familiar that it is impossible to survive alone in the Arctic. Today Russia makes considerable efforts. So, there was a precedent of disagreement between Russia and Norway, but by 2010 all disagreements were liquidated and now the Barents Sea is accurately divided between these two countries. And this is big achievement not only for Russia and Norway, but also for all Arctic states. Both Canada and the USA entered negotiations later concerning the Beaufort Sea. And I am very grateful to Russia that it roused my country by own example to the same negotiations with the USA.

There are international precepts of law which regulate the rights of a certain country for an ocean floor. In 2008 they were confirmed. The most part of the Arctic already is distributed in this sense. Russia has a zone of exclusive economic interests and it the biggest. There are such zones at Canada, the USA, Norway and Denmark with Greenland. And all questions concern a zone outside 200 nautical miles from the coast. Russia already declared the claims on a continental shelf and submitted the corresponding application. It is very important to understand that these claims were based on scientific data. And, perhaps after similar claims arrive from all Arctic countries, crossing of areas will be found. And it is possible that the Lomonosov Ridge is continuation both the territories of Greenland and the territory of Russia. And then everything can be solved only by negotiations. But at this stage we pass a stage of collecting and submission of scientific data.

In 2008 we refused the sectoral principle of the Arctic division. But actually, so far it is possible to consider that after all it is considered because some lines of delimitation just are carried out on borders of sectors. There is a contract on application of the equidistance principle. But, in general, at the moment we already overcame the sectoral principle and we move ahead according to the new principles.

Initially my idea was that the countries shouldn’t apply for those territories for which they won’t be able to apply as a result after providing scientific data. I tried to make such recommendations after saw what actions are taken by Russia. In 2001 Russia submitted the first data, but they weren’t supported with scientific data — it was simply diplomatic step. And such decision of Russia just indicated the readiness for cooperation. Unfortunately, then the Canadian government didn’t listen to my recommendation. A year ago the prime minister postponed application from the Canadian party at the last minute. I spent many forces on convincing the Danish government not to submit data on the territory passing for the equidistant line. I am very disappointed with the decision of Denmark, but I understand that no rights were violated by these actions. We all the same should hold coordination and negotiations, but already in other generation — not in ours. We actually postponed decision-making on this difficult question for 10−15 years.

Now Denmark submitted the application about claims for a continental shelf in the Arctic. But it isn’t legally competent action — these are simply scientific facts. And perhaps data of two countries will be recognized as the competent. And, perhaps, then negotiations of Russia and Denmark, as negotiations of Russia and Norway will be held earlier. But Greenland is the part of the North American continent therefore Denmark should conduct negotiations with Canada too. We already got used to conduct negotiations on the Arctic. A good example is polar bears which, as we know, live both in Russia and in Canada. If they had passports, they would have a dual citizenship. And so, in 1973 the scientists of Canada and the USSR convinced the governments to forbid hunting for polar bears from helicopters. The menacing situation was overcome and the relevant international agreement was signed. And it is necessary to tell that then there were very intense relations between the USSR and NATO — much worse than now.

The one who speaks about possibility of war in the Arctic now, forgets about history: we always cooperated in the Arctic and we will continue our cooperation. It is necessary to take this cooperation as an example and to extend it to other areas.

Canada is the participant of NATO, but in most cases its armed forces aren’t under supervision of NATO. When the Canadian soldiers are in the Arctic, they submit to the Canadian command. Sometimes we participate in actions, joint with NATO. So, the Canadian military participated in operation in 2011 in Libya as the Canadian was the commander-in-chief. Our prime minister said that Canada doesn’t recognize any participation of NATO in the affairs connected with the Arctic. We consider that NATO has enough cares around the world.

Cooperation of Canada and Russia in the Arctic has to remain positive. For example, there is three years to our cooperation in questions of lives rescue. The Arctic states at discussion of this important question acted not as members of some blocks, namely as the Arctic states. You know a recent case when the South Korean vessel sank in the Bering Sea — according to the contract on people rescue the plane and the vessel of the USA entered the Russian space to save the lives. These actions were agreed by the Russian side. And in this case it wasn’t the vessel of NATO … We have joint interests in the Arctic. The main thing is rescue of those who needs the help in the Arctic. And NATO isn’t necessary for us.

The problem often is that the population doesn’t perceive information truly. This misunderstanding from the population is very frequent and can influence adoption of political decisions. My work is to explain all to the average citizen. And very often it is necessary to explain to journalists what exactly occurs. All of us have to understand that the science and the law are the international language and the general for all of us.

The book which I wrote is an attempt to explain what is the international law not only for Canada, but also for other countries. Of course, we can’t agree on each point, but it is very important to read works of each other. And I am very glad that my book appeared in the Russian.

Viewed : 2458   Commented: 1

Author: Vladimir Kuzmenkin

Publication date : 05 January 2015 14:51

Source: The world and we

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