Diplomacy at the Top of the World

WASHINGTON, DC – Geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West have been high in recent years, but there remain areas where constructive cooperation and dialogue remain possible. These include not only acute questions like Iran’s nuclear program, but also long-term issues critical to the Arctic region, such as maritime safety, energy development, responses to oil spills, and fisheries management.

As the United States convenes foreign ministers from Arctic and key non-Arctic states in Alaska on August 31 to discuss climate change and other topics concerning the region, it is vitally important that disagreements in other parts of the world not be allowed to derail the discussions.

When the US – an Arctic state with a strong interest in the region – assumed the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in April, it emphasized its readiness to cooperate with all of the organization’s members, including Russia. The August conference, appropriately named GLACIER, will feature an address by President Barack Obama. It is not an Arctic Council event, but it will likely be the highest-level international forum that the US leads during its two-year term as the Council’s chair.

Since April, we have spoken with Russian officials and academics, as well as officials from several other Arctic Council member states. In these discussions, all parties affirmed their readiness to cooperate regarding the Arctic. But they also underscored the risks to this hoped-for cooperation if external issues are permitted to intrude into the conversation.