The Civilian Role in Safety in the North Atlantic.

2008 Conference of Arctic Parliamentarians, Fairbanks, Alaska, 11 to 14 August.

The northern reaches of the North Atlantic and the Arctic are emerging as a new oil and natural gas region for North America and Europe. Demand for oil and gas continues to grow, and energy reserves in many other areas continue to decline. Consequently, international interest in this part of the world and in its unexploited resources will increase, which in turn will require careful management of intergovernmental relations.

With its vast energy resources and new East-West energy transport corridors, the High North of Europe will become one of the key regions in the global economy. The Arctic and the Barents Sea will become dynamic economic development areas, and an area of crucial importance for energy security in the European Union, the United States and Canada. 

Due to its geographical position, Iceland has great interest in regard to activities in the Arctic. Increased Arctic exploitation and shipping, not to mention the impact of the potential opening of the Northern Sea Route and Trans-polar Route to the Pacific Ocean, will have a great effect on Iceland’s geopolitical importance.

The westernmost gate from the Arctic into the North Atlantic is the Davis Strait between Canada and Greenland; it is  about 340 km wide. The Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland is 286 km wide. The third and widest gate is the one between Iceland and Norway. It is about 800 km wide and is divided into two main sea lanes by the Faroe Isles – one to the east, leading to the European Continent and the UK, the other leading to North America.

During World War II, US convoys sailed north of the conflict area in the Atlantic, through the Denmark Strait, making stopovers in Iceland on their way to Murmansk in Russia. During the Cold War, tension between east and west escalated in the North Atlantic.  The Greenland-Iceland-UK gap turned into NATO’s front line as regards the expansion of the Soviet fleet.

From May 1951 to September 2006, the United States maintained a military base at Keflavik International Airport, in the southwest corner of Iceland. The base has now been closed down, with the bilateral defense agreement between the USA and Iceland remaining intact.

Iceland does not have any armed forces of its own and has no plans to set up its own military. Nevertheless, we take very seriously the international obligations that stem from our national sovereignty and independence. We are very much aware of the fact that the sea routes used in transporting energy to North America from Russia and Norway lie through Icelandic waters, which makes our geographical position a key factor in ensuring security in the North Atlantic and, in fact, in ensuring the energy security of the USA. We have made, and will continue to make, our contribution to cooperation and stability in the North Atlantic region.

The security of our citizens now increasingly depends on law enforcement on land and sea; immigration and border control, maritime and air traffic control, intelligence gathering and police activity; in other words, on contributions from civil law-enforcement institutions.

As Minister of Justice, responsible for Iceland’s police, Coast Guard, civil defence, immigration and border control, I have defined three main priorities in introducing reform and modernization and addressing the need to ensure an active Icelandic contribution towards coordinated security efforts in the North Atlantic. These are:

·        Increased capacity of key security institutions.

·        Coordination of national security operations.

·        An international dimension, in particular involving collaboration between key national security institutions and their counterparts in our neighbouring countries.

It has been my task to restructure the police and the Coast Guard in order to take on new responsibilities. Decisions have been taken to purchase a new fixed-wing coastguard aircraft and to build a new 4,000-ton patrol vessel; both are scheduled to be operational in 2009. A collaboration agreement between the Governments of Iceland and Norway aims for a joint Norwegian-Icelandic tender for specially-designed long-range search and rescue helicopters –  two or three of them for the Icelandic Coast Guard.

Iceland’s contribution towards security in the North Atlantic is of a civil nature. In the sixties and seventies, the Icelandic Coast Guard was engaged in the Cod Wars with Great Britain, in which the British used maritime power as a shield for fishing by their trawler fleet within Icelandic waters in defiance of the extension of the Icelandic fishery zone to 12, 50 and finally 200 nautical miles. In the end a negotiated solution was found to end all the disputes.

It is not, and should not be, in any state’s interest to give occasion for military conflict in the High North; on the other hand, it is in the interest of all those who want to utilise natural resources, protect the environment and engage in profitable shipping operations in the region, to have in force the full security structures that are exercised by the civil authorities.  In addition, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and other treaties provide a legal framework for maritime delimitation, conservation and management of marine resources, international navigation, other uses of the oceans and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Having extended its exclusive economic zone to 200 nautical miles in 1975, it took Iceland 32 years, or until 2007, to finalize negotiations on the delimitation of the zone towards its neighbours – the Norwegians on Jan Mayen to the north, the Danes and Greenlanders to the west, the Danes and Faroese to the east and the British to the south.

Amongst the obligations undertaken by Iceland through its ratification of the Convention on the Law of the Sea was to comply with Article 76 on the determination of the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. This includes presenting a submission on the limits of the continental shelf to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) before the prescribed time limit in May 2009.

Preparation of the submission commenced in 2000 and is still ongoing. This work entails the most extensive studies of the continental shelf around the country ever undertaken. Iceland’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone covers about 750,000 km2. In addition, under the provisions of Convention on the Law of the Sea, Iceland claims continental shelf beyond this limit covering about 1 million km2..

This includes three areas: one in the Ægir Basin in the “Banana Hole” north-east of Iceland, one on the Reykjanes Ridge south-west of Iceland and one in the Hatton-Rockall Area to the south.

Only Iceland has laid claim to continental shelf on the Reykjanes Ridge. On the other hand, Denmark (on behalf of the Faroe Islands) and the United Kingdom and Ireland, in addition to Iceland, have claimed rights to the continental shelf in the Hatton-Rockall Area. Iceland has urged that the parties reach an agreement on the division of the Hatton-Rockall Area before presenting a joint submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. In 2001, the Icelandic authorities initiated quadrilateral consultations between the parties concerned on this issue and these consultations have since been continued on a regular basis. Although the aforementioned time limit to present a submission to the Commission does not apply to disputed areas such as the Hatton-Rockall Area, Iceland wants to contribute to a prompt solution of this issue.   

In September 2006, the Foreign Ministers of Denmark, Norway and Iceland, and  the Lagman (the Prime Minister) of the Faroe Islands, signed an agreement on the division of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles in the area between Iceland, the Faroe Islands, mainland Norway and Jan Mayen in the Ægir Basin in the southern part of the Banana Hole. This agreement was the result of extremely positive and constructive negotiations between these countries which lasted only a few months. Iceland acquired 29,000 km2, the Faroe Islands 27,000 km2 and Norway 55,500 km2 of the area in question.

This division of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles is conditional upon each party successfully demonstrating its right to its negotiated part of the continental shelf in its submission to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The Icelandic part lies entirely within 60 miles from the foot of the continental slope north-east of the country and therefore belongs, unequivocally, to its continental shelf as defined by the Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Under its Rules of Procedure, the Commission does not have the authority to deal with submissions by individual states regarding disputed continental shelf areas, unless all parties to the dispute have agreed to submit the dispute to the Commission for adjudication. One part of the agreement between Iceland, Norway and Denmark/Faroe Islands was the mutual consent of the countries in regard to the presentation of their submissions to the Commission.

As far as I can gather, this is the only agreement on the division of the continental shelf beyond 200 miles that has been concluded between more than two states. The agreement may serve as a precedent and a model for settling disputes of this type and is, at the same time, a textbook example of how to settle disputes between neighbouring countries peacefully.

The disputes that are likely to arise in regard to the control of maritime zones in the Arctic Ocean may be solved within the framework of the Convention on the Law of the Sea by taking note of three basic principles.

In the first place, neighbouring countries, two or more, need to solve any disagreement on the delimitation of their exclusive economic zones and continental shelves within 200 nautical miles, including the baselines used for calculating these zones. 

In the second place, states need to reach an agreement on the division of the continental shelf in disputed areas beyond 200 nautical miles. Such an agreement may either entail a complete division or some kind of a joint exploitation area.

In the third place, neighbouring states need to present their submissions, or a joint submission, regarding the outer limits of the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. On the basis of the recommendations of the Commission, the states may then determine the outer limits, i.e. the limits between the continental shelf and the international seabed area beyond, in a final and binding manner.

With this in mind it is to be welcomed that the United States is coming closer to ratifying the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea– this will be the basis for Alaska’s claim to natural resources beyond the US economic zone in the area. Let me mention that in May of next year, the Law of the Sea Institute of Iceland and the Center for Oceans Law and Policy, of the University of Virginia, are planning a major international conference on issues relating to the Law of the Sea in Seward, here in Alaska. 

Ladies and Gentlemen.

There can be no doubt that the mechanisms are in place, in international agreements, for the peaceful solution of all disputes that may arise as a result of intensified utilisation of natural resources in the Arctic.  The only question is whether the political will exists to make use of these peaceful mechanisms that have been developed between nations.  We must all hope that this is the case, and recognise how important it is that both those nations whose territories are adjacent to this ocean region, and also others in the immediate vicinity should be involved in solutions reflecting their interests.  These issues must be approached with an inclusive attitude, not an exclusive one. 

It is only natural that it may take a long time, even many decades, to resolve disputes by agreement.  We can expect great strides to be made in exploration technology in the years ahead, and with high prices for oil and gas, more funding will be made available for exploration in conditions that in many ways will be more difficult than we can now imagine, even with further melting of the ice cap and warming of the climate.

In this connection we must look into closer cooperation between the nations bordering the North Atlantic and the Baltic with a view to tightening surveillance and security at sea.  At a meeting in Sweden in October 2007, eighteen nations, including all those represented here, founded an organisation called the North Atlantic Coast Guard Forum.

The Forum is an informal organization, not bound by any treaty, bringing together representatives from the North Atlantic and Baltic countries to facilitate multilateral cooperation on matters related to combined operations in areas of illegal drug trafficking, marine security, environmental protection, information exchange, fisheries enforcement, illegal migration and search and rescue operations.  The work of the organization is built on working groups dealing with the various issues.  To begin with there are 6 such working groups, dealing with the following issues:

Maritime Security

Illegal Drug Trafficking

Illegal Migration

Fisheries Enforcement

Search and Rescue

Environmental Response.

There are two meetings every year, a summit in the autumn and an expert meeting in February/March.  The first such expert or working-group meeting was in Copenhagen in March this year.

The first tasks of the working groups were:

?      to map the various aspects of the organizational structures and resources of the different services,

?      to improve co-operation between member nations and

?      to identify Coast Guard competences among the member nations to provide assistance outside of the Forum.

Denmark took over the chairmanship of the Forum from Sweden last year, and Iceland will take it over for 2009 at the summit in 2008.  The chairmanship for 2010 has not yet been decided but Estonia will chair the Forum in 2011.

To some extent, the North Atlantic Coast Guard Forum models itself on  a similar organization in the North Pacific, to which some of the members, such as the USA, Canada and Russia, also belong.

I welcome this informal, but important, co-operation. It confirms the active and growing role of civilian institutions in all aspects of Arctic exploitation and actitivity and in safeguarding the security of those operating in the Arctic and on shipping routes adjacent to the Arctic.

This could lead to all kinds of innovations in the regional context, such as a standing coastguard force in the North Atlantic and the Arctic, with member nations providing vessels and crews.

One of the innovations might be Regional Maritime Security Operations Centres (MSOCs) throughout the North Atlantic Region to improve civilian security by enhancing the capabilities of the participating nations in the North Atlantic Coast Guard Forum to track, analyze and react to maritime threats. Canada is now leading an initiative that goes in this direction, and in Iceland we have agencies that could staff such a centre in Iceland around the clock and would have access to various information databases.  

To conclude, I want to stress Iceland´s interest in taking concrete measures and discussing ideas which contribute to peaceful and safe development in the Arctic under the new circumstances that are being created by climate change.