The United States is seeking a closer partnership with Finland through the Arctic Council, which brings together countries on or near the Arctic Ocean.
This spring the US begins a two-year chairmanship of the Council, followed by Finland in 2017-2019.
The US Special Representative for the Arctic, Admiral Robert Papp, tells Yle that the Americans aim to tackle issues that are important to Finland during their term at the helm of the Arctic Council, which begins in a few months.
Papp, who is now taking part in the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, northern Norway, which ends on Friday. He will then visit Finland.
“Helsinki is one of the most important stops on our trip,” he says. “Finland takes over in a couple of years so we want to make sure that our targets are also acceptable to Finland. Hopefully the Finns will carry on at least some of the projects that we start,” Papp says.
Political tension, climate change
Washington hopes to strengthen the Arctic Council in this era of heightened tension between Moscow and the west, disputes over exploitation of Arctic resources and changes brought to northern seas by climate change. The Council encompasses eight countries around the Arctic Ocean – five in the Nordic region, two in North America and Russia – as well as indigenous communities represented by bodies such as the Saami Council, plus observer members.
“We want to strengthen the operations and monitoring by the Council’s Secretariat and make sure that the views of all the members’ observers are taken into account,” says Papp.
The significance of the Council has grown in an unprecedented way in recent months due to the split between Russia and the west and the fall in oil prices, for instance. Risks in the northern waters have grown while cooperation on environmental protection has come to a virtual standstill, for instance. Washington may be hoping that Finland can resume the intermediary role it sometimes played between the superpowers during the Cold War era.
Toward sustainable development
“I haven’t yet had a chance to hold talks with the Finns, but I’m eagerly looking forward to our discussions,” says the retired Coast Guard commander. “We want to adopt the issues that are important to Finland as part of the programme for our chairmanship,” which begins in May as Canada passes the baton.
During its remaining two years in office, President Barack Obama’s administration hopes to raise American public awareness of Arctic affairs while advancing security and sustainable economic development in the world’s northernmost region, says Papp.
“We also want to find new ways of preparing for climate change,” he adds.
This week Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, his Norwegian counterpart Erna Solberg and Sweden’s Minister of Strategic Development Kristina Persson are to jointly present a study on prospects for Arctic development at the conference.
The report was co-written Risto E. J. Penttilä, a former politician representing Stubb’s pro-business National Coalition Party and director of the Finnish Business and Policy Forum (EVA). He now heads the Finland Chamber of Commerce and the European Business Leaders’ Convention, which in turn will hold a conference in Helsinki next summer.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Arctic Council: The evolving role of regions in Arctic governance, Blog by Heather Exner-Pirot
Finland: Ex-President Ahtisaari calls on Finland to join NATO with Sweden, Yle News
Greenland: Greenland urged to work with Arctic Council, CBC News
Iceland: Iceland conference draws on hopes, concerns for changing Arctic, Alaska Dispatch
Norway: Permanent Arctic Council Secretariat opens in Tromso, strengthening Norway’s position in Arctic, Blog by Mia Bennett
Russia: The Arctic Council’s Immunity to Crimean Flu, Blog by Heather Exner-Pirot
Sweden: Feature Interview: Sweden wraps up Arctic Council, Radio Sweden
United Kingdom: The British Invasion – The Arctic Circle and observer states, Blog by Heather Exner-Pirot
United States: 10 takeaways from the 2014 Arctic Circle Assembly, Alaska Dispatch