Preventing Conflict in the Arctic with Russia Starts with Dialogue


Preventing Conflict in the Arctic with Russia Starts with Dialogue

Building up existing organizations and creating new frameworks will enhance cooperation and transparency, reducing the risk of war.

More is Necessary

While these existing frameworks are critical to maintaining stability in the region, the evolving strategic landscape warrants implementation of new multilateral frameworks. The creation of an Arctic Ocean Maritime Symposium (AOMS) would fill a critical gap, enabling naval leaders to discuss maritime security and defense issues and promote cooperation and coordination amongst international navies. Though all would be welcome, the eight Arctic States would be responsible for managing the structure and membership of the symposium.            

Perhaps most critical today is creating an Arctic Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) to improve Arctic communication and safety among naval forces operating across the region. Using the Western Pacific Naval Symposium CUES as a model, the non-binding Code could reduce the chance of an incident at sea or an unintentional escalation. An Arctic CUES would complement, rather than replace, the largely successful bilateral Incidents at Sea (INCSEA) agreements, including those between the United States and Russia among others.

Finally, creating a high-level political-military forum for the Arctic would not only fill a critical void, but provide leaders the top-down support required to make many of the aforementioned suggestions a reality. The past success of the Arctic Five—the five coastal states—in developing the 2008 Ilulissat Declaration, which affirmed the commitment of Arctic coastal states to the legal framework governing the Arctic Ocean and the orderly settlement of any disputes—provides a solid foundation for a future Arctic political-military forum.                      

Arctic governance frameworks have largely been effective and offer avenues to build upon to further enhance cooperation and coordination. All Arctic states must come together now to recognize that the evolving strategic landscape mandates a renewed commitment to dialogue and transparency on security and defense. Implementing these recommendations will require strong political will and productive engagement amongst all Arctic states, an admittedly difficult task given the frosty state of Western and Russian diplomacy.

Dr. Walter Berbrick is an Associate Professor in the War Gaming Department, founding director of the Arctic Studies Group, Co-lead scholar of the Newport Arctic Scholars Initiative, and Area of Study Coordinator for the Arctic region at the U.S. Naval War College.

Commander Rachael Gosnell is an active duty naval officer and 2020 Newport Arctic Scholars Initiative Fellow. She is a graduate of the Georgetown International Security Studies program and is a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland with a focus on U.S. strategy and Arctic security. 

Rear Admiral (ret.) Lars Saunes is a former Chief of the Royal Norwegian Navy currently serving as a Professor, CNO Distinguished International Fellow, and Co-lead scholar of the Newport Arctic Scholars Initiative at the U.S. Naval War College.

Dr. Mary Thompson-Jones is a retired senior Foreign Service Officer currently serving as Professor and Chair of Women in National Security and Diplomacy at the U.S. Naval War College.

Views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not represent the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or the U.S. Naval War College.

Image: Reuters.