The Arctic on the Agenda at the Brussels Forum 2013 Conference

On 15th-17th of March, The German Marshall Fund of the United States invited the Arctic Forum Foundation’s Secretary General Steffen Weber to participate in the 8th edition of its prestigious flagship event ‘Brussels Forum’ at the Steigenberger Grand Hotel in Brussels. Over the past years this event has become the premier venue where senior leaders from the world of politics, business and ideas discuss the future of the transatlantic relations in the global context. Brussels Forum 2013 welcomed over 400 participants representing more than 55 different countries.

For the first time since the inception of the event, the agenda of the Forum included a panel on the Arctic, highlighting the increased importance of the region to the transatlantic community. The off-the-record night owl session titled “Race to the Arctic” hosted as speakers: Mr. Stephen Carmel, Senior Vice President of Maersk Line Limited, Ms. Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide, Chairwoman of the Foreign and Defense Affairs Committee in the Norwegian Parliament, Rear Admiral (ret.) David Titley, Former Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance of the United States Navy, and Professor Lev Voronkov, Head of the Nordic Department of the Moscow State Institute of International Affairs.

The discussion started by acknowledging that rapid ice melting and the prediction of ice-free summers by as early as 2030 has dramatically changed how the international community views the geopolitical and geo-economic relevance of the region. What used to be the least explored part of the world and often considered as a wasteland outpost now mobilizes considerable strategic, commercial, economic and even military considerations. However, in reference to the title of the panel, the speakers questioned the general notion of a “race to the Arctic” by the members of the international community, and underlined that harsh climatologic conditions and the lack of infrastructure and capabilities makes it very difficult –still today – to operate above the Arctic Circle, whether it concerns the commercialization of new shipping lanes, the development of civilian and military infrastructure, or the exploitation of new mining and drilling activities.

All parties agreed that cooperation between Arctic States is crucial and needs to be intensified as activities in the region increase. The involvement of non-Arctic States was generally encouraged, but also generated discussion, especially in the light of admitting new players to the Arctic Council and the future of this institution.

After a short discussion between the panelists many in the audience were eager to engage in the debate and a lively discussion took place until late at night. The panel took special attention for the comment by the Arctic Forum Foundation’s Secretary General Steffen Weber, who highlighted the role of the private sector, in particular business players in the development of the Arctic, which led to a discussion of most suitable ways to address the increasing importance of business actors in the developments in the Arctic.

The Arctic Forum Foundation is proud to be associated to the initiative of the German Marshall Fund to integrate Arctic issues in its programming, and will be exploring how mutual avenues of interest could be further developed in the future to be able to address the growing interest in the strategic region of the Arctic.


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