Will enhance peace and stability in the region:
Historic maritime delimitation treaty between Russia and Norway
“The treaty on maritime delimitation and cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean will eliminate one of the greatest security and foreign policy challenges Norway has faced in the north,” says Torbjørn Pedersen, a researcher at the University of Tromsø.
On 15 September 2010 Norway and Russia signed the treaty on maritime delimitation and cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. Under the provisions of the treaty Norway and Russia will receive approximately equal parts of the disputed sea area in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. Dr Pedersen emphasises that the treaty is crucial for several reasons. “Border disputes are a significant source of conflict around the world. So Norway is fortunate to have been able to resolve this issue. The treaty will serve to enhance peace and stability in the region.”
Fair and reasonable solution
Norway and Russia have succeeded in negotiating an agreement that is consistent with the spirit of both the UN Charter and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“Russia has abandoned the sector principle, which had little foundation in international law. The two countries have used the negotiations to find a middle road, and the agreed maritime boundary may be seen as a fair and reasonable solution, as prescribed by the Law of the Sea,” states Dr Pedersen.
“The treaty is a clear indication that the two countries respect international rules. It provides additional confirmation that the Arctic is a civilised region, in which the coastal states resolve their differences through peaceful means and in accordance with international law. Observers and would-be experts who have warned that the Arctic areas would become more lawless and conflict-ridden in the wake of climate change may find it more difficult to justify their claims,” says Dr Pedersen.
According to Dr Pedersen it is worth noting that Norway and Russia have drawn the delimitation line right up to the Arctic Ocean, between the Svalbard archipelago and the Russian archipelago to the east. This would not have been possible if Russia still regarded the sea areas outside Svalbard as international waters.
“Ratification of the agreement will signal that Russia has recognised that Norway has a certain authority over the sea areas outside Svalbard, a position more in keeping with international law,” Dr Pedersen explains.
40 years of negotiations
As a result of the major transformation that the Law of the Sea underwent in the 1960s and 1970s the coastal states were given control over the petroleum resources on the continental shelf and the fisheries resources in the 200-mile zone, a zone that extends 200 nautical miles from their coastlines.
“This also revived the question of where the border should be drawn between adjacent states. The Law of the Sea did not contain clear provisions on this issue,” says Professor Rolf Tamnes, who is Director of the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, a historian and project manager of the GEOPOLITIKK-NORD project.
“In 1963, in connection with the burgeoning interest in oil, Norway decided to base its position on what has become known as the median line principle. According to this principle the boundary is drawn along a line every point of which is equidistant from the countries’ baselines,” explains Professor Tamnes.
The median line principle formed the basis for the delimitation of the continental shelf in the North Sea in the 1960s and in most of the later maritime delimitation treaties between Norway and other states.
“The Soviet authorities would not accept a median line solution. They claimed that, due to certain circumstances, the border should be drawn along the sector line – a straight line from the border point on the coastline up to the North Pole. The area disputed by Norway and Russia constituted an area of 175 000 km²,” states Professor Tamnes.
Norway and the Soviet Union met for discussions on a delimitation line for the first time in 1970, but as long as the Cold War lasted, the countries’ positions remained far apart. At times the issue was extremely tense and posed significant difficulties for Norway.
Professor Tamnes explains that after the end of the Cold War Moscow showed greater flexibility in the negotiations.
“In 1992 the countries had carved out an agreed maritime delimitation line that encompassed about 84 per cent of the disputed area. However, after that the Russians hardened their position again. It was not until 2010 that the breakthrough was achieved, when the two countries agreed to divide the disputed area into two parts approximately equal in size.”
Could lead to more cooperation
Kristine Offerdal is a Research Fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. She believes that the maritime delimitation agreement could lead to increased cooperation between Norway and Russia in the Arctic and northern areas.
“The treaty contains provisions on cooperation regarding exploration of petroleum fields that extend across the new boundary line. Cooperation on petroleum activities could also lead to a need for closer environmental cooperation and more activity in the region generally.”
According to Ms Offerdal the previously disputed area is interesting to Norway as an exporter of oil and gas because it could prove to be an important supplement to total production on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. With the North Sea as a mature petroleum region and the Arctic and northern areas as an area of strategic focus, the maritime delimitation treaty fits in extremely well with Norway’s High North and energy policy.
“The treaty has the potential to extend Norway’s role as an actor in the international energy arena. The treaty itself has helped to put Norway and the Arctic and northern areas on the map. The potential petroleum activity in the area could reinforce this trend. This, in turn, could have spin-off effects in the form of greater activity in areas other than petroleum,” says Ms Offerdal.
She stresses that Norway also faces political, and some would say moral, challenges, when it comes to petroleum exploration in the area, as a result of environmental and climate-related problems.
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