His­tory of Arc­tic body best at early years

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by An­drea Char­ron

THIS well-writ­ten his­tory of the cre­ation of the Arc­tic Coun­cil is at its best in its de­scrip­tion of the early years. By pro­vid­ing the po­lit­i­cal con­text of world events in the lead-up to the coun­cil’s cre­ation in 1996, Univer­sity of Toronto his­to­rian John English un­der­scores the many pres­sures, agen­das and per­son­al­i­ties that pushed and pulled for its suc­cess and its demise. The work­ing as­sump­tion is that those who read this book are fa­mil­iar with the Arc­tic Coun­cil, its man­date and mem­bers. In brief, the coun­cil is an in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal fo­rum for coun­tries with Arc­tic bor­ders to dis­cuss is­sues of mu­tual rel­e­vance to the Arc­tic. Its eight state mem­bers are Canada, Den­mark, Fin­land, Ice­land, Nor­way, Rus­sia, Swe­den and the U.S. There are six in­dige­nous groups and a host of state, non-state and in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal ob­servers. English, best known for his two-vol­ume bi­og­ra­phy of Pierre Trudeau, be­gins with a de­scrip­tion of the fa­mous ex­plor­ers of the Arc­tic, in­clud­ing Fro­bisher, Davis, Baf­fin, Franklin and Parry, who trans­formed the Earth’s north­ern reaches into a place on mod­ern maps. The chap­ters con­tinue in chrono­log­i­cal or­der through the great wars and Cold War with fre­quent ref­er­ences to Canada’s Arc­tic poli­cies and “acts of oc­cu­pa­tion.” English ex­am­ines the early his­tory of the Arc­tic Coun­cil in im­pres­sive de­tail. Its ori­gins are in 1991 with the Arc­tic En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Strat­egy (AEPS), a Fin­nish ini­tia­tive fo­cused on en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion of the Arc­tic. The Finns seized on an im­por­tant speech made by Rus­sian pres­i­dent Gor­bachev in 1987 call­ing for an end to the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of the North (per­haps even a nu­clear-free zone) and “an in­te­grated com­pre­hen­sive plan for pro­tect­ing the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment of the North,” English writes As soon as the AEPS was launched, how­ever, Canada sug­gested that a new fo­rum should be cre­ated that fo­cused on en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment It is his ex­am­i­na­tion of Canada’s at­tempts to cre­ate a new “arc­tic coun­cil” that high­lights English’s ex­per­tise as a his­to­rian. He pro­vides depth to the many char­ac­ters re­spon­si­ble for the lurch­ing progress to­ward a Dec­la­ra­tion of the Es­tab­lish­ment of the Arc­tic Coun­cil. Mary Si­mon, Canada’s first am­bas­sador for cir­cum­po­lar af­fairs and for­mer pres­i­dent of the Inuit Cir­cum­po­lar Coun­cil, fea­tures through­out the book as a force to be reck­oned with and the pri­mary driver of the coun­cil’s cre­ation. Other par­ties, such as for­mer for­eign af­fairs min­is­ter Lloyd Ax­wor­thy and aca­demic Franklyn Grif­fiths, pro­vide in­side glimpses into the bick­er­ing, tus­s­ling and com­pro­mis­ing that is in­evitable when eight states, all with dif­fer­ent agen­das, gather to cre­ate a new fo­rum. The back-and-forth be­tween Canada and the U.S.’s pref­er­ences for the Coun­cil are par­tic­u­larly rich. Sadly, the re­cent years of the coun­cil are only skimmed. The ro­tat­ing chairs are barely men­tioned, and yet th­ese years the Arc­tic Coun­cil pro­vided its great­est achieve­ments. English’s book, there­fore, lacks bal­ance in terms of the at­ten­tion paid af­ter Canada’s in­au­gu­ral chair of the coun­cil. To be fair, be­cause it is a his­tory of the Arc­tic Coun­cil and not sim­ply an ac­count of de­ci­sions made, it is un­der­stand­able that the lead-up to the coun­cil’s cre­ation is prom­i­nent. Yet th­ese lat­est years de­mand re­vis­it­ing. One can only imag­ine what de­li­cious anec­dotes English could tell re­gard­ing the hand-wring­ing be­fore the eight Arc­tic states voted to ac­cept China, In­dia, Ja­pan, South Korea, Sin­ga­pore and Italy as the lat­est non-Arc­tic state ob­servers while de­lay­ing de­ci­sions on the ap­pli­ca­tions by Green­peace and the Euro­pean Union. Canada’s cur­rent chair of the coun­cil (2013-2015) thus far has been un­der­whelm­ing. Per­haps it is pre­scient that English’s con­clud­ing chap­ter is also a sum­mary of what has been ac­com­plished by the coun­cil in the last decade. This does not just end the book; it may por­tend the con­clu­sion of the coun­cil’s util­ity. Or it could mean a new be­gin­ning. An­drea Char­ron is the deputy di­rec­tor of the Cen­tre for De­fence and Se­cu­rity Stud­ies at

the Univer­sity of Manitoba.

Ice and Wa­ter Pol­i­tics, Peo­ples and the Arc­tic Coun­cil By John English Allen Lane, 367 pages,


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