(Un)Frozen Frontiers: A Multilateral Dispute Settlement Treaty for Resolving Boundary Disputes in the Arctic

February 28, 2012

The unanticipated melt of the Arctic ice pack over the past decade has highlighted and accelerated the claims of those nations with territories in the Arctic—Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Norway, Russia and the US—to the region’s previously unnavigable trade routes, as well as the rich undiscovered deposits of resources that lie beneath the receding Arctic ice. Serious questions have arisen, however, whether there exists a suitable legal framework for resolving the competing claims to the Arctic’s territories and its resources.

There is and can be no serious argument that peaceful diplomatic resolution of any future Arctic frontier disputes would be in the best interests of the Arctic states, and the international community generally. Yet given the high stakes, disputes between the Arctic states may arise and may require the use of a third-party dispute resolution mechanism. This paper briefly reviews the existing dispute settlement mechanisms that may be available to assist in the settlement of any future Arctic frontier disputes. It suggests, however, that none of the current mechanisms provide the best possibility of peaceful, enduring resolution to any future Arctic frontier disputes.

As a possible mechanism for the resolution of any future boundary disputes in the Arctic, a multilateral Arctic dispute resolution treaty between the Arctic states is therefore proposed. That treaty would, among other things, create a mandatory and binding arbitration-based dispute resolution framework for the settlement of future Arctic frontier disputes. It is argued that, in the absence of a diplomatic solution, such a multilateral mechanism would provide the best foundation for the peaceful and enduring resolution of any such disputes, and a process which meets the needs of both the Arctic states and the international community generally.