This recent treaty between Norway and Russia on maritime delimitation and cooperation should inspire other countries to resolve their maritime boundary issues through diplomatic channels.

On September 15 in Murmansk, the Russian Federation and Norway signed a bilateral treaty concerning Maritime Delimitation and Cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. The stakes are high in the High North. This makes the historic agreement all the more important.

The High North is attracting increased international attention. India too is seizing this opportunity. In June 2010 Norway had the pleasure of hosting Indian Minister of State for Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Prithviraj Chavan on a visit to the Barents archipelago of Svalbard, situated close to the 80th parallel. India has a long and important history in international research cooperation, including polar research. In 2008, the Himadri research station in Svalbard was inaugurated by Minister Kapil Sibal. Since then, activity at the station has been increasing, and new Indian research scientists arrive regularly.

Resource rich area

The recent treaty between Norway and Russia establishes a maritime delimitation line that divides a previously disputed area of about 1,75,000 sq.km, potentially rich in natural resources. Additionally, Norway and Russia will adopt detailed treaty provisions regarding cooperation on exploitation of hydrocarbon deposits and on fisheries management.

The High North is one of the world's most resourceful, yet most vulnerable regions. It is a strategic priority in Norwegian foreign and security policy. Norway sincerely appreciates the Indian contributions to polar research and arctic issues. Without international cooperation we cannot solve the vast environmental challenges brought on by climate change and melting polar ice.

Years of negotiations

After over 40 years of negotiations, the agreement exhibits the way peace and collective interests can be served through the implementation of the international rule of law. It also demonstrates the constructive relationship between Norway and Russia.

Unresolved boundaries can be among the most challenging disputes for states to solve. This is clearly demonstrated by the fact that it took 40 years to settle this one. The agreement is an important example of a successful negotiation on the basis of the Law of the Sea. After decades of talks, this breakthrough was achieved in a way that overcomes the zero-sum formula and provides a win-win outcome. Our hope is that the agreement might inspire other countries in their ongoing attempts to resolve their maritime boundary issues through diplomatic channels.

The agreement goes beyond the subject of maritime boundary issues. The agreement showcases international negotiations that build on an existing framework for international law, and also promotes cooperation that transcends geographic divisions. By living up to their responsibility as coastal states, the Arctic nations have an excellent opportunity to resolve the emerging challenges of the High North in a way that avoids conflict and strengthens international cooperation. When nations consider their interest in a long-term perspective, aiming for sustainability and win-win solutions value can be created. By settling the boundary dispute, Norway and Russia have unlocked advantages for each country that are substantially larger than what would have been the case if the dispute had not been solved. The agreement opens up for cooperation in a vast amount of areas, subjects that range from scientific cooperation to maritime safety to common environmental standards.

We have experienced first-hand that patient dialogue is the only way to build trust between parties in international relations. Creativity and explorations of the possibilities required to reach viable solutions cannot thrive on mistrust. Going from theory to applying our lessons in practice will take time and effort. But I am convinced that this will greatly increase the odds that we succeed in delivering innovative and collective solutions providing joint value that far exceeds the sum of the individual parts.

In the wake of signing the historical bilateral Treaty concerning Maritime Delimitation and Cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean, and the settling of Norway's only outstanding boundary dispute, the future for cooperation in the High North is bright.

Only through international cooperation can we protect the vulnerable Arctic climate, and in a responsible way exploit the vast resources emerging as a consequence of the receding ice cap. In polar research and glaciology, reference is often made to the three poles, the Arctic, the Antarctic and the Himalayas. To combat global problems, cooperation in research and technology is imperative. Shared knowledge will benefit us in the High North, as well as in the Himalayas.

Polar seminar in New Delhi

Once again, we appreciate the Indian contributions manifested by political interest and by the massive expansion of research cooperation between our two countries. In November, the Norwegian government along with the Norwegian Polar Research Institute will organise a Polar Seminar in New Delhi. It will be hosted by our Minister of Environment Erik Solheim. It is my sincere hope that the seminar will be only one of the important milestones in the cooperation between our two countries.

(The writer is the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs.)

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