Alaska is looking to its neighbors in the north for support on some of the challenging issues unique to the Arctic. On Monday, Gov. Bill Walker signed a declaration making Alaska a member of the Northern Forum, a nonprofit organization made up of regional governments from eight countries, which includes Russia.
The symbolic union also serves as a platform to share best practices on struggles common to the area.
“A lot of them have to do with things like food security, cross-border collaboration around infrastructure,” said Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Institute of the North — an organization founded by former Gov. Walter Hickel, which has pushed for Alaska to rejoin the Northern Forum after its exit nearly four years ago.
Andreassen says the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council has made Alaska’s re-entry to the forum timely.
“I think it sends a message that the state remains a part of the Arctic region even after the U.S. chairmanship, so after next year, when the chairmanship transfers to Finland, we’re still going to need to have a voice in the Arctic and the northern forum is a good way to do that,” Andreassen said.
As polar ice melts, so do the barriers between countries, which Walker says could strengthen Alaskan commerce.
“Now, as we watch the Arctic open up, this summer we’ll see our first cruise ship leave Seward bound for Europe,” Walker told a mostly Russian audience in Anchorage’s downtown Atwood Building. “The opening of the Arctic, we believe, is equivalent to the opening of the Panama Canal decades ago. What that will do for trade, what that will do for commerce, what that will do for our countries to be able to interact differently.”
On the other side of the ocean, members were also optimistic that collaboration at a state level could help national negotiations.
“I am sure that we have to work together,” said Yury N. Zakharinskiy, Deputy Chairman of the government of the Krasnoyarsk territory in Russia. “And this historical event that we just held today, I think that this will reduce the tension between our countries.”
Members of the Northern Council will continue to meet every two years.