Delimitation Game

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2016-60-9-89-97

D. Tulupov, Saint-Petersburg State University, Smol’nogo Str. 1/3, Sankt-Petersburg, 191060, Russian Federation (


On August 3, 2015, Russia passed its partially revised submission to the UN Commission on the limits of the continental shelf (CLCS), specifying its claim on the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean. Consequently, a huge area of an overlap with Danish interests emerged, but its final contours will become eventually clear after publication of the Canadian submission to the CLCS, anticipated in the next few years. Being adherent to principles of the Ilulissat declaration 2008 these three stakeholder countries have to find a peaceful and mutually acceptable way for a resolution of emerging controversies over the Arctic shelf. CLCS has no last word here, because its authority is limited to delivering an expert assessment on whether a submission is well-founded or not. Thus, a final decision could be reached only through direct negotiations. This paper starts with the analysis of Russia’s 2015 submission to the CLCS and its perception by expert and political communities in the West. Then we proceed to formulation of the most likely scenario of negotiations on the Arctic shelf delimitation between Russia, Denmark and Canada by analyzing their core interests, positions and possible bargaining tactics. As the central part of the Arctic Ocean seems not well suited for sustainable economic use even in the long term, we assume that the countries’ aspirations for the continental shelf in this area are driven predominantly by considerations of political prestige and strategy. The most common tactical instrument in the contest for the Arctic shelf will be the tactics of increased demands. Denmark has already used it in the submission passed to the CLCS in December 2014. There are good reasons to expect that Canada will follow this way, too, by extending its claims not only on the Alpha ridge but also on the North Pole and Mendeleev ridge. In this case a second huge overlapping area in the Arctic Ocean will emerge. Russia has been much more modest in using the tactics of increased demands, as its 2015 CLCS claim demonstrates just tiny extensions in comparison with the initial CLCS claim submitted by the Russian Federation in December 2001. This indicates that Russian diplomacy is going to hold a firm line in the Arctic shelf delimitation, being ready to make only minimum concessions to Denmark and Canada. This hypothesis is supported by the analysis of relevant provisions contained in both versions of the Russian Arctic Strategy (2008 and 2013 editions), the Naval Doctrine of the Russian Federation 2015, as well as in public speeches of President V. Putin. Still, it is highly unlikely that harsh bargaining style will lead to a mutually acceptable solution. Instead, such solution should be a result of interest alignment and be considered as fair enough by all stakeholder states. A possible framework for compromise could be a neutralization of the North Pole, which will be selected as a focal point where all extended continental shelf zones are meeting together.


Arctic, the Arctic Ocean, continental shelf, delimitation, diplomacy, negotiations, Russia, Denmark, Canada 


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For citation:
Tulupov D. Delimitation Game. Mirovaya ekonomika i mezhdunarodnye otnosheniya, 2016, vol. 60, No 9, pp. 89-97.

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