Arne O. Holm says Biden–Putin Summit Groundbreaking for Arctic Co-operation

Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin agree to continue cooperation in the Arctic. That may have significant long-term international impact. (Screenshot from video,

(Commentary) The summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin became a historic manifestation of the significance of cooperation between Arctic states. The Arctic Council may in a longer-term perspective become an organization holding significant global potential. 

The meeting between the leaders of the two powerful states, the USA and Russia, stands out in most ways from former political summits between the East and the West. 

Democratic flight 

The USA’s challenge is a combination of the fear of Chinese world dominance combined with a domestic politics flight from traditional democratic values. During the presidency of Donald Trump, the USA proved completely unfit to be the liberal super-judge in a complicated and increasingly sharpened international situation. 

One can chose to believe Joe Bidens assurances that he stands firmly with NATO, and that the USA and NATO share some western democratic values. Yet even with such a starting point, the satisfaction may prove as short-lived as an American presidency. The republican party may take back the presidency at the very next election, which makes any international cooperation with the USA a risk sport.

When a recent poll by The Economist shows that republican voters trust Vladimir Putin more than they do Joe Biden, that is yet another demonstration that the USA is in a democratic crisis. 

In the shadow of China/USA 

Russia’s starting point is one of a weakened situation, both financially as well as politically. The meeting this week between the USA and Russia is no longer a confrontation between two ideologies as it was during the Cold War; it was rather a meeting between a USA that wants to regain world domination, and a Russia feeling isolated in the shadow of the conflict between the USA and China.

USA no longer fit to be a credible international super-judge.

In other words, the meeting between Putin and Biden was never the represent an international breakthrough. Nobody planned for it, and nobody expected anything of the kind. 

Which is why it borders on remarkable when the two state leaders nevertheless went above and beyond to stress the significance of Arctic cooperation under the umbrella of the Arctic Council. Both Putin and Biden were clear in their desire to preserve the Arctic as a peaceful part of the world, despite disagreements over militarization of the very same region. 

Points to the Arctic Council 

A representative for the American administration later described the situation after the summit in the following way

“We have the same stated objective.  We see what’s going on differently.  We’ll have to see whether there are ways both within the Arctic Council and outside the Arctic Council to work through some of these differences."

The Arctic Council may play a role carrying significance for conflicts way beyond the Arctic.

Such an analysis opens up the possibility for the Arctic Council playing an international role in the future that holds significance for conflicts way beyond the Arctic. 

Both the USA and Russia are members of the Arctic Council, and they share a border. Only the 85 kilometers long Bering Strait separate the two countries in the Arctic. China also participates as an active observer at the Arctic Council, and thus secures an international meeting place for heads of state, politicians, scientists, and indigenous people. 

For the next two years, Russia – which currently holds the presidency – has scheduled a tight and diverse program for meetings on different levels between the Arctic states. Dialogue between the East and the West will thus be continually ongoing. 

In two years, Norway takes over the presidency of the Arctic Council from Russia. The summit between Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin shows that this may be a very important future position.