The Arctic Council, a once-obscure regional forum that had little to show for itself, has nations queuing to participate, as melting ice makes shipping, tourism and resource extraction a reality in the nebulously delineated region.
Among the 14 countries and organizations seeking so-called observer status at a meeting this week in Kiruna, northern Sweden, will be China, whose increased interest in the Arctic underscores the region’s re-emergence as an area of potential geopolitical intrigue.
The council’s eight permanent members—the U.S., Canada, Russia and five Nordic nations—must agree to admit the new observers. The Nordic nations, which have been courted aggressively by China, say they will. Canada has expressed reservations on expansion. It is unclear whether the U.S., which is sending Secretary of State John Kerry to Sweden, and Russia will agree, as they wake up to the increased economic, and perhaps military, potential of the vast stretches of Arctic territory within and north of their borders.