Co-operation in Arctic Science
Walter Slipchenko


The first joint meeting of the Coordinating Group of the Canada-U.S.S.R. Arctic Science Exchange Programme was held in Ottawa, 23 to 26 February 1987. It concluded with the signing of a protocol extending the programme for another two years. This co-ordinating group was established under the terms of the Protocol of Canadian/Soviet Consultations on the Development of a Programme of Scientific and Technical Cooperation in the Arctic and the North which was signed in Moscow in April 1984.

 In the early 1970s, the Canadian and Soviet governments selected the Arctic as the region holding the most promise for bilateral co-operation. Unfortunately, both sides could not agree on a mutually beneficial exchange programme; the Canadian side stressed the need for the inclusion of social and environmental sciences, whereas the Soviet side argued the need for more physical and natural sciences. During this period, with the exception of several discussions and the signing of two memoranda of understanding, no exchanges took place.

 The current exchange programme is a result of initiatives taken by both sides in 1981. The first was a Soviet aide mémoire presented to the Canadian government in the latter part of 1981 and noting the importance of arctic scientific and technical co-operation between both countries, including exchanges in the social sciences. At the same time, the Canadian government was reviewing the possibility of reestablishing normal relations with the Soviet government following the invasion of Afghanistan, a relationship which was to be based primarily upon areas of particular interest to Canadians. One such sphere was the development of social, scientific, and technical exchanges dealing with the Arctic. In light of the Canadian government's decision to negotiate a mutually beneficial arctic exchange programme with the Soviet Union, extensive interdepartmental consultations took place throughout 1982 and 1983.

Canadian and Soviet proposals were exchanged in February 1983, and both delegations met in Ottawa the following month. During these meetings, an attempt was made to avoid subject areas already covered by existing bilateral and international agreements. At the conclusion of the discussions, both sides identified 25 subject areas meriting consideration. Further discussions were held in April 1984 in Moscow, and a protocol was signed for a detailed two year programme of activities in 18 subject areas, some of which were further divided into subtopic areas. The programme consisted of activities under four main themes: Geoscience and Arctic Petroleum, Northern Environment, Northern Construction, and Ethnography and Education.

 As a result of the programme, 12 Canadian and 12 Soviet delegations were exchanged, and more than 40 scientists and specialists from each country participated in the projects. Despite the fact that the prime purpose of this first exchange was familiarization, Canadian participants cited benefits such as excellent contacts between specialists; closer personal ties between participants and good working relationships; access to information not previously available; first-hand knowledge of the situation in northern areas, particularly the state of Soviet northern technology; possible commercial spin-offs, especially in the area of northern construction; and involvement of aboriginal specialists on both sides. This is not to suggest that there were no difficulties with the programme, nor that the Canadian side was completely satisfied with Soviet reciprocity; however, in balance, and as a first step, the initial phase was highly successful and certainly contributed to better and broader Canadian Soviet relations.

 In February of this year, the Canadian and Soviet Coordinating Group agreed to a new protocol, extending the programme until 1989 and providing for a detailed two-year programme of activities that includes joint scientific research projects and field trips, bilateral symposia and seminars, reciprocal exchange of researchers and specialists, and exchange of information. Moreover, the number of main subject areas has been expanded to 30, with a corresponding increase in the subtopic areas during the next two years.

Since 1971 there have been times when the possibility of anything happening with the exchange programme seemed remote, and "one step forward, two steps backward" seemed to sum up the sense of frustration. However, during the last three years it appears that an effective, bilateral, arctic scientific exchange programme between Canada and the Soviet Union has been achieved. On the Canadian side, the next step is to broaden Canadian representation in the programme to include more aboriginal organizations as well as the direct involvement of provinces, universities, industry, and other agencies having northern interests.

There is no doubt that the importance of the exchange programme will continue to grow, not only in the scientific arena, but in the broad context of international relations.


Walter Slipchenko is Chief, Circumpolar Affairs Division, Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development.

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