Security Detail

“Good morning and welcome back for day number six of the 2078 Arctic Council Committee Members Meeting.” A Danish man looked around the large auditorium with a sparkle of excitement in his eyes as he addressed the crowd. “May the record please state that the local time here in Nuuk, Greenland is 8:03 in the morning on July 27th, 2078. Arctic countries and observers, today’s date may very well be remembered in history.” The room lightly applauded at the introduction.

“Please,” Kjell, a Norwegian Arctic Council representative barely whispered to Britt, his associate. “I thought that’s what they were saying about the last five days.”

Else Larsen stifled a laugh from where she stood at attention behind the Norwegian politicians. As their security agent, she had gotten to know Kjell and Britt quite well in the last week or so and enjoyed Kjell’s sense of sarcasm. He’d crack jokes just loud enough for her to hear; however, she had taken an oath before getting assigned her position, swearing to remain professional, and most important, silent, when the Council was in session.

The Danish spokesman continued. “Thank you all for joining us again for another day as we work towards the monumental decision concerning the currently-observer-statused country of China and their request to join the Arctic Council as a Member State. This decision ultimately lies on the eight current Member states. This morning, we will once again invite each Arctic country to please summarize their supportive and opposing arguments, as well as their decision.”

The past three days had all started the exact same: Member States expressed their opinion and got the opportunity to state whether they support, oppose, or are currently undecided about China becoming a Member State.

Not a single country had chosen a side yet.

However, Arctic Council meetings had historically lasted between one to three days, depending on the year. Now that they were starting Day 6, there was an air of impatience creeping into the room as everyone waited for the current Member states to finally take a stance on China’s status.

Else didn’t mind though. Her bosses had informed her of the importance of this decision and that, at the worst, she should prepare to be on assignment for weeks. She was hoping that her diligence and dedication to the security of Kjell and the other Norwegian representatives would not go unnoticed.

“I would like to remind you that the Arctic Council does not make decisions using majority rule, but rather a conversation and agreement needs to be made between all Member States. This does not mean that all eight of your countries need to end at the same vote, but a decision will ultimately need to be made that can be agreed upon by all of you.

“May a representative from the United States please start us off.” The spokesman stepped away from the microphone and sat down at a table in the front row of the auditorium.

She had never been to the U.S., but Else thought it might be a nice place to visit eventually, with all of their historic, creaky skyscrapers and such. When she was studying in college, she would watch movies with the President’s Secret Service staff to keep her inspiration high, dreaming that one day she could serve and protect people as prestigious as a national president.

As the American representative addressed the crowd, Else stopped herself from smiling as she watched his mouth form shapes and words in a language that was completely unfamiliar to her. As she watched, though, she could hear clear, proper Norwegian in her ears. She’d never heard a microphone translate so precisely in person before; usually they skipped on more complicated words or mispronounced at least a few things. Look at the technology invested in this event, she thought to herself.

After talking of world superpowers and Chinese prosperity, he came to the end of his speech. “On behalf of the United States of America, Member of the Arctic Council through the ownership of Arctic land in Alaska, and with the support of indigenous Alaskans, we give our support to China as a Member State of the Arctic Council.”

The room exploded with the sounds of muffled whispers and shuffling papers. Else became very alert, scanning the room for any potential threats.

“Finally!” sighed the Finnish representative seated a table over, physically reclining in his chair. “The stalemate is over.”

Else continued to look around. Seeing that other representatives also seemed relieved told her that there wasn’t any threat of danger, but yet the room was full of hurried, frantic body mannerisms that said otherwise. Her lack of political experience felt obvious. She looked to her Norwegian representatives for guidance.

“Sir, why would the United States support China?”, asked the newest and youngest Norwegian representatives to Kjell. “I thought they were afraid of China gaining more power. They’ve already assumed the title of World Superpower from America, why would the Americans want to support them now?”

“Anders, will you pass me the envelope with the declaration in it, please?” Britt whispered, leaning around Kjell to ask the aid on the other side of him without interrupting. Anders bent down from his chair to shuffle through some unorganized papers in his briefcase for a moment before pulling out the envelope. Without looking back up, he passed the envelope to Britt – passing right through Kjell’s midsection. When Britt didn’t grab the envelope, Anders sat up to find Kjell glaring at him.

“Oh my goodness, sir, I am so sorry!” He pulled his hand back. “I didn’t realize where my hand was, I mean no disrespect sir. Please forgive me?” A look of horror was evident on Britt’s face as she reached around Kjell’s projection to grab the envelope, avoiding eye contact with the aid.

Kjell rolled his eyes in annoyance at the aid’s misettique. “Sanctions,” he replied to the young representative’s earlier question. “Even at an event like this, there is always the fear of sanctions. The U.S. is already in hot water with China. They do not want to be rocking the boat any more than they have to.”

“Doesn’t that break some sort of Arctic Council code, though? Holding another country’s vote against them like that?”

“I don’t know that they’d actually do it. But the fear was probably enough for the Americans. Honestly? I’m just thankful that someone had the nerve to finally voice an opinion at this thing.”

Following the lead of the United States, Russian representatives declared their support of China as a Member State, pointing to China as the reason for their massive economic boom with deep appreciation.

“Thanks to the fully Chinese-funded Arctic ship ports back in the ‘30s, we have seen the largest financial and technological spike in Russian history. China brought ports and trade to our Arctic, even employing our local people to build them. We feel that, because of the prosperity they’ve brought to our land, it is only right that they get to help make Arctic decisions as well.”

Neither Else nor the new Norwegian representative needed that decision explained.

As the Russian representative took their seat, an Icelandic representative stood. Else recognized the man. A few days back, there had been a midday break in the meeting and Else found herself with twenty minutes and no responsibilities. She went outside to get some air when a group of representatives had walked past her on the sidewalk.

“I mean just look at that! Your parents ever tell ya about how they used to have to use big claw machines to move materials around when constructing a building?” Else overheard one of them say as they approached.

“You mean the ones where there had to be a person driving the machine too?”, laughed the second.

“Yeah exactly. I mean, I get it, we can’t really know what China would do as a Council Member. But look at all the shiny new stuff we’ve gotten from them before they’re even a Member! Imagine what we’ll get….” The group passed Else and were soon out of earshot.

“The Arctic state of Iceland is still weighing the implications of China becoming a member state. If the majority can reach an agreement, then Iceland will vote with the majority.” When the representative from Iceland stated that his country was still undecided, Else was shocked. She had heard him talking as if China’s member status was already declared. She couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t just state their support now, like everyone else was.

The representatives from both Canada and Denmark, on behalf of Greenland, expressed deep concern about China being the only Member State without any land at risk. “Decisions about the Arctic are inherently important to Arctic states because they have land in the game. What stakes does China have if their land and their population aren’t at risk with every vote cast?”

The female indigenous representative from Greenland also spoke, questioning China’s concern for the environmental degradation that had already occurred when they’d expanded their trading capacity into the Arctic. Remote, pristine coastlines had been destroyed for shipping ports; pollutants from the ports seeped into local ecosystems, causing birth defects in the native wildlife; and when the sea ice in the lower parts of the Arctic Circle completely stopped freezing over in wintertime, China used it as an opportunity to move more ships rather than ring any climate alarms. She questioned if China would be willing to consider past, present, and future environmental harm that they are directly causing in the Arctic if they are to become a Member State?

Even with all of these concerns, all countries had made it clear over the past few days that they couldn’t just ignore the incredible opportunities that China had brought them. Shipping ports had been built in all Arctic states, connecting them to global trade networks like never before. This brought goods, jobs, a booming economy, and social reform. With countries becoming so interconnected and dependent on one another, they began to hold the other to higher standards. Nicer products meant careful labor, bringing both a pay increase and better work conditions to laborers around the world.

No one could really complain about that.

Britt stood up, turning and glancing at Else. It was time. Else followed Britt up the stairs, and as they neared the podium, Else took position a few feet behind her. Kjell was instantly projected in front of the podium standing next to Britt.

“My Arctic colleagues,” Kjell started into the microphone. “As the past days have shown us, there are far more questions than answers at this point in time. Just a few representatives are expected to make a decision that may ultimately change the course of the Arctic, and the world, forever. Many of us are probably wondering: what happens if we make the wrong decision?… Is there a wrong decision?” Kjell looked around the room at each representative.

“With a ‘yes’ vote, this would make the world’s largest superpower the first non-Arctic country to join the Arctic Council. What else will we allow them to be the first to do? These may be good first or bad firsts, but either way, the weight of this decision is immense.” Britt flipped to the next sheet of paper on the podium for him.

“On behalf of Norway, in collaboration with the other Scandonavian states and with the support of the entire Nordic region, we have decided to take the leap and support China in whatever their next ‘first’ will be.” The room erupted into noise once again; Else at least knew enough to expect it this time. When the Finnish and Swedish representatives took the stage and backed Kjell’s statement, the room broke into applause.

The Danish spokesman took the stage again. “For those of you not keeping track, that means five out of eight member states have announced a positive supporting vote! We will take a break to process all that has happened today, and then I will leave it up to Iceland, Canada, and Denmark to make their closing statements. Remember: we do not need all eight countries to vote ‘yes’, but we do need an outcome to be discussed and agreed upon by all members. We will see you all back in here at 30 minutes past noon.”

As the room slowly emptied, Else began to make her way out. As she was leaving, she couldn’t help but overhear the Chinese representatives lounging and discussing the event.

“With Iceland, that’s six votes. And you know that Denmark will vote with the rest of the Nordic countries now. That just leaves Canada,” to which they all laughed. “…so what’s our next step?”

“We’ve already been over this,” another representative began. “We know we have full Arctic support at this point. Why agree to a binding membership? We know that protecting the environment is their main concern at this point, now that we’ve secured all of them economically. So as long as we set environmental regulations but keep up the good work, they’ll want to collaborate with us into the future. It’s really a win-win.”

“So we tell them that we understand their concerns and decline the membership offer, but express how interested we are in future collaboration. And now we know their motivations and needs, so we can be silently addressing those in the background too. But we have no legal ties to make anything happen.”

As Else walked out of the room, she couldn’t help but think about what this could mean. Why didn’t China want to be a Member state?

What was going on? she thought. If she were an Arctic Council representative, she would want full information before making a big decision like this. What should she do?