During a meeting of the forum’s regional coordinators held in Anchorage between the 25th and 27th of July, 2016, Governor Bill Walker of the US State of Alaska signed an agreement with the Northern Forum, once again making the state a member of the international organisation. Governor Walker and Yuri Zakharinsky, Chairman of the Northern Forum's Regional Coordinators Committee, signed the official agreement at a ceremony during the meeting.
Alaska’s official return to the Northern Forum - an international body that promotes cooperation between regional governments in the Arctic - is an important event for the Northern Forum, especially as Alaska was one of the foundation's original members, until Alaskan officials decided to leave the forum in 2011. Over the past few years, the Northern Forum’s membership has been comprised mostly of Russian Arctic regions.
Vladimir Vasiliev, a minister in Yakutia, Russia, was glad to see Alaska return to the Northern Forum. "For me personally it was kind of a shock in 2011 when Alaska made the decision to leave the Northern Forum,” he was quoted as saying in the Alaska Ditpatch News. For Vasiliev, it “was always understood" that Alaska is an important part of the Arctic.
In his speech at the signing ceremony, Alaska Governor Bill Walker emphasised the importance of cooperation between the Arctic’s different regions. He recalled a conversation he had years ago with former Alaska Governor Walter Hickel (1966-1969; 1990-1994), one of the original founders of the Northern Forum in the 1990s. “All Arctic regions and countries must work together to solve common problems,' Governor Hickel told Walker at the time.
Governor Walker emphasized that many parts of the Arctic have common problems, and these problems can be solved using common approaches. Like many other parts of the Arctic, Alaska faces issues with infrastructure and social problems. The possibility of increased ship traffic in the Arctic requires more communication and cooperation, Governor Walker argued.
"Here the state sees a chance to bypass some of the messages from Washington and Moscow and work toward the safety and security of Alaskans in a region where we share more than we compete," Governor Walker said. "The Arctic must remain a zone of peace, and Alaska can continue to build bridges."
A return to cooperation was welcomed by the Russian counterparts. "We're very happy to see you back in our forum because we have very similar problems and economic situations in the north. The only way to solve them is to work together," said Eduard Isakov, a representative to Russia's Duma from the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Region in western Siberia.
By working together, members of the Northern Forum hope to tackle a wide range of issues, including addressing energy (especially with the fall in the price of oil), improving infrastructure and reducing the price of electricity for Arctic residents.
Foudned in 1991, the aim of the Northern Forum is to improve the quality of life of northern peoples and support sustainable development of northern regions by providing a platform for collaboration, knowledge and experience sharing and implementation of joint projects.