Master of Arts in Law
Associate at Law Ofﬁ ce Varul
Cold Arctic and Hot Caspian
Side by Side: New Legal
A Russian Perspective
If we were to ask ourselves what the Arctic Ocean and Caspian Sea have in common, the ﬁ rst answer to come
to mind would probably be: ‘Nothing—except both being large and important reservoirs.’ It is, no doubt,
true that the climate, history, and perspectives for development of these regions are signiﬁ cantly different.
Furthermore, a legal expert would probably argue that the juridical concepts for these two bodies of water
are quite different: the former is unanimously considered an ocean, whereas the Caspian is disputed, either
a semi-enclosed sea or an international lake.
However, thorough consideration based on recent developments reveals several common features that
unite the seemingly unrelated cold Arctic and hot Caspian. Representatives of both Arctic and Caspian
countries have already expressed opinions that, for various reasons, their regions are in strong need of a
new, comprehensive legal regime. The point of our particular interest in this article would then be whether
there really are any new regimes under international law that can be expected to emerge in the near future.
The article takes a glance at these possible new legal regimes and investigates why—and how—Arctic and
Caspian states strive for new international agreements or, on the contrary, refrain from them.
In addressing these questions, the article presents a brief case study considering how contemporary
international law emerges. Proceeding from the assumption that there is a need for new legal regimes in
both regions, the article offers insight on the new treaties via the prism of state interests. Thereafter, the
article focuses on examining what the real payoffs and legal forces are that would lead states to accept or
reject the Arctic Treaty or Caspian Convention. Particular emphasis is placed on how the ‘common player’
in both the Arctic and the Caspian case, the Russian Federation, proceeds with its own juridical foreign
policy in the respective areas.
The methodological insight applied in this article is the so-called rational choice theory, here stating
that international law emerges from states acting rationally to maximise their interests, given their percep-
tion of the interests of other states and distribution of state power.*1 According to the theory of rational
choice, by entering into new treaties the states attempt to resolve problems of co-operation, to commit to
a particular code of conduct, and to gain assurance regarding what other states will do in the future. Thus
1 J. Goldsmith, E. Posner. Limits of International Law. Oxford University Press 2005, p. 3.
JURIDICA INTERNATIONAL XVIII/2011