Unboxing Arctic Security Relations and Dynamics

Publication: Unboxing Arctic Security Relations and Dynamics (Global Development in the Arctic)

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Authors: Andreas Østhagen

CNARC member: Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI)

Introduction: Few places have given rise to so much speculation, hype, and sweeping generalizations as the Arctic region at the start of the 21st century. Propelled onto the agenda by flag plantings and resource appraisals a decade ago, the Arctic continues to lure researchers and journalists to venture northwards to “the next great game” (Dadwal, 2014).

However, ideas of the Arctic as an arena for political competition and rivalry are often juxtaposed with the view of the Arctic as a region of harmony and shared interests. Underpinning cooperation in the Arctic is a desire to ensure stable operating environments for extracting costly resources far away from their prospective markets, and the foreign ministries of the Arctic states repeatedly highlight cooperation (Heininen et al., 2020; Lavrov and Støre, 2010; Rahbek- Clemmensen, 2017). Scholars point to the different layers of Arctic cooperation and emphasize that the Artic has generally remained a zone of cooperation, even after the deterioration in relations between Russia and the West after 2014 (Byers, 2017; Elgsaas, 2019; Østhagen, 2016; Stephen and Knecht, 2017).

The common point in these two diverging views on Arctic political relations is the tendency to describe dynamics in the entire circumpolar region with one stroke of the brush. With rhetoric about Arctic security threats intensifying over the past decade, security challenges are seen as coherent across the circumpolar North (Jegorova, 2013; Lanteigne, 2016; Padrtová, 2017), and scholars and mediaalike increasingly refer to the Arctic as one region, where various types of state security interests are inherently intertwined (Borgerson, 2008; Huebert, 2013; Weber, 2015).

Security studies offer multiple approaches to the study of specific regions. An underlying assumption has been that the security concerns and priorities of states located within a region are interlinked and overlapping. Regional relations between actors may compound over time, giving rise to patterns that may not make sense from a purely systemic point of view (Frazier and Stewart-Ingersoll, 2010; Kelly, 2007). The case of the Arctic is well suited to examining the idea of a “security region.” What are the characteristics of the Arctic in terms of military and state security (for more on definitions of security, see, e.g., Hoogensen Gjørv et al., 2014)? Does the Arctic, as a region, share security interests and concerns— and why should that matter?

This chapter unpacks the nuances of traditional security concerns and dynamics in the Arctic in order to better understand recent developments and questions some of the assumptions underlying the concept of (security) regions more broadly. Moreover, by introducing a “level of analysis”—or, in other words, by making distinctions between state interactions that take place at different levels in the international arena (e.g., Singer, 1961; Soltani, 2014; Waltz, 1959)—we can move away from broad, sweeping generalizations on regional relations and advance the way we understand and describe security dynamics in the Arctic at different levels (for more, see Østhagen, 2021).