All posts by Romain Chuffart

About Romain Chuffart

Romain Chuffart is an MA candidate in Polar Law at the University of Akureyri, Iceland. Holding a BA in interpretation and translation studies from the University of Mons, Belgium, he is completing a graduate thesis on indigenous language rights in the different Arctic jurisdictions.

Duncan Depledge, Britain and the Arctic (London: Palgrave Pivot, 2018)

Does geographical proximity make you closer to a region than long-standing historic ties? Is Britain a “forgotten Arctic State”? How can Britain find its way in the “Global Arctic”? These are the questions, Duncan Depledge, director of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Polar Regions Secretariat in Westminster and Special Adviser to the UK House of Commons Defence Committee tries to answer to in his new book Britain and the Arctic. In the field of polar research – in Britain or abroad – Depledge does not need any introduction anymore. His name, alongside his former professor at Royal Holloway, University of London Klaus Dodds, has become synonymous with high-quality research in both international relations and polar studies. Based on a doctoral thesis Depledge defended at Royal Holloway in 2014, this book might be regarded by some as a timely contribution to the field of polar studies, especially at a time where Britain is gauging its involvement in the Arctic. On a more structural level, Britain and the Arctic is written as a collection of six thematically self-standing essays that each tries to assess Britain’s relation to the high north in an all-encompassing and detailed manner. Written in a short, punchy format, each chapter takes the form of an essay (with an abstract at the beginning) that makes the whole book more reader-friendly.

As pointed out at the beginning of the introduction, Britain’s present interest in the Arctic has never been as high since the Cold War. Although one might be forgiven to think that British interests in the North is an offspring of Britain’s colonial past, Depledge posits the Arctic has come into focus based on the need to make sense of how the Arctic is changing and how understanding these changes can help Britain be more productive in terms of science, trade, conservation and national security (p.6). With this new contribution, Depledge endeavours to analyse four overarching themes to better assess Britain’s relation with the Arctic. Drawing on Britain’s long history as a global power, Depledge first shows that Britain has had a massive role in influencing and defining the Arctic for centuries. He then argues that in spite of the “circumpolarisation” of the Arctic where the Arctic Eight (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US) have pushed non-Arctic states such as Britain towards the periphery of Arctic affairs, interests for the region within Britain domestic political, scientific and public landscapes have continued to grow in the last decades. The third theme is linked with the production of new scientific knowledge and the interests of British scientists in understanding how the region is likely to evolve in the future. This comes at the interplay of science, environmental, military and security concerns. Finally, Depledge also assesses the extent to which Britain’s contemporary engagement in the region, mainly due to its colonial past, is shaped by the country’s need to atone and demonstrate sensitivity in engagement in postcolonialism and neocolonialism debates.

As Lassi Heininen suggests in one of the blurbs, the idea of that Britain might be a “forgotten Arctic State” definitely comes as a surprise at first. The layperson might indeed wonder how a State whose northernmost tip (Out Stack, Shetlands) lies a bit further north than Bergen, Norway but still south of the Faroe Islands  could be an Arctic State, let alone a forgotten one.  In Chapter Two (Britain: The Forgotten Arctic State), Depledge cleverly demonstrates that closeness is not only a matter of topographical proximity. In the Arctic, a geopolitical region that is being construed as more and more global, Depledge highlights the problems with creating an arbitrary dichotomy between Arctic and non-Arctic States that relies solely on geographical proximity. Such closeness, he argues, is also a matter of topology. While acknowledging that Britain’s longstanding history in the Arctic comes as a result of its colonial past, Depledge demonstrates that topography and topology offer two different ways of thinking about Britain’s proximity to the Arctic. Although topography might play a more important role in the contemporary geopolitical landscape and also makes the Arctic look further away from Britain – demonstrated in framing Britain as “The Arctic’s Nearest Neighbour” in successive government policies since 2010 -, Britain, he argues, share deep and extensive topological links with the Arctic. From a topographical perspective, Depledge points out that the Arctic as a regional construct would still be vulnerable to further changes if and when the Faroe Islands and Greenland ever chose to become independent. In this changing Arctic landscape, Depledge also briefly mentions  the “spectre of Scotland one day becoming independent” and how, he argues, “few would seriously question whether the rest of Britain’s interest in the Arctic should be at all diminished or that Scotland should have a greater role than the rest of the Britain in Arctic affairs” (31). However, this analysis might come as oblivious of Scotland sharing a similar set of commonalities with northern/Arctic European states. Scotland’s growing role in Arctic affairs over the past few years from its involvement in para-geopolitical fora such as the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik to being one of the driving Arctic forces within British politics.

Elsewhere in 2011 and 2012, Depledge had already made the case for the UK government to develop an overarching formal Arctic framework which would help Britain and other stakeholders reflect on what actually matters for Britain in the region. Following the release of the Arctic Policy Framework in 2013, British involvement in the Arctic has not ceased to grow. Depledge highlights the challenges the Polar Region Departments have encountered in their attempts to communicate Britain’s Arctic interests at home and abroad and the need for a new British Arctic strategic document. Such challenges include the recent short-term vision that has been dominating British foreign policy making. In Britain and the Arctic, Depledge argues for a review of the Arctic Policy Framework and for a new strategic document to be published. Since Britain and the Arctic’s publication however the UK Polar Regions Department did publish a new Arctic policy (Beyond the Ice: UK policy towards the Arctic) in 2018. However, the 2018 policy did not surprise much and had a rather conservative approach to Britain’s relation to the region.

Britain might not be a forgotten Arctic State, but the book’s overall raison d’être appears less to be putting Britain on the Arctic map once again and more a statement for Britain to become even more involved in the Arctic than it already is. As Depledge argues if Britain wants to have a bigger role and an impact on Arctic affairs, the focus should be less on claiming topographical proximity (“Britain as the Arctic’s nearest neighbour”) and far more on making Britain the Arctic’s closest neighbour through science, defense, trade and cultural links (127). This kind of involvement from contemporary non-Arctic actors is to be welcomed as the Arctic is being construed as a more global and evolving region. Cooperation between Arctic and non-Arctic stakeholders is key to build a better integrated region. Britain and the Arctic is an exemplar of quality research about the globalisation of the Arctic. With its practical outlook, Depledge has made many positive contribution to academic research in the field of polar studies and Britain and the Arctic offers the most recent example of such contributions. Its concise format and affordable price tag make it a must-read for everyone interested in Arctic affairs, from decision-makers and politicians to senior academics and undergraduate students.

G. Baruchello et al. (eds.), No One Is An Island: An Icelandic Perspective (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2018).

No One Is An Island: An Icelandic Perspective explores how Iceland’s behaviour is influenced by the country’s small size and is a timely contribution to Icelandic studies and small states studies in general. This interdisciplinary edited collection came as a result of “No one is an island: Iceland and the International Community”, a conference held at the University of Akureyri in March 2016. The book provides an extensive overview of the subject at hand as it brings together works by Icelandic scholars, mainly from the field of social sciences.  As Frímannsson points out in the epilogue, the overall aim of this book is to reflect on Iceland’s and Icelanders’ attitudes and relation to the outside world (135) as the country gradually and dramatically changed over the course of the last century. Comprising of six unique articles divided into two sections, this short book in size but not in content will be of help to scholars and students alike interested in small states, microstates and everyone wishing to know more about Iceland’s position and future in the international community.

The first section explores Iceland’s representation through non-Icelandic academic research, within the Icelandic media and through the experience of people who chose to migrate to Iceland. In Chapter One, Giorgio Baruchello reflects on his twelve years as the editor of Nordicum-Mediterraneum (NoMe). As editor of NoMe Baruchello has been dealing with and reading many articles by non-Icelandic, mainly Italian, scholars who have intellectually explored the island from various viewpoints. Baruchello identifies four recurrent themes: Iceland as “the land of the Vikings”, Iceland as a Nordic State, Iceland as an Arctic State, and Iceland as a dimension of the spirit. Fully aware that it would be a difficult task to assess how representative these four themes are of both the stereotypes and the commonplaces in the collective consciousness about Iceland, Baruchello concludes by assessing how well they fit with Icelanders’ self-representation and presentation of their culture to foreigners. Iceland as an Arctic nation might be the fastest-growing identity. In the last decades or so, the Arctic has managed to carve itself a space in the Icelandic consciousness and within Icelandic politics. The majestic, almost spiritual character of the Icelandic landscape and geography will not surprise anyone – it is how Icelandic touring companies have advertise the island since the tourist boom of the last few years. Nonetheless, Baruchello’s conclusion is that although Icelanders still partially enjoy their country in the same way their ancestors did, urbanisation and high living standards have also had an impact on how Icelanders perceive their country’s own identity as they sometimes tend to agree with how the country is regarded abroad rather than on their own perceptions.

Birgir Guðmundsson then shifts the focus to media in a microstate. Using Iceland as a case study, Guðmundsson posits the media system in Iceland is in many way similar to its Scandinavian counterparts, more specifically regarding the extent to which cultural and historical factors play a role in the literacy development and the universality of communication and media (36). Guðmundsson also pinpoints several differences that make the media landscape in Iceland unique, such as a lower trust in internal political pluralism and less developed journalistic professionalism. The latter is due to the cumulative effect of a distrust in political pluralism within different media outlets as well as competition within a small media market. Comparatively, Guðmundsson concludes that changes seen in other Nordic/Northern European countries are also being seen in Iceland. Global-level trends and technological changes have had an impact on the way the Icelandic media now handle the news.

Chapter Three “Migrating to the High North” (Stéphanie Barillé and Markus Meckl) is based on interviews with people who have immigrated to Akureyri, Iceland. Beside the wealth of information about how migrants might feel when moving to Akureyri and how they have adapted to their new life, this chapter is truly of interest because it conveys a positive narrative about migration studies. In researching on migrants’ well-being and happiness – an under-researched topic in migration studies – studies like this shift the focus to the positive impact of migrating onto the host country.

The second section tries to make sense of Iceland’s role and interests within the international community. Of particular interest in this section is Chapter Four and Chapter Five. The former (Rachael Lorna Johnstone and Hjalti Ómar Ágústsson) focuses on Iceland’s role in Arctic governance. This chapter offers a thorough overview of Iceland’s geopolitical and legal interests in the North as it explores Iceland’s multilateral approach to Arctic relations and how Iceland has managed to frame itself as the only “full Arctic” state. Trying to make sense of Iceland’s priorities in the Arctic, the authors show that multilateral cooperation is key to Iceland’s strategic position in the region. From its Arctic policy documents to fisheries management to Iceland’s exclusion from the “Arctic Five” table, the country is shown as promoting cooperation with Arctic and Non-Arctic stakeholders through the Arctic Council, a forum where a small state has as much say in the decision-making process as “big Arctic players” such as Russia or the United States. Toward the end, the chapter also briefly touches on Iceland’s role within the emerging West-Nordic cooperation. Albeit brief, this last part provides readers with a platform to the next chapter in which Grétar Thór Eythórsson and Gestur Hovgaard consider the West-Nordic Region and the Arctic. A republic since 1944, Iceland is the bigger player in this newly emerging cooperation nexus in the North Atlantic. Building on previous research and contributions, the authors examine the unique relation between Greenland, the Faroe Islands and Iceland as this relation intricately evolves between the West-Nordic region and the Arctic. Contrasting each country’s interests as well as Danish interests, the authors find common grounds and challenges for the West Nordic region. West Nordic cooperation needs to challenge the status quo and find innovative ways and structures to have a real impact as a geopolitical subregion.

“Iceland and Foreign Aid” (Gunnlaugsson et al.) depicts Iceland’s path from a poor country under Danish rule in the 19th century to a recipient of foreign aid in the post-WWII period to a donor country in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Iceland’s transformation, often credited to applying free market logic and policies, is mostly due to a combination of several factors within different economic contexts. Its geographic position and military importance during the Cold War meant that Iceland received generous development assistance through the Marshall plan, PL480 and the UN Development Program and beneficial loans from the World Bank. As pointed out in this chapter, this meant that Iceland could lay the foundation for its own development aid agency while still receiving foreign aid. Using Malawi and district (local) cooperation as a case study, the researchers also show how Iceland has shifted its focus in development aid from fisheries only cooperation towards including more social sector initiatives such as health, water and sanitation and education alongside fisheries.

In the epilogue, Guðmundur Heiðar Frímannsson provides some personal reflections on the previous chapter as well as on the small size of Iceland’s society and its effect on Icelandic life as a whole. With the eye and the insight of an Icelandic philosopher, Frímannsson offers what could be deemed as a concluding comment in which he wraps up the contributions to this volume. His final analysis is that the book contributes to a deeper understanding of Iceland’s smallness. One can indeed only agree with such a concluding remark,  overall No One Is An Island is a superb addition to the field of small states, regional and Icelandic studies. Baruchello, Kristjánsson, Jóhannsdóttir and Ingimarson have managed to compile high-quality articles in a readable, small format that will suit even those who lack time for academic readings – the book can be read in one evening. The book’s only drawback might be its price. Coming up at £58.99 on Cambridge Scholars Publishing’s website, this concise book might not be in everyone’s budget but its in-depth and thorough overview of the subject at hand is well worth the read and would make an excellent addition to university libraries’ collections.

Jordi Jaria i Manzano, Nathalie Chalifour and Louis J. Kotzé (eds.), Energy, Governance and Sustainability (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2017)

In 2014, the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Academy of Environmental Law organized its annual colloquium themed “Energy for a Fair Society on a Safe Planet”, and the present edited collection was subsequently published as a selection of research by legal experts from across the globe on the future of energy governance and the role of law. As a result of the changing climate, energy transition and environmental justice have been at the forefront of both the debate about energy security and environmental concerns. By focusing on the law, this timely book provides a sharp insight and novel ideas for rethinking sustainable energy governance. On a structural level, the book is divided in three parts (foundations, experiences, and governance gaps) and fourteen chapters giving different perspectives on the issue at stake.

The book does contain interesting parts, and it neatly weaves together legal theory, human rights, environmental justice and their application to create new cutting-edge energy policies. In Foundations (section I), the theoretical, legal and conceptual frameworks are laid out in a way that highlights legal innovations for renewable energy development from constitutional law and transnational developments through international agreements to environmental justice and innovative financing techniques. Of particular interest in this section, Klaus Bosselmann’s chapter about the legal concept of Energiewende (German for “energy transition”) might help scholars and practitioners think anew and be more proactive when it comes to pushing for social changes. His radical ecocentric approach tries to bridge the gap between legal scholarship and legal activism. In this chapter, he posits that rather than looking at sustainability from a legal viewpoint, environmental lawyers should look at the law from the perspective of sustainability. To him, shifting to and legislating in favour of renewable energy is both a matter of consciousness and ethics: are human societies sufficiently concerned and aware of their impacts on the environment to make a conscious choice to change?

As the title may suggest, Experiences (section II) discusses and analyzes case studies of energy governance in several jurisdictions. For example, Daya-Winterbottom gives a fascinating overview of the complex legal development and challenges for renewable energy investment in New Zealand. Through a careful analysis of New Zealand case law, the author shows that New Zealand has not yet developed a coherent environmental policy regarding renewable energy and climate change despite having plenty of renewable energy sources accessible (hydro and geothermal energy as well as wind and tidal energy). This lack of a coherent policy has led the courts to step in, strengthen and sometimes weaken the legal framework for renewable energy development and climate change mitigation. Although in terms of climate change the judiciary might have rendered climate litigation untenable, the courts have also played an important role in balancing the protection of the environment alongside developing wind energy projects.

Albeit brief Governance Gaps (section III) might be the most interesting section, and the book might have gained in having expanded this section a little further. Prior to this section, the book comes across as western-centric mainly focusing on energy governance in European and other countries in the Northern hemisphere. The final two chapters of this book highlight global energy governance and the impact of environmental changes on developing countries. Eloamaka Carol Okonkwo’s chapter might be one of the most interesting in the entire book as she focuses on the negative impacts of oil and gas exploration and extraction on local communities living on the Niger River’s delta. She highlights the urgent need to protect environmentally displaced persons that have been affected by environmental pollution. Okonkwo calls for the development of a new legal framework in both Nigerian and international law. She further emphasizes the need to implement both regional and international instruments and guidelines to provide for normative protection to displaced communities. In the meantime, oil companies should be challenged for infringing fundamental human rights such as cultural rights and the right to a healthy environment. Okonkwo also suggests that challenging the government for encouraging such behaviour might also help.

As mentioned above, a volume of this nature is indeed timely. Although the book does a great job at giving a broad range of experiences and research, it is safe to say that the book’s omission of the Arctic region might be a shortcoming when discussing energy transition and governance on a world scale. Communities across the globe are diversifying their energy sources with cleaner, lower-cost, renewable options while also developing non-renewable forms of energy. While each region comes with its own set of local preconditions and challenges, energy transition and sustainable energy governance development are also present in regions such as the Arctic. Shifting the focus of research to less-talked-about regions might help changing the narrative around energy development and facilitate investment in these regions.

This criticism aside, the book provides a rather comprehensive overview on the possibility for new forms of energy governance that could lead to fairer, safer and more sustainable societies. New solutions do exist and new forms of energy governance are on the rise. Governments and legislators should be pushed to make the energy transition happen and to regulate in favour of renewable energy and sustainability. As Anaïs Guerry (chapter 10) points out, energy transition should be understood as a cultural change as well as a radical change in the way we legislate and govern. More local production paired with citizens taking back control of the means of energy production might help bring about the radical – and much needed – change in energy governance. Social theories of taking back control of the means of production are not new ideas, but applying them in the context of energy transition and governance provides keys to better understand the issue. The book is quite technical at times and its in-depths perspectives and high-quality legal research might not be for newcomers to the field of environmental law. However, Energy, Governance and Sustainability will without doubts be of interest to legal practitioners, lawyers and policymakers as well as legal scholars well-versed in energy, natural resource and environmental law. Its affordable paperback version might also be an excellent addition to graduate and postgraduate environmental law students’ reading list.

Geir Hønneland, Russia and the Arctic: Environment, Identity and Foreign Policy & Leif Christian Jensen, International Relations in the Arctic: Norway and the Struggle for Power in the New North (London/New York: IB Tauris, 2016)

Geir Hønneland and Leif Christian Jensen, both friends and colleagues at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Norway, wrote one book each that were published in the early part of 2016 by indie publisher, I.B. Tauris. Although each book discusses a subject of its own, for many reasons, the two books seem to nicely complement each other especially for scholars seeking a more holistic approach to Norwegian-Russian Arctic relations. As the present author started reading Hønneland’s book first and then went on to read Jensen’s, this review unfolds in exactly the same manner.

In “Russia and the Arctic: Environment, Identity and Foreign Policy,” Geir Hønneland goes back to one of his most prolific research subjects, namely Russia, and more specifically how Russia defines its own Arctic identity. Indeed, the aim of Hønneland’s book is to shift the discourse from the more media-friendly notions of the “Arctic buzz” and the “Scramble for the Arctic” to discuss what Russia actually wants in the Arctic, and how Russia actually defines itself, through its own Arctic and political discourses, as an Arctic nation. At the heart of the book lies an essential conceptualization of narrative and identity theory in which narratives are not construed as being a mere reflection of the world, but rather constitutive of the self, and as Hønneland puts it, narratives are rarely of one’s own making. In having Russia as the main protagonist of his book, Hønneland is able to further explore the role of the Arctic in shaping Russia’s projection of its own identity at the national level as well as onto both the international and the inter-regional (i.e. Arctic) stages. To do so, Hønneland divided his book into six chapters of relatively equal size touching upon subjects such as the so-called “Rush for the Arctic”, the delimitation of the Barents Sea, management of marine resources, continental shelf issues and Region building processes through identity formation. As a Norwegian researcher, Hønneland also strongly focuses on the relation between Norway and Russia, especially at the Barents-region level but also onto the broader stage.

Ambivalent relations could be said to be one of the major premises on which this book is built. Internally, Russia is perceived as the epitome of the epic absurdist genre, the “anti-Disneyland” where everything that could go wrong actually goes wrong, but Russia also likes to be seen as “the territory without limits”, the boundless, borderless land with no edges. And, to this respect, Hønneland shows the readers that the characteristics, which are generally associated with “Northern-ness” or with the Arctic, are the ones Russia associates with itself in a process that aims at constructing its own Arctic identity in blurring the boundaries between the Arctic as such and Russia. On this subject, Geir Hønneland even concludes that the Arctic is more Russian than Russia itself.

In the collective unconsciousness, the Russian struggle for identity is often perceived as being linked to its unconventional relation with the West and, in this view, the only choice there is to make for Russia is between being willing to create relations with the West – to get closer to Europe – or to create a sense of national identity more focused on Russia itself.  In either case, Russian identity is construed as being a narrative in which Russia needs to other the West in order to have a more stable identity. In modern days, as Hønneland points out, the Arctic is the modern incarnation of Russia’s willingness to work with the West, especially when Vladimir Putin talks of the Arctic as “our common Arctic home.” In this mind-set, Russia is both depicted as being warry of the West – especially Norway in the Barents Region and Canada in the broader Arctic – but also as being willing to sit at the table with other Arctic nations.

On top of discussing four key Arctic issues from a Norwegian perspective (i.e. security, Russia, the environment, and the exploitation of natural resources in the Barents Sea), with “International Relations in the Arctic: Norway and the Struggle for Power in the New North,” Leif Christian Jensen aims at offering a new methodological and analytical framework to the field of discourse analysis and to social sciences (more so than Hønneland), thus the first two chapters of the book are heavily theoretical. These methodological chapters focus on how dominant discourses enable and disable actions both at the domestic and the international levels and “how socially oriented discourse analysis can be relevant to analyses of actual political issues.”  Indeed, Jensen himself states that one of his sub-aims is to demystify discourse analysis and make it more accessible (to make it “less frightening and more tempting”) to both scholars and students who are active in political science and other fields within social sciences. Therefore, Jensen’s book, which is an extended version of his doctoral thesis, could well be read with a non-Arctic approach if one was to focus on the broader theoretical framework. Nevertheless, the case study being the Norwegian ‘struggle’ to construct itself as an Arctic nation, being knowledgeable in Arctic matters helps to understand how Jensen’s analysis is to be applied.

Throughout the book, Jensen wants to demonstrate that discourse is constructive, and that, through discourse, it is possible to construct truth, meaning, and knowledge. To do so, he divided his book into eight chapters in which he covers subjects such as discourse analysis of Arctic policy debates and official Norwegian and Russian foreign policy discourses on the New North. Relying on a well-constructed database research analysis of four of the main Norwegian newspapers (i.e. Aftenposten, Dagens Næringsliv, Klassekampen, and Nordlys), Jensen researched how national identities are constructed in newspapers and texts written by those holding power. Furthermore, Jensen uses the example of Norwegian mineral resources exploitation to show to what extent discourses and narratives can be co-opted and how Norway’s main official discourse in the Barents Sea shifted from being environmentally-friendly to “drilling for sake of the environment.” Indeed, the argument of Norwegian environmentalists was co-opted and reversed by the pro-oil side whose argument has been to focus on others, such as Russia, and say that if Norway left it to other states or private businesses, they would do a worse job at being environmentally friendly. To link this with Hønneland’s theory, this can be seen as a Norwegian attempt to other Russia to justify its own Arctic identity. Jensen even goes further in his analysis in stating that this kind of shift in discourses is accentuated by the press and by official publications, through which the main discourse reinforces itself.

One of the most positive aspects of Jensen’s book – and something rare in academia – is Jensen’s strong commitment to connect with his readers and to involve them through the text itself. Far from the generally dry and anonymous academic approach, which, more often than not, tries to suppress any trace of temporality and of self in order to make a lasting contribution to the researched field, Jensen’s inclusion of himself and of his readers into the structure of his research manages to make it easier for the readers to relate and to understand the theoretical framework.

Both Hønneland and Jensen managed to avoid talking of the Arctic as the new hotspot in international affairs, and, to some extent, their down-to-earth approach to Arctic relations can be seen as an attempt to normalise Arctic issues and to hush the “rush for the Arctic” discourse and to finally put it to bed. Both books can also be seen as a successful attempt to show how important it is, in terms of international affairs, to understand how countries perceived themselves and how they would like to be seen on the international stage. Far from gathering dust on libraries’ shelves, these books will be interesting for students, academics, and anyone interested in Arctic relations, especially in Norwegian-Russian Arctic relations and how this relation is construed on both sides of the border. However, these books should not only be read by Arctic scholars, as they also have much to offer to those seeking to read more about identity and discourse analysis and how it can be used in nation building and in international affairs.