Tag Archives: Antarctica

Frédéric Lassere, Anne Choquet, and Camille Escudé-Joffres, Géopolitique des Pôles. Vers une appropriation des espaces polaires ? (Paris: Le Cavalier Bleu, 2021)

The book “Géopolitique des Pôles.” subtitled “Vers une appropriation des espaces polaires?” (“Polar geopolitics. Towards an appropriation of polar spaces?”, author’s translation) written by Frédéric Lasserre, Anne Choquet and Camille Escudé-Joffres is a general public book describing geopolitical polar dynamics, responding notably to the “Arctic Scramble” narratives and similar discourses of a war on resources at the poles. The book states very clearly and from the beginning that the authors consider the risk of conflict to be over-exaggerated, and even unrealistic. Drawing on the academic background of the authors, the book presents a geographical, political and legal overview of both the Arctic and Antarctic regimes of governance in layman’s language.

The book has a very clear focus, a very clear goal: to demonstrate that there is no “cold rush” or “Polar scramble” in either the Arctic or Antarctica. Five chapters support this demonstration: first, an outlining of what makes polar regions attractive to stakeholders today, covering climate change, scientific interests, existing and potential resources as well as common (Southern) polar imaginaries. A second chapter on the political and legal reality of polar space appropriation covers in a very pedagogical manner the basics of the Law of the Sea, the Antarctica land claims and the processes relevant to Arctic maritime territorial claims. Follows a chapter focused on regional governance regimes, covering the Antarctic Treaty System from a practical approach, Arctic governance through the Arctic Council, environmental protection in Antarctica and environmental protection in the Arctic. Then comes a chapter on the regulation of key activities, which has a section reminding the legal and practical frameworks discussed previously applied to mining and fishing, and then a section on maritime traffic, a section on tourism. The last chapter focuses on the potential sources of tension in the Arctic, starting with a section on existing tensions in the Arctic, insisting on their low intensity, nonetheless, followed by a section on dispute solving mechanisms in Antarctica, and lastly a section covering Asian Polar interests. Lastly, a final chapter wraps up the original question with the optimistic conclusion that the climatic and environmental challenges burdening the Polar regions call for cooperation rather than for conflict.

The authors present an optimist view of the state of Arctic cooperation today. Because of the clear focus it is easy to follow, and every subsection relates clearly to the main point made. However, that comes to the price of sometimes being repetitive, including in the chapter structure itself with some frequent overlap. Besides, it mainly presents State-focused issues that are also relevant to non-Arctic stakeholders, glossing over or simplifying certain issues, which can be seen in the overly optimistic portrait of Indigenous inclusion in the Arctic governance regime that is presented, for example. However, keeping in mind that the book is not an encyclopedic endeavour but intended for the general French-speaking audiences, this is a coherent editorial choice and prevents it from becoming too information-heavy.

Moreover, the text is very pedagogic and shows the benefits brought by the interdisciplinary background of the authors: every legal mechanism mentioned is carefully detailed in an accessible language, completed later by an overview of the practices. Another consistent theme is the worry about climate change and its consequences, which is weaved through the entire book beyond the original subsection dedicated to it. It also contains a relative abundance of maps and tables which ease comprehension.

The vast majority of the book is focused on governance mechanisms, both legal and customary, and thanks to the clear focus the topic is explored in depth, especially on the Arctic side, which is much more developed. Despite covering both Polar ends, the book underlines on several occasions the fundamental difference between the two that is the Arctic organic, permanent population of 4 million people. However, the “Arctic” itself is never explicitly defined: due to the attention given to maritime claims since we are mostly talking about the political Arctic, one would expect the authors to follow the political definition of the Arctic Council. However, one notices some surprising omissions, such as the absence of mention of Iceland in the section dedicated to tourism for example – while it is mentioned in fishing related sections, or the absence of any map giving one or several definitions of the geographical Arctic. This seems to indicate a somewhat confusing understanding of the Arctic: some clarification would have been welcome.

As it is not a scientific publication but a mainstream audience work, there is no reference in the text, but there are two bibliographies at the end. The first one, the list of references for the text itself is a bit short, and the large share of French speaking references is surprising, but it is recent and up to date. The second one, a bit longer, is a selected bibliographies of work from the authors, which presents no overlap with the first one while providing other sources relevant to the topic as well.

To conclude, this book gets its point across in a simple but effective manner, through very clear even though somewhat repetitive demonstrations. As a text directed towards French mainstream audiences, it definitely achieves its goal by providing pedagogical explanations on a wide array of topics that often arise in the general media. It is a valuable introduction to polar geopolitics, that could potentially be used as a starting point for higher education students as well.

Ken S. Coates and Carin Holroyd (eds.), The Palgrave Handbook of Arctic Policy and Politics (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020)

The Palgrave Handbook of Arctic Policy and Politics is one of an increasing number of anthologies addressing Arctic governance from a variety of academic perspectives. The collection is organised into seven parts, each representing a different discipline although by the nature of the topic, these often overlap. These are: I Indigenous Peoples and Arctic Social Dynamics; II Economic Development; III Policies of Arctic Nations; IV The Arctic and International Relations; V Arctic Legal and Institutional Systems; Arctic Security; and VII Reflections on Future of the Arctic (emphasis in original).

In addition to the editors, the contributors include some very well-established scholars in their respective fields, such as Joan Larsen and Gail Fondhal (economics); Andrey Petrov (geography and economics); Timo Koivurova and Nigel Bankes (law); Timothy Heleniak (demographics); Lawson Brigham (shipping); and Heather Nicol and Whitney Lackenbauer (security).

The editors state the goal of the handbook is:
to address, as a top priority, the needs of the region and to ensure that the Southern and global actors understand their collective responsibility to reverse and correct the patterns and policies of the past. More than anything, the chapters collected here make it clear that there are policy and political options, many of them urgent, most of them expensive, and all requiring a collaborative approach with the peoples of the Arctic… [It also aims to] generate[s] public policy debate about a new and regionally controlled future for the Arctic (4).

It is not possible to review closely each of the thirty-three contributions so instead some overall remarks will be made regarding the volume with references to examples. The collection is fairly conservative (a term that is not intended to be read negatively). It is heavy on history; it prioritises market economies and emphasises market-based growth as the primary solution to Arctic challenges; it maintains a central focus on states ; it relies on positivist account of international law; and the contributors are not a particularly diverse group nor representative of Arctic populations.

Chapter 8, “Innovation, New Technologies, and the Future of the Circumpolar North” concentrates on marketable applications. Indigenous innovation, both historic and emerging, is largely overlooked except when it is in “community-government-university-industry collaboration” (124). Chapter 14, “Government, Policies, and Priorities in Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland): Roads to Independence” “seeks to offer something approaching a Kalaallit perspective” (218) but this would have been more convincing with a Greenlandic co-author or at least more references to Greenlandic scholarship. The reference list includes a few Kalallissut newspaper articles (themselves by Danish authors and likely translated from Danish) and some Danish articles but no academic work, for example, by Mininnguaq Kleist who has written in both English and Danish on the evolving constitution of Greenland. (The author acknowledges his position as neither Danish nor Greenlandic.)

It is not until Part VII, and especially Chapter 32, that we come to “The Future of the Arctic,” by the co-editors, Coates and Holroyd, with most of the chapters that precede establishing the history that has led to the current dynamics. (This is, of course, an important role for any handbook. It is only with knowledge of the past that one can understand the present or envisage futures.) A few typos suggest that this chapter may have been written hurriedly but perhaps the editors can make corrections at least in the eBook version. It is heavily focused on economic challenges and the formal economy. Nevertheless, the authors provide an ambitious list of priorities for decision-makers in the Arctic, concentrating on local, contextualised solutions and involvement of Indigenous expertise (538-40).

Common to much political science scholarship, there are a few inaccuracies on points of law – such as conflating territory, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf (311) and a lengthy discussion of the Nordic Saami Convention as “one of the most important statements of Indigenous aspirations and accomplishments in recent decades” without noting that this treaty has not yet come into force (288-89). Fortunately, these matters are corrected by Bankes’ clear and careful exposition of the law of the sea (Chapter 23) and Newman’s good summary of the international law on Indigenous Peoples (Chapter 26) respectively.

A conservative collection done well – as this one is – certainly has its place in the burgeoning international scholarship of the Arctic. I envisage three contexts in which the Handbook will undoubtedly demonstrate its value. First of all, for scholars in any field seeking a primer on the Arctic. Second for experts in some Arctic-related disciplines, such as law or security studies, who seek to broaden their knowledge with a primer on other fields. Third, this anthology is a very good resource that I expect to turn to whenever I need an authoritative reference on some point or other. The searchable eBook version is particularly conducive for this.

Karen N. Scott and David L. VanderZwaag (eds.) Research Handbook on Polar Law (Cheltenham/Northampton: E. Elgar, 2020)

The Research Handbook on Polar Law by Edward Elgar Publishing is part of the series of Research Handbooks that the British publishing house offers as a research focus in different disciplines and properly indexed in particular themes. In the case of the Research Handbook in Polar Law, the collection of 22 articles attempts to offer a comprehensive view of what constitutes the dimension of Polar Law: biodiversity, culture, politics.

The tome is edited by Karen N. Scott and David L. VanderZwaag, who try in the introduction to invite readers to reflect on the existence of a Polar Law and on the need to have this legal exceptionalism. Polar Law arises from the need to accommodate the regional demands of a part of the Planet that historically responds to various natural, economic and cultural claims. For this reason, inserting the term of Polar Law in the nomenclature alone is very difficult, considering the multidisciplinary nature of the subject.

Although the Polar law recalls a rationalistic legal structure, the two Poles, Arctic and Antarctic, require a different treatment as they are two geologically and politically distinct areas. If in the Arctic speaking of cultural diversity is possible, research in Antarctica focuses more on the protection of nature and the correct management of human activities, such as research and tourism.

For this reason, the authors opened the analysis with a historical excursus on polar geology, explaining the effects of the Anthropocene and its developments in the era of climate change. As far as the Poles may seem far and remote areas, they are in fact strongly interconnected with the rest of the Globe. The high temperatures and the sudden melting of glaciers caused an unstoppable rise in sea levels and the sinking of lands and river deltas. But not only. It is interesting to discover how the disappearance of the glaciers has made the polar future increasingly dark, without solar reflection and greater absorption of radiation.

The effects of Climate Change also unfold on traditional and non-traditional human activities in the Arctic, bringing out new priorities and new actors in the political and administrative dimension of the polar areas. After Seck and MacLeod attempt to group the polar population based on activities, Nengye Liu analyses China’s emerging role in Arctic politics, comparing the Chinese situation to the presence and competence of the European Union in both the Arctic and Antarctic. Although Chinese influence is still minimal in Polar Law, China is increasingly present in issues such as fisheries, shipping and tourism, especially in the Southern Ocean.

In fact, fisheries and tourism activities in the Southern Ocean have increased dramatically in the last decade. In his article, Haward traces the salient points of the history of fishing in the Southern Ocean up to the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) part of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS). Haward underlines the importance of conserving marine biodiversity, recalling when even the smallest element (krill) is indispensable for polar biodiversity. From the very beginning, CCAMLR has faced several resistances. Even today, it is hypothesized how this Convention can be integrated in the management of natural resources, especially in the policies regulating fishing.

A different approach is that explained by Hoel, who explains how fishing in the Arctic is managed, in particular by the Arctic Five, the five coastal Arctic states (Canada, United States of America (Alaska), Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Russia). Fishing in the Arctic has an additional meaning of sustenance for all the communities that live there. For this reason, the coastal Arctic countries have implemented tools to better manage this activity, such as moratoriums (US and Canada) and restrictive measures (Norway).

Natural resources are not just about flora and fauna. The Arctic is a region very rich in minerals and interest in developing these resources has grown over the years. The melting of the ice and the increasing number of fires in the Arctic has uncovered much of the covered land and has allowed further exploration.

Johnstone and Joblin talk about the limitations that Indigenous peoples still suffer in the enjoyment of territorial rights. Indigenous peoples, they points out, are not necessarily opposed to mining but would like to be able to participate more actively in decision-making processes involving the lands they have inhabited since time immemorial. Clearly, the connection sustainable development and extractive activities is not applicable in the Antarctic, as this continent is not permanently inhabited even if the growing presence of new actors (as previously argued by Liu).

Another important human activity in the Arctic and Antarctic is undoubtedly tourism. Again, global warming has opened up new avenues of communication, both by sea and by land, requiring greater controls and monitoring systems (Chapter 15; Chapter 16). Liggett and Stewart explore the regulatory framework of maritime tourism in the Arctic (Nunavut) and Antarctica, questioning whether this is sufficient to promote the diversification of the polar tourism sector. As pointed out by the authors, the non-ratification of some important international instruments (UNCLOS) and the difficult implementation of the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code), has weakened the domestic legal system that guarantees the harmonization of international law on the matter. As everyone knows, the COVID-19 pandemic has had devastating effects on the tourism sector in general, causing a total shutdown in the polar areas. The cessation of maritime routes has considerably reduced the economic income of the local communities increasingly involved in the sector. The advent of COVID-19 has prompted governors and academics to reflect on the environment, society and the economy. Three strongly interconnected dimensions that make up the concept of sustainability, now at the centre of global policies.

During the pandemic, the media often referred to the “resurgence of Nature”, telling stories of how the fauna and flora have regained the spaces occupied by man. Nature that still struggles to be the holder of rights, but passively undergoes the rules imposed by man to manage itself in order not to be damaged by the environment that it manipulates and transforms. For these reasons, I think it is really interesting and important to read chapter 16, in which Warner traces the international principles of environmental law in both polar regimes, weaving a profound analysis on the precautionary principle and the importance of drafting Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) now implemented in many legal systems (thanks also to international influence and European directives in support of greater monitoring of human activities in the environment).

At the 26th UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Glasgow, global sustainability was one of the topics that drove the climate discussions. In fact, governments have talked about the policies to be adopted to lower the levels of carbon emissions, the primary cause of climate change. There continues to be some concern that the measures adopted, especially legal ones, do not take the vulnerability levels of the Poles seriously. In fact, the legal instruments are often of a soft-law nature such as the bodies that issue, albeit important, guidelines and policies in this regard (Arctic Council and containment measures for the levels of Mercury and POPs, especially in Antarctica). In addition, there is also a substantial inconsistency among polar regimes that tend to jeopardize policies relating to climate change (Chapters 16 and 20).

The same perplexities are shared by Suzanne Lalonde, regarding the establishment of marine protected areas (MPA) and other effective area-based conservation measures in both polar regimes. Despite the legal instruments on the matter, the Arctic and Antarctica encounter the same coordination problems. If in the Arctic we find eight countries that manage MPAs according to their own legal system, in the Antarctic there is experience of logistical and regulatory overlaps (ATCM and CCAMLR). The author suggests the strengthening of inspection and monitoring systems in the Arctic (beyond the legal areas of state competence) by supporting cooperation between agencies and local communities.

Since the 1990s, the Arctic Council (AC) has referred to a further consequence of climate change: the acidification of the waters, which affects both the Arctic Ocean and the Southern Ocean. After the Arctic Council states recognized the problem of water acidification in 2015, the Arctic Council immediately adopted pro-active initiatives to combat the damage and risk factors, such as the Enhanced Black Carbon and Methane Emissions Reduction Framework for Action (EBCME Framework), with the commitment of member states to reduce black carbon and methane emissions.

The approach to the South Pole, according to Stephens, would be completely different. If in the Arctic we can speak of regionalism, the problem of acidification of Antarctic waters is treated in a more conservative way. Although the members of the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) are more numerous than those of the Arctic Council, the regulatory framework is based only on the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement and to date the ATS did not demonstrate the same dynamic response as the AC.

The volume ends with an examination of the position of Polar Law as a discipline, hypothesizing the factors that led to the creation of a branch of law. According to Rothwell and Hemmings, climate change, the effects of which are very evident in the polar regions, and the exploitation of resources are the main causes of the growing international interest. As mentioned previously, the polar legal framework is very complex and is the result of the first explorations and the first hypotheses of sovereignty of those lands. The fight against sovereignty and, consequently, the management of resources has resulted in conflicts and new theories that have spilled over into what we call “Polar governance” and the decision-making systems that affect the economy, society, and the polar environment. The purpose of Polar Law, as suggested by the authors, is to respond to geopolitical and environmental challenges (p.473), and for this reason it will continue to adapt in an uncertain future marked by climate change.

After this brief and general overview of the volume, I would like to conclude my review with some personal reflections. First of all, I I firmly believe editorial series of this kind are of absolute importance both for those who work in the sector and also for amateurs of Arctic themes. Sustainability and the environment were the two pillars of this book which constituted the common thread through all the articles. Also appreciated the references and postscriptum on COVID-19 which has been an undeniable unknown for the past two years. I really appreciated the variety of disciplines proposed and the themes that the authors selected. Excellent Arctic-Antarctic dichotomy in each contribution that allows the reader to compare the two polar regimes in each field. The only thing that I personally have not fully approved is the order of the articles, poorly organized by argument. I would have preferred to find the scientific and humanities articles in separate sections or in a different group. For these reasons, I invite those interested in Polar Law to read this volume, hoping not to wait too long for a new issue.


Dawid Bunikowski and Alan D. Hemmings (eds.), Philosophies of Polar Law (New York: Routledge, 2021)

As laid out in their “Introduction” section, fully titled “Introduction—Emerging philosophies of polar law,” Bunikowski and Hemmings both point to the lack of writings that explore the philosophical underpinnings of the legal regimes governing the Arctic and Antarctic. The mere fact that they wish to engage in the Herculean task of explicitly elucidating the philosophy of such a rapidly growing area as polar law is a testament to the scope of this publication, despite its relatively contained length of 186 pages. The putting of pen to paper, so to speak, on this topic, begins with a framing of the issues and perspectives that have always been at the heart of the expert debates regarding the governance regimes of both poles. Such a task sometimes may put a discipline on a wrong track or stifle debate within the community. Fortunately, this publication serves as a delightful appetizer to (purposefully, in my view) only temporarily sate the academic cravings of those who are seeking knowledge of polar legal scholarship.

While these regions have international, domestic and/or Indigenous legal regimes controlling them, I regard as correct the editors’ choice of leaving the analysis of the specific philosophical perspectives underpinning each of these regimes to the various contributors in the four sections of this book. By doing so, not only do the editors avoid the task of having too heavy a hand in a forced narrative or perspective, but they also allow for “Polar Law Philosophy” to be inherently a science of critical thought. Rather than creating a tome of foundational principles in which the poles are viewed, such as the current status quo of predominantly Anglo/Western positivist or Enlightenment-based legal principles, the editors allow each author to expound on critiques, debates and/or forgotten perspectives on this status quo. Thus, this editorial choice gives the benefit of both advancing the philosophical study of polar law by way of schools of thought that may be applied on a global scale, such as Baruchello’s life-value onto-axiology to maximize the common good of the Arctic or Mancilla’s decolonization theory of Antarctica, and allowing new perspectives to take shape that are unique to the region, such as the Sámi Indigenous ontological beliefs regarding their sacred sites or the Chthonic Arctic legal tradition as stated by Husa (via Bunikowski).

By operating a conscientious choice of articles, the editors avoid overwhelming new readers with a high barrier to entry, while still giving seasoned academics something new to ponder and/or pontificate on in later articles. The editors also successfully advance the philosophy of polar law beyond an embryonic stage and into the realm of extensive critical thought through these careful choices, thus making follow-on contributions desirable insofar as the text reads as a “call to arms” on letting the field grow rather than claiming to be a definitive text on the subject.

The titles of the collection’s four sections, “Fundamental concepts of the philosophies of Polar law,” “Western legal framings,” “Indigenous and non-Western framings,” and “The environment,” help to narrow down and frame conceptually the ambitious scope of the work. The introductory articles, penned by the editors of the publication and with each of them writing on his pole of expertise, give a concise and solid background commentary on the contemporary legal structures of each region, while also priming the reader for critiques that are to come in the later articles. Bunikowski’s review of the Arctic reads as a bit more cerebral, but this is due to the fact that he has a much broader and ‘patchwork’ system of legal pluralism to discuss and make accessible to the reader. He also introduces what is perhaps the largest contributions to the field that this publication has to offer: Indigenous legal thought. As Bunikowski states:

Paradoxically and idiosyncratically, cosmology(ies), beliefs, art and shamanism matter greatly for philosophy of law in the Arctic. It is interesting that that, usually, philosophy of law in the West or elsewhere is not interested in such issues, but philosophy of law in the Arctic pays attention to them. (38).

Given that “cosmology and indigenous customary laws in the Arctic are very interconnected,” (Id.) it is no surprise that the strongest articles contribute heavily to this lesser explored philosophical grounding. Heinämäki et al.’s contribution on legal non-recognition of Sámi’s interconnectedness to the land in Finland and Svensson’s “contra cultural” piece regarding assimilation stand out as examples of what makes the Arctic a unique region to explore from a legal-philosophical viewpoint. Both articles from “The environment” section, which could easily be placed in the “Indigenous and non-Western framings” section, build on these works by further exploring Russian Indigenous people’s mental, physical, and spiritual struggles with an industrializing Russian Arctic, as well as the major impact Indigenous peoples have in preserving biodiversity and their well-spring of ideas that they can offer to the world at-large.

Although Baruchello’s article comes earlier in the contribution, given that it is indubitably a “Western framing” of sorts, it makes nonetheless a valiant attempt to reconcile the major problems of this legal pluralism in the Arctic through the legal instruments that are currently enacted thereby, as well as through the underlying philosophical criteria offered by life-value onto-axiology. “Life-value” is a value-maximizing binomial reflecting humanity’s universal vital needs as the foundation for the common good, which finds inspiration primarily in the works by Canadian philosopher John McMurty, but that can also be threaded through neo-Thomism, the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, and even the ancient musings of Aristotle.

My praise of the Arctic pole’s representation in this work is not meant to detract from the Antarctic contributions; it is merely the reality that the Antarctic remains devoid of many fundamental questions regarding indigeneity and its consequences that renders it far less multi-faceted. Despite this, Mancilla’s claim as to the continued colonization of Antarctica and the detriment of the developing world rings true. Coady et al.’s piece regarding the philosophy of science through the lens of whaling in the Southern Ocean not only provides an amazingly deep insight into the controversial “Whaling in the Antarctic” ICJ case, but also explores the question of “what is science?”—not only in the region but for the world at-large. Its analysis of this question, using the lens of the Antarctic, is the most solution-based article in the book and is a must-read for international law scholars.

The only criticism I have to offer, beyond perhaps some articles’ ordering and labeling, is that the book may have bitten off more than it can chew, though that may well be the point. By leaving its readers wanting more and knowing that the philosophy of polar law is a newly explored field, the target audience will surely want to contribute their own perspectives and thoughts. In all, the book serves as an academic lighthouse off in the distance, calling others to come in from the snow and build upon the solid the foundation put together in this kaleidoscopic buffet of a work.

Sheila Bransfield, The Man Who Discovered Antarctica: Edward Bransfield Explained. The first man to find and chart the Antarctic mainland (Barnsley: Frontline Books, 2019)

If one expects an historical novel-like book, or a character-building biography, or an adventure diary, about the man who discovered Antarctica, one would be disappointed. Sheila Bransfield’s book feels instead like a labour of love based on years of archival work.

Sheila Bransfield painstakingly reconstructs the life of Edward Bransfield (no relation) from official ship logs and similar documentation. This is not an easy job, given that Edward came from a modest Irish family and was kidnapped by the Royal Navy as a young boy—a practice apparently common in the early 19th century. The young boy grew up at sea and developed enough navigational skills to rise through the ranks and eventually be in command of the small ship that discovered the Antarctic mainland. He retired wealthy but with little fame, mostly due to the British politics of discovery, which focused on the Northwest Passage rather than the new Southern continent. Antarctica appeared on the radar of British attention only after the French announced their interest in it.

The book is like a surgical reporting of life at sea. How many people were on board, how many punishments by flagellation or other means were administered, how many deaths by drowning, how many live animals, how many pounds of food, and what kind of food, how many gallons of water/rum/wine or other drinks, how many rats on boards, how much spoiled food, how many storms, how many repairs of sails or of the ships in any given year of all the ships in which there is a record of the presence of Edward Bransfield on board. There is an account of all the movements of these ships, where and when they were, and if and where they were engaged in military actions or military exercises.

The picture one gets, or at least that this reader got, is of a mix of boredom and danger on board of the ships. Living conditions and safety were not exactly high. Which makes the account of chapter 19 (of 21) especially remarkable. Between 1819 and 1820, Bransfield led one single tiny wooden ship across a sea of dense fogs, icebergs, with snowstorms, gales, and dreadful weather, not knowing where they were going, against the convictions of Captain James Cook that there was no continent out there, and in addition having to deal with aggressive penguins, seals, and other birds. Against all odds, the ship returned unscathed, and without having lost any men. Bransfield put several British flags on the newly discovered lands, made detailed charts, and brought back several specimens of which there is no longer any record.

I think the average reader would have benefited from a map of the different routes described in the book, rather than the pictures of the author raising the British flag in places where Edward Bransfield is said to have passed. Nevertheless, the book seems a much-needed step in the rehabilitation of Edward Bransfield into the pantheon of great explorers.

John V.H. Dippel, To the Ends of the Earth: The Truth behind the Glory of Polar Exploration (New York: Prometheus Books, 2018)

To the Ends of the Earthis a magnificent lost opportunity. Dippel takes his readers on a journey to the poles, describing the suffering, passions, delusions, ambitions, and cultural absurdities of the 19thcentury and early 20thcentury expeditions. But he does it in a tumultuous way.

Discovering the poles is not a “regular” discovery/exploration. Conquering the poles is not like conquering any other territory. The poles have an environment that is not simply inhospitable for humans, but that brings out the worst in them.

Explorers would head either North or South by boat, until their ship would get stuck in ice. The ships may or may not be crushed by the pressure of the ice. The men would spend the winter on the ice, in the hope to have a better start in the spring, assuming they survived the winter.

The months of darkness, freezing temperature, lack of food, and isolation from the known world bring almost inevitable depression and madness, aside from frostbites, malnutrition, and diseases. Having other people around in confined spaces drives people out of their minds. Having nobody at all, equally drives humans out of their minds. Deadly boredom would be alleviated with repetitive tedious scientific measurements, which eventually were doomed as irrelevant, but done nevertheless, in deadly conditions, in an attempt to keep a routine in a place that felt timeless.

The conditions on the way to the poles in the 19thand early 20thcentury were such that it is estimated that one in every two explorer died on expeditions.

Why go facing almost sure death? Or why facing conditions that may scar one for life, assuming one makes it back? Dippel offers a variety of answers, all of which are not necessarily flattering. Mostly, they boil down to greedy personal ambition. Scientific knowledge was just an excuse as testified by some penguin eggs collected risking human lives, and then left to gather dust in a box for decades in the British Museum.

Being a “successful” explorer meant fame and money. The glory to be recognized as “the first” and the royalties from the books one would publish upon their return (which often amounted to millions of today’s dollars). But the money was more often than not just instrumental to finance the next expedition. Glory remained the driver.

19thand early 20thcentury public fascination with polar expeditions, which drove the sale of books and newspapers, and most importantly drove the blind desire for glory, was often linked to nationalism and a craving for heroes, especially in times of peace.

But the attempted conquests of the poles were approached with the same attitudes people used to approach situations at home. British explorers would show up at the poles in their leather boots, flannel pants, and wooden coats. They would refuse to learn from indigenous people and wear snow shoes and animal skins. Indigenous people could not possibly have anything to teach the “obviously superior” British. Social status and ranks ought to be respected at all cost. Even when forced to live in a hand-made ice cave for several months. A line should be marked on the floor to divide lower-rank and higher-rank people. The superior and impeccable morals of the West implied both a divine investiture to conquer the poles, and thus a superiority over nature. Nature should be tamed by human will.

Not at the poles. At the poles, or on the way there, “success” was merely surviving; it was enduring indescribable suffering; it was still being a gentleman. Expedition after expedition would fail to arrive at the poles, or to discover the Open Polar Sea (an alleged warm and open body of navigable water at the North Pole), and would even fail to bring back men alive. Yet, these failures were heroic and thus were the celebrations of the cultural superiority of the explorers. So much so that even the disappearance of the Royal Navy officer Sir John Frankin and his 128 men was transmuted into a heroic gentlemen’s tale, so strong in the popular mind than when, after several years of search for him, evidence was brought back that he and his men may have engaged in cannibalism in the futile attempt to survive, the popular uproar discredited the evidence (and its discoverers) and not the Royal Navy officer or the inhuman conditions of an ill-equipped journey to the pole.

Dippel attributes the first arrivals at the poles by Norwegians (South Pole) and Americans (allegedly to the North Pole) to their more democratic and less stuffy culture, which allowed them to more easily adapt to this alien environment and to learn from past mistakes as well as from the Inuit.

But while Dippel remains almost silent on the Antarctic success of Ronald Amundsen, he describes the Arctic alleged successes built on the lies of Frederick Cook and Robert Peary. Both Cook and Peary were so driven by blind ambition and hunger for glory that they both willingly lied and falsified their records and accounts to claim something they did not achieve. The truth was only dug out later when, after the Vietnam War, the myth of an immaculate hero was no longer sustainable.

Dippel’s account of polar explorations is potentially a magnificent account of the darkest parts of the human soul that the darkness of the poles brings out. But his narrative, at least in the eyes of this reader, renders it into a polar storm. Each chapter swipes back and forward and without warning from the Arctic to the Antarctic, from one ship to another, from an explorer to another, from a time to another, leaving the reader disoriented. Not all explorers are present or presented with balanced importance, and no explanation is given for this. The volume does not provide a chronology of events or a list of explorers to aid the reader. It does not even have a map. It does instead have some period pictures, which do not quite help a reader not deeply familiar with all the expeditions. The constant back and forward makes several parts repetitive, without any necessary gain in clarity.

It is a book worth reading, if only because it may whet the curiosity to read more, to read something written more linearly on the topic.

Klaus Dodds, Alan D Hemmings and Peder Roberts (eds.), Handbook on the Politics of Antarctica (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2017)

Nordicum-Mediterraneum may not seem like the most obvious title in which to find a review of the Handbook on the Politics of Antarctica. Nevertheless, given the increasing focus on Arctic issues in this journal and the comparisons to the opposite pole that they invariably generate, a review of this large (both physically and figuratively) contribution to polar social science is fitting. Iceland became a party to the Antarctic Treaty in 2015 but Antarctica has long been constructed through the actions, discourse and interpretations of European states, in particular Norway by virtue of the explorations of Roald Amundsen and later as a claimant state.

The edited collection – containing an impressive thirty-seven chapters by leading scholars on Antarctic law, geopolitics, social science, and even art and literature, is one of the latest in an emerging trend of “handbooks” that bring together contributions from different perspectives on topics of wide academic interest. The usual approach is to mix a fairly descriptive account to aid newcomers to the field alongside cutting-edge analysis of contemporary and – for the brave – future developments. On these terms, the Handbook on the Politics of Antarctica does not disappoint.

The Antarctic regime is sui generis. In a certain sense, any region of the World can be considered sui generis to the extent that each will have unique features that are not replicated elsewhere. However, in the Antarctic, the very foundations of international relations since (at least) the Peace of Westphalia are turned on their head. While the rest of the World has been subjected to exclusive sovereignty claims (albeit, sometimes overlapping or contested), since 1959, the sovereignty claims in the Antarctic have been frozen. This is just the first and most obvious difference between the governance of the Poles. Nevertheless, Antarctic governance is not entirely separated from other legal regimes including the United Nations, the law of the sea, and international environmental law. Further, the international regime of the Antarctic cannot be kept entirely insulated from global changes and challenges, including the rise of the Asian states, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the renaissance of Russia, and, closer to the Antarctic continent, the festering sore of Las Malvinas/the Falkland Islands. The Handbook presents Antarctic issue areas in a global light – it is not a simple textbook on the Antarctic Treaty System, isolated from the external international relations that construct it.

Following an introduction that outlines the basics of the Antarctic system and summarises the contents, the book is presented in four parts. The first part, “Conceptualizing Antarctica” presents the Antarctic of the imagination, including political imaginations and constructions. Part Two, “Acting in and Beyond Antarctica,” explores events and participants – how are Antarctic politics performed? “Regulating Antarctica,” the third part, examines the frameworks for governing activities in the Antarctica, with emphasis on environmental norms (both hard and soft law), law of the sea (especially fisheries management), tourism, and heritage. The final part, ambitiously titled “Futures in Antarctica,” considers where current political imaginings of the Antarctica will lead, especially in light of global power shifts.

The Poles are generally imagined as the ends of the World – a vision that only makes sense if you start in the middle. The Antarctic is imagined as an uninhabited wilderness. If there are no people there, then perhaps there is no need for law, let alone political theory. However, this view only makes sense if you assume the Antarctic is a pre-defined natural space, not one constructed by law, politics, selective historic records, and literature. The emphasis on science as one of the tools to maintain the peace in Antarctica has led to an impressive body of natural scientific research in a notoriously hard-to-reach location. However, the extent of natural science, its existence in the first place, can only be understood using political science. Why does the treaty prioritise science and scientific cooperation? Answer: to maintain peaceful relations. Whyare so many countries sending scientific missions down there? Answer: to earn the right to partake in decision-making for the continent and, in some cases, to maintain territorial claims. Social science regarding the Antarctic is lagging behind natural science and this Handbook is a major contribution as well as proof that you do not need a generous fieldwork budget to study the Antarctic.

The Handbook would perhaps best be described as a collection of essays from different disciplines than as aninterdisciplinary work per se – the individual contributions are rarely themselves interdisciplinary. Not only do the contributors come from different disciplines and reflect the different assumptions at the bases of these, but they reach different conclusions. For example, political scientist Anne-Marie Brady portrays China as a threat to the stability of the Antarctic system and casts aspersions on Chinese motivations (Chapter nineteen). Meanwhile, lawyer Alan Hemmings critiques the “us and them” constructions of Antarctic activities and assumptions about the rightful place of peoples of European origin on the continent contrasted against concerns about new actors. “Science is international and value-free until it isn’t one of us doing it” (Chapter thirty-two). In this reviewer’s favourite chapter, Elizabeth Leane explores the implicit racism in Antarctic fiction that assumes the normality of the white, European, male presence and paints the Asians as the “other” (Chapter two).

Notwithstanding the diversity of approaches and views, some general themes emerge. Sovereignty may have been frozen but the original parties to the Antarctic Treaty (including only one Asian and one African state – and the African state at the time of signing being the white supremacist South Africa) still determine whose voices are heard. Colonialism and the image of the white male conqueror of a hostile frontier were and remain bases for contemporary legitimacy in Arctic politics. Science is a ticket to the decision-making table – something that keeps “troublemakers” from developing countries at bay (108). The “old” Antarctic states must find a careful balance between defending their hegemony and accommodating “new” actors so that the latter do not threaten to undermine the system.

It is perhaps harsh to criticise a text of over 600 pages for what is missing but this reviewer was surprised that the Whaling in the Antarctic case and the broader issue of whaling in the Antarctic was not more directly addressed. However, since the handbook’s publication, Japan has announced its decision to leave the International Whaling Commission and to cease taking whales in the Southern Ocean, changing the basic premises of the legal dispute. Tim Stephens’ chapter on the law of the sea left this reviewer wanting more: each of the subsections could have been the subject of an independent chapter. What is the role of the International Seabed Authority in the Southern Ocean? Does it have one? The tension – and snobbery – between science and tourism might have been explored in more depth (though Chapter twenty-three, by Christina Braun, Fritz Hertel and Hans-Ulrich Peter, presents the depressing reality of the impact of scientific missions and the inadequacy of implementation of environmental protection and implicitly argues that it is not the tourists that are the problem). Ruth Davis (Chapter thirty-five) touches briefly on the precautionary principle but the pre-eminence given to “science-based decision-making” in the Antarctic poses a major barrier to the application of a precautionary approach that could have been more explicitly explored. Some leading Antarctic experts such as Jill Barrett and Kees Bastmeister are also missing. These gaps should not be viewed as criticisms of the Handbookbut rather a reminder to interested readers to go beyond itas they continue their research.

Klaus Dodds & Mark Nuttall, The Scramble for the Poles: The geopolitics of the Arctic and the Antarctic (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016)

When I begin the writing process, I try to start with a title. I figure that if I get that right, then the rest will fall into place. When I saw the title of this new book by Klaus Dodds and Mark Nuttall, The Scramble for the Poles, my attention fixed on the word ‘scramble’, and it immediately resonated with me that this might be yet another polemic on the actions of polar states to shore up favourable access to polar resources in the future. And then I discovered that the authors actually devote a whole page in the Preface to explaining and justifying their use of this (and similar) terms, which was quite simply because they are in use in the everyday lexicon of polar commentary (p.xiii). So yes, in some respects this is yet another polemic – but at the same time, different.

Continue reading Klaus Dodds & Mark Nuttall, The Scramble for the Poles: The geopolitics of the Arctic and the Antarctic (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2016)

Richard C. Powell & Klaus Dodds, Polar Geopolitics: Knowledges, Resources and Legal Regimes (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2014)

This edited collection brings together 18 scholars from different disciplines to discuss their latest insights into the Arctic and Antarctic regions. While the Antarctic has always been a distinct conceptual space in the World owing to its isolation from inhabited territories, the formation of the Arctic qua region has developed rapidly in the 21st Century. The editors, Richard Powell and Klaus Dodds, have asked the contributors to develop “critical polar geopolitics”, focusing on knowledges, resources and legal regimes. However, the book does not clearly follow these three priority areas but is in fact structured according to three parts: Global and Regional Frameworks; National Visions; and Indigenous and Northern Geopolitics.

Continue reading Richard C. Powell & Klaus Dodds, Polar Geopolitics: Knowledges, Resources and Legal Regimes (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 2014)

G. Alfredsson, T. Koivurova (eds. in chief), D. Leary, N. Loukacheva (spec. eds.), The Yearbook of Polar Law (Leiden: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2010)


The symposium is now an established annual affair with the first three held in Akureyri and the fourth scheduled in September 2011 in Nuuk, Greenland. Although the symposia continue to provide rich fodder for the yearbook, submissions are encouraged from all scholars in pertinent areas of research. Submissions are subject to double-blind peer review.


The Yearbook has attracted some of the best known experts in their respective areas. A subjective selection of the most noted will always be unfair in such a distinguished field, but scholars of international law will recognise, besides the editors, established experts Malgosia Fitzmaurice, Nigel Bankes and  Asbjørn Eide.


The Yearbook of Polar Law responds to the growing strategic and economic importance of the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The Arctic is changing rapidly, not only geophysically in response to climate shifts but also geopolitically as human technology and security issues give it new social  meanings. Where the Yearbook departs from other Arctic and Antarctic scholarly publications is that it approaches the challenges of the polar regions principally from a legal standpoint. Nevertheless, studies in these areas require almost invariably an interdisciplinary approach: one cannot assess continental shelf claims under the Law of the Sea Convention without a basic grasp of geography; climate change governance without scientific evidence; nor indigenous peoples’ self-determination claims without anthropological and historical knowledge.


In contrast to the Polar Law Textbook which is intended as an introduction to Polar Law, the Yearbook is aimed at academics and policy makers already established in their respective areas of expertise.


The second volume includes a new “recent developments” section as well as relevant book reviews. What it lacks that was valuable in the first is an overall review of the symposium and the conclusions and recommendations of its participants. That overall review provided an excellent – and gentle – introduction to the sometimes highly technical and specialist papers that follow, in the manner of an introductory chapter in an edited collection of essays. In it, key general issues were identified, including climate change; human rights; new commercial activities at the Poles; shipping challenges; threats to native species; environmental governance; peace, security and dispute settlement. Then specific pressing issues were highlighted: management and protection of at-risk species; a more proactive approach by the International Maritime Organization in identified areas; the need, if any, for new laws, treaties and processes; and living marine resources management. States were advised of areas requiring immediate attention, such as: implementation of existing law; mitigation of, and adaptation to, climate change in cooperation with indigenous peoples of the North. Long-term issues were noted:  namely, climate change and environmental governance. Finally recommendations from the symposium’s participants were recorded, aimed towards academics vis á vis needed research and states vis á vis needed action. This summary gives context to the rest of the articles and allows the reader to go on to read any one of the individual contributions with the bigger picture in mind.     


While all the articles in the two published volumes could easily have found homes in alternative fora – specialist journals on the law of the sea, environmental law, natural resource law, dispute settlement, human rights, arctic studies as well as general international law and social science volumes – the Yearbook of Polar Law is, as its title indicates, the first journal to draw together all these fields with a specific focus on the Polar Regions. By tying together all these related fields in one publication, it gives scholars, policy makers and stakeholders the opportunity to form a more holistic view of the challenges facing the Polar Regions.


At 156 Euros per volume, the Yearbook is presumably aimed at institutional subscribers: law school libraries, governmental institutions and research facilities; principally those focussed on the Arctic and Antarctic. This is a little unfortunate as these perspectives from the Poles are informative not only to specialist researchers at the World’s ends, but for people all over the World facing challenges such as climate change, resource management, territorial disputes and indigenous claims. One can only hope that, price notwithstanding, the Yearbook’s contents will nevertheless reach the wide audience that they merit.

Natalia Loukacheva (ed.), Polar Law Textbook (Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers, 2010)

In conjunction with the programme and with the financial support of the Nordic Council of Ministers, the programme director, Natalia Loukacheva, solicited and collated these articles from leading academics, practitioners, politicians and indigenous peoples working in associated disciplines to compile the first ever “textbook” in Polar Law. The four designated aims of the textbook are to promote interdisciplinary education; to disseminate current research and developments; to improve Nordic and Arctic cooperation; to facilitate long-distance education on Polar Law and to encourage Nordic and Arctic collaboration in education (Summary).


Polar Law as a concept requires some working definition, even if it is constantly evolving and taking on new fields of inquiry as it matures. This definition is provided by Loukacheva in the introduction who advises us that, “broadly speaking, ‘polar law’ is a developing field of law that deals with the international and domestic legal regimes that are applicable to the Arctic or the Antarctic or both” while also taking into account the normative force of “soft-law” instruments (13).

One immediate question that springs to mind is “why polar law?” What is special about the polar regions that justifies such specialized attention? And despite some superficial similarities between the Arctic and the Antarctic, geologically, politically, sociologically and economically they are, if one will pardon the expression, “poles apart.” Loukacheva raises these questions in her introduction, drawing attention to the most significant differences between the two regions as well as areas of common concern and lessons that one region might have for the other.

On reading the textbook, it becomes apparent that these areas are of ever increasing strategic and political importance and facing challenges of governance and deployment that have serious consequences in much more temperate climates. The focus on polar law suggests a preference for legal regulation to solve problems, but in reality, the approaches taken are all interdisciplinary to greater or lesser extents. Only the chapters on the law of the sea and on human rights and indigenous peoples rely principally on legal sources and even in these chapters, the law is explained in social and environmental context. In other words, whilst to some extent it is assumed that law is one useful tool to address the relevant issues, it is nowhere assumed that law is the only tool, nor even the preferred one.

Although marketed as a “textbook”, the essays do not provide a superficial account of the issues they each address. Instead, the book is packed with information, providing knowledge and analysis that will serve well scholars, scientists and policy-makers in, inter alia, international law, international relations, development, governance, natural resources law and climate change, whether or not they seek a specific focus on the polar regions. Where it shares a “textbook” approach is in the inclusion at the end of each chapter of suggested material for further reading (useful to researchers at all levels) and a pedagogically-focussed list of questions for reflection by the reader.

The content is weighted towards the Arctic, which can be understood to the extent that there is a necessary focus on the social sciences (e.g., economics, Arctic governance) and emphasis is rightly put on indigenous peoples (4 of 11 chapters). The human issues pertaining to the Arctic have no equivalent in Antarctica. There would be scope, however, for further development of Antarctic issues in a future volume, such as questions of governance of the South Pole, legal and political claims to territory, potential exploitation of non-living resources, and other economic interests.

The textbook taps into the most contemporary information available, containing numerous references to developments in 2010. However, the effort to publish the state of the art developments in polar law have come with some editorial costs that might be rectified in a second edition, or a future second volume with new essays dealing with yet to be identified topics. First of all, a non-specialist approaching this textbook may feel at times bombarded by acronyms and it can become difficult to keep these all in focus. Furthermore, the acronyms are not consistently used by different authors, for example, the Law of the Sea Convention is abbreviated to LOSC (45) and later as UNCLOS (214). The inclusion of a simple table of acronyms could make it much simpler for authors to use the same acronyms and for readers to check these quickly when memory fails. The styles of the questions also vary between chapters, with some being answerable by reflection of the contained text alone and others requiring further research. There are formatting inconsistencies, with most chapters listing questions at the end of the text, but chapter six including these after subsections within chapters, and some typographical and layout errors. Ultimately, however, the technical detractions of the textbook should not detract from its innovative content.

Finally mention should be made of the open-access nature of the project and the willingness to make this content available to as wide an audience as possible without the barrier of cost. The book is available for purchase in hard copy, but can be downloaded in its entirety in pdf form free of charge, something that cash-strapped students and universities in developed and developing countries alike will no doubt embrace enthusiastically.

* Online pdf version: