Tag Archives: autonomy

High Stakes in the High North: Alternative Models for Greenland’s Ongoing Constitutional and Political Transformation

To the surprise of many two years ago, the global media and diplomatic community went into a frenzy after the Wall Street Journal published an article about then President Trump’s keen interest in purchasing Greenland from Denmark, generating worldwide headlines comparable to those that greeted Secretary of State William H. Seward when word leaked out of his 1867 secret treaty with Russia to purchase its ailing Alaskan colony, a move widely ridiculed as “Seward’s folly” (but which proved to be enormously prescient). News of Trump’s Sewardian interest in Greenland generated an immediate critical reaction in both Greenland, where a movement for increased autonomy and a gradual, incremental evolution toward sovereign independence has had majority support for many years, as well as Denmark, leading to a brief display of diplomatic sparks between Denmark and its American ally. As Greenland’s foreign minister Ane Lone Bagger put it, “We are open for business, but we’re not for sale.” Prudently, Greenland’s leaders, while vehemently opposed to the idea floated by Trump, nonetheless embraced the immediate (and sustained) rise in attention his proposal elicited, and in the months that followed, enjoyed multiple benefits associated with America’s rekindled interest in the world’s largest island, including fast-tracking the re-opening of a U.S. consulate in Nuuk for the first time since 1953.

At 2.13 million square kilometers, Greenland is equal in size to the combined areas of the world’s next three largest islands: New Guinea (785,753 square km), Borneo (748,168 square km) and Madagascar (587,041 square km), occupying a strategic location along the northeastern flank of North America comparable to Alaska’s position in the far northwest with a comparable geostrategic importance for hemispheric security, one recognized during World War II, again in the Cold War, and now once again as the polar thaw invites increased global interest in the Arctic. While Greenland has long been a colony of Denmark, its formal governing status has evolved in recent years from outright colonial governance toward more collaborative Home-Rule governance in 1979 to, in the wake of its 2008 referendum on autonomy and independence that garnered overwhelming (75.54%) support of Greenland’s electorate, to increasingly robust and meaningful Self-Rule in 2009 – with a path toward peaceful secession mutually endorsed by both colony and colonizer.

Roots of Greenlandic Autonomy: The Circumpolar Inuit Rights Movement

A key driver of this movement for increasing autonomy has been the steady empowerment of the island’s majority Inuit population – part of a wider, circumpolar movement for Inuit rights spearheaded by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), renamed the Inuit Circumpolar Council in 2006. This movement includes, and for many has been defined by, securing the protection of Inuit land rights through various mechanisms, such as the land claims process in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic which has formally transferred land title to approximately one-tenth the land in Arctic North America to the Inuit along with a variety of co-management tools to protect those lands and its recourses (in contrast to the Russian Arctic, where in the absence of gaining land title, there has instead been a more limited use of joint-venture economic development projects, occasionally augmented by the creation of national parks in the absence of a formal restoration of land title to Native ownership). In addition to regaining (and formalizing) land rights, the Inuit rights movements has sought, and successfully strengthened, the preservation and revitalization of Inuit culture and language, along with the increasing empowerment of Inuit through greater self-governing powers, with notable achievements in both Alaska and the Canadian Arctic in addition to Greenland.

The movement for autonomy in Greenland, and the collaborative path toward its eventual independence with the support of Denmark, is both part of this circumpolar movement and distinct from it, as noted by Hannes Gerhardt in 2011, and takes inspiration in part from the pioneering gains of the Arctic’s evolving experience with Inuit land claims, starting with the historic Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971 which jumpstarted the process of Inuit-State reconciliation, and continuing through subsequent revisions as land claims were sequentially settled across Arctic North America until 2005, over three decades later. But at the same time, the constitutional and historical context for the Inuit rights movement in Greenland is markedly different from on the mainland of Arctic North America, with a colonial system largely in place, albeit with much increased autonomy. It is this asymmetry of constitutional and historical contexts that has propelled Greenland on what Gerhardt describes as a Westphalian trajectory, toward the emergence of what would be the first truly sovereign majority-Inuit state.[1]

ANCSA was the first land claim to transform the political geography of the North, and while it had many structural flaws and imperfections, it laid a foundation from which Arctic land claims continued to evolve, with each new iteration providing the Inuit with greater powers, increasingly augmenting Inuit self-governing powers, first through the integration of co-management with a land settlement, and later with the integration of self-government (initially via public governance models, and later – in the 2005 Labrador Inuit (Nunatsiavut) Land Claim – embracing ethnically-defined Inuit self-government.[2] Outside of Greenland, these iterations have been constitutionally subordinated to the sovereign states governing the Arctic region, with Inuit autonomy defined either municipally, regionally or territorially, but always subordinates to constitutional supremacy of the sovereign state itself. But in the case of Greenland, there is for the first time a process in which sovereign independence is a distinct possibility, as mutually recognized by both Greenlanders and the Danish state.

How this movement toward independence evolves, and the diverse constitutional forms the emergent sovereign Greenlandic state may potentially take, has generally not been discussed in great detail in the academic literature or press, apart from being the logical conclusion to the incremental approach to expanded Greenlandic autonomy that has taken place thus far, and thus with sovereignty limited to the island of Greenland itself, and not generally in any other form, expanded or diminished in geographic scope. But this does not mean that Greenland’s independence will remain confined by its present geography, and that over time we won’t see other manifestations of Inuit sovereignty and configurations of Inuit state extent emerge. This article presents a preliminary discussion of some of these variants, primarily sovereign or co-sovereign models that may at the present time seem highly improbable. Because the future of Greenland, and the ultimate extent of Inuit sovereignty asserted, is of such great importance to the stability of the High North Atlantic region and to North American security, it is vital that we consider all possible models and outcomes. The following paper is a preliminary effort to elucidate these possibilities.

Climate Consequences: Energizing the Inuit Rights Movement

Adding urgency to the contemporary circumpolar Inuit rights movement, with roots firmly planted in the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century, has been the dramatic and volatile effects of the polar thaw, bringing global attention to a region that has, since the Cold War, been largely neglected. What was once something of a niche field understudied by international relations and strategic studies scholars has, since the polar thaw become a topic of global attention from the lay-public to the highest levels of governance, becoming front and center to not only study, but policy formulation and strategy development around the world – so much so that numerous non-Arctic states have their own Arctic policies, and non-Arctic observer states now outnumber the Arctic member states on the Arctic Council, the post-Cold War international regime that collaboratively overseas the Arctic region on a number of non-defense and non-security issues areas. Growing global interest in the Arctic brings along new diplomatic challenges, most recently the rise of China and its assertions of a special “near-Arctic” status aligned with its “Polar Silk Road” initiative which was noted in the 2019 United States Coast Guard Arctic Strategic Outlook, along with other U.S. policy papers and strategy documents, as particularly concerning.

The results of these competing interests in the near as well as more distant future are exceedingly difficult to predict, so considering a wide range of scenarios is essential. For instance, a determined China could develop regional alliances and dependencies through strategic capital infusions to the sovereign island-states of the High North Atlantic, which owing to their exceedingly small populations remain vulnerable to rapid demographic upheavals resulting from a small number of development projects staffed by overseas contractors – resulting in a potential stealth invasion of the region. Iceland, with a population around 364,000 and a long sovereign experience, far more resilient to such an external demographic threat, though were Iceland to break from NATO and pursue a non-aligned future, its vulnerability could increase. Greenland, while part of the Kingdom of Denmark, likewise remains embedded in a solid alliance architecture, but with only 56,000 people could, once it becomes independent, become highly vulnerable to external pressures, whether economic, demographic, or even military.

Similarly, with Russia resurgent and its recently illustrated appetite for foreign intervention (following its annexation of Crimea, incursion in Eastern Ukraine, and military interventions from Libya to Syria), and the renewed specter of a clash with NATO over the small Baltic states, or potentially, the non-aligned northern European states, scenarios of extreme instability in the High North Atlantic can also again be envisioned. In short, global interest in the Arctic introduces new risks which could in time threaten the hemispheric security of North America. This follows a long period that with few exceptions was marked by a steadiness and predictability; the pre-thaw Arctic region was more a strategic buffer in world politics that – even at the height of the Cold War – was defined foremost by its stability. The movement for Inuit rights emerged during this period of calm, and the incrementally increasing empowerment of the Inuit proceeded with the same stability during a half-century of policy innovation that began with ANCSA, culminated with the formation of the Nunavut Territory in 1999, and achieving its conclusion on the mainland of Arctic North America with the passage of the Labrador Inuit (Nunatsiavut) Land Claim in 2005.

Were the strategic and geographic landscape to remain stable and largely free of uncertainty, the emergence of a sovereign and independent Greenland would likely continue the current mutually amicable autonomy process and its multi-decade incrementalism further, and not upend regional geopolitics. But because of the dynamic uncertainties of the polar thaw, and the return of Westphalian state competition to the Arctic region in recent years, the potential independence of Greenland becomes instead a strategic wildcard needing to be closely studied and pro-actively engaged to ensure a future sovereign Greenland maintains the close, collaborative and friendly relationship with the United States and the West, optimally as part of NATO, that it currently pursues as a constituent component of Denmark.[3]

Alternate Models for a Post-Denmark Greenland: ‘Thinking About the Unthinkable’ Once Again

While most conversations regarding Greenland’s constitutional evolution, at least those  prior to the Trump White House’s surprise overture to purchase the island from Denmark, consider Greenland’s continuing movement for increasing autonomy strictly within the context of peaceful, and negotiated, Danish constitutional politics, there is good reason to consider alternative scenarios not widely discussed – including scenarios of a broader Inuit secession from the states that now assert constitutional authority over Inuit lands catalyzed by Greenland’s successes thus far.

The Inuit homeland has, in contrast to the more complex and diverse subarctic region, a cohesive ethno-political culture, and while it has until now deftly adapted its aspirations for the many different sovereign polities whose borders intersect the Inuit homeland, it is conceivable that as the prospect of formal independence grows for Greenlandic Inuit, the appetite for enhanced autonomy elsewhere, such as in neighboring Nunavut, northern Labrador (Nunatsiavut), Canada’s Western Arctic (the Inuvialuit settlement region), and Alaska’s North Slope, may grow in lockstep. It is imperative to thus ask: What if Nunavut and/or other Inuit regions join Greenland in a coordinated secession movement, or – in the face of successful lobbying by either party or a groundswell of support at home, Greenland decides to change sovereigns, and join either Canada or the United States? While these scenarios may seem unlikely, prior to 1989 one did not hear comparable discussions of a collapse of the Warsaw Pact, breakup of Yugoslavia, or implosion of the Soviet empire before events rapidly spiraled out of control, radically transforming the constitutional fabric of eastern Europe. With the prospect of an Inuit state ultimately and amicably emerging from the negotiated constitutional dialogue between Greenland and Denmark, the consequential implications of this profound and catalyzing transformation must not be overlooked. As Herman Kahn reminded us during the Cold War, it is now essential to think about the unthinkable. Below are what Kahn might dub relevant “metaphors and scenarios” to consider.

Joining Canada and its Exemplary Constitutional Embrace of Indigenous Rights

Were Greenland to change sovereigns rather than seek formal independence, there is much logic to the notion of Greenland selecting Canada as its new constitutional partner – finding in the Nunavut model of territorial self-governance aligned with a land claim treaty many potential benefits well-suited to its needs, and a refreshing break from its current colonial governing structure. Joining Canada is not without precedent: the province of Newfoundland and Labrador did so as late as 1949, around the time the United States was contemplating its own acquisition of Greenland – bringing under the Canadian constitution not only the island of Newfoundland, but the northern coastal territory of Labrador, home to several thousand Inuit who serendipitously are among the most recent beneficiaries of a comprehensive land claim treaty with Ottawa – presenting a logical path for Greenland to follow. Imagining how such a scenario could unfold will require much further study, and would depend, in part, on the emergence of a transnational movement for Inuit unification that, as of now, has not taken root in either Greenland or Nunavut. Should such a movement arise, and for it to succeed, Denmark would have to agree to Greenland’s departure and to Canada’s expansion (as would Canada) unless it were to occur in two separate steps sufficiently paced to forestall Denmark’s opposition – a scenario that may seem extremely unlikely today, but which, in a situation of war in northern Europe, might become more feasible.

Indeed, before Trump’s unsolicited overture, Canada seemed the more likely alternative sovereign partner for Greenland, given the advances achieved by Canadian Inuit through their dynamic mixture of comprehensive land claims, robust co-management, and increasingly powerful self-government processes as well as the long, close collaboration between Greenlandic and Canadian Inuit at the ICC. In recent years, Inuit leaders have expressed much dissatisfaction with Ottawa’s commitment to fulfilling the promises of Nunavut, turning to the courts in frustration on multiple occasions, and in 2006 calling for the moral intervention of famed jurist Thomas Berger, to many Canadian natives the conscience of Canada. More recently, native rail blockages across Canada have re-inflamed long-simmering tensions between the indigenous and settler communities in Canada, straining recent reconciliation efforts of the Trudeau government, a situation that will likely be even further inflamed by the recent discovery of a mass grave at a residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. Amidst such circumstances, one can no longer presume that Canada, by default, would be the only logical choice for Greenlandic Inuit should they seek to change sovereigns.

Joining the USA: Not Necessarily as Illogical or Ahistorical as Many Think

Indeed, Trump’s unexpected interest in Greenland may – despite the initially critical response to his surprise overture to purchase the island – provide an alternative to choosing between joining Canada or remaining part of Denmark, with Alaska’s transition from territory to state serving as alternative model for Greenland’s future. Such a possibility, of Greenland joining the United States in a constitutional union not unlike that of Alaska, is a scenario that has been considered at the highest levels of the U.S. Government before, particularly in the immediate aftermath of World War II, during which Greenland was an American protectorate and its strategic significance the coming Cold War was keenly appreciated. Such a tectonic shift in North America’s sovereign political geography is uncommon now, and it has been a century and a half since a change of similar magnitude directly affected the United States, when, in 1867, Alaska was purchased from Russia – a move that was widely criticized at the time as a great “folly” but which, in the years since, has contributed much to American security, particularly since World War II. But it’s more frequent, and recent, than many would think, with the aforementioned entry of Newfoundland and Labrador to Canada’s confederation.

And while political leaders in both Greenland and Copenhagen quickly insisted that Trump’s idea was without merit, and inconsistent with their own step-by-step process of decolonization under way in addition to the very needle of history, Greenlandic officials did subsequently, and enthusiastically, embrace America’s renewed diplomatic and economic interest in what had largely been an overlooked Cold War outpost rediscovered amidst the dynamic flux and strategic uncertainty of the polar thaw, and the consequent (and significant) rise in high-profile official delegations to and from Greenland including an accelerated re-opening of an American consulate in Nuuk, the first since 1953, in addition to high profile visits by leading members of America’s strategic and diplomatic community, culminating in the May 14, 2021 visit by current U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken – notably via Copenhagen, and with the Kingdom’s official blessing (and an in-person greeting once arrived on the island by Denmark’s foreign minister and both Greenland’s premier and foreign minister) in contrast to the unilateral nature of the Trump initiative.[4]

Supporters of the Trump’s Greenland purchase initiative, few as they were, noted the increasing strategic importance of Greenland in a thawing Arctic, part of a wider process of Arctic integration with the world economy and its geostrategic architecture under way for many years, with roots dating back to the colonial era when Arctic furs and whale oil fueled the economies of both the New World and Old. They also understood it was a backdoor approach to recognizing the strategic implications of climate change in an administration that did not formally or publicly acknowledge global warming. Indeed, the economic integration of Arctic resources with the global economy is not only a contemporary phenomenon accelerated by climate change, but an historic one dating back centuries with deep and enduring roots. During the Gold Rush era, the mineral potential of the Far North would be equally recognized for its strategic-economic value (leading to a brief demographic imbalance in the Yukon Territory, with more Americans in the Klondike than Canadians, and Ottawa rightly concerned there could be instability and potentially a secession risk); and in the twentieth century, with the advent of air power, the strategic-military value of the region was recognized for its own sake, while its energy and mineral resources continued to be highly sought after by all of the Arctic states, driving a new wave of northern resource development.

During World War II, thousands of U.S. soldiers were stationed across the North, building the strategic Alaska-Canada (Alcan) highway, the lesser-known Canol road, a slew of air bases, and protecting the vital Northwest Staging Route ferrying Lend-Lease aircraft to the Eastern Front, where the Nazi military onslaught was, at great sacrifice by America’s Russian war-time partner, brought to a halt. At the same time, the U.S. Coast Guard’s Greenland Patrol defended Greenland, which came under America’s direct military protection after Denmark fell to the Germans, from becoming a North American beach head for further Nazi advances – indeed, the specter of Greenland falling, and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence becoming vulnerable to Nazi conquest, would concern war planners until the machinery of the Nazi state was decisively demolished. It wasn’t long after World War II came to an end that President Truman floated the idea of purchasing Greenland from Denmark for $100 million, an idea that Time Magazine endorsed for its strategic wisdom the very next year, with widespread encouragement from war planners who recognized Greenland’s strategic prominence for the post-war world.

During the Cold War, the Distant Early Warning (DEW) line was built across the Inuit homeland, protecting the North American continent from strategic bomber assault, the Thule air base augmented American air power in the region, and an American consulate in Nuuk helped to reinforce America’s presence. The waters off both Greenland and Iceland, the famed Greenland-Iceland-UK (G-I-UK) gap, would come to play a central role during the U.S.-Soviet confrontation and in America’s forward maritime strategy near the Cold War’s end. Soon after the Cold War ended, columnist and foreign affairs expert Walter Russell Mead proposed in all seriousness, in his July 1992 column in the LA Times, to purchase Siberia from Boris Yeltsin’s Russia for $1-2 trillion USD.

While the outright purchase of such a large portion of the globe is now  uncommon, and due to this relative infrequency is widely perceived to be better-suited to the world of yesteryear than that of today, it wasn’t all that long ago that large-scale shifts in borders were more the norm and less the exception. And in today’s world, so much is in flux, and let’s not forget that it was only a half-dozen years ago that Crimea quickly fell to Moscow’s expansionist ambitions, experiencing a rapid annexation by a resurgent Russia – changing hands largely without bloodshed (in contrast to the subsequent contest for eastern Ukraine), suggesting that such tectonic shifts in political geography do remain possible, and in some cases, might even contribute to geopolitical stability. It is thus conceivable that in a future world, Greenland’s union with the United States could again be envisioned.

It is no secret that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been fortifying his vast Arctic territories, with mothballed military bases unused since the Cold War period undergoing a recent and ongoing strategic refurbishment on a scale comparable to Beijing’s fortifications of contested islands in the South China Sea, gaining increasing strategic attention and media coverage – as both Russia and China seek to expand their global military influence and to secure their most proximate island chains.[5] There is every reason to expect the U.S. to do much the same, by strengthening its own strategic architecture and re-fortifying its own proximate island chains along its ramparts, from the Aleutian Islands guarding the Bering Strait, to the Canadian Arctic archipelago standing watch over North America’s northern flank, to the islands that anchor the Greenland-Iceland-United Kingdom (GIUK) Gap. America’s rekindled interest in Greenlandic security, along with the return of U.S. forces to Iceland (now on a rotating basis), reflect this strategic re-awakening, as does its icebreaker modernization program, the Polar Security Cutter (PSC) Program. Thinking ahead to a more fluid geopolitical world, and toward the protection of the more isolated island outposts in the Far North that remain vulnerable in such a world, is a prudent exercise given the perceived risks associated with both increasing state rivalry in the Arctic, and of Arctic climate change.

Exchanging Colonial Sovereigns: An Alternative to Independence

To imagine a hypothetical world in which Greenland might become an American territory, on a path toward statehood not unlike that which Alaska followed, is to imagine a world in which North America is more secure and united than it is today. Greenlandic Inuit, who suffer from a long legacy of neglect and whose colonial experience, despite recent gains in autonomy, has not been entirely positive, particularly in the smaller and more remote villages lacking basic infrastructure and economic opportunities, could indeed stand to benefit in multiple ways.

First and foremost, the defense of Greenland in time of war would be strengthened by its constitutional integration into the U.S. polity, much the way Alaska’s has been since its purchase, and this alone could deter war from ever taking place. That the legacy of Russian colonialism, which under the RAC was brutal and exploitative, could be gradually reversed in Alaska over time – where particularly since the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) of 1971 and the subsequent Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980, gains by Alaska natives have been notable, even if still a work in progress – is illustrative of the changes we can expect in such a hypothetical future.

While Greenland’s gradual process of increasing autonomy and decolonization under Danish rule would be up-ended by such a change of sovereigns, a mutually positive outcome of a U.S. purchase could be a win-win for both Greenlanders and for America. There would have to consent to such an exchange of sovereigns, to be sure, and that would require a referendum to be held. But, once the people of Greenland make their choice, if they choose to join the United States in union, it would be an historically transformative event on a scale of the Alaska purchase, and with the same long-term potential strategic and economic benefits. It may not be likely, and at the moment is not under consideration by either the U.S.,  the Danes or the Greenlanders. Indeed, it may well have been just a brief flirtation, and not a long-term strategic commitment of the President’s, and thus different from, say, Secretary of State William H. Seward’s embrace of Alaska as a critical component of America’s expansion. But it is no less a scenario worthy of study.

Because the globalized world is vastly different from the colonial world, however, it would require additional parameters be met than required for the Alaska purchase. Like with the Alaska purchase, which Russia welcomed for the financial relief it provided, as well as its reduction in strategic pressure with the century-old United States providing a much-needed buffer between the British Empire in North America and the remaining territory of mother Russia on the Eurasian side of the Bering Strait. But in addition, the people of Greenland, who are majority Inuit, would have to also welcome a change in sovereigns, and find American policies and investment, in addition to its military protection, attractive enough to forego independence. Because securing and sustaining independence with a population of 56,000 is quite a difficult challenge, a formal sovereign association with the United States might, in some circumstances, appeal to the people of Greenland. Just as the earlier-mentioned scenario of Greenland joining Canada would require Greenlanders to find merit in the Nunavut model of regional self-governance, for the scenario of Greenland becoming part of the United States, Greenlanders would have to find merit in the “Alaska model,” with its combination of multi-level governance, settled land claims, still-evolving structures for co-management between the various levels of governance (federal, state, tribal, and municipal), and robust natural resource development experience.

Indeed, were Greenlanders to one day consider whether to join the United States or Canada (in lieu of pursuing independence), their choice may be between resource-development (more robust in Alaska, with its strong state government, than in Arctic Canada) vs. cultural and environmental protections (which are more robust in Arctic Canada than Alaska, owing to the absence of a powerful state level of government, more readily enabling an alignment of indigenous and federal interests), the very same fault line that divides contemporary Alaska. Issues of future settlement by non-Inuit would also surely be an issue: Alaska today is less than 15% native (and over 85% settler), while Nunavut remains nearly 85% native (and less than 15% settler), as if an inverse mirror image of one another. Greenland is, at present, closer to 90% native, so is more aligned with Nunavut in terms of its ethnography. On the other hand, Canada, by virtue of its proximity to the United States, is largely buffered from the risks and dangers of world politics, and unlikely to face an external threat to its sovereignty. Greenland, however, is quite exposed, on the outer edge of the North American continent, and in waters that are not only increasingly strategic, but also potentially contested. It faces existential risks as a polity much the way Iceland does, perhaps more so because of its smaller demography and more expansive geography. If alliance membership alone does not guarantee its independence, perhaps a closer constitutional relationship, such as territorial status and a path toward statehood, could one day prove to be an appealing option to the people of Greenland.

Dual-Secession Models: Strength through Confederation

Often, when Greenlandic independence is considered critically, its small population and vast territorial breadth (and its even more vast EEZ offshore) is presumed to leave the island in an inevitably unviable position, particularly should its independence ever be contested by force – suggesting there is at least some strategic and economic logic to a change of sovereigns rather than a bid for a fragile sovereign independence. But a mere changing of sovereigns may fail to find domestic support among Greenlanders; even so, going it alone need not be the only path left to pursue. Indeed, Greenland may in the face of so many obstacles to sovereign viability continue to choose to remain part of the Kingdom of Denmark by mutual consent, and thus decelerate its march toward independence and continue to refine its relationship, and expand its autonomy over time, with the same incrementalism as in the past.

Alternatively, it is also possible that the movement for independence in Greenland could inspire a similar movement in Canada – particularly Nunavut, which has close historical, cultural and familial ties to Greenland (with its north settled by Canadian Inuit just over a century ago) in addition to its close geographical proximity to Greenland, where Inuit already govern at the territorial level but face continuing implementation resistance from Ottawa – resulting in the theoretical potential for a transnational movement for dual-secession from both Canada and Denmark. While Canadian Inuit have gained much in native rights and self-governing powers, more than in any other Arctic region, their communities still remain traumatized, with multiple indicators of societal collapse including epidemic levels of suicide, substance abuse, and community violence. Should Ottawa remain unwilling or unable to fulfil the aspirations of Inuit for meaningful autonomy and the many material comforts enjoyed by southern Canadians (ranging from health security and community safety to educational opportunity), one can envision a movement emerging in Nunavut that aligns with Greenland’s independence movement, where seeds for a dual-secession movement may find fertile soil.

Dual-secession would be complex to manage, posing even greater risks to the United States and its NATO partners’ security, comparable in scale to the Quebec independence movement further south, which over the years has threatened to destabilize the northeast of North America, coming perilously close to a Quebec secession in 1995. While much progress has been made toward healing the enduring French-English divide in Canada, it is not inconceivable that the movement could re-intensify, and if it did, the fate of Nunavut to its north and Nunatsiavut to its east could be profoundly affected – either by overt Quebec military expansion to secure these vulnerable, majority-Inuit flanks, or covert efforts to destabilize these regions to prevent them from serving as staging grounds from which Anglo-Canada could destabilize Quebec’s energy-rich north. Further, in the event Quebec one day secedes from Canada, Inuit to Quebec’s north could seize the opportunity to make a similar bid for independence – and in so doing, may find many reasons to partner with Greenland in its quest. Such a scenario, while clearly improbable at the moment, remains worthy of future study, since the role Nunavut and Nunatsiavut might play in a post-Quebec Canadian confederation, and their likelihood of being caught in the whirlwind of chaos precipitated by a Quebec secession, could be of much consequence.

Joining Iceland and/or the Faroes: Dual Secession with a Twist — A Confederation of Former High North Atlantic Colonies

A similar dual-secession movement might emerge to Greenland’s east, where currently separate movements for a gradual and mutual secession from Denmark have emerged in both Greenland and the Faroe Islands, modeled in part on the successful independence movement by Iceland a century ago. If the movements for Faroese and Greenlandic independence were to merge into a single High Atlantic independence movement, once can envision the potential confederation of the Faroes, Greenland and Iceland – a union of former Danish colonies that share a colonial heritage and many post-colonial synergies. This scenario would create, in essence, a greater Icelandic sovereign entity, leveraging Iceland’s diplomatic, economic, and political strengths along with its central strategic role as a strategic hub between Europe and North America within the NATO alliance. The demographic diversity of such a union, united by its shared heritage of remote subsistence marine resource harvesting communities, whether seal, whale, or cod, would lay the foundation for a fascinating polity enriched by its own regional variation and distinctiveness.

In contrast to a dual Nunavut-Greenland secession, with all its risks and complexities, such an island-confederation of former Danish colonies could offer the region much promise of stability and cohesion, since the two new secessions would be equally embraced by both island colonies as well as their mutual colonizing sovereign, and their constitutional union with Iceland would further bring solace to their mutual alliance partners concerned with the emergence of new EEZs in newly independent microstates lacking the self-defense, search and rescue, or monitoring capacity for EEZ enforcement. Reykjavik could serve as a mentor to both Greenland and the Faroes, offering independence through confederation, much the way the union of the Malay peninsula with most of northern Borneo did after World War II – harnessing the movement for independence and away from colonialism while avoiding the specter of balkanization and instability. Originally, Singapore – the economic engine of that region – was set to be part of the new Malaysian state, along with Sarawak and Sabah, and had Singapore stayed in Malaysia, its role would likely mirror that which Reykjavik could play in an Iceland-Greenland-Faroe Islands confederation, as an engine of economic growth, a model for effective, efficient and democratic self-governance, and a center for education and training.

While a constitutional union with the United States was, from the moment the Trump White House proposed it, highly controversial and widely lampooned, a confederation of former High North Atlantic colonies seems less likely to face as much criticism, even if not actively under consideration now. Iceland, independent now for over seventy-five years and autonomous for more than a century, can thus serve as a mentor to its neighbors as they follow down the path that it earlier blazed, with the full blessing of their mutual (former) colonizer, and a close relationship with Copenhagen after independence. While Iceland’s sovereign independence is universally recognized, and a fixture of the Arctic’s political geography that contributes not only to the region’s unique and enduring collaborative balance between East and West dating back to the Cold War, but to its dynamic balancing of the interests of small and large states, as well as between hard-power and soft-power approaches to international relations and regional security; it would not be illogical to view Iceland’s independence experience as part of a sequential process of decolonization across the High North Atlantic, both inspiring and guiding the movements for independence of its neighbors – positioning Iceland as an exemplary leader on how to amicably decolonize, remain friends with the former colonizer, and emerge as a bridge between the many seeming contradictions inherent in the diverse NATO alliance, much the way Greenland (if and when it does secede from Denmark) can serve as a bridge between the indigenous and the Westphalian worlds.

So while each movement for independence in the High North Atlantic is generally viewed as sui generis, viewing them in tandem and in sequence raises an interesting possibility of confederation after independence. All three, once sovereign, will emerge on the world stage as relatively vulnerable microstates, with populations that would be hard pressed to secure independence in war time on their own – but whose strategic geography, despite their asymmetries in scale, infrastructure, and resource potential, positions them as important future alliance partners. With a shared security challenge and a common history of colonization, and with strong cultural, maritime, trade and diplomatic ties, there could be numerous benefits of forging a common union, one highly decentralized to ensure maximal achievement of sovereign aspirations, but not necessarily independent of one another. Just as there is a logic in Greenland uniting with the Inuit of Canada’s Eastern and High Arctic, one can as logically imagine a High North Atlantic union. Whether the will for such a union ever emerges, or can overcome centrifugal forces pulling the three insular polities apart, remains to be seen, but the theoretical potential is no less intriguing.

Village Sovereignty, Multi-Village Secession, and the Return of the Polis?

There is one other secession model to consider, one more complex than these models of dual secession contemplated above, and that is a secessionary cascade in the more isolated and remote villages which share a strong tradition of independence and survival against adversity, harsh climate, and limitations in resources and their accessibility, from both the colonial sovereigns (where they exist), and regional governments (that have gained much autonomy), and which the more remote communities often find pose a common threat to their interests, and in many cases, their survival as distinct ethnolinguistic communities. Whether that means cutting ties with both Ottawa and Iqaluit on one side of Baffin Bay, and with Copenhagen and Nuuk on the other, or just breaking free of Nuuk and Copenhagen, the result is the same: a Balkanization process in favor of localized forms of micro-sovereignty. One can even envision a restoration of a security relationship between pro-Copenhagen remote communities and Denmark even as they sever their ties to what some perceive as a neocolonial governing structure in Nuuk, no better than the more distant sovereign Nuuk aspires to replace.

Such yearnings have been felt across the Arctic and subarctic for generations and appear from time to time in different places, such as a 1992 “study” the Inupiat leadership told the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (as it was then called) they would sponsor to investigate their potential to secede from Alaska and form not an independent sovereign polity, but a “51st state” in the U.S. union, a research endeavor that catalyzed a formal response by the state of Alaska to forestall. After the Alaska land claim was enacted in 1971, standing up a new system of native corporations and in time a new generation of corporate leaders, a tribal sovereignty movement erupted across much of rural Alaska in search of a return to village autonomy, and federal protection from not only state-level governance but from the assimilating pressures of modernization and globalization. Alaska’s constitution allows for the formation of municipal boroughs for Alaska’s distinctive natural regions, such as on the North Slope where the Inupiat reside, providing a path for municipal governance to embody the sovereign aspirations of a unified region – but which in 1992 seemed far too limited against a state government in Alaska that opposed greater protections of Inupiat subsistence rights. Across the border, efforts to construct a Western Arctic Regional Municipality to jointly govern Inuvialuit and Gwich’in communities, shared a similar aspiration, albeit one that ultimately fell short of implementation, despite coming close more than once – for a more localized version of sovereignty and autonomy.

Justice Thomas Berger, when heading up the Alaska Native Review Commission in the mid-1980s, called his series of hearings a “village journey” which ultimately called for a re-tribalization of Alaska lands, away from corporations and corporate values, toward governance more traditional. Not long after, in 1993, the U.S. Department of the Interior recognized the more than two hundred Alaska Native villages as tribes under federal law. It is possible that the people of Greenland, along with their counterparts in the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic, may choose to pursue a similar model, one that will lead to a new conversation about what sovereignty means, and how it can be nurtured at the local level. The fact that the city-state of Singapore, known affectionately as the “little red dot” on maps of peninsular Southeast Asia, has achieved such a vision, building a modern state with its own sovereign form at the municipal level, is proof there is no limit to what can be achieved within the city-gates, and in the Arctic region, each village is in its own way a country of its own, so why not assert a new sovereign form that embodies the strength of the village as a unit?

Seizing the Moment: Asserting a Stronger Commitment to, and Presence in, the Arctic

Given the widespread attention and curiosity that accompanied the critical response to the Trump White House’s Greenland initiative, even in the absence of forward movement on the plan, the White House’s renewed (and continuing) interest in the Arctic and its increasing commitment to engagement and forward presence in the region, has nonetheless been positively reinforced in the many months since – and this surely has not escaped the attention of America’s principal rivals in Beijing and Moscow, nor of its friends in Greenland and across the lightly-settled and strategically vulnerable High North Atlantic.

Leveraging this moment, by extending America’s Arctic presence through greater economic, diplomatic and military engagement with the region and its people, can achieve many of the very same benefits of an outright sovereign accession of Greenland, but without either its risk or controversy. As Greenland considers is many options, and continues its transformation from colony to a more autonomous and beyond toward a more formally independent sovereign status, continued engagement, and support of the people of Greenland, no matter what sovereign model they choose, will go far to ensure the High North Atlantic remains secure and free.


[1] Hannes Gerhardt, “The Inuit and Sovereignty: The Case of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and Greenland,” Politik 14, No. 1 (2011): 6-14.

[2] See the author’s 2008 monograph, Breaking the Ice: From Land Claims to Tribal Sovereignty in the Arctic (Lexington Books) as well as his 2009 monograph, On Thin Ice: The Inuit, the State and the Challenge of Arctic Sovereignty (Lexington Books) for more details.

[3] For an overview of Arctic geopolitics in the post-Cold War era, including the era of the polar thaw, see the author’s 2010 monograph, Arctic Doom, Arctic Boom: The Geopolitics of Climate Change in the Arctic (Praeger Books); for more on the evolution of the land claims model and its contribution to Arctic stability and security, see the author’s Chapter 16 of The Fast-Changing Arctic: Rethinking Arctic Security for a Warmer World, “Stability and Security in a Post-Arctic World: Toward a Convergence of Indigenous, State, and Global Interests at the Top of the World.” For a discussion of the complex diplomatic environment of the contemporary Arctic, see the author’s “A Missed Opportunity: How China Ceded its Claims to What Is Now the Russian Far East, Leaving Japan as Asia’s Pre-eminent ‘Near-Arctic state’,” Intersec: The Journal of International Security, October 2019, 26-28; “China and the ‘Near-Arctic’: An Opportunity Lost Over 150 Years Ago,” Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, September 5, 2019; and “China Lost Chance to Be ‘Near-Arctic’ 150 Years Ago,” Stars and Stripes, August 8, 2019. For a discussion of Inuit involvement in Arctic diplomacy, please see the author’s Spring 2010 article in the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, “Cold Front: Hillary, Ottawa, and the Inuit: A Year after the Inuit Re-Assert their Sovereignty, Washington Takes Their Side.” An earlier version of this article was presented by the author at the International Small Islands Studies Association (ISISA)’s Global Island Studies Webinar (GISW) on June 24, 2020, on a panel discussing the future of Greenland chaired by his colleague from the University of Akureyri’s Polar Law Centre, Jonathan Wood, who is also contributing to this special issue of NoMe.

[4] Ned Price, “Press Statement: Secretary Blinken’s Travel to Denmark, Iceland, and Greenland,” U.S. Department of State, May 14, 2021, https://www.state.gov/secretary-blinkens-travel-to-denmark-iceland-and-greenland/. As noted in the State Department’s press briefing on Secretary Blinken’s visit, before heading to Reykjavik for the Arctic Council ministerial, Blinken began “his trip in Copenhagen, Kingdom of Denmark, where he [met] with Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen and Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod to discuss our strong bilateral ties, commitment to combating the climate crisis, and our shared interest in strengthening the transatlantic relationship” and “then travel[ed] to Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, where [to] meet with Greenlandic Premier Múte Bourup Egede and Minister Broberg, together with Foreign Minister Kofod [to] discuss the strong partnership between the United States and Greenland and our shared commitment to increase cooperation in the Arctic.”

[5] For instance, see Andrew E. Kramer, “In the Russian Arctic, the First Stirrings of a Very Cold War,” New York Times, May 22, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/22/world/russia-us-arctic-military.html.

Has the Competition among Professions in the Nordic Welfare States Intensified? A Danish Case


1. Introduction and analytical framework

Professionals such as social workers, administrators, doctors, economists, accountants, teachers, lawyers and nurses are core employees in the public sector in modern welfare states for the provision, production, delivery and management of the welfare services. By definition, professionals need to have autonomy in order to exercise discretion to provide people with the best possible services (Lipsky, 1980; 2010; Mintzberg, 1983; Winter & Nielsen, 2010). In other words, if professionals possess a sufficient amount of autonomy to exercise discretion based on their profession’s standards, norms and values, they can and will design the provision, production and delivery of the services to create the best fit possible between the services provided and the individual citizen’s needs.


Jespersen and Wrede (2009, pp. 155-156) define the following three types of autonomy.


1. Traditional professional autonomy 

With traditional professional autonomy, professionals have a monopoly on particular jobs as well as specific management positions in certain public welfare institutions (called ‘double social closure’). They also have the authority to define and solve clients’ problems. When professional autonomy exists, mono-professions are additionally the norm regarding the provision, production, delivery and management of the welfare services.


2. Framed autonomy

With framed autonomy, the autonomy is more limited and emphasis is put on the accountability of the professionals. There are also political and administrative demands regarding economic efficiency in the daily operations professionals perform. In framed autonomy, the various levels of management define the problems and solutions, the professions’ norms and standards are thus subordinate to the organization. Consequently, framed autonomy reflects an era of new public management (NPM).


3. Competitive autonomy

With the rise of competitive autonomy, monopolies dissolve. As a result professionals coming from different professions are involved in decision-making processes on the provision, production, delivery and management of welfare services to the citizens as end-users.


According to Jespersen and Wrede (2009, p. 173), developments in the hospital/health care sector in the Nordic countries have moved from traditional professional autonomy towards competitive autonomy via framed autonomy. From the perspective of institutional logics (Friedland & Alford, 1987; Meyer & Hammerschimd, 2006; Thorton et al., 2012; Thorton & Ocasio, 2008), this development reflects a shift from the logic of street-level bureaucracy (SLB) being highly dominant to a situation where there is competition between the logic of SLB and the logic of NPM, which has further evolved to the current situation, where several different logics compete.


Due to space limitations, this article focuses on the following four logics of management in the public sector: SLB, NPM, Weberian bureaucracy (WB) and new public governance (NPG). Table 1 presents a basic summary of what comprises these logics.


Table 1: Institutional logics of the public sector

Primary management logic Weberian bureaucracy (WB) Street-level bureaucracy (SLB) New public management  (NPM) New public governance (NPG)
Fundamental logic The state The profession The market The local community
Cultural symbolism Unity of the State, the public ethos, rules, obligations and rights



Vocation, professionalism, hands-on approaches, professional ethos and ethics, practice-orientated knowledge Formation of contracts and marketisation of the public sector, competition, self-interest as a significant criterion for prioritisation and decision making Reliance and competition, mutual dependency, the pluralistic state, governance networks, cooperation and competition
Materialised practice Hierarchy, top-down management, centralisation, standardisation, economics of scale, division of labour Bottom-up management, coping strategies, discretion, production and delivery of public welfare services provided in cooperation with consumers Intra- organisational management, focus on input and service output based on the preferences of the citizens, the citizen as costumer Intra-organisational governance, focus on service processes and outcomes
Theoretical origin The ideal typeof bureaucracy


Front-line bureaucracy Rational choice, market economy Neo-corporatism


Viewing Jespersen and Wrede’s (2009, p. 173) conclusions on developments in the hospital/health care sector in the Nordic countries using the theories on institutional logics as a framework means the situation being dealt with now involves several competing logics. The fact that there is competition among different institutional logics paves the way for two possible scenarios: 1) struggles and conflicts among professions; and 2) constructive co-operation among the professions. Naturally, people and society as a whole prefer the latter, which is why the political-administrative system demands that public managers do their best to promote the second scenario.


Consequently, two important questions must be asked:

1) Is the development from traditional professional autonomy towards competitive autonomy – from a mono logic towards multiple logics – in the hospital/ health care sector in the Nordic countries part of a more general development?

2) Can and will public managers promote the second scenario of constructive co-operation that would be of benefit to people and society?


The following three-step analysis addresses these two questions.


The first step involves a case study that examines whether or not the development from traditional professional autonomy towards competitive autonomy – from a mono logic towards multiple logics – in the hospital/health care sector in the Nordic countries also exists in other public welfare sectors. The case involves the disabled and the socially disadvantaged in Denmark. Developments involving this group of recipients of welfare services are described and analysed based on a document analysis by Pedersen and Hammer (2012), but are also examined based on data from a study comprising a national survey of managers (Pedersen, 2007). Data from 13 qualitative interviews with managers whose work involves this group were also studied (Pedersen and Aagaard, 2013).

The second step is a case study that investigates if and how public managers promote the second scenario of constructive co-operation. The same group of recipients of welfare services is looked at as in the first step, but this time the analysis is based on qualitative interviews with top managers. Finally, the third step provides a discussion that attempts to answer the two questions presented above.


2. The sector of disabled citizens and the socially disadvantaged

This section introduces and analyses developments concerning the field of disabled citizens and the socially disadvantaged in an attempt to frame and compare Wrede and Jespersen’s conclusions about the hospital/health care sector.


2. 1. Why disabled citizens and the socially disadvantaged are of interest

Professionals who work with this group of people deal with society’s most vulnerable citizens, which is why this group is of high priority for politicians, taxpayers in general and, as this article will show, the media, which often tends to focus on showing how local authorities have difficulties in providing an acceptable level of service. Managers whose work deals with this group must also cope with wicked problems that are particularly complex and involve policy issues that are not easily solvable. Strategic uncertainty is also a feature of dealing with this sector due to, as this article will show, the many actors involved and their various professions and inherent logics. This, in turn, means that problem-solving strategies can differ greatly. Another feature is the institutional uncertainty that arises due to decisions being made on multiple levels and in different places, ranging from, for example, reform initiatives implemented by the government to frontline decision making at the managerial level and/or among social workers (Klijn et al., 2003, pp. 193-194). 


In addition to being of high priority politically and among the Danish population in general, this group is very costly to society. A serious challenge for the semi-professionals involved in social work and the treatment of this group is that they have, as yet, failed to provide evidence-based data demonstrating the effectiveness of the services they provide. The services they provide are often viewed as expensive and as severely intervening in people’s lives (Konnerup, 2009, pp. 103-104). This situation has contributed to the emergence of a competitive relationship among the professions that involve this group.


This article shows how budget management difficulties and general developments in this sector influence the level of competition among professions in Denmark, which in turn, underlines the need for constructive co-operation among professions in a multi-logic environment.   


2. 1. 1. Disabled citizens and the socially disadvantaged in Denmark

Following the Structural Reform of 2007, local authorities in Denmark gained full responsibility for the sector concerning disabled citizens and the socially disadvantaged (Madsen, 2014, p. 40; Olsen and Rieper, 2007). As a whole, around ten percent of the Danish population belongs to this group, which means it represents the second largest welfare-oriented sector for local authorities. With DKK 40 billion being spent annually, it is the second most costly field in Denmark (Ministry of Finance, 2009, p. 6; Pedersen and Hammer, 2012, p. 49). Over the years, this sector has put a severe financial strain on public budgets, leading to a period of ever-growing central budget allocations to local authorities. In 2010, when the government finally declared that no further budget allocations would be made, it launched a plan to stabilise the budgetary control of local authorities in this area (Ministry of Finance, 2010).


The disabled and socially disadvantaged are generally divided into two groups:

1) Adults who are physically challenged or suffer from mental disorders and addiction, intellectual disabilities, autism, brain damage or mental disabilities. Services for this group include e.g. shelters, safe-houses and crises centres for women.

2) Children and youth who are at risk. Services for this group include e.g. foster care and care centres (Framework Agreement, 2014, p. 4).


2. 2. Developments in Denmark for disabled citizens and the socially disadvantaged, 1970–2014

This section looks at this sector in light of Jespersen and Wrede’s conclusions to determine whether a shift from traditional professional autonomy towards competitive autonomy in the hospital/health care sector in the Nordic countries has occurred. We will also examine whether a shift has taken place from a mono logic towards multiple logics concerning this sector. 


Basic societal values in the 1970s concerning the group of interest 

As part of a decentralisation strategy implemented by the Danish government in the 1970s, it was decided that the provision of the services to disabled and socially disadvantaged citizens should be based on individual assessments carried out by semi-professionals (e.g. social workers). The semi-professionals were to make use of their autonomy and discretion in the field, and in decision-making processes, combining the service outputs of the sector with citizens’ needs. As a result of this strategy, SLB logic dominated this sector for decades. Until the turn of the century, in fact for almost three decades, a mono logic was prominent for this group and remained largely intact as no appreciable initiatives influenced by the logic of NPM were implemented in the 1980s, or even in the 1990s (Aagaard and Pedersen, 2013, pp. 26-27).




Public sector reforms 

From the 1990s until today, more than 20 major public sector reforms were implemented in Denmark. After the 2007 Structural Reform, the area under study was constituted in a new set up, granting the current 98 municipalities in Denmark full responsibility for the provision and financing of services relevant for this group. The basic idea behind the structural reform largely represented the rationale of the NPM logic of decentralisation in the hopes of securing an efficient delivery of services by providing citizens as consumers with better and cheaper welfare services.


Another example of NPM logic that had a growing impact on the rationale of the reforms in the Danish welfare state at that time was the policy that people were free to choose a service provider, e.g. the hospital or school they preferred. Another example that involves this sector was the launching of the web-based Tilbudsportalen, an online catalogue of service providers that contains a description of their services and prices, which allows local authorities to select the most appropriate services given the needs of the citizens (Fakta om Tilbudsportalen). The reason for establishing Tilbudsportalen was to encourage competition among suppliers to achieve better and cheaper services for the citizens as end-users. A study by Aagaard and Petersen (2013, p. 28), however, shows that implementation of the Tilbudsportal failed to significantly increase competition or reduce costs.


Another recent reform initiative involving the disabled and socially disadvantaged concerns the governmental aim of increasing the inclusion of children with special needs in the municipal primary and lower secondary school in Denmark rather than special schools (Egelund et al., 2013, p. 12). This reform can be seen as a gradual “normalisation” of aspects of specialised public welfare services. It has resulted in a focus on cross-disciplinary co-operation among various professions, organisations and other players (Danish Evaluation Institute, 2011, p. 57), e.g. between teachers and parents, teachers and social workers and at the level of management. Activities resulting from the reform enforce the logic of NPG, which has an inherent focus on values such as co-operation, self-reliance and a solution-oriented use of governance networks.


Semi-professionals, e.g. teachers, nurses, daycare staff and social workers, are typically associated with the logic of SLB (Lipsky, 2010), whereas full-professionals, e.g. economists, lawyers and administrators, are associated with the logic of the WB (Lerborg, 2010). In Denmark, both semi-professionals and full-professionals have been hostile to the logic of NPM for decades (Pedersen and Rendtorff, 2010), which is why the overall implementation of NPM in the Danish welfare state has proven to be quite limited (Pedersen, 2010; Pedersen and Löfgren, 2012).

Full-professionals, however, have absorbed many of the performance elements of NPM, which are now widely implemented by both state and local authorities. As a result, the full-professionals have gradually turned WB into a neo-bureaucracy, which entails combining WB with modern, top-down performance management (Pedersen, 2010). Overall, the public sector reforms work as a framework for the autonomy of professionals (defined in NPM terms as server demands) on economic efficiency in the daily operations they perform. Consequently, it is possible to observe a development from traditional professional autonomy to a framed autonomy, as well as a shift from domination by a mono logic to a today’s situation, which comprises multiple logics.


The financial crisis

From 2007-2009, a considerable budget deficit appeared in the municipalities in general, but particularly for the sector being studied. The government saw this as unacceptable, especially because the financial crises had reached Denmark by 2009. With the overall state budget severely strained and the financial stability of the Danish welfare state threatened, tough budget constraints were implemented and top-down cuts in the public sector in general and in the group under study were carried out. There was a move from a more “gentle” budgetary control of welfare expenses in the municipalities to a much more stringent economic policy. In order to restore the economic situation as well as to be able to achieve further control of the consumption of resources by local authorities, the WB logic was further strengthened (Pedersen and Hammer, 2012). Along with the enhancement of the WB logic, more requirements arose for documenting the efficiency of the service outputs of the professional institutions. The economic challenges led to a further strengthening of the WB logic, both in its old and new form.

As a result, semi-professionals were faced with a completely different setting, where the WB logic dominated their work life much more and challenged the logic of SLB. Rationales excluded from the SLB logic, such as budget management and performance measurement, were now – and continue to be – incorporated in social work. At the same time, there was (and continues to be) on-going political demand for individually based provisions of welfare services; as such, the SLB logic remains. This has meant a shift towards a much more competitive autonomy as well as towards more multiple logics.


High priority cases in the mass media

In recent years several aforementioned cases of abuse of children and youth believed to be protected by local authorities and semi-professionals have been covered by the mass media, threatening the legitimacy of the welfare state, which, among other reasons, gains its legitimacy by taking care of society’s most vulnerable citizens (Esping-Andersen, 1990). A work in progress concerning the consequences of such high profile cases in the mass media concludes that a strengthening of WB continues to occur because of such cases. The study indicates that the Danish government has thus turned to reforms that involve both more legislation and more control measures in response to the cases. The study also shows that the same mechanism based on the logic of bureaucracy is found in the municipalities, which on a decentralised level implement more control measures in an effort to regain control and to ensure the re-establishment of legitimacy in the organisation. This process of bureaucratisation has intensified in recent years due to the influx of high profile cases, severely challenging the logic of SLB. Because WB logic forms the basis for the general reaction and solutions to the aforementioned, that same logic is being challenged as new cases continue to appear in spite of WB-based efforts to prevent them. As a result, these cases severely challenge the logic of WB and SLB (Nielsen, 2014).



A new era of digitisation has been introduced in the Danish welfare state in recent years. Along with Local Government Denmark and the Danish Regions, the Danish government has commenced the implementation of the “eGovernment Strategy of 2011- 2015”, which is called “The digital path to future welfare”. The digitisation reform is being proclaimed as a long-sought-after solution to future demographic issues in which the financial stability of the current level of public welfare is threatened due to demographic changes in population. There will be a much larger number of elderly citizens in need of care relative to the number of people who work and pay taxes. With the implementation of IT solutions for frontline casework involving vulnerable groups of children and young people, as well as people with disabilities, the rise of the digitisation era is also visible with regard to the area under study. Intended to improve quality and be financially beneficial, various systems have been developed and implemented widely throughout the municipalities (eGovernment Strategy, 2011). The logic of NPM and WB can be found in the efforts to reform the welfare state based on digitisation in the sense that the WB logic is present in the implementation of digitisation programmes as a means of controlling the quality of the services delivered by measuring the degree to which the practices of social workers live up to current legislation. The implementation of IT systems also serves as a means for securing and measuring the level of performance and efficiency, which reflects the logic of NPM. The combined existence of these two logics reflects the emergence of a neo-bureaucracy, a development that challenges the logic of SLB and fights against the logics of NPM and WB.

The digitization movement challenges the logic of SLB in yet another way because IT systems directed at frontline social work inevitably weakens the autonomy level of the affected professions by determining standard procedures for casework, as well as casework efficiency.


2. 3. Overall conclusion

In summary, we are able to conclude that developments in the 1990s and on have contributed to the current situation, where many different professions are now involved in the decision-making processes for the provision, production, delivery and management of the welfare services. Simultaneously, a shift has taken place from a mono logic towards multiple logics competing against each other. In part, this development has occurred because of:

  • The implementation of more than 20 major reforms in Denmark in the public sector as a whole which have affected the area under study
  • An increased focus on financial management in the public sector
  • The governmental and municipal response to high-profile cases of abuse and maltreatment of users, such as at-risk children and youth
  • The recent governmental focus on the implementation of digitisation-oriented reforms in the public sector


The shift from a mono logic to multiple logics means that many competing values, norms, standards and principles are now involved in the provision, production, delivery and management of welfare services. This has led to an intensified degree of competition among the many professions (and professionals), hence resulting in a competitive autonomy.


Consequently, we are able to conclude that the pattern of development in the studied sector is similar to what has occurred in the hospital/health care sector in the Nordic countries.


3. Public managers

A central issue now involves the exploring of the consequences that this development may have. As mentioned, in a situation with competitive autonomy the following two scenarios are likely: 1) predictable classic struggles and conflicts among professions/professionals; and 2) constructive co-operation among the professions/professionals.


The first scenario is the least desirable outcome, substantiated by the argument that struggles and conflicts do not contribute positively to the provision of better and/or cheaper welfare services. Research on public service motivation (PSM) indicates that a connection exists between the level of motivation among professionals and the level of performance. If there is a match between the organisational goals and employee motivation, then the employees are more likely to have a high degree of PSM, which then contributes to better service delivery (Andersen and Pedersen, 2014, pp. 56-57). 

Applying research results of this nature to the theories of institutional logics leads to the conclusion that organisational environments characterised by high levels of competition among professions may have a negative impact on PSM and thus the performance level of semi-professionals. As a result, public managers may fail to accommodate the demand for better and/or cheaper welfare services.


A case study conducted to answer the question of how public managers in the sector cope in a multi-logic situation shows that the managers engage in a challenging and result-oriented dialogue with social workers. This generates a situation in which the social workers are able to contribute to the fulfilment of success criteria other than what the logic of SLB covers. In this way, social workers, facilitated by managers, are able to cope with other professions (Aagaard and Pedersen, 2013, p.19). 


This strategy of dialogue among managers seems to resemble the well-known method of dialogue performed by Socrates, known as elenchus, which involves “examining a person with regard to a statement he has made, by putting to him questions calling for further statements, in the hope that they will determine the meaning and the truth-value of his first statement” (Robinson, 1953, p. 7). An example of this is the approval process for putting at-risk children who are unable to remain with their families in a home. In Denmark, front-level managers often have the final decision in these matters – mostly as a means of financially managing the expenses of the organisation. Often, the manager’s judgment is then based on recommendations made by the individual social worker. This approval stage in particular generates the clash of different institutional logics, which means that it is vulnerable to conflicts. In these situations, the managers must prioritise and operate in the divide between the inherent values of the SLB logic’s need for discretion and some sense of autonomy in decision making and the need for control (legal and financial) of the WB logic to end up with a legitimised decision. Accordingly, it is especially in these situations that managers can benefit from the implementation of a dialogue-based strategy, which enables them to save money while simultaneously maintaining autonomy and the use of discretion among semi-professionals. The positive impact of a dialogue-based management technique is twofold. First, it contributes to the social worker’s acceptance of criteria and values not embedded in the SLB logic. Second, management’s gradual implementation of the rhetoric used by social workers fosters constructive co-operation in a multi-logic environment (Aagaard and Pedersen, 2013, p. 33). In conclusion, this approach can work to help improve the provision of sufficient welfare services for taxpayer’s money.


In order to be able to understand the potential of this specific management technique we consider it necessary to discuss what constitutes the institutional setting in which modern public management takes place, and why this calls for the dialogue-based approach in order to compensate for the described divergence of logics.


3.2. The never-ending search for the optimal mix of institutional logics

The following section includes the presentation and discussion of the following two arguments:

1) A certain mix of logics can never be stable. If anything, it is an inevitable or natural consequence of ongoing shifts in the institutional settings of public welfare institutions that necessitates the ability of management techniques to adapt.

2) Competitive autonomy is a ‘natural’ consequence of the never-ending search for the optimal mix of institutional logics. This is regardless of whether or not the search is theoretically or ideologically driven or based on a process of trial and error.


3.2.1. The never-ending search for the optimal mix of logics

As this article shows, it is in fact possible for managers and social workers to navigate in a multi-logic scenario. The challenge for public managers in each individual situation is thus being able to draw on the logic most suitable in the given situation. It is important to underline the fact that the existence of a multitude of logics in the public sector can be viewed as beneficial. This is due to that fact that all logics have strengths and weaknesses (or so-called blind spots), which are briefly presented below for the two logics found to be most dominant in the area under study: the logics of WB and SLB.


A) Strengths

* WB supports political-administrative decisions

* SLB is sensitive towards clients’ needs.


B) Weaknesses

The logics of WB and SLB are characterized by having a set of individual blind spots (Lerborg, 2010). One of these blind spots exists due to the fact that WB is generally not considered as being very sensitive towards client needs. The logic of WB is not attentive towards the motivation of employees (e.g. semi-professionals) either. As this article has shown, the logic of WB has permeated the area under study as a result of, for example, reform initiatives, administrative processes in response to cases in the media, and an increase in the need for financial management. Theoretically, one could argue that a unilateral approach to institutional logics that only allowed the influence of WB logic and that ignored the inherent blind spots of this logic could severely reduce the motivation of social workers.


One blind spot inherent in the logic of SLB is that street level bureaucrats generally have the tendency to show little interest in economic efficiency in daily operations and oppose the implementation of new control mechanisms (Lerborg, 2010, pp. 70-71). This article shows that there is a proven need to continue to focus in the public sector on the financial management of the delivery of welfare services, and most certainly in the area under study.  


In summary, logics are by definition conflicting, overlapping and competing due to divergence of their inherent basic values and principles. In order to limit the inherent risks of blind spots, as well as to promote the strengths of the individual logics, a never-ending search for the ultimate perfect mix of logics will inevitable take place. Regrettably, no lasting equilibrium can be reached, as the description of continuously shifting combinations of logics and their hierarchic structures indicates, as well as due to the developments that take place within the welfare state. Accordingly, no lasting mix of logics can be maintained, which is why the perfect mix can only ever be transitory.


Nevertheless, the question is whether the continuous search for a better mix of logics that has taken place for decades has been successful. The answer is both yes and no.

Yes: The mix of logics has become more balanced over time; one particular logic no longer exerts extreme dominance over the others. In fact, in the search for the best mix of logics we have actually ended up with competitive autonomy.

No: One important problem still remains: logics cannot communicate; only professionals can. The question, then, is how professionals communicate within and across their professions. Within a profession, communication is based on certain mutually agreed values, standards, norms and ideologies. This makes communication perfectly possible.


However, professionals communicate poorly across professions because of lack of mutually agreed values, standards, norms and ideologies. This is resulting either in conflicts and a potential decrease in motivation among semi-professionals or efforts towards cooperation among the professions based on certain common values, norms and standards. In summary, this is why public managers become particularly important players and why dialogue-based management techniques may very well prove to be an important tool for public managers and society. As this article contends, however, the dialogue-based approach cannot be viewed as a static management technique but must cope with the fact that attaining equilibrium among the logics is not possible due to the ever-changing nature of the situation.


4. Concluding remarks

The primary aim of this article has been to determine whether the same pattern of development involving a shift from traditional professional autonomy towards competitive autonomy in the hospital/health care sector in the Nordic countries also exists more generally in the public sector. This article has drawn on research studies on the disabled and socially disadvantaged in Denmark. The second aim of this article was to discuss the potential consequences of a multi-logic environment involving competitive autonomy and furthermore what could possibly prove to be a beneficial strategy at managerial level for navigating this very environment. 


At this point, we are able to conclude the following. First, on a general level, a similar pattern of development is visible both in the health care sector and in the sector involving the disabled and socially disadvantaged. Various indicators show that a general development has taken place from traditional autonomy to competitive autonomy via framed autonomy. Second, public managers are able, it appears, to promote the preferred scenario of constructive co-operation, which fortunately creates the lowest level of tensions in these multi-logical organizations.


Our study, which examines the managerial use of a dialogue approach based on dialectical refutation, is primarily based on interviews with the managers at this stage, which means still remains to be validated by social workers. As a result, we argue that further research on this matter is necessary that, preferably, includes observation studies focusing on social workers to validate the usefulness of the dialogue-based approach used by managers. This would contribute to shedding light on issues such as whether the dialogue-based approach has in fact been implemented or not. In addition, accordingly, this would help clarify what characterises the managers with the greatest ability to make use of the dialogue-based approach. 



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Ethical Challenges Facing Greenland in the Present Era of Globalization: Towards Global Responsibility



Introduction: Ethics and the Arctic

Recently, the developments of ethics and politics in the Arctic region have again become an issue for international discussion. One main issue is the problem of climate change and sustainability of the Arctic region. This problem is linked to the issue of exploitation of natural resources in the Arctic region, not at least in Greenland. Indeed, the general issue is how we should define ethics of the environment and sustainability as a general principle for the Arctic region. It is important to discuss what is at stake and how we define the problem in relation to the different participating stakeholders.

  Continue reading Ethical Challenges Facing Greenland in the Present Era of Globalization: Towards Global Responsibility

Cornelius Castoriadis: A Society Adrift. Interviews & Debates 1974-1997 (translated by Helen Arnold; New York: Fordham University Press, 2010)

In the decades of “Socialisme ou Barbarie”, Castoriadis moved away form Marxist theory and further developed his powerful criticism of the Soviet Union, which he categorized as a bureaucratic party state and eventually a state defined by “stratocracy”, rather than a socialist one. In the beginning of the 1970s he became a French citizen, whilst also quitting his position as an economist at the OECD.

Still he was very active in shifts and turns of the political struggle and in addition to formal written and published texts, some of his important contributions were given in occasional papers and interviews. A selection of these occasional papers and interviews from this period of Castoriadis’ life are published in the book reviewed hereby, A Society Adrift. This is an English translation of the book, which was published originally in French, following a complex editorial affaire caused by the issuing of competing anonymous open-access online translations of Castoriadis’ writings.

The book is divided into two parts. The first one deals with Castoriadis’ basic concepts or problématique, such as the concepts of “autonomy” or the “Project of Autonomy” and “Imaginary significations”. In this part there is also a long interview and revealing reflection from 1974 on the period of “Socialism ou Barbarie”, entitled “Why I am no longer a Marxist”. In the second part of the book there are interviews and texts were his problématique is applied to specific issues.

All in all the collection of texts and the book structure give a comprehensive overview of part of Castoriadis’ career, especially the period after “Socialisme ou Barbarie” had been dissolved. As the editors of the book state in their introduction to the French edition, the book can serve a double purpose. On the one hand it can be a useful guide for those who encounter for the first time Castoriadis’ writings and ideas. On the other hand the book can also serve as a “handy résumé” of Castoriadis’ positions and stands on different issues. For both these purposes there is a useful addition to the texts themselves, because the book has a special chapter comprising an extensive chronology and bio-bibliography, which greatly facilitates the understanding of the context of the different publications and relates them to important facts in Castoriadis’ life. This adds greatly to the value of the book. By the same token, the editors’ note to the French edition and a good deal of their footnotes is very beneficial.

The publication of this collection of texts by Cornelius Castoriadis is in itself a worthy enterprise at any time. To publish it immediately following a major financial collapse in western liberal democracies, which Castoriadis dubbed “liberal oligarchies”, shows indeed an exceptionally good timing. The awakening of the public interest in politics and the general participation of common people in all sorts of protests and discussion on how to rebuild society is in essence an exercise in democratic thinking. It is an exercise in direct and participatory democracy. It questions the representative democracy that has been a “democracy” without “democrats”, leading to the withdrawal of citizens from public affairs, which Castoriadis criticized.

The concepts of the “project of autonomy” and also the notion of the “Imaginary significations” are in fact an interesting framework for the analysis of the present situation in western liberal democracies. They can become a meaningful contribution to the diverse discussion and understanding that is to be found in the wide variety of grass-root and protest movements calling for democracy, democratic participation and the democratic reconstruction of society.

Castoriadis has something to offer present-day radicals. He produces a general theoretical framework that emphasises autonomy in the sense that both individuals and society are aware that they themselves are the continuous creators of laws and regulations of society through direct democracy. But in doing so he also points out to the new radical generation that the answers are not to be found in some external forces, be they liberal phrases like the “rule of law”, the “market economy” or totalitarian conceptions of historical necessity of some sort.

The publication of Castoriadis’ texts and interviews in the book A Society Adrift is thus a well-timed and interesting enterprise. The book itself and its cover are a nice artefact of about 260 pages: the 1926 painting of the Dadaist George Grosz, “Eclipse of the Sun”, is a very fitting picture on the book’s cover!