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Understanding the Role of Arctic States, Non-Arctic States and Indigenous Peoples in Arctic Affairs Through the Lens of International Relations Theories

The Arctic has progressively entered the world of international relations since the first creation of the Russian American Company and the Hudson Bay Company up to the opening of the Northern Sea Route and increasing access to untapped resources. The individual in the Arctic could see, from the early stages of colonialism[1] up to nowadays’ industrialization, a shift in international relations: from a realist war for resources to a war for geopolitical security, and now for securing and exploiting resources. This last step is due to the current world economic trend (led by a capitalistic approach of an ever-growing economy) based on an exponential increase of technologies and population[2]. However, the individual has followed States’ philosophies and diplomatic approaches as the key word was security, sovereignty-related based on the Westphalian conception of States. Therefore, in order to understand the evolution and structure of the Arctic, a first analysis of the region may start with the application of International Relations’ Theories in order to understand the political shift and the consequences on all stakeholders.

The Arctic

In order to understand how international relations work in the Arctic, and hence security, a short analysis of the Arctic is required, applying the method of the 5Ws + 1H (What, Where, When, Who, Why and How), giving the following definition from the National Geographic Society:

“The Arctic is the Northernmost region of the Globe. […] the area within the Arctic Circle, a line of latitude about 66.5° North of the Equator. Within this circle are the Arctic ocean basin and the northern parts of Scandinavia, Russia, Canada, Greenland, and the U.S. state of Alaska. […] The Arctic is almost entirely covered by water, much of it frozen. […] River mouths, calving glaciers, and constantly moving ocean currents contribute to a vibrant marine ecosystem in the Arctic. […] Indigenous […] People established communities and cultures in the Arctic thousands of years ago. […] Rights to land and natural resources are an important part of contemporary culture and survival of indigenous peoples in the Arctic, […] tremendous challenges, often the result of colonization and exploitation of land and energy resources. […] Engineers and geographers estimate that oil and gas deposits in the Arctic make up 13% of the worlds undiscovered petroleum resources, and 30% of undiscovered natural gas resources. The Arctic is also rich in minerals.” [3]

This definition answers partly to the following questions: “What is the Arctic?”; “Where is the Arctic?”; “What is the History of the Arctic? (When); “What is the structure of the Arctic? (How)”; “Why is the Arctic so important?”; and most importantly “Who is living in the Arctic?”. Regarding the questions “What is the History of the Arctic? (When)” and “What is the structure of the Arctic? (How)”, an example of past race for the control over Arctic resources and land may be highlighted by the Russian – American Company and the Hudson Bay Company, helping in shaping future state borders. In addition, the Cold War era with the military control of the Arctic is another answer to the “When” question. Regarding the “How” question, since Gorbatchev’s speech in 1987[4] and the following creation of the Arctic Council in 1996, the Arctic has gained a regional political structure, an international forum where the Arctic States and the Permanent Participants may discuss Arctic Affairs and eventually issue non-legally and legally binding regulations (e.g., the Arctic Marine Strategic Plan and the MOSPA Agreement[5]).

The Approach

The Arctic is often referred to as a multifaceted region (i.e., No single definition of the Arctic)[6], therefore broadening the approach to the analysis of International Relations Theories applied to the Arctic may result in a more concrete study of the parameters that conform and shape the Arctic relations. As there is no single Arctic, going deeper in a single International Relations Theory would mean to leave aside many crucial parameters that characterize the Arctic. In this sense, through the application of International Relations Theories, a map of the organization of the Arctic might be drawn. The theories considered will be: Realism, Liberalism and English School. The Indigenous Level of Analysis[7] will be considered as cross-cutting due to the transboundary nature of the Indigenous Peoples’ organizations.


In this section, the realist approach will be applied to understand the relations between Arctic and non-arctic States and to obtain a hard security overview, in which the Westphalian concept of State, sovereignty and Indigenous Peoples’ claims will be considered. Only the differences between Russia and the United States (as the two opposed States during the Cold War), the state of China in the Arctic, and the Indigenous Peoples will be studied.

Russia vs. United States: In this clash of visions and regimes, the US and Russia oppose their claims over the Arctic, laying down their political approach to Realism. As stated before, the Arctic contains a large amount of offshore oil and gas. After the Cold War and the militarization of the Arctic, the post-Cold War era is characterized by the adoption of international legally binding conventions and agreements. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is one of them, being used by Arctic States in order to assert claims over continental shelves and extensions, as highlighted by Russia[8]. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and hence the end of the Cold War, there has been an exacerbation of the Westphalian concept of State from the economic perspective with the assertion of sovereign rights to advocate for resources in the Arctic [9]. In the case of Russia, there has been a military de-escalation after 1991 due to the economic chaos, therefore a lack of income, of the recently created Russian Federation[10]. But after its recovery, Russia shifted towards a scientific development to assert claims according the UNCLOS via the CLCS[11]. Moreover, the progressive melt down of the Arctic and a greater policy of sovereignty assertion, highlighted by the above-mentioned CLCS submission and because of its shrinking economy, are giving place to a military build-up[12]. In this sense, Russia develops and secures its own supply lines, trade routes, industrial and natural resources assets in the Arctic. In the case of the United States, the approach has been keeping an eye over the Arctic but not engaging in further expenses on militarization[13], resulting in a loss of military presence in the Arctic due to the end of the nuclear threat during the Cold War. In this sense, the US has followed the scientific movement to assert claims in the Arctic (despite not being part of UNCLOS, the US still gathers information that might be useful to formulate future claims in the Arctic Ocean[14], lowering its realist approach to transform it into a more liberal focused system with the extraction of oil and gas in Alaska[15]. However, according to the recent events, such as the announcement of the intentions to buy Greenland or the creation of the Polar Security Cutter program[16], the US has shown a shift towards a harder realist approach in dealing with Arctic affairs as Russia, allied with China, seems to represent a direct threat to its territorial sovereignty and sphere of geopolitical influence through Russia’s intentions of militarization[17] and the passive-aggressive behavior from China that considers itself as a near-Arctic State.

China and the Arctic: In its Arctic Policy, China declares itself as a near Arctic State, asserting through the wording its claims over the Arctic. According to the Policy and its international acts (e.g., participating in Arctic mining projects such as Arctic LNG 2 and Yamal LNG), China shows a clear realist approach in which it intends to gain political control, alongside Russia which has over 40% of the Arctic coast, over the Arctic and thus expanding a direct threat to the US in response to the American First and Second Island Chains in the Pacific[18]. Furthermore, China tried to increase Chinese-built infrastructures in Greenland, but the intervention of NATO blocked that investment at the last minute, showing the tensions between the NATO bloc and China for a strategic control of the Arctic[19]. As China launched the Polar Silk Road[20], theoretically, every logistical infrastructure would have the capacity to be used militarily due to the the involvement by the Chinese government as most of the Chinese companies participating in these projects are state controlled (e.g., Shandong Gold Mining Co. Ltd. and the bid to purchase the gold mine of Hope Bay, Canada[21]). These facts are confirmed by the increase in Chinese military assets and the already military use made by China of its Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure (e.g., the use of the Djibouti Port facilities as a naval base[22]).

Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic: Being the first peoples present in the Arctic, they fight against past colonialism, State bureaucracy, structuralism and the Westphalian concept of State applied in the Region. In this sense, Indigenous Peoples have gained in recognition of their rights through diverse mechanisms such as the land claims acts (e.g., Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act and Indigenous land claims in Canada) or the progressive approval and implementation of UN Conventions (e.g., UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples). From the recognition of their lands and cultures, Indigenous Peoples have adapted to the Westphalian concept of State through diverse political forms: one would be the creation of a borough like the North Slope Borough, another would be Greenland through the adoption of Home Rule Act and subsequent Self-Government Act that ensure the progressive gain in autonomy of the lands concerned, and a last example would be the reunification of tribes and peoples under International bodies in order to produce an international and tangible voice against States’ interests in international fora[23], some of them going further and building an alliance with States to secure their position (e.g. Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russian and the Saami Council[24]). These political adaptations are meant to build resilience against the Westphalian concept of State (Hard borders, centralized State with a full sovereignty over the territory within these borders). In this sense, these political and organizational structures allow the Indigenous Peoples to adapt themselves to both National and International structures and preserve then their rights while enhancing their recognition on both levels. It is a realist approach in the sense Indigenous Peoples fight to survive in a hostile environment where their interests are often a threat for sovereign States and private companies’ interests. It is not hard security such as military, but a security where the use of a constructive and peaceful dialogue is promoted, using international fora and diplomacy as a way to gain influence and public recognition. A clear example is the Permanent Participant status of Indigenous Peoples within the Arctic Council.


In this section, the liberal approach will be applied in order to understand the shift from hard security during the Cold War to the development of economic interests in the Arctic.

Russia and the Northern Sea Route (NSR): After the sanctions issued by the European Union in 2014[25], the Russian economy has been shrinking[26]. In this sense, and for almost a century, Russia has been trying to develop the Northern Sea Route in order to exploit its Arctic natural resources that are locked by the lack of infrastructure to export them outside the Arctic[27]. Furthermore, Russia has to exploit these resources in order to satisfy its industrial needs and continue developing its economy and assert its claims over the Arctic, operating a shift from realism to liberalism. This change is certainly the fruit of adaptation to world economics, but as well it has been induced by international sanctions from the US and Europe[28] that have precipitated the entry of Asian countries in the Arctic through mining projects in Russia such as Arctic LNG 2[29]. So, in a way, it is more about adaptation rather than State Philosophy.

Asian States (China, Japan, South Korea): Being part of the development of the NSR, the new Arctic marine technology and mining resources projects is the opportunity to integrate the development process of new trade routes [30], new resources and forecast the progressive shift from the traditional maritime routes to the Arctic. As the Asian countries above-mentioned are highly influential States linked to maritime industries, the control over new opportunities is clearly a liberal approach in order to keep their seat at the table in international fora as well as asserting their position in emerging Arctic markets. China, as mentioned in the realist approach, might be considered in a different way due to its economic position and military nature. However, the other Asian States are involved in a pure liberal approach, promoting economic interests with the help of the State that issues regulations and frameworks for its national private and public companies to take advantage over foreign companies through a fiscal, social and economic adaptability[31].

US, Canada, Norway, Greenland (Kingdom of Denmark) and Iceland: All these States have interests in the NSR and/or the Northwest Passage (NWP), as well as in developing their Arctic resources. In this sense, the approach differs from Russia where the NSR is controlled by the government and is only crossing one country: Russia. In the case of the Northwest Passage, Canada is involved for the archipelagic part but still have to go through the Bering Strait (Half controlled by Russia and half by the United States), where both Coast Guards may enforce controls as the strait is within territorial waters and located in the Polar Code area, meaning the Article 234 from UNCLOS[32] might be applied. Furthermore, Canada is fighting internationally to protect the Northwest Passage and consider it as internal waters in order to seek environmental preservation and pretend to the right of charging passage fees. In this sense, Canada and the United States are developing their resources and shifted, at the end of the Cold War, from a realist approach to Arctic affairs to a liberal approach with major developments in extraction of mining resources[33]. Iceland and Greenland may face their strategic location to both the North Atlantic entrance to the Arctic and the central Arctic with a more realist approach. In this sense, Iceland relies on NATO’s forces for a hard security apparatus while Greenland has a mix between Denmark and NATO’s security forces. Nonetheless, both countries are oriented towards a liberal philosophy as Iceland is willing to continue developing fisheries and maritime traffic, and Greenland is willing to develop sustainable industrial activities and infrastructures for a better communication with global trade routes. However, Iceland is progressively back as a key player in NATO’s strategy[34] and Greenland is increasingly developing a major role in securing the United States and NATO allies’ influence and control over the Arctic, being still under influence of the approach to build commercial infrastructure which would be used as military (e.g., like China and the Belt and Road Initiative[35]).

Indigenous Peoples: Indigenous Peoples may find in the technological build-up of the Arctic and the invasion of infrastructures and industries both a threat and possibility. This development may suppose a direct threat to their traditional culture and way of living, possibly destroying their ancestral lands and natural resources. However, they have to embrace economic progress to ensure food and health security, social and professional security through the creation of income from their resources to generate a stable political structure to be autonomous (e.g., Greenland and its first Home Rule Act of 1979 replaced by the Act on Self-Government of 2009). In this sense, Indigenous Peoples have to apply (Some already do, like the North Slope Borough with their political and regulatory framework) the liberal approach in order to continue achieving sustainability, build resilience and continue their march towards autonomy. As long as achieving a full-scale political, military and economic structure for a whole State might be not viable yet (e.g., Greenland and the fact Denmark controls foreign policy, currency and security), the best option to create security and face a State with equal arms would be the application of the liberal approach to generate income and thus protecting their way of living. Despite their ancestral culture and traditional way of living, Indigenous Peoples may have to adapt to, at least a national framework to ensure a required political security to protect their rights against both national and international interests. In this way, Indigenous Peoples may want to use liberalism as a primary mean to achieve security and thus achieving a soft form of realism.

As a cross cutting approach, the English School plays the role of reminder of the past. The Cold War being quite recent, all Arctic States, particularly Russia and the United States, may not want to come back to a state of constant military security threat that would impede the development of Arctic economies. In this sense, the Arctic Council is the best example in terms of English School application, being built on a solid and common interest to all Arctic States: environmental protection[36]. Therefore, it provided a common ground to overcome the differences generated during the Cold War (Realism) to achieve cooperation in order to control the future of the region (Realism) and to lead the Arctic development and economic efforts (Liberalism), all based on the analysis of the past, of cultures and societies, of the differences and resemblance[37].


The individual in the Arctic has been observing and experiencing a shift in international relations, from experiencing hard security threats (e.g., the Cold War) to a liberal approach that has driven the rapid build-up of mining and transportation facilities in the Arctic (e.g., Greenland and the construction of three new airports[38]). Therefore, there is an economic development underway, bringing social and economic security, which might be still missing in strength in most of the remote communities[39]. However, despite the recent military escalation between the US and Russia in the Arctic, Liberalism is definitely on the rise and supported by all States as economic ventures are increasing in number and strength across the region, with examples such as the Royal Arctic Line – Eimskip cooperation agreement, the multistakeholder LNG projects in Russia, to name but a few. This shift has been driven by the implementation of the English School that exposed the economic losses and the waste of capacities from both blocs (Eastern and Western), being translated into a state of permanent threat that channeled efforts and finances towards hard military security. In this sense, Indigenous Peoples across the Arctic experienced different political approaches that led to different security issues. In some parts of the Arctic, specific legal mechanisms have been signed, promoting the recognition of Indigenous rights and creating a certain autonomy (e.g., Greenland and its first Home Rule Act in 1979, or Alaska and the ANCSA in 1971). In other parts, Indigenous communities were sacrificed for the sake of the Nation (e.g., Russia and the construction of infrastructures on Indigenous lands[40]). However, after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the decrease in military expenses from both sides (One driven by a collapsed economy like Russia and another by the military financial release) and therefore decreasing the militarization of the Arctic created a void that was filled up by both public and private companies that were looking for new opportunities. Suddenly, Arctic communities would see the opportunity of an opening to the World as the geopolitical tensions would decline. Indigenous Peoples then could enjoy an economic breath and an international recognition as the land they occupy would not be longer subject to tensions, bringing the space and opportunity to start building an international voice that would be recognized by the UN (e.g., the ILO Convention 169 in 1989 and the UNDRIP in 2007 and then by several States in both the Arctic and the World). Nonetheless, in order to secure this voice and claims, the Indigenous Peoples made the opposite shift, using Liberalism and English School as two powerful tools to achieve Realism and thus create security for their rights, culture and lands. In this sense, Indigenous Peoples understood the current and increasing shift from state to intergovernmental organization-driven interests, in which states slowly gather in groups from the same geographical region and/or sphere of influence to pursue common international economic, political, security and/or military goals (e.g., NATO, the EU and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization). After all, unity makes strength, and Indigenous Peoples have a great track record of applying such philosophy to survive in the Arctic.


[1] Janice GAE Switlo, ‘Modern Day Colonialism – Canada’s Continuing Attempts to Conquer Aboriginal Peoples’ International Journal on Minority and Group Rights Vol. 9, No. 2 (2002), pp. 103-141.

[2] Juan Martínez-Barea, El Mundo Que Viene.

[3] National Geographic Society, ‘Arctic’ (National Geographic Society, 6 October 2016) <http://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/arctic/> accessed 13 April 2020.

[4] KRISTIAN ÅTLAND, ‘Mikhail Gorbachev, the Murmansk Initiative, and the Desecuritization of Interstate Relations in the Arctic’ Cooperation and Conflict Vol. 43, No. 3 (September 2008), pp. 289-311.

[5] Arctic Council Secretariat (ACS), ‘Status of Ratification: Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic. Information Document Submitted by the Arctic Council Secretariat.’ (Arctic Council Secretariat 2014) Working Paper <https://oaarchive.arctic-council.org/handle/11374/1350> accessed 17 October 2019.

[6] Annika E Nilsson and Miyase Christensen, Arctic Geopolitics, Media and Power (2019) 2 <https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9780429199646> accessed 13 April 2020.

[7] Barry Scott Zellen (ed), The Fast-Changing Arctic: Rethinking Arctic Security for a Warmer World (University of Calgary Press 2013) <http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/j.ctv6gqr43> accessed 13 April 2020.

[8] ‘Continental Shelf – Submission to the Commission by Norway’ <https://www.un.org/Depts/los/clcs_new/submissions_files/submission_nor.htm> accessed 20 March 2021.

[9] ‘Continental Shelf – Submission to the Commission by the Russian Federation’ <https://www.un.org/Depts/los/clcs_new/submissions_files/submission_rus_rev1.htm> accessed 13 April 2020.

[10] ‘Russia – Post-Soviet Russia | Britannica’ <https://www.britannica.com/place/Russia/Post-Soviet-Russia> accessed 13 April 2020.

[11] ‘Continental Shelf – Submission to the Commission by the Russian Federation’ (n 9).

[12] Lassi Heininen, Alexander Sergunin and Gleb Yarovoy, RUSSIAN STRATEGIES IN THE ARCTIC: AVOIDING A NEW COLD WAR, p 5 <https://www.uarctic.org/media/857300/arctic_eng.pdf>.

[13] ‘Ref-181-Americas-Role-in-the-Arctic.Pdf’ 5 <https://www.americansecurityproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Ref-181-Americas-Role-in-the-Arctic.pdf> accessed 13 April 2020.

[14] ibid 2.

[15] ‘Alaska North Slope Crude Oil Production (Thousand Barrels per Day)’ <https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/hist/LeafHandler.ashx?n=PET&s=MANFPAK2&f=M> accessed 13 April 2020.

[16] ‘Polar Security Cutter’ <https://www.dcms.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/Assistant-Commandant-for-Acquisitions-CG-9/Programs/Surface-Programs/Polar-Icebreaker/> accessed 13 April 2020.

[17] ‘China, Russia and Security Strategies in the Arctic’ <https://www.highnorthnews.com/en/china-russia-and-security-strategies-arctic> accessed 13 April 2020.

[18] ‘China’s Reach Has Grown; So Should the Island Chains’ (Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, 22 October 2018) <https://amti.csis.org/chinas-reach-grown-island-chains/> accessed 13 April 2020.

[19] ‘How the Pentagon Countered China’s Designs on Greenland – WSJ’ <https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-the-pentagon-countered-chinas-designs-on-greenland-11549812296> accessed 13 April 2020.

[20] ‘China Launches the Polar Silk Road’ <https://www.csis.org/analysis/china-launches-polar-silk-road> accessed 13 April 2020.

[21] ‘SHANDONG GOLD MINING CO., LTD. : Shareholders Board Members Managers and Company Profile | CNE000001FR7 | MarketScreener’ <https://www.marketscreener.com/quote/stock/SHANDONG-GOLD-MINING-CO–6497385/company/> accessed 26 May 2021.

[22] Lauren Ploch Blanchard and Sarah R Collins, ‘China’s Engagement in Djibouti’ 2, para 1.


[24] ‘The Saami Council’ (Sámiráđđi) <https://www.saamicouncil.net/en/the-saami-council> accessed 13 April 2020.

[25] ‘EU Restrictive Measures in Response to the Crisis in Ukraine’ <http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/sanctions/ukraine-crisis/> accessed 13 April 2020.

[26] Martin Russell, Europäisches Parlament, and Generaldirektion Wissenschaftlicher Dienst, Seven Economic Challenges for Russia Breaking out of Stagnation?: In-Depth Analysis (2018) <https://doi.org/10.2861/227260> accessed 13 April 2020.

[27] ‘Moscow Adopts 15-Year Grand Plan for Northern Sea Route – The Moscow Times’ <https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/01/02/moscow-adopts-15-year-grand-plan-for-northern-sea-route-a68798> accessed 14 April 2020.

[28] ‘Dreyer et Popescu – 2014 – Do Sanctions Against Russia Work.Pdf’ 1 <https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/186485/Brief_35_Russia_sanctions.pdf> accessed 26 May 2021.

[29] ‘Press Center : Press Releases and Events | NOVATEK Closes Arctic LNG 2 Transaction’ <https://www.novatek.ru/en/press/releases/index.php?id_4=3317> accessed 12 March 2021.

[30] Svein Gjelle and Norges geologiske undersøkelse, Landet Ved Polarsirkelen: Geologi Og Landskapsformer (Norges geologiske undersøkelse 1995) 68.

[31] ‘South Korea to Combine World’s Two Biggest Shipbuilders in $2 Billion Deal’ Reuters (31 January 2019) <https://www.reuters.com/article/us-daewoo-s-m-m-a-hyundaiheavyinds-idUSKCN1PO17K> accessed 14 April 2020.

[32] ‘Unclos_e.Pdf’ 113 <https://www.un.org/depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/unclos_e.pdf> accessed 8 April 2020.

[33] Øyvind Østerud and Geir Hønneland, ‘Geopolitics and International Governance in the Arctic’ Arctic Review on Law and Politics, vol. 5, 2/2014 pp. 156–176 159.

[34] ‘Iceland’s Role in Transatlantic Security Growing | NATO PA’ (Iceland’s Role in Transatlantic Security Growing | NATO PA) <http://www.nato-pa.int/news/icelands-role-transatlantic-security-growing> accessed 14 April 2020.

[35] ‘China Is Weaponizing the Belt and Road. What Can the US Do About It? – The Diplomat’ <https://thediplomat.com/2020/10/china-is-weaponizing-the-belt-and-road-what-can-the-us-do-about-it/> accessed 26 May 2021.

[36] Arctic Council, Arctic Council Anniversary Documentary: 25 Years of Peace and Cooperation (2021) <https://vimeo.com/549367004> accessed 26 May 2021.

[37] ibid.

[38] ‘How the Pentagon Countered China’s Designs on Greenland – WSJ’ (n 19).

[39] ‘Iqaluit’s Population Turns to Amazon to Save Money, Government Program “Not Working” – National | Globalnews.Ca’ <https://globalnews.ca/news/3587158/iqaluits-population-turns-to-amazon-prime/> accessed 14 April 2020.

[40] ‘Russia: Legislative Change to Demolish Indigenous Land Rights – IWGIA – International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs’ <https://www.iwgia.org/en/russia/2010-russia-legislative-change-to-demolish-indigenous-l.> accessed 14 April 2020.

A. Shibata et al. (eds.), Emerging Legal Orders in the Arctic: The role of non-Arctic actors (London: Routledge, 2019)

There is no doubt that the Arctic is undergoing unprecedented changes. Not only has the Arctic environment been changing at a rapidly fast pace over the last decades, the Arctic has also become a more distinct social, political and legal region. All these ontological changes require more stable norms and institutional frameworks. Based on these premises, Emerging Legal Orders in the Arctic has put together a wide-ranging collection of deeply polar legal research by both familiar names in the field of polar legal studies but also by early-career researchers. As the editors point out at the beginning, this book is the outcome of a symposium held by the Polar Cooperation Research Centre at Kobe University, Japan in December 2017 on the role of non-Arctic states and actors in the Arctic legal order-making. The overarching theme of this book is to explore how, where and to what degree traditional non-Arctic actors, especially Asian States, interact with, influence and shape the creation of the legal order in the Arctic from a normative angle.

Part I of the book aims at giving a contextual understanding of and define the present and future scope of non-Arctic states’ engagement in regional governance with Timo Koivurova’s chapter and the rise of Asian countries, mainly China and Japan, on the Arctic stage. Describing the political and economic contexts of Asian engagement in the Arctic, Tonami points out, in chapter 3, that Asian states mainly pursue economic diplomacy with the aim to both enhance national economic prosperity and use economic leverage to increase domestic political stability. As Asian States’ role in Arctic governance increases, Arctic States expect them to be even engaged within existing institutions such as the AC and contribute to international norm-making in the region. Tonami argues, however, that from an Asian perspective, they are only willing to play this role to the extent that it serves their long-term political and economic agenda. According to her, the rise of Asian States in the region has resulted in a period of contested multilateralism. In chapter 4, Japan’s former ambassador in charge of Arctic affairs, Keiji Ide, analyses Japan’s contribution to the rule of law in the Arctic. He concludes that the challenges presently faced by the Arctic might be too great for Arctic States to deal with on their own. He argues in favour of more involvement and cooperation between both Arctic and non-Arctic states to face the challenges of our times. Taking the example of China and its Arctic policy white paper, Nielsson and Magnússon assesses China’s efforts to create and foster relationships with Arctic partners in order to better understand the region as a whole. According to them, China’s white paper on Arctic policy presents a balanced view between the opportunities for Chinese companies to enhance economic cooperation, the protection of the environment and combatting climate change.

Part II titled “People(s) in the Arctic” is the book’s shortest section with only two chapters. Chapter 6 written by the international chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, Dalee Sambo Dorough, argues that any discussion about the legal order in the Arctic should recognise the status and rights of indigenous peoples for whom the Arctic is home.  She emphasises that indigenous peoples are not just stakeholders in Arctic-related matters they are rightsholders in the region. According to her, although they are not Arctic states, non-Arctic States must engage more with Arctic indigenous peoples as they seek to become more involved in the Arctic legal order. Indigenous rights should not only be mentioned in Arctic policies, the status, rights and role of Arctic indigenous peoples should be respected in practice. Dalee Sambo makes some interesting recommendations for non-Arctic actors to better engage with indigenous peoples. To her education in the field of indigenous and human rights, engaging with communities at the local level, engaging outside with indigenous peoples outside of the AC, reaching out to indigenous peoples’ organisation and the AC Permanent Participants, identifying areas of mutual interests both within and outside the AC, being clear and straightforward about their Arctic interests and projects and, advancing research in social sciences and other areas of concerns to Arctic indigenous peoples are all means worth exploring to foster meaningful cooperation. The other chapter in Part II is an assessment of the role of non-governmental organisations (NGO) in influencing the Arctic sealing, whaling and hydrocarbon regimes in the Arctic by Nikolas Sellheim and Marzia Scopelliti.

In Part III on the marine Arctic, Joji Morishita discusses the Arctic Five-plus-Five process that led to the negotiations of the Central Arctic Ocean Fisheries (CAOF) Agreement. Morishita analyses each of the ten countries that took part in this process and takes the readers to the heart of the negotiations of this unique fisheries agreement. Although the Arctic Five (Canada, Kingdom of Denmark, Norway, Russia, and the United States) and the Plus Five (Iceland, Japan, China, Korea, and the EU) have substantial different interests, they share the same objectives regarding how the CAO should be managed according to the precautionary principle to avoid illegal fishing activities. The next chapter by Law of the Sea specialist, Erik J. Molenaar, is an almost-40-page-long masterpiece, which complements and adds another layer of understanding to Morishita’s chapter and provides one of the most in-depth analysis of the CAOF Agreement published thus far. Molenaar gives a concise but thorough overview of how the CAOF Agreement fits into international fisheries law and international law. Towards the end of the chapter, Molenaar also makes a comparative analysis of how participation in the Five-plus-Five process and the CAOF Agreement compares to participation in other RFMO/As. The following two chapters turn their focus on Arctic shipping as Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen delves into transnational knowledge network and epistemic communities and Leilei Zou provides a thorough analysis of cooperation between China and Russia in the legislative development of the Northern Sea Route.

Part IV switches gear to focus on scientific cooperation and the Arctic Council. In chapter 12, Akiho Shibata analyses the Arctic Science Cooperation Agreement that entered into force in May 2018 from the perspectives of non-Arctic States. In reviewing this third agreement negotiated under the auspices of the Arctic Council, Shibata assesses to what extend AC Observers States have been able to give substantive inputs at the negotiation stage. In his analysis, Shibata concludes that many pressing Arctic governance issues (e.g. black carbon) cannot be addressed without including non-Arctic actors. One of Part IV’s main themes seems to analyse the evolution of the relationship between AC Observer States and the Arctic Council. In their chapter, Sebastian Knecht and Jennifer Spence show that despite legal equality of all AC Observers, political considerations still play an important role. In the last chapter of the book, Yuanyuan Ren expands on China’s relation with the Arctic Council. According to Ren, China has shown more engagement at the AC level since being granted Observer status in 2013.

The book’s small, and perhaps only, quibble is that most of the chapters focus on non-Arctic States and look at Arctic law-making through a State-centric lens. This can in part be explained, as Sellheim and Scopelliti mention, because international law remains a state-driven process that tends to exclude non-State actors and communities. This seems like a missed opportunity to broaden that scope and to expand on the relation between non-Arctic actors, non-State actors and Arctic indigenous peoples in the context of creating new legal orders in the region. Such quibbles however do not detract from the book’s overall scholarly quality. The exploration of the evolution of the Arctic normative framework and its expansion on the global stage is still very much a work in progress. As the first edited volume in Routledge’s Research in Polar Law series, Emerging Legal Orders in the Arctic provides an in-depth and timely look at how the Arctic legal order is evolving and is a most welcome addition to the literature on international law that will certainly be of value not only to legal scholars involved in polar research but also to those with a broader interest in both Asian studies and region-building in the Arctic.

Nikolas Sellheim, The Seal Hunt: Cultures, Economies and Legal Regimes (Leiden: Brill Nijhoff, 2018)

Nikolas Sellheim, a postdoctoral researcher, has written a comprehensive monograph on the legal aspects of the deviating seal hunting regimes around the world. The book takes both a socio-historical and legal view on the marine mammal harvests, and does not shy away even from the most remote or obscure hunts, such as the Latin American or freshwater seal issues.

The Seal Hunt opens with an overview of the “troubled” relationship seals and humans continue to have. Main body of the book is divided into four big themes – being cultures and seal hunt, legal regimes, the EU and the seal hunt and ultimately the core theme of the book – the juxtaposition of international trade law, seals and moral questions.

Included in the reviews are 19 different national jurisdictions of seal hunt around the world. Most of them do not allow commercial hunts, exceptions being Canada, Norway and Namibia. Some countries such as Finland, Iceland and Sweden argue for a quota-based sealing on the “protection” of their fisheries and the impacts seals are having. Sellheim notes in his review of the changing national contexts that “seal hunt issue goes beyond national legislation and includes broad and diverging standards of rights and wrongs”. He also correctly positions seal hunt in the larger context of marine mammal harvests and the complexities they have in global governance. Author also in a clear and coherent manner describes and reviews the Indigenous harvests around the world, both past and present. For example Sellheim raises the Bering Sea sealing regimes “having set a precedence” with indigenous peoples and their rights. Most of the limitations have been removed for traditional harvests.

In the book a certain number of notable hunts emerge. Sellheim spends time on the Newfoundland hunt which has been the flashpoint of animal rights groups and “birgitte bardot” -style campaigns from Eastern Canada. Whilst the hunt goes forwards, the author points to one of the best managed natural resource regimes in place, that includes legally-binding animal welfare provisions, sealers’ training programmes and monitoring mechanisms in place to ensure a well-conducted harvest.

Another flashpoint, partly related to the Newfoundland sealing and its impacts, is the Inuit relationship and sealing issues, including a lengthy and much-needed review of the situation in Greenland. Sellheim discusses what he sees as an “inner European View on public morality”, as a part of a lengthy process of EU – Greenlandic and EU – seal relations, if you will. Ultimately Sellheim deducts that the “EU clash” with seal hunting is centred around notions of what is seen as “inherently inhumane”. The International trade law becomes basis for some of the legal victories EU has over the seal skin product bans and associated processes.

Icelanding sealing is reviewed for its historical context and contemporary legal issues. However, we do not hear much of the living sealers voices in the book. For the interested parties, the recent Nordic IPBES report, Vol 2, Geographical Cases contains oral histories of the Icelandic subsistence sealers from the past 20 years.

Sellheim wrote much of his research in Northern Europe, including Finland and the context of Baltic Sea, and it is reflected in the level of details he is able to muster for his comprehensive review. For example it is rare to see accounts of Arvid Genetz on the Russian Sámi or reflections of the Kola Peninsula and 1751 legal context of trade, harvest and community rights. Clearly the author has taken the issues and the legal context to heart.

Throughout the book Sellheim also discusses the unique freshwater seals and their harvests, namely the lakes Saimaa and Ladoga in North-eastern Europe, and the lake Baikal situation (also bringing forth the crucial question – how did the seals end up so far inland at lake Baikal).

Most of the freshwater seal survey material points to urgent ecological crisis, especially in the context of the lake Saimaa seal, nowadays fully protected. Slight errors emerge in the numbers of the Saimaa seals (Sellheim argues for 150 living individuals, whilst the rebounding numbers are today closer to 400) but the main arguments are clear. He even goes out to point to the oral histories of the Evenki and Buryat peoples around lake Baikal as an important source of information about the seal and its life histories.

Sellheim also discusses the historical and present “technical” management treaties, such as the Russian – Norwegian and Russian – Finnish seal treaties as major confidence-building measures resting on their technical facilities and allowing dialogue to happen in a non-politicized environment.

Sellheim is able to convey a review of the governance of sealing well. And perhaps even more importantly he is able to convey the older relationship humans and seals continue to have, in the present so ‘troubled’, but a lengthy history indeed. All in all, tour de force of legal regimes and sealing globally, this book can be recommended to all experts and interested parties on sealing questions world-wide. A major achievement.

Andreas Raspotnik, The European Union and the Geopolitics of the Arctic (Cheltenham & Northampton: Edward Elgar, 2018)

Andreas Raspotnik, in his new book “The European Union and the Geopolitics of the Arctic”, critically scrutinizes the decade-long history of successes, failures and attempts of the European Union in constructing its own legitimacy and credibility in the multi-layered geopolitics of its “northern neighborhood”, the Arctic. In doing so, the author attempts to define this “unknown” but yet a “component of the Arctic geopolitics”, that is to say the EU, and to provides his own response to the long-standing matter of which role the EU has to play in the region.

One immediate question that arises in the mind of those who are more familiar with EU’s studies, especially with regards to the Arctic, is not if the EU has an influence in the Arctic region, but whether the EU holds the actual capacity to act as an international actor in the given geopolitical context. Regardless of EU’s formal acceptance as an observer to the Arctic Council – now a symbolic token, as the EU can de facto observe, taken by too many as the ultimate proof of EU’s extraneousness to the region – this politico-economic Union of 28 Member States has shown clearly over the years both its negative and positive influence, yet influence nonetheless; though the question remains in which capacity. Raspotnik raises this question in his introduction, and skillfully adds another layer to this already complex picture, by using his study to “question [EU’s] broader role as an international actor with evolving geopolitical identity”. The study won’t provide the reader with a clean-cut answer, as the very last sentence of the book suggests – “[u]ltimately, the European Union attempts to act as sui generis geopolitical actor in the Arctic” – but it is a classic example of research where the journey itself is more relevant than the destination.

The main text of the book is structured in 5 parts which, excluding “Introduction” and “Conclusions”, compose the title of the book: II) Geopolitics, III) The Arctic, and IV) The European Union. This structure underlines the choice and need of the author for excavating and critically analyzing each of these concepts before providing – in an almost Hegelian fashion – a final synthesis. This book is indeed very well researched, and combines a vast literature of classic “Arctic Geopolitics” scholars, interviews, official documents and speeches given by EU representatives. Under several aspects – e.g. the use of explanatory “boxes” within the text and the careful contextualization of each new term used – this book could be positively marked as a textbook for students in geopolitics or European studies or a vade mecum for scholars, without ever providing a superficial account of the issue it addresses.

Raspotnik’s sets the start of his journey in 2007/2008, when high-level representatives of the EU and its member states – J.M. Barroso (former president of the EU Commission), Angela Merkel and Romano Prodi – all visited in different moments the new “Mecca of climate change”, Greenland, to experience first-hand the ice-cap melting. The Arctic was, in the meanwhile, experiencing a new moment in the global media, with the Russian flag being planted more than 4000 m beneath the North Pole, or the new record low in the Arctic Ocean’s sea-ice extent in September 2007. In addition, climate change – which will quickly turn into one of the strongest leitmotifs of the European Union’s narrative in the Arctic – was also having a new impetus in the same years and made it to the top of the G8 Summit agenda in Bad Doberan/Heiligendamm (Germany). Therefore, climate change, (potential) availability of resources, environmental and social challenges turned into a potential security issue for the EU, which, with the strong encouragement of Finland, added the Arctic to its “neighborhood’s radar”. In 2008, the EU formally started developing its own Arctic Policy.

This process took about 10 years, many documents and speeches, and for many observers it is not even yet fully finalized. The chapter dealing with this “policy-in-the-making” process is actually one of the highlights of this book. An overview that too easily risks turning into a repetitive and pedantic mantra – given the nature itself of the EU’s structure where documents/proposal need to bounce among the EU Parliament, the Commission and the Council (and repeat this itinerary several times) – was given new life. The author alternates the description of each step taken toward the development of an EU Arctic Policy with an “external reading”, combining in this way facts with his analyses.

The formal analysis used in the book, while accomplishing the need for providing a deep understanding of the EU’s role in the Arctic, runs into the same negative underestimation made by the EU regarding the role of indigenous people in the Arctic geopolitics. Reading this book, likewise most of the narrative and approaches used by the EU itself, the feeling is that the indigenous peoples of the Arctic appear more as a cameo – or a political/formal duty to be discussed – rather than part of Arctic geopolitics. In the description of the Arctic’s layered geopolitics, for example, a good overview is provided with regards to the “issue of eight national identifies”, but no mention at all is given regarding Indigenous peoples’ visions for their own territories. The role of Indigenous Peoples Organizations (IPOs) within the Arctic Council is only formally addressed and therefore minimized (“although the AC includes IPOs, decision making formally remains with its core members, the A8”), and the “seal-issue”, which ultimately costed the EU its formal acceptance as observer at the Arctic Council from 2009 to 2015 (then the Crimean crisis came into play) is dealt as a largely solved political issue, which formally and politically it is, but not in practice, at least for some of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

Jarich Oosten & Barbara Helen Miller (eds.), Traditions, Traps and Trends. Transfer of Knowledge in Arctic Regions (Alberta: The University of Alberta Press, 2018)

Indigenous knowledge – or traditional knowledge – has recently gained more and more attention, especially within the Arctic context. Large and complex bodies of knowledge(s) are thus acknowledged, which are mostly acquired in non-verbal ways: a learning by doing, or better, a learning by living (it), ensuring survival in the harshest environments of the globe for millennia.  Such a knowledge includes skills and “attitude that encourages perceptual rather than judgmental forms of knowing”, leading to a life oriented toward service to community. It is a knowledge that still today struggles with the Western concept of “science”, still deeply anchored to classic dichotomies, as “our way of thinking” vs ”their way of thinking”, or the Cartesian paradigm whereby mind and body are essentially separate entities.

The scope of this book, outlined by the editors Jarich Oosten and Barbara Helen Miller in the introduction, is to overcome the classic definition of “Western science” and “mak[e] a place in scientific discourse for contributions from Indigenous authorities”.  This cognitive place is therefore created by eight interdisciplinary case-studies, written by different authors, that explore knowledge transfer and knowledge practices of the Inuit in Canada, East and West Greenland, and the Northern Sámi of Norway. There is no given methodological explanation regarding the selection of Arctic regions treated in the book, but probably it is the result of the geographical areas of expertise of the authors, all members of the Research Group Circumpolar Cultures.

After a dense introduction, aimed at clearing out both the theoretical background and the histories of the peoples involved, the book is divided conceptually into two parts: the first one comprises five chapters on the Inuit of Greenland and North America; the second one three chapters on the Northern Sámi of Norway.

The first part considers the Inuit concept of IQ, “knowledge that has proven to be useful in the past and is still useful today”, in different contexts, historical times and geographical areas. Although following separate patterns, all the authors come to highlight, on the one hand, the disruptive effects that the introduction of Western education, with missionaries first and national school systems later, has had on individual, social and family relations. On the other hand, the dynamic and flexible nature of this IQ makes it still today a valuable body of knowledge(s) (inclusive of its spiritual component) for the younger generations’ well-being, both mental and physical. A correct transfer of this knowledge (or IQ), however, faces today several challenges, as for example the impossibility of extracting this knowledge from its material support, that is to say, the environment, and teach it in a classroom; obliging educators and researchers to experiment and find more suitable solutions (some of them are addressed in the book).

The second part takes the reader to a completely different location, Northern Norway, and into a different culture, the Sámi. This second part focuses on a variety of topics, yet connected with the main area outlined in the introduction, i.e. transfer of knowledge and knowledge practices.

Presented as a book for “students and scholars in anthropology and ethnology and for everyone interested in the Circumpolar North”, this collection of essays offers indeed different reading levels. However, probably due to a general lack of coordination among the authors of the first part, where the five essays share the same main topic, IQ, and different yet similar background (Inuit), make the reading often repetitive and redundant, hampering a fluid reading. The second part, while being definitely more diverse, sometimes struggles in showing clearly its connections with the overall scope of the book, leaving the reader a little lost.

Some peculiar design choices – such as the font and its size, slightly smaller than usual, and the left-side alignment – make the reading not easy, as they give the feeling of an endless footnote. On the bright side, this book includes also some interesting historical figures and drawings, such as those (pp. 166-167) illustrating stories related to “tupilat” (i.e. “evil spirits” in the form of small sculptures carved out of bone, ivory, wood or stone, depicting monstrous figures and believed to have destructive and sometimes lethal effects on rivals).

A question, however, remains unanswered.

Why is no essay in this book openly written by an indigenous scholar or an “indigenous authority” of the actual Arctic communities that are discussed therein, a child of their lived experiences and living cultures?  The feeling is that one very important classic dichotomy was not addressed at all, that is to say, indigenous cultures and indigenous peoples as proactive “subjects” of research rather than “objects”. If this dichotomy persists, can then the authors’ competent scientific approach really achieve the declared aim of the book’s editors, namely to “mak[e] a place in scientific discourse for contributions from Indigenous authorities”?