The Palgrave Handbook of Arctic Policy and Politics is one of an increasing number of anthologies addressing Arctic governance from a variety of academic perspectives. The collection is organised into seven parts, each representing a different discipline although by the nature of the topic, these often overlap. These are: I Indigenous Peoples and Arctic Social Dynamics; II Economic Development; III Policies of Arctic Nations; IV The Arctic and International Relations; V Arctic Legal and Institutional Systems; Arctic Security; and VII Reflections on Future of the Arctic (emphasis in original).
In addition to the editors, the contributors include some very well-established scholars in their respective fields, such as Joan Larsen and Gail Fondhal (economics); Andrey Petrov (geography and economics); Timo Koivurova and Nigel Bankes (law); Timothy Heleniak (demographics); Lawson Brigham (shipping); and Heather Nicol and Whitney Lackenbauer (security).
The editors state the goal of the handbook is:
to address, as a top priority, the needs of the region and to ensure that the Southern and global actors understand their collective responsibility to reverse and correct the patterns and policies of the past. More than anything, the chapters collected here make it clear that there are policy and political options, many of them urgent, most of them expensive, and all requiring a collaborative approach with the peoples of the Arctic… [It also aims to] generate[s] public policy debate about a new and regionally controlled future for the Arctic (4).
It is not possible to review closely each of the thirty-three contributions so instead some overall remarks will be made regarding the volume with references to examples. The collection is fairly conservative (a term that is not intended to be read negatively). It is heavy on history; it prioritises market economies and emphasises market-based growth as the primary solution to Arctic challenges; it maintains a central focus on states ; it relies on positivist account of international law; and the contributors are not a particularly diverse group nor representative of Arctic populations.
Chapter 8, “Innovation, New Technologies, and the Future of the Circumpolar North” concentrates on marketable applications. Indigenous innovation, both historic and emerging, is largely overlooked except when it is in “community-government-university-industry collaboration” (124). Chapter 14, “Government, Policies, and Priorities in Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland): Roads to Independence” “seeks to offer something approaching a Kalaallit perspective” (218) but this would have been more convincing with a Greenlandic co-author or at least more references to Greenlandic scholarship. The reference list includes a few Kalallissut newspaper articles (themselves by Danish authors and likely translated from Danish) and some Danish articles but no academic work, for example, by Mininnguaq Kleist who has written in both English and Danish on the evolving constitution of Greenland. (The author acknowledges his position as neither Danish nor Greenlandic.)
It is not until Part VII, and especially Chapter 32, that we come to “The Future of the Arctic,” by the co-editors, Coates and Holroyd, with most of the chapters that precede establishing the history that has led to the current dynamics. (This is, of course, an important role for any handbook. It is only with knowledge of the past that one can understand the present or envisage futures.) A few typos suggest that this chapter may have been written hurriedly but perhaps the editors can make corrections at least in the eBook version. It is heavily focused on economic challenges and the formal economy. Nevertheless, the authors provide an ambitious list of priorities for decision-makers in the Arctic, concentrating on local, contextualised solutions and involvement of Indigenous expertise (538-40).
Common to much political science scholarship, there are a few inaccuracies on points of law – such as conflating territory, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf (311) and a lengthy discussion of the Nordic Saami Convention as “one of the most important statements of Indigenous aspirations and accomplishments in recent decades” without noting that this treaty has not yet come into force (288-89). Fortunately, these matters are corrected by Bankes’ clear and careful exposition of the law of the sea (Chapter 23) and Newman’s good summary of the international law on Indigenous Peoples (Chapter 26) respectively.
A conservative collection done well – as this one is – certainly has its place in the burgeoning international scholarship of the Arctic. I envisage three contexts in which the Handbook will undoubtedly demonstrate its value. First of all, for scholars in any field seeking a primer on the Arctic. Second for experts in some Arctic-related disciplines, such as law or security studies, who seek to broaden their knowledge with a primer on other fields. Third, this anthology is a very good resource that I expect to turn to whenever I need an authoritative reference on some point or other. The searchable eBook version is particularly conducive for this.