Tag Archives: Polar law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uttam Kumar Sinha & Jo Inge Bekkevold (eds.), Arctic: Commerce, Governance and Policy (New York: Routledge, 2015)

In the mid-2000s, the Arctic started to receive greater international attention given its growing importance in environmental, scientific, economic and political affairs. The acceptance of five Asian states – China, India, Japan, Singapore and South Korea – as Observers in the Arctic Council, the region’s preeminent intergovernmental forum, in 2013, became both representative of this trend and a consequence of it. This is the premise of Arctic: Commerce, Governance and Policy, which describes the interest and engagement of Asian states in Arctic affairs, and stems from papers presented at a conference on the topic of Arctic geopolitics held at New Delhi’s Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses in September 2013.

Continue reading Uttam Kumar Sinha & Jo Inge Bekkevold (eds.), Arctic: Commerce, Governance and Policy (New York: Routledge, 2015)

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

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

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

Peter Hough, International Politics of the Arctic: Coming in from the Cold (London: Routledge, 2015 pbk.)

Peter Hough’s contribution to the scholarship of Arctic international relations, International Politics of the Arctic: Coming in from the Cold, has now been made available in paperback. Given that the target audience is likely to consist of students and those with a general interest in the field, the paperback edition (and more accessible price) is most welcome.

Continue reading Peter Hough, International Politics of the Arctic: Coming in from the Cold (London: Routledge, 2015 pbk.)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Online pdf version: 

 http://www.norden.org/en/publications/publications/2010-538