Over the last four decades, the study of Arctic politics has developed into a considerable disciplinary niche, extending to also incorporate perspectives from other fields such as developmental studies and law. Leif Christian Jensen and Geir Hønneland’s edited collection, Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic is a large and useful addition to this body that supplies current topics of relevance to the overall field. Employing contributing authors from multiple areas of expertise and institutions, this handbook provides an extensive and dynamic overview of the Arctic’s most pressing political issues and topics.
As pointed out in the introduction, Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic was compiled in response to a change in political climates, from the “age of the Arctic” to the “scramble for the Arctic”. This volume consists of twenty-nine unique articles of impressive assortment, separated into four thematic sections: ‘Geopolitics and Strategic Resources’, ‘Law of the Sea’, ‘Arctic Institutions and Specific Fields of Cooperation’, and ‘National Approaches to the Arctic’. As the title suggests, the collection was intended cover the breadth of political development and change experienced by today’s Arctic, with all manner of expertise addressed by many contributors from European countries, North America and Australia. As the editor remarks, other additional functional fields are also covered, such as climate change, energy, indigenous issues, jurisdiction, marine resources, pollution and preparedness and emergency response.
The first section is “Geopolitics and Strategic Resources”. In this part, articles such as “Arctic Securitization and Climate Change”, and “Strengthening US Arctic Policy through US-Russia Maritime Cooperation” trace the developments and conundrums transforming the political arena of our contemporary Arctic. Of particular interest in this section is Mark Nuttall’s piece “Subsurface Politics: Greenlandic Discourses on Extractive Industries”. In his article, Nuttall takes an ethnographic approach to explore and discuss the challenges of Greenland’s position as a new resource frontier, emphasising how political discourse surrounding the subsurface (what it entails and how it is imagined) intersects with resource development. Nuttall details the politics surrounding resource development in Greenland with sufficient enough range as to give the reader a general snapshot into the overall resource debate encountered by other Artic nations. Other articles in “Geopolitics and Strategic Resources” have also been chosen for their ability to render specific issues into their larger implications.
The second section, “Law of the Sea”, confronts many of the Arctic’s delicate legal enigmas, such as maritime boundary disputes, Arctic marine mammals in environmental and trade law, legal frameworks of outer continental shelf claims, and Canada’s Artic sovereignty. Purposely approached from a legal point of view, these articles manage to dissect the various arguments encompassing these legal dilemmas without any accompanied personal opinions. Unique to this book of Arctic politics is a dedicated legal section. Its utilization helps to both separate the many voices of this collection and lend clarity to overall debates in current Arctic politics.
The third section, “Arctic Institutions and Specific Fields of Cooperation”, is a carefully chosen collection with the specific purpose of highlighting the abundance and importance of cooperation in the Arctic. Well known topics, such as the Arctic council, are blended with newer subjects, such as China’s increasing Arctic ambitions, and together generate fresh ideas and areas of research pertaining to Arctic cooperation. This section is of particular interest due to its bridging of cooperation topics with alternative social concepts, such as Carina and Keskitalo’s article on “The role of discourse analysis in understanding spatial systems”, in which the concept of the Arctic is analyzed through discourse topics. While this section’s inclusion into the overall work is important for its coverage of new topics in cooperation, it has gathered some of the articles that may not have been easily classified into the other three sections, such as “Arctic change through a political reading” by Monica Tennberg. As a result, this section does seem to lack a general cohesive theme with regards to the articles presented. Regardless of its slightly miscellaneous nature, this section still helps take in the pertinent articles that would have been perhaps otherwise overlooked due to their contrasting content.
The final section is “National Approaches to the Arctic”, an interesting juxtaposition to its preceding section on Arctic cooperation, whose articles command the final pages of this collection to illustrate the various political interests, policies and complexities of Arctic and non-Arctic nations. This section exhibits the new and current policies in regards to national interests produced in the last while. This section particularly succeeds at demonstrating the book’s theme of demonstrating the changing from the “age of the Arctic” to the “scramble for the Arctic”, with articles on Russia’s northern interests, the European Union’s Arctic policy and Poland’s new science diplomacy approach. It is this collection that helps allude toward the plausible political topics and conundrums of the future, and leave the reader with these possibilities churning in mind.
Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic is superb overall. One of the volume’s few drawbacks is its size. In reality, the book’s title as “handbook”, may justify its extensiveness, however the length of this 617-page collection simply doesn’t make for light reading. Consequently, the targeted audience is slightly limited by its size and specialized content. Indeed, this book can be enjoyed by all readers, however it is better employed and possibly appreciated by Arctic scholars, students, and experts.
This minor criticism aside, Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic serves as an excellent and essential compendium of current topics in Arctic politics. This collection should be celebrated as a fundamental staple to any person involved in the field or study of Arctic politics.