Welcome to Our Special Issue on IR Theory, the Arctic System, and the Individual Theorist in Perspective

Welcome to our special issue of Nordicum-Mediterraneum: The Icelandic E-Journal of Nordic and Mediterranean Studies (NoMe) on the theme of “IR Theory, the Arctic System, and the Individual Theorist in Perspective.” It includes papers submitted to and/or inspired by our Spring 2020 class on Arctic security through the lens of IR theory that I taught at the University of Akureyri while I was a visiting Fulbright Scholar at the Polar Law Centre.

Among this special issue’s contributions are a selection of papers written for the class during a semester like no other, when the Covid-19 pandemic spread around the world, transforming all of our lives. Several of the papers included here directly address this theme, as part of our collective efforts to understand Arctic security through an IR-theoretical lens, with each of our authors serving as a bridge between the Arctic system and the world of theory, or what IR luminary Kenneth Waltz described in 1959 as the “first image,” the individual’s level of analysis:

Front Matter

Section I: IR Theory, the Arctic, and Me: Individual Perspectives on Arctic International Relations

Section II: Greenland and its Future

Section III. Arctic Geopolitics and the Future

Two of our papers in Section I (“The Pandemic, the Arctic and Me: A Levels of Analysis Discussion of Arctic Security Focusing on the 2020 Global Pandemic” by Soazic Dacal; and “Schrödinger’s American: A Self-Reflection of One Person’s Role in Iceland’s Nordic and Arctic Discourse” by Jonathan Wood) provide a first-person perspective on the challenging issues and events directly associated with the pandemic, and its impacts on the Arctic, including the transformation of our lives after the pandemic arrived in Iceland; while the other six articles across Sections I-III consider the profound effects of climate change on Arctic international relations and geopolitics (these include Section I‘s “Understanding the Role of Arctic States, Non-Arctic States and Indigenous Peoples in Arctic Affairs Through the Lens of International Relations Theories” by Thomas Viguier and “Climate Change, the Arctic and I” by Martin Binachon; Section II‘s “The Greenlandic Question: An International Relations Analysis of a Post-Independence Inuit Nation” by Jonathan Wood and “High Stakes in the High North: Alternative Models for Greenland’s Ongoing Constitutional and Political Transformation” by Barry Scott Zellen; and Section III‘s “Singapore and the Arctic: Is the Gibraltar of the East Going to Materialize its Geopolitical Ambitions?” by Thomas Viguier; and “Geopolitics, Indigenous Peoples, and the Polar Thaw: Sub- and Transnational Fault Lines of the Coming Arctic Cold War” by Barry Scott Zellen).

Of the eight papers published here, six are student papers illustrating the remarkable insights, theoretical elegance, and creativity that defined the cohort of students I had the privilege of teaching during this most unusual and challenging of semesters. Two of the papers included herein are contributions, with much humility, from myself: one of the two (“High Stakes in the High North: Alternative Models for Greenland’s Ongoing Constitutional and Political Transformation“), was inspired by our other paper on Greenland (“The Greenlandic Question: An International Relations Analysis of a Post-Independence Inuit Nation“) by my colleague and former student, Jonathan Wood. Jonathan presented his paper on a panel on Greenland that he chaired at the first global webinar of the International Small Islands Studies Association (ISISA), and kindly invited me to join him as a discussant. My other contribution (“Geopolitics, Indigenous Peoples, and the Polar Thaw: Sub- and Transnational Fault Lines of the Coming Arctic Cold War” ) is a theoretical working paper on Arctic geopolitics; it was originally conceived to be a “bonus module” on geopolitical theory for our class in response to widespread student interest in my adding a module on Arctic geopolitics to its curriculum. But with the closure of campus, and shift from in-person to on-line teaching at the semester’s midpoint, it was a challenge enough to complete the course’s original curriculum without adding a new lecture – so my notes for this hoped-for additional lecture evolved during those long, worrisome weeks of lockdown into the working paper included here today. In this way, all of the papers were either written for, or inspired by, our class together.

In addition, I am greatly appreciative that Friðrik Jónsson, who served as Senior Arctic Official at Iceland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs from November 2019 to June 2021, has generously provided a Special Guest Foreword to this special issue, “Our Home the Arctic,” providing context for these papers and their discussion of IR theory as it applies to the contemporary Arctic. With my additional thanks to the contributors to this special issue and their fellow students who journeyed with us through the world of Arctic IR theory during the Spring 2020 semester; my colleagues at the University of Akureyri, with a special thanks my faculty mentor, Dr. Rachael Lorna Johnstone, and the editor-in-chief of NoMe, Dr. Giorgio Baruchello; the Fulbright Commission of Iceland, with a special thanks to its executive director, Belinda Theriault; and my colleagues at the United States Coast Guard Academy — with particular thanks to Academic Dean, Dr. Kurt Colella; Humanities Department Head, Dr. Richard Zuczek; and Executive Director of the Center for Arctic Study and Policy, Ms. Cara Condit — for for their encouragement, enduring support, and warm wishes during my time in Iceland.

Barry Scott Zellen, PhD
Class of 1965 Arctic Scholar
Center for Arctic Study and Policy (CASP)
United States Coast Guard Academy

About Barry Zellen

Barry Scott Zellen, PhD, is the Class of 1965 Arctic Scholar at the Center for Arctic Study and Policy (CASP) at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, where he teaches classes in Arctic IR, geopolitics, and globalization. He served as a 2020 Fulbright Scholar at the Polar Law Centre of the University of Akureyri, and in 2018 was appointed a visiting research scholar at the Department of Geography at the University of Connecticut. In 2016 and 2017, he was a Kone Foundation research scholar, after completing his doctorate in international relations from the University of Lapland in 2015. From 1990-1999, Zellen lived in the Northwest Territories and Yukon where he worked with the Inuvialuit. Dene, Metis and Yukon First Nations managing several indigenous language media organizations associated with the Northern Native Broadcast Access Program (NNBAP). Any views and/or opinions expressed herein are the author's alone and do not represent the official views of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Academy, or the United States Government.