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Hotting Up? Geopolitical Rivalry and Environmental Security in the Arctic

Traditionally the Arctic has been on the margins of international political interest, either geopolitically or environmentally. Climate change, though, has changed this by appearing to open up new economic opportunities in the region. Interest in the High North has subsequently increased, both from the states of the region and beyond. To date, though, there has appeared no likelihood of this escalating into resource wars, despite this prospect being widely heralded a decade and a half ago. Instead, governance in the region, centered on the Arctic Council, has proved an exemplar of intergovernmental cooperation, even in the face of increased tensions between Russia and the West over the past two decades. The Russian invasion of Ukraine, though, has frozen this blossoming co-management of the High North and put its future in doubt. This is likely to have some negative consequences in terms of the environment and maritime safety in the region. However, despite a heightening of tensions, there remains little reason to expect a Russian military initiative in the region since all non-Russian territory will soon be under NATO protection and Moscow would have far more to lose than they could gain from such an act.

Hotting Up Geopolitical Rivalry and Environmental Security in the Arctic
 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Traditionally the Arctic has been on the margins of international political interest. Geopolitically the region has usually been a relatively benign one with seemingly little to fight over. Commercial interest in the High North had largely ended by the early twentieth century, by which time the region’s whale and seal stocks had been exhausted and legendary Norwegian explorer Amundsen had proven that the fabled North West Passage over Canada was frozen. The Arctic played a very limited role in the First and Second World Wars and did not figure greatly in the Cold War, beyond being utilized by the superpowers for the stationing and testing of nuclear weapons. As a remote part of the world largely neither industrialized nor cultivated it also tended not to be a primary concern when environmental politics took off in the 1960s. Pollution or resource depletion were not the major concerns they were becoming in other parts of the world. Until the 1990s geopolitics or environmental security were rarely invoked in Arctic diplomacy. 

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