Securitisation of the Arctic Circle

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Is the securitisation of the Arctic Circle being used as a way of imposing the national interests of a group of Western Countries to oppose the actions of Russia?


The Arctic Circle is quickly becoming politicised. In this essay I will be looking at the political causes for the increase of tension regarding relations for the states that border the Arctic Circle. The states discussed in this essay are the United States, Canada, Greenland (through Denmark), Russia, Norway, and Iceland. Other states such as Sweden, Finland are to be referred to, but only in relation to certain international institutions in addition to their market interests. In this essay I will be examining the relations between all eight countries, trying to establish through policy, press releases and other formats of documentation how a group of ‘Westernised’ countries are working to oppose the actions of Russia within the Arctic Circle. The Arctic Circle is mostly unclaimed territory and estimates predict that a vast fortune of resources lie within the Arctic Circle. Russia’s claim of territorial expansion would be the largest of all the Arctic States, therefore making access to the resources that lay within the proposed new territory uncertain to Western States and would make them susceptible to Russian demands. For the group of Western States that are reliant upon these resources, this is unacceptable.

The actions that both Russia and the Western States are taking are similar to the ‘Cold War’ period of history (1945-1989). Russia is acting in an unpredictable manner, consequently, the West is reacting by creating policies that enable increased military movements within the Arctic Circle. Through an analysis of policies and actions taken, the ratification and involvement in international institutions and conventions I will aim to show how the group of Western States are reacting to Russian actions within the Arctic, as both sides attempt to establish sovereignty on predicted natural resources that reside within the region.

I will begin by establishing definitional terms used throughout my essay, beginning with the Arctic Circle, this will be followed by a definition of security, national interests and sovereignty and then securitisation. Next, I will discuss what is being securitised within the Arctic Circle. Then I will outline UNCLOS (United Nations Convention Law Of the Sea) as the only international convention all Arctic states are either assisted or constrained by, whether they are a signatory or not. Subsequently, I will describe the actions of Russia and the resulting reactions by the Western states. In my discussion of the other Arctic states, I will be grouping them together. The first group will comprise of the United States and Canada, this will be referred to as the North Americas. The second group is referred to as the Nordic group, this will encompass Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. My final actors to consider are the international institutions that are not only structured by the Western states but are separately having an influential role within the Arctic Circle. This essay will Conclude with a summary of evidence given to show how the Western States are acting in a ‘Cold War’ manner against Russia, regarding their competition for the predicted natural resources that lay within the Arctic Circle.

The Arctic Circle

Geographically, there is often confusion between the Arctic Circle and Antarctica. For the purposes of clarification, the Arctic Circle is the geographical area that surrounds the North Pole. The Arctic Circle topographically encompasses a line from the sixty-sixth latitude, this includes northern sections of land mass for Arctic states but is mainly a body of water with few islands and uninhabitable rocky fissures (see appendix i). It directly involves the borders of five different countries these being, Russia the United States of America, Canada, Denmark (through Greenland) and Norway (Perry-Castañeda Library, 2010). The Arctic Circle during the winter months is covered in a thick layer of sea ice, which recedes during the warmer summer period. This cycle of open and closed water ways means that it is a reasonably untouched region lacking significant infrastructure that would normally be established on a coast.

Security Studies

The discipline of security studies has historically has been applied to the state; for the purposes of this essay the definition of security will remain to have a state based application. Within security studies the subject which needs to have its survival protected from an existential threat is referred to as the ‘referent object’ (Buzan, Barry, Ole, 1998). Security studies scholars have attempted to widen the discipline past the normal state application to include the environment, economics, society and political topics (Emmers, 2010: 137). However, this broadening can lead to the discipline becoming too augmented and vague, as it is not necessary to securitise every issue.

The definition of security studies used within this essay has a theoretical dichotomy, the theoretical approaches to security studies one being realist, the other liberal. The realist theoretical approach  includes the national interests of the states, which add weight to the argument of ‘Cold War’ actions, as realism with regards to national interests gained its prominent position at the end of the World War II (Hough, 2004: 3) The realist approach has a limited explanatory use with the issue of the resources that lie in the Arctic Circle as realism argues that the international system is anarchical, determining the lack of cooperation between states (Donnelly, 2009: 35). In the Arctic Circle, the Western group are cooperating to oppose the actions of Russia, to obtain sovereignty over the predicted natural resources. This process of cooperation to establish sovereignty over economic resources are characteristics of a liberal theoretical explanation (Morgan, 2010: 37). To summarise, the Western states are using realist security policies to establish their national interests but due to their ability to only claim small sections of the Arctic in comparison to Russia’s more substantial claim they must cooperate and this will entail the deepening of economics ties between the Western states highlighting a liberal approach.

National interest are an important component of security studies, the national interests within the context of the Arctic Circle, are territory and the natural resources that lie within it. The pursuit of natural resources within the Arctic also has similarities to the ‘Cold War’ period, justifying the Western states’ actions in opposition to Russia. Although the existence of natural resources in the Arctic are merely predictions, States are using these predictions as suitable cause for the need to securitise the region by expanding their territorial borders and therefore having sovereignty over the predicted resources. Sovereignty can be defined as a state’s exclusive control over a determined territory (Mcgrew, 2008: 24); in which no higher power can control them or the territory that is exclusive to them (Brown & Ainley, 2005: 3).

To explain the need for the securitisation of the Arctic Circle, it is necessary to examine the states involved. All Arctic states are capitalist, their economies rely on the production of goods, import and export of raw materials; none more so than the import and export of fuel materials. The focus of this essay will be on the prediction of the availability of crude oil, natural gas and liquid gas laying in the Arctic Circle (these resources being of finite availability). All the Arctic States, being capitalist, would want access if not sovereignty of these natural resources, as it would mean the further expansion of their economies and increased wealth, therefore the future survival of the State is based upon the access to the Arctic resources, requiring them to securitise the Arctic Circle.


The process of securitisation is dependant on a particular political interpretation of a threat; an assessment of risk (Campbell, 1998: 2). Securitisation is dependant on a perspective, a states view of a risk will be different to any other state. A risk only becomes a threat when it is perceived  through a particular perspective, and this state perception of a threat creates the process of securitisation. Once you have determined what is a risk, and the threat that it presents, this issue then becomes politicised, Emmers wrote, ‘Securitisation can thus be seen as a more extreme version of politicisation’ (Emmers, 2010: 139). In summary, a state, perceives something as a risk, this risk is then written, or spoken about (Weaver, 1995: 54) with its own perspective key to its declaration as a threat, this entails the process of politicisation, once the threat has become politicised the state can create legislation, policy and assign resources to protect against this threat, thus becoming securitised. This politicisation of the Arctic and its predicted resources, which will be expanded upon later on in this essay, can therefore be established as the basis for the securitisation of the Arctic Circle.

There is a long stated knowledge of natural resources that lay within the Arctic circle, the earliest of which (researched for the use within this essay) is 1937 (Smolka, 1937: 15), but due to lack of technology, infrastructure, and harsh weather patterns these have been relatively untouched. According to a geological survey carried out in 2008 by a US team there are untouched oil, natural gas, coal and liquid gas deposited within the Arctic circle (Bird, et al, 2008). All of these resources amount to a huge monetary value, with estimations of around the one trillion Dollars value, (Global Non-living Resources on the Extended Continental Shelf, 2000). For over 70 years there has been the known existence of natural resources within the Arctic Circle, but mostly unproven, even the US geological survey statistics are merely predictions to the actual existence of these resources, with most probabilities below 40% (Bird, et al, 2008).

These are only estimates, probabilities of natural resources in the seabeds of the Arctic Circle, so the referent object is reliant on a possibility, a prediction, an estimate. This lack of empirical data to enforce the actions of the Arctic countries means that they must politicise the issue to securitise the natural resources. Interestingly, although the lack of empirical information regarding accurate resources quantities that lay within the Arctic Circle, all the bordering countries state through press communication, legislation, and policy documents that the existence of the resources is a certainty. This lack of empirical surveying evidence illustrates that these governments are using securitisation as a way of expanding their sovereign borders in a limited ‘land-grab’ movement. The amount of reports and surveys carried out on the Arctic Circle are quite low, due to the harsh weather conditions within the region, so those that do exist their legitimacy is questionable such as the US geological survey. It could be argued that the predictions are for the purpose of their own personal gain if there are resources within the Arctic Seabed, the Russian Federation release very few reports and those that are released are not translated into English, so Russian accounts of the resources that lay within the Arctic Circle are not openly available. Other accounts from Canada, Denmark and Norway regarding resources have yet to be either collated or released to the general public.


UNCLOS and its policies bear heavily on the claims and actions of all the Arctic States. UNCLOS or United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea was first signed in 1982 (K, Dodds, 2010: 71). It stipulates that from the end of a states land, at the coast, the state has sovereign control over 200nm (nautical miles) of sea. UNCLOS allows for an expansion of this border to 350nm on the stipulation that the water level does not exceed 2500metres and that the land below 2500m is a continuation of their land mass, stretching back to the coast. To summarise, as long as the state’s land mass extends out under water, 350nm and does not exceed a depth of 2500m it can claim this  as its territory and consequently have sovereignty over the resources that lie within this area.


Russia, as it stands could make the largest territorial gain from the Arctic, this is also where a large percentage of the resources lies (Bird, et al, 2009). The Russian State has used the Arctic Circle as a buffer zone, the Arctic Circle is the shortest distance to its ‘Cold War’ adversary of the United States. It has issued international legislation regarding its continental shelf which leads into the Arctic Circle since 1969 (UN Resolution No.564, 1969). This resolution states that it has sovereignty over its conventional 200nm continental shelf. There has been several more recent UN resolutions, most importantly Russia was an early signatory of the UNCLOS December 1982 (United Nations, 2010).

Russia has attempted to comply with international treaties it has signed and ratified, but due to an initial failing of a CLCS (Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf) claim submission and rapid acceleration of other Arctic states own claims and policy, Russian behaviour has become more unpredictable and not in line with international bodies or treaties. In 2001 Russia submitted a report to CLCS requesting the delimitation of its Exclusive Economics Zone (EEZ) from 200, to 350nm making its claim the largest for any Arctic state (Dodds, 2010: 68). Russia’s request was not permitted, requiring further geological study of the seabed to determine where Russia’s continental shelf terminated. Since then Russia has not submitted and further reports to the CLCS. Russia it seems has moved beyond wanting international approval for its Arctic claims. In 2007 a Russian expedition, took a mini submarine to the edge of the Lomonosov ridge and planted a titanium pole with the Russian flag hanging from it (Russia Plants Flag, 2007). Its Arctic neighbours were evidently agitated, examining their reaction with the Canadian Foreign Minister, who stated ‘This isn’t the 15th Century, you can’t go around the world and just plant flags and say ‘We’re claiming this territory’.’ (Russia Plants Flag, 2007).

The Russian flag planting expedition show that Russia is willing to act independently towards its Western Arctic neighbours. Escalating from the flag-planting, Russia released a National Security Strategy document in 2009 outlining its actions until 2020. This document was only released in Russian and has never received a full English translation, the following referencing is taken from a paraphrased translation by Katarzyna Zysk, who is a senior fellow at the IFS (Institute for Fiscal Studies). The strategy outlines a timeline for natural resources development within the Arctic, stating that Russia by 2020 wants the Arctic to be its primary source for natural resources (Zysk, 2009: 4). Delimiting its continental shelf predates the resources acquisition by five years, aiming to achieve this by 2015, this would also be aided by its statement of wanting to move its military infrastructure to its borders, its military forces close to Arctic borders would enable any territorial expansion, whether internationally recognised or not (Zysk, 2009: 3). This includes the military creating special Arctic forces specifically entailed to protect Arctic resources and infrastructure Zysk, 2009: 5). This policy program illustrates the securitisation of the issue.

The development of Russian Special Arctic Forces, demonstrates a militarisation of the region, designed to establish their political dominance in opposition to other Arctic states and international institutions. This illustrates a ‘Cold War’ mentality. The Kremlin’s special representative for the Arctic stated that Russia would follow all international treaties regarding the Arctic Circle (Halpin, 2009) but from security strategies and published interviews with the naval commander Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky stating that ‘Russia will compete for the Arctic and should not give an inch on its interests in the region.’ (China Seeks Piece of Arctic Pie, 2010: 1) It is arguable that Russia will not comply with any international treaties if they infringe upon its Arctic intentions. Further evidence to prove Russian intentions concerning the Arctic Circle, the Russian envoy to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), Dmitry Rogozin, ruled out any cooperation with the institution regarding the Arctic Circle, further stating in his interview with the Times newspaper, ‘Look at the map. Who is there near by? All our Northern regions are in or come out into the Arctic. All that is in our northern Arctic regions. It is our Russia.’ (Halpin, 2009) Military experts on Russian – NATO relations also illuminate Russian intentions, stating that Russia does not cooperate with anyone. (Russian – NATO relationship is one way traffic, 2010)

Russian actions within the Arctic Circle can be seen as an attempt to establish its national interests through the control of predicted natural resources that lie in the seabed. These actions of increased military resources and policy creation, are reinforcing the position Russia is assuming. This exemplifies its lack of cooperation, exacerbating the reactions of its Arctic neighbours and causing a polarisation of East and West similar to that of the ‘Cold War’. Russia’s export economy depends on establishing its sovereign control over its claimed extension to the continental shelf and the natural resources that are predicted to lay within them (Heininen, 2010: 247. This process of securitising its claimed Arctic territory, shows its willingness to oppose the international treaties that it has signed, despite their initial attempts being denied, it can be seen that Russia will obtain the resources in the Arctic Circle regardless of the approach it has previously taken. The future survival and growth of the Russian export market and fundamentally the Russian itself, may depend on it.

North Americas

Fuel material dependent states such as Canada and the United States would oppose the Russian  monopolisation of the Arctic territory and consequently, its resources, they (especially the latter) are so dependant that they will actively seek to extend security beyond their territorial borders (Campbell, 2005: 945) as they have done since the start of the ‘Cold War’ (Campbell, 2005: 951). Hypothetically, if Russia did obtain these resources it could then restrict access for fuel dependent states. The United States is comparatively unprepared for Arctic expansion, the condition of infrastructure in Alaska (its only Arctic border) does not match its ambition, the United States only controls one outdated ice breaking vessel (NDU: 3), in comparison Canada controls a fleet. Russia, has several nuclear powered ice-breakers, one of which is armed (NDU: 3) Exacerbating the United States Arctic woes is its legal standing with respect to international treaties; it is not a signatory of UNCLOS, it has always been stalled by senate who see UNCLOS as a control on its sovereignty (NDU: 6) Due to its lack of compliance with this international treaty, it will never have its voice heard within the relevant bodies and committees. Subsequently the United States cannot submit reports to the CLCS, requesting its expansion into the Arctic Circle and having its adapted borders internationally recognised. This lack of territorial gain due to its limited Arctic border and not adhering to UNCLOS, combined with its substandard equipment and dependancy on fuel resources, puts the United States in a position where it must work with the other Arctic states against Russia.

Even with the continental shelf extension the United States has a comparatively small territorial claim, these claims cannot be internationally recognised as it has not ratified the treaty. Subsequently it has to securitise the Arctic domestically to legitimise any actions taken in the future. In Presidential directive NSPD – 66, the policy states that the United States exercises ‘sovereign rights and jurisdiction within the United States’ exclusive economic zone and on the continental shelf’ (National Security Presidential directive and Homeland Security Presidential directive, 2009, B-4). The policy also states how the United States will operate independently if its national interests are infringed upon by an Arctic neighbour – in this case Russia (National Security Presidential directive and Homeland Security Presidential directive, 2009, B-1).

Canada is in a similar position to that of the United States, declaring through the ‘Canada First Defence Strategy’ that it will enhance its Arctic capabilities and establish a permanent Arctic training Centre for Canadian Military forces. (Mychajlyszyn, 2008: 3) The significant difference between the two North Americas is that Canada is a signatory party of UNCLOS (United Nation, 2010), allowing Canada the right to present reports for recommendation for the expansion of its territorial boundaries within the Arctic Circle, thereby claiming any natural resources that lay within this newly expanded border.

Canada has taken an updated, more aggressive approach to the Arctic since the Russian flag planting of 2007. Since then it has released its ‘Canada First defence strategy’ and a statement on its foreign policy with its perspective solely on the Arctic Circle. The opening of the foreign policy statement issues a stark comment on establishing its sovereignty in the Arctic Circle, this is clearly an act of securitisation (Government of Canada, 2010: 4). It later expands on how Canada will be placing all of the necessary resources to exercise sovereignty in the Arctic, including the new ice-breaker vessel which will be the largest and most powerful in the Canadian Navy’s fleet (Government of Canada, 2010: 7).

Canada is also reinforcing existing relationship with its Arctic neighbours the United States and Denmark (Greenland), further evidence of the grouping of the Western States. A ‘Cold War’ perspective on this increase of cooperation would be closest linked to the United States, who Canada refers to as ‘our premier partner in the Arctic’ (Government of Canada, 2010: 25). NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command) recently having its operational timeline indefinitely extended, is going to be used to expand its surveillance capabilities over the Arctic (Government of Canada, 2010: 8).  This new surveillance as well as cooperation with Denmark and the United States through the 2010 military exercise labelled ‘Operation Nanook’ highlighted not only a tighter connection for the group of Western States but also the increasingly militaristic stance Canada is taking (Government of Canada, 2010: 8). Combining the continuation of NORAD (a ‘Cold War’ institution) and the timescale surrounding the inception of these strategies and foreign policy statements, reveals a process of securitisation. All of these actions are in purposeful opposition to Russian Arctic activities.

It can be seen that the North Americas are returning to a pre-existing security approach, a ‘Cold-war’ approach of security, in an attempt to contain the actions of Russia, in this case, in the Arctic.  Russia’s accelerated expansion into the Arctic Circle, thus obtaining access to vast amounts of natural resources that the United States are reliant upon is significant threat to its continued position of power within the international system, both politically and economically. The United States are troubled by this, as their reliance upon fossil fuels expands and their normal sources (mainly the Middle-East oil rich states) are becoming more depleted they must turn to alternative sources, as the Arctic Circle is the last unclaimed expanse of territory that is predicated to be abundant with natural resources it is imperative to the North Americas, especially the United States, that it secures access to these resources, to improve its chances of survival. The United States is required to build stronger relations with its Arctic neighbours because the United States can only claim a very small expansion into the Arctic Circle.

The Nordics

Through an analysis of Nordic domestic, foreign and economic policy it can be argued that they do not have an overtly aggressive approach to Russian actions, when compared to the North Americas’. As the Nordics are Russia’s closest neighbours it would be counter productive to have bad relations with them. This aside it is notable that the Nordics are moving towards a bias of Western states in comparison to developing relation with Russia on issues of the Arctic Circle. This can be found through policy calling for closer relations to the European Union and Washington, the latter for military purposes. If relations with Russia did sour, the North Americas and other EU states would be their primary aids, source of protection and diplomatic assistance.

A repeating trend for all the Arctic States it that of establishing their sovereignty over their Exclusive economic zone (EEZ’s) and proposed extension through their continental shelfs. The cooperation on the issue of sovereignty is important for building strong relations between the Western states. There are issues here to be resolved regarding established borders; Canada and Greenland (Denmark) have yet to recognise a border between them regarding the groups of fractured islands to Greenland’s north east. Whilst this is yet to be resolved, both Canada and Greenland are working together to establish sovereignty of the continental shelf (Danish foreign policy yearbook, 2009: 48). This relation-building can be seen as a bias towards other Western states, cooperation between Canada and Denmark illustrates this important stance as they are developing more detailed knowledge over the Lomonosov Ridge, a critical geological artifice of the Russian expansion claim to the Arctic (Danish foreign policy yearbook, 2009: 53).

Sovereignty claims within the Nordic group are important to highlight as the actions and policy developed by the Nordics show a similarity to the behaviour of States in the ‘Cold War’ period. These movements illustrate their building closer relations with the Western states over the issue of the Arctic. Norway published a document entirely focused on Russia and its relationship with the Arctic. Within this, it noted how it must keep its armed forces within the Arctic to maintain its sovereignty over the region (Russia of Challenges, 2009: 19) whilst highlighting how the Barents Sea will be a future main source of resources to Western States (Russia of Challenges, 2009: 55). The Nordics are also calling for closer relations to Western institutions, primarily the EU and NATO, whilst simultaneously calling for already established Arctic institutions to create closer relations towards the Western institutions (Finland’s Strategy for the Arctic Region, 2010: 46, 54). The Nordics are also requesting closer relations to NATO, a specifically ‘Cold War’ institution, more generically, the EU and specifically, the Arctic council. The closer relations to the other Western states and their increased military presence in the Arctic show the Nordic securitisation and opposition to Russian actions, all of which are reminiscent of the ‘Cold War’.

If the Nordics could successfully assert their sovereignty over the territory they consider their own, and that their reports for extending their sovereignty over the continental shelfs to the CLCS were approved, they would achieve sovereignty over the natural resources that lie within their extended EEZ. Nordic national interests are one of the primary reasons that they are opposing the actions of Russia. Some Nordic states such as Greenland have a predicted a vast fortune of resources laying within their EEZs and continental shelfs (Hansen, 2008: 34), the Barents Sea to which Norway are contesting sovereignty with Russia is predicted to be abundant with natural resources (Guo, 2007: 62). These examples illustrate their reasons for contesting the actions of Russia, siding with Western states and securitising the Arctic. It is important to establish what resources there are, who contests sovereignty over them and what measures will be taken to secure them.

Oil and gas are the main resources which are being explored within Nordic Arctic regions. Greenland alone is predicted to have thirty-one billion barrels of oil in its north eastern region (Hansen, 2008: 34) and if predictions of the value of a barrel of oil are accurate and its value does rise to two hundred dollars a barrel, the wealth of Greenland is disproportionate for its number of citizens being only fifty-seven thousand (figures from 2008). This would make it on par to some Middle Eastern oil states, or using a contemporary reference, the ‘Emirate of the Arctic’ (Hansen, 2008: 34).

There are concerns with the current supply of fuel materials coming from Russia to the EU. The energy transport infrastructure, pipelines and fuel refineries are becoming unsuitable, approaching the maximum of their capabilities. The Nordics see this lack of development of infrastructure within Russia as an indicator that Russia might not be able to supply the EU and Western states’ energy demands in the future. Obtaining the sovereignty to the natural resources that reside within the Arctic would not only be in their own interests but also in the interests of their neighbours whether they be Arctic or not. (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2007: 42).

Additionally, there are national interests within the Nordic group that are not included in the definition of natural resources. Most notable are that of Finland and Iceland. Both of these examples do still support the argument that they are opposing the actions of Russia, by grouping together with other Western states and aiding in establishing a ’Cold War’ situation. Although they wish involvement within the development of the natural resources within the Arctic, they do not have sovereignty over any known or predicted resources. Iceland has yet to have its nearest predicted region of resources assessed (JMM Jan Mayen Microcontinent) (Bird et al, 2008: 4). Whilst it does not accurately know the existence of natural resources inside its sovereign EEZ, it has detailed a future design of becoming a hub for Arctic shipping lanes. Global warming is increasing the access to Arctic routes from the Americas to Asian ports, Iceland has noted its alarm that if these shipping lines fall under Russian jurisdiction, it will not be able to benefit from these new routes. (Iceland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2006: 15).

Finland also has interests that do not involve natural resources. Finland wants to become the ‘service provider’ for the Arctic states, using its ‘Arctic know-how’ (Prime Ministers Office Publications, 2010: 20). Finland has the most concern about Russian actions as it directly borders Russia. Through creating stronger relations with the Western states and the EU it is politically distance itself away from Russia. Finland also wishes shortly to join NATO (Bult, 2006). Upon ascension to membership, Finland wishes to become more secure through its new found allegiances, relations with Russia could become strained by this (Prime Ministers Office Publications, 2009: 142). A noted example of tension escalation with Russia due to a state joining NATO would be that of Georgia. Whilst there is a long standing history with Russia, the events of 2008, were influenced by Georgia wishing to join NATO (Prime Ministers Office Publications, 2009: 54). When Finland does eventually gain its membership, a military reaction like this is highly unlikely to occur, but the relations between the two states will most certainly be damaged in a similar manner. Finland will create stronger relations with the Western States through joining institutions like NATO, having good relations with NATO, the United States (as they are the most militaristic within NATO) and the EU are imperative for Finland, particularly if its Russian relations deteriorate. (Finland Ministry of Defence, 2007: 21).

The Nordics’ military and security policies highlight that they are taking a more passive approach to the Arctic circle, only Norway are taking a slightly more confrontational stance to the actions of Russia. The reasoning for this more confident approach to the Arctic issues is that most of the Nordic States are not so reliant upon natural fuel resources such as that of the North Americas and Russia. Their demands are relatively low, their populations minimal in comparison, and use of alternative energy sources are wide-ranged. Whilst they are similar in their emphasis on establishing sovereignty over their Arctic territory and proposed continental shelf (Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2009: 37), the need other than for export to other Western states is limited.

Analysing the policy that has been published, it can be extrapolated that the Nordics are developing policy to strengthen relations with other Western Arctic states as well as neighbouring institutions like the EU. This contributes detail of the securitisation of the Arctic, as well as following a liberal theory of cooperation and deeper economic ties. There has also been a creation of further dialogue between NATO members. All of these factors establish a concerted opposition to Russian actions. This can be exemplified through cooperation in military operations with other Western Arctic states, recognition of Western states’ military superiority (Finland’s Ministry of defence, 2007: 21) and analysing Nordic views of Russian actions, which were described as ‘Schizophrenic’ (Danish Foreign Policy Yearbook, 2009: 47).


NATO has diverted its attention to the Arctic in recent years. All the Arctic border countries bar Russia, are members of NATO therefore it is an important military institution that has a direct connection with the security issues of the Arctic. It has issued press releases in which members of its council state that they do not wish to have a new arms race over the Arctic (NATO review, Danish Defence minister, 2009), however from the policy analysed so far, it can been seen that a cause for an arms race has already begun (reminiscent of the arms race that occurred between Russia and the United States during the ‘Cold War’). As a military institution designed during the ‘Cold War’, initially as a way of protecting Western Europe and its in interests from Russian attack (Scott, 2008: 61) at the end of the ‘Cold War’ it lost its main objective for existence. The Arctic presents an opportunity to return to one of its initial objectives; its policies of militarisation have already begun.

NATO recommendations on the issues being raised are that of further cooperation between its members through a path of policy creation to protect themselves from aggressive Russian actions, and securing the national and strategic interests that its members and NATO are representing in the Arctic (Rideau Institute, 2009: 1). Russia has a deep mistrust of the West and especially NATO, consequently any actions that Russia carries out in the Arctic can be seen as a display of power, wishing to demonstrate that Russia will act both inside and outside of international treaties to establish its sovereignty over the Arctic (Zys, 2009: 106). NATO can be seen as using the issues that are arising from the Arctic as a new raison d’être; having the new-prescribed issues of the Arctic allows NATO to develop a whole new field of application for its security policy. The Arctic is still an inhospitable environment in the winter months, until the region becomes ice-free and hospitable through global warming. This establishes a long term objective to secure the Arctic, another reason for the continued existence of the institution, which includes an opponent NATO is well versed in (Russian NATO relationship is one-way traffic, 2010).

NATO is created through its members, four of which are Arctic states, because of this it has a vested  interest in the Arctic. NATO can use the Arctic as a raison d’être, a way of creating closer ties between Europe and the North Americas, a relationship that previously has been very one-sided as Western Europe was NATO’s main area of focus. Reviews of NATO policy show a cause for tensions in the region, their separate members’ foreign and domestic policy highlights an increased military presence in the region, and an increased distrust of Russian behaviour.  All of these issues combined, provide a viable bias for NATO’s continuation.


In the process of the essay I have established what is at stake within the Arctic circle. I have highlighted the states that have a vested interest within the region. How these states are securitising the Arctic circle to establish their claims of sovereignty was looked at in terms of legitimising their control over predicted vast natural resources that reside within the continental shelves of the Arctic. Following this, how these policies are using the actions of Russia as cause for an accelerated process of securitisation was examined. An observation of the whole scenario noted how this is grouping the Western states together against Russia in a scene similar to that of the original ‘Cold War’. Evidently the Western states have grouped together to protect their potential national interests, although the issue has proven to be more complex than this.

Although this essay has not been exhaustive, I have looked at the interests of other nations that do not directly border the Arctic Circle and have no sovereign jurisdiction over resources that are predicted to reside within the region, but still have shown how they want to use the development of the Arctic as a way of creating stronger relations with the Western states, and thus opposing the actions of Russia. This essay, however, has not analysed the other economically viable resources that reside within the Arctic Circle, all of which will play an intrinsic role within the development of infrastructure and relations both politically and economically between the Arctic states. The psychological issues surrounding Russian actions would also be interesting to explore. Whilst at the time of writing this essay no conflicts have arisen, there have been displays of power politics, and ‘a show’ as the Canadian government described the Arctic flag-planting. These actions must not be dismissed as posturing, as Russian power claims could be serious.

Whilst there are international treaties that are openly being broken by Russia (UNCLOS) it is easily observed how its Arctic neighbours will see this as a cause of distrust. Then, adding their own domestic and foreign policy into the calculation, there is an increasing trend of military presence which has been justified and exacerbated by securitisation of the Arctic, to establish each state’s sovereignty over the predicted resources within the Arctic. We have possibly witnessed the building blocks of a ‘Cold War’ on a new stage. This is easily seen through the North Americas’ and the Nordics’ policies, as well as military institutions such as NATO’s policies. They are grouping together through joint military exercises, and by cooperating on detailed examinations of the seafloor to establish with greater detail the outline of the Arctic. All of these policies are enacted to oppose the actions of Russia. It is likely that Russia will continue in an unpredictable fashion as its future development rides on enforcing its sovereignty over its proposed Arctic territory, and the predicted resources within. One interesting question that has arisen throughout the research for this essay is: what if there are no resources within the Arctic? What would be the consequences? The states are aware that geographical surveys have indicated that there may be limited resources within the Arctic. This demonstrates that the securitisation and politicisation are not utilised to assert national interest over natural resources but are predominantly tools for the expansion of territorial sovereignty and the desire for increased power and international dominance.



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Written by: Peter Dawkins
Written at: University of Sussex
Written for: Dr. Andrei Gomez
Date written: January/2011

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