The book under review has been edited by Rolf Tamnes and Kristine Offerdal, both affiliated with the IFS, the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, as professor and associate professor respectively. The contributions in the edited volume have been written by Norwegian researchers and ‘leading experts on Arctic affairs’.
The book, a part of Routledge's series on Global and Security Studies, is a geopolitical analysis as a response to the notion of some authors and journalists that the Arctic is becoming an arena of increasing tension where a ‘race for the Arctic’ would happen due to the estimated vast hydrocarbon resources. The hypothesis the authors are following is that despite the occurrence of some disputed issues, the Arctic is a region where the main state actors in the end have more common interests than conflicting ones, and thus rather end up cooperating than competing.
In their chapter, Rolf Tamnes and Sven G. Holtsmark remind the readers that interests of southerners in the Arctic have always been driven by the region's natural resources, while the states' geopolitical interests have been limited and international disputes have mainly been settled through bilateral or regional agreements or treaties. Even during the cold war a common understanding of key shared interests allowed peaceful coexistence of the states (page 36). From this viewpoint, the militarisation during the cold war was not isolated from global events and was not about disputing the region itself, whereas cooperation of the Arctic states is maybe best illustrated through the commitment to the United Nations convention on the law of the sea (LOSC). The authors of the chapter conclude that states were able to resolve conflicts by peaceful means and that the militarisation of the Arctic was about strategic use of space for military purpose rather than about having control over the area.
In his contribution, Alf Håkon Hoel elaborates on the legal political regime in the Arctic. He argues that through the large number of international agreements, the LOSC as a cornerstone, there exists a legal and political order dominated by state sovereignty and jurisdiction (page 49). The law of the sea establishes sovereign rights over the natural resources for the coastal states in their exclusive economic zone (EEZ), whereas there are yet no commercially relevant activities outside the EEZ. A special case are the waters surrounding the Svalbard archipelago, where Norway, which exercises full sovereignty over the archipelago, has opposing interpretations to other parties regarding the applications of the Svalbard treaty. Despite some incidents in the so called Fisheries Protection Zone (FPZ), according to the author the compliance of international actors has increased in recent years (page 60).
Kristine Offerdal's chapter is titled Interstate relations and it explores the complexities of Arctic politics. She particularly emphasises the role of the five Arctic littoral states as the main actors in Arctic geopolitics, who have strong shared interests in the region and few conflicting interests with other Arctic states and ‘newcomers’, such as the European Union or China (page 92). While so far the newcomers from outside the Arctic have been careful in not threatening the position of the Arctic states and Canada and Russia have been somewhat reluctant in welcoming the new actors, the interconnectedness of Arctic developments and international structures may lead to broader international cooperation (page 91). Offerdal concludes that unless major conflicts spill over to the Arctic, the international cooperation in the region favours stability and peace.
The fifth chapter, by Dag Harald Claes and Arild Moe, is about Arctic petroleum resources in a regional and global perspective. Along with international actors also the Arctic littoral states have stressed their interest in accessing the Arctic's hydrocarbon resources. Nonetheless the authors argue that despite estimates of vast hydrocarbon potentials, the widespread myths about a race for these resources are ‘wrong on all counts’ (page 117). There are no unclaimed lands of relevance and the states adhere to the LOSC regulations to determine their borders offshore. The amounts that can commercially be extracted are uncertain and the costs for exploitation are relatively high. The authors conclude that the development of the Arctic's resources will develop rather moderately and in areas closest to existing infrastructure. While there is little conflict between states, within the states conflicts emerge between regional and central governments, between petroleum and other economic sectors (for example fisheries), or about the environmental impact of hydrocarbon developments.
In the chapter International environmental governance and Arctic security, Olav Schram Stokke argues that international institutions regarding environmental governance can promote security objectives in the Arctic. He sees the LOSC as a vital part of the Arctic's security structure: as disputes over the management of natural resources may lead to violent conflicts, procedures to regulate access and utilisation to resources can lead to widely accepted regulations which enhance stability and peace. Even though opposing interpretations of the applications of the LOSC to the Svalbard treaty exist, the implementation of non-discriminatory measures over the waters surrounding the archipelago seem to have become widely accepted and decreased tension.
Paal Sigrud Hilde's chapter on Armed forces and security challenges in the Arctic approaches the question of ‘the race for the Arctic’ through a military perspective. The author elaborates that while the general interest of the Arctic five in the region has increased, no major military investments in the Arctic can be observed. Denmark's limited engagement is clearly aimed at societal security issues. This is also true for the US investments and Canada, despite the latter's strong verbal emphasise on sovereignty concerns. Russia has invested in the modernisation of the nuclear forces, but the author interprets this as a consequence of developing the Northern Sea Route. Norway is taking the degree of militarisation in northwest Russia serious, and shifted its military focus from land to the sea. The author nonetheless concludes that the Arctic witnesses a relatively low level of military presence and activities and that current and planned spending can be seen in the light of ensuring human and environmental safety.
In the last chapter the editors of the book conclude that the ‘Arctic is one of the least troubled parts of the world’ (page 167). While in various issues the Arctic states have different allies, disputed issues are nonetheless generally settled peacefully, in cooperation, and in line with the international legal system. The editors recommend to better look at the Arctic as a region of subregions than as a homogeneous political theatre (page 170). While the states do have important national interests in the Arctic, these are primarily at a sub-regional level, on land, and in adjacent waters. The Arctic states have more shared interests than conflicting interests and find pragmatic solutions to disputed issues which can be solved within existing robust regimes and institutions. Consequently, the authors argue that the main threats to peace and security in the Arctic are not connected to Arctic issues but are rather coming from outside: in this context, internal developments within Russia are seen as one uncertainty. The Arctic cannot be seen isolated from global structural and political shifts and thus a tenser political situation elsewhere may spill over to the Arctic.
As a whole, the book offers a geopolitical analysis in the ‘realist strand’ of international relations, concentrating on military threats and capabilities. It strongly focuses on the very narrow understanding of security according to the traditional, state-centred security concept, and leaves out other concepts of security, such as individual – or human – security. This focus is laid out by the authors as a conscious choice made in order to strengthen their argument; however, the relevance of other security aspects is not denied, either. Furthermore, while the book covers the whole Arctic it mainly focuses on the European part as the authors argue that they foresee more activities in the European north since it is more accessible; that Russia deserves special attention (Russia is often referred to as a ‘wild card’ in the book); and due to the fact that the authors primarily have their expertise on Norwegian and Russian foreign and security policies.
Due to its limited scope, an interested reader should not expect to find a holistic geopolitical or security analysis of the Arctic which covers a comprehensive security concept or addressing domestic issues. For scholars of Arctic geopolitics the book may not introduce innovative concepts or ideas, but rather delivers a well assembled compendium that promotes the Arctic as a relatively stable and peaceful political arena. Due to the state-centric focus on the traditional security concept, there is little analysis on challenges to the Arctic's inhabitants or the region's indigenous populations. Moreover, the book has a strong focus on the Arctic five and leaves only limited analyses of other Arctic specific international governmental institutions such as the Arctic Council. However, the editors do not deny this institution's significance for policy shaping or its relevance within a comprehensive security discourse.
Leaving aside the limited scope and narrow frame the authors decided to focus on, the book does give a clear answer to its research question and delivers conclusive arguments for proving the authors' hypothesis. Moreover, the book is well structured and the various chapters are particularly well coordinated; while naturally the different chapters overlap, they are not repetitive in arguments or contents.