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Research Topics

Actors and patterns of cooperation and conflict
Russia, Norway and the High North - Past, Present, Future
The United States in the 21 Century Arctic
Defining an Interest: The European Union and the High North
The Power of Energy
Law of the Sea and Ocean Governance
Climate Change and Environmental Protection

Arctic panels on ISA convention

Geopolitics in the High North researchers contributed to two panels on the Arctic at  the ISA 2012 convention in San Diego. See abstracs from the papers here.

17.04 2012


The first panel, Comparing Arctic Strategies: The Sources of National Policies for the High North, was led by Øystein Tunsjø (IFS) and Marlene Laruelle.


Linda Jakobsen (Lowi Institute): China and the Arctic: Cautious but Determined
Kristofer Bergh (SIPRI) : The Domestic Drivers for Canadian Arctic Policy
Katarzyna Zysk (IFS): Domestic Drivers of Russia's Arctic Policies
Neil Melvin (SIPRI): Russia's Arctic Strategy in the Context of its Eurasian Security Policie


With the melting of the Arctic ice, a variety of regional and international actors would like to strengthen their engagement in the region through unilateral, bilateral and multilateral links. To date much of the work the emerging international dynamics in the Arctic has focused on geopolitical or liberal institutionalist accounts of the behaviour of the various actors. Resource opportunities are seen to be driving increased interest, for example, while shared norms about the special character of the region are promoting cooperation, notably through the development of the Arctic Council as a multilateral forum. The panel aimed to introduce a further dimension to understanding Arctic engagements through a comparative examination of the national processes of interest and policy construction focused on the Arctic. The focus of the papers was upon the ways in which the national approaches to the Arctic from the countries of North America, Norway, China, and Russia have emerged in recent years as a result of the interaction of national actors, interests and ideas. The panel was designed to begin to develop a framework for comparing national dynamics with a view to understanding better the nature and trajectories of interstate interactions over Arctic issues.


The second panel, Interstate relations in the Arctic, was chaired by Oran Young.

Tuchtenhagen: The Northern Sea Route: Global Communication and National Interests in the Arctic
Øystein Tunsjø and Ingrid Lundestad (IFS): The United States and China in the Arctic
Kristian Åtland (FFI): Overcoming the Arctic Security Dilemma
Franklyn Griffiths: Trilateral Agreement on Arctic Passage Management


The purpose of this panel, comprising scholars from Norway, Canada, and the U.S., was to shed light on the dynamics of interstate relations in the northernmost part of the globe. The effects of global climate change on the physical environment of this region are already very much in evidence. The retreat of the polar ice cap is opening previously inaccessible parts of the Arctic to resource extraction and marine transportation. Due to increasing water temperatures, commercially important fish stocks are migrating northwards. Technologies are being developed for the utilization of oil and gas resources on the Arctic continental shelf. Ice conditions on the northern coasts of Russia and Canada may at some point allow for near year-round shipping through the Northeast and Northwest Passages. As a result of these developments, the Arctic is emerging as a region of major significance to Arctic as well as non-Arctic nations. In the coming decades, the Arctic rim states may be facing a number of security, management, and governance challenges related to the expected increase in human activity and third-party interest in the region. The panel discussed various aspects of this topic as well as the long-term conflict and cooperation potential in region.



Øystein Tunsjø and Ingrid Lundestad (IFS): The United States and China in the Arctic

For some time, the United States has been the dominant power in world affairs. But other great powers are re-emerging, and geopolitical and geo-economic shifts contribute to a more Asia-centered world. China is currently the only great power recognized as capable of challenging U.S. dominance. Much has been written about these important developments in international politics. This paper, however, seeks to address the issue of geopolitics, the United States and China in a new setting. First, the paper explores the geopolitical shifts in the Arctic, which strategically bring Europe and the East Coast of North America closer to Asia. Then, it aims to compare and contrast American and Chinese interest in the Arctic. Examining inter-state relations in the Arctic by focusing on two leading great powers, one with a longstanding role in the region and the other as a newcomer seeking influence, highlights the potential for cooperation, stability and rivalry in the Arctic. Such analysis brings additional understanding of great power interest in the Arctic and new perspectives to what many describes as the most important bilateral relationship in the world.

The paper concludes that the Arctic policies and activities of the United States and China are present in parallel, with little regional interaction. While they play different roles in the region, there are common interests, such as in the freedom of the sea. Both see more urgent situations in other parts of the world. The changes in the Arctic entail prospects for cooperation, partly due to a lack of infrastructure in a challenging environment. The paper argues that there is good reason to believe that the states involved see an interest in a stable region, reflected in the current support for the existing legal and diplomatic frameworks.


Kristian Åtland (FFI): Overcoming the Arctic Security Dilemma

Drawing on the available literature on “the security dilemma”, this paper seeks to shed light on interstate security relations in the Arctic. In recent years, most, if not all, of the Arctic coastal states (Russia, Canada, the U.S., Denmark, and Norway) have taken steps to protect their economic and national security interests in the Arctic. This has led to a modest but notable increase in the level of military activity in the northern areas – at sea, in the air, and on land. As in other parts of the world, one state’s military efforts to enhance its security may have the unfortunate, and often unintended and unforeseen, effect of making others feel less secure. Under some scenarios, such efforts may even set off military counter-moves by one or more other states. This paper explores the role of fear and security concerns in Arctic interstate relations and discusses possible ways to overcome what may be described as an “Arctic security dilemma”. Central in this regard are the actors’ ability and willingness to understand the motives of other actors and the complexity of the challenges at hand, including the presence of “action-reaction” dynamics in the military field.



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