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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

Actors and patterns of cooperation and conflict

Actors and patterns of cooperation and conflict  is one of the eight work packages in this reseach programme. This work package will identify the various actors in the High North and analyse the interplay between them. States, particularly the traditional great powers, will play a key role in the region.

However, local and regional authorities, NGOs promoting environmental protection, as well as indigenous populations, have their own agendas. Commercial interests will grow dramatically in importance. These include large energy companies, many with state ownership, fishing interests, shipping companies and tourist business. The complex interplay among all these actors will have decisive impact on the geopolitics of the High North in the decades to come.

The "Actors and patterns of cooperation and conflict" work package is envisaged as having an over-arching character, covering the entire project period, and it will draw extensively on the findings from the other work packages.

The following research problems will be covered:


  • Which actors are the most important in the High North? What are the main interests and the impact of the various actors? 
  • How and where do the interests of various actors clash, giving rise to conflict or rivalry? To what degree are there perceived common interests among important actors? What alliances or common understandings exist between them?
  • How can the complex web of interests be managed through cooperation, dialogue and negotiation, so that constructive and mutually acceptable compromises can be reached?


There is a number fo unsolved issues in the High North which will be more pressing in the near future, as economic activities expand. For example, thre are eight bilateral boundary issues involving all states in the region. Of particular importance to Norway are the issues of the marine delimitation line between Russia and norway and the disareement on various aspects of the Svalbard Treaty. Moreover, the northernmost extension of the continental shelves in the Arctic is not yet decided. 

States, particular the traditional great powers, will play a key role in the region. However, local and reigonal authorities, NGOs promoting environmental protection, as wella s indigenous populations, have their own agenas. Commercial interests will grow dramatically in importance. These include large energy companies, many with states ownership, fishing insterests, shipping companies and tourist business. The complex interplay among all these actors will have decisive impact on the geopolitics of the High North in the decades to come.  



Participating researchers in this work package:



For more information on the participants and their contact details - see "About us" in the main menu.



Relevant links - cooperation and conflict:






In order to secure intellectual coherence in the programme, the programme leader has produced a list of general definitions and questions that the participants should keep in mind when developing and writing their more spedific research projects. It is not required taht all projects explicitly address these questions. However, the overall purpose should be taken into acount in the design of research, including selection of topics and choice of theory and methodology. It rests with the programme leader and the work package leaders in particular to ensure that the following points are kept in mind and illuminated: 

Definitions of terms that we like all programme participants to apply in their research to the degree possible. these definitons should be regarded as starting points, and the programme participants should have in mind both the dynamic character and the practioners' usage of the terms.


  • Geopolitics reflects the connection between power, interests and geographical space. In this programme, it denotes in partiular the interplay of natural resources, strategic dominance and geographic space on the one hand, and the various state and non-state actors pursuing individual as well as collective interests on the other.
  • The High North is confined to the European Arctic areas. It includes those parts of the Noric countries and Russia that participate in the Barnets Euro-Atlantic Region, the Norwegian Sea, the Barents Sea dn the southern parts of the Arctic Ocean.
  • The Arctic is the totality of the areas north of the polar circle (the circumpolar Arctic)



  • How can your research contribute to an assessment of the geopolitical significance ofthe region in the 21st century, to a precise description of the geopolitical constellation in the region, and to an understanding of the dynamics of change in the geopolitical situation of the region?
  • What assumptions have you made about global developments and their impact in the region in the relevant time horizon?
  • Who are the most important actors, and what are their agendas and interests in the region that are relevant to the scope of your work? Which historical experiences and other factors drive their intersts, and which interests drive their policies?
  • How will your research illuminate existing and potential areas of conflict and cooperation in the region?
  • How can existing or alternative models of governance, including existing  institutions and frameworks of international law or regulations, contribute to coping with the challenges in the region?
  • How will your research highlight elements of continuity and change?
  • What implications do your research findings have for Norway, for Norweigan interests and for future Norweigan policy options in the region?
  • How does your research relate to the other reserach areas in the programme?





Arctic Council ministerial meeting, April 2009

The Ottawa Declaration of 1996 formally established the Arctic Council as a high level intergovernmental forum to provide a means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, with the involvement of the Arctic Indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

Member States of the Arctic Council are Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States of America.

On 29 April ministers and representatives of Arctic Council members met in Tromsø, Norway for the biannual ministerial meeting. More delegates, observers and guests than ever attended an Arctic Council meeting.  The main item on the agenda was climate change.

The meeting marked the end of the Norwegian chairmanship of the Arctic Council, and for the next two years Denmark will chair the forum. The main item on the agenda was climate change. Climate change was also discussed at a conference on ice melting hosted by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Al Gore, and Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, in Tromsø the day before the ministerial.  The ice melting conference and the ministerial received great international interest. More delegates, observers and guests than ever attended an Arctic Council meeting.   

The meeting resulted in recommendations linked to issues such as search and rescue, infrastructure projects, IMO’s guidelines for ships operating in Arctic ice-covered waters and support of mandatory regulations on safety and environmental protection for Arctic waters; non-CO2 drivers of climate change, and advice on principles for ecosystems-based ocean management.  

The Council also received final reports with recommendations from several projects on climate change, the International Polar Year, the Arctic marine environment and shipping, human health and human development, energy, contaminants and biodiversity. 

Finally, applications from China, South Korea, Italy and the European Union to obtain permanent observer status to the Council were discussed, but no consensus was reached, leading to the conclusion that the topic needs further consideration. A decision on this was therefore put on hold until the next ministerial meeting.

See also the Norwegian Government’s High North portal (in Norwegian) 


Some preliminary conclusions from programme research (January 2011) 

Recent programme publications have reinforced the findings from 2009 that the actors’ common interest in maintaining regional stability, for several pragmatic reasons, provides a counterbalance to potential sources of conflict. In this the programme has achieved a coherent profile which stands in contrast to some media coverage, and some policy oriented and scholarly analyses. Programme findings confirm that major actors demonstrate strong support for the legal and institutional framework of High North and Arctic governance. While Arctic stakeholders sometimes and quite naturally have competing interests, cooperation rather than competition dominates the Arctic policy agenda. Analyses undertaken in the programme of the evolution of relevant policy documents, unequivocally indicates this. It is also evident in implemented policies, where cooperation prevails among the Arctic littoral states in e.g. such a potentially sensitive issue as mapping the continental shelf. The clearest example is, however, the border delimitation agreement signed between Russia and Norway in the Barents and Polar Seas. The agreement divides in fair terms for both parties a region that in petroleum terms is one of the most prospective, and thus theoretically most conflict prone in the Arctic.

The research so far indicates that, overall, the interests various state (and non-state) actors were perceived to have in the region within various issue areas, are not as significant as originally anticipated. This preliminary conclusion thus contrasts with the image presented by some analysts and media that cover Arctic and High North issues. The oil and gas industry, to take a non-state actor example, is clearly less aggressive in its pursuit of Arctic resources than what is assumed in the ‘resource race literature’.

Russia is in terms of geographic size and presence the biggest stakeholder in the Arctic, and is often perceived to be the “wild card” in Arctic affairs. The border agreement with Norway indicates, however, that also Russia is fundamentally interested in stability and peaceful development in the region. That said, WP 2 research finds a high degree of permanence in Russian strategic culture and in Russia’s basic understanding of the role of the High North and Arctic in Russia’s strategic posture, inter alia as a key area for the deployment of the country’s nuclear arsenal.

In the United States, the Arctic does to some degree appear on the policy agenda. The US Navy seems to be the state institution outside the intelligence community that takes the greatest interest. In terms of overall attention, however, other parts of the world are, not surprisingly, perceived in Washington as being strategically far more important.

The European Union shows an interest in developing a policy for the Arctic. Partly due to internal institutional constraints, however, the EU has so far been unable to develop policies on specific Arctic issues, such as energy.

There are many platforms on which cooperation on Arctic affairs develops, ranging from the interregional (e.g. the Barents cooperation) to the global (e.g. Arctic related work in the International Maritime Organisation, IMO). The Arctic Council is by most stakeholders seen at the single most important pan-Arctic forum. This is evinced amongst other in the emphasis put by the EU and China on gaining permanent observer status. Given that its decisions are non-binding, it is hard to conceive that the Council will play a direct role in Arctic governance. That said, the Council is well equipped to build the knowledge that typically underlies regulatory strengthening and to facilitate the development of cooperation on specific areas, such as search and rescue.

Relating the preliminary findings to the programme matrix, we observe that the overall geopolitical significance of the High North may be more open to discussion than suggested in the original programme outline and commonly perceived by many observers. There is little doubt that there is a growing interest in the region, but programme research indicates that the geopolitical significance of the Arctic is unlikely to become high in the short to medium term. To some extent, there might be negative repercussions of this lack of strong interest: Interest in the region may turn out to be so low that states will lack the sense of urgency needed in developing governance mechanism and other forms of practical cooperation. In the long term the picture is obviously more uncertain. We cannot exclude the possibility that developments such as climate change and ice melting will lead to increased activity and interests in the region and hence change the geopolitical dynamics. At the sane time however, there may be other factors working in the opposite direction (such as for example developments in the gas markets), blurring the long-term analyses.

These preliminary conclusions have clear implications for Norway as a small state with significant interests in the High North and the Arctic. On the one hand, they confirm the soundness of the basic premises of Norway’s traditional approach to the High North. Throughout the period after the Second World War, Norway has sought stability in the High North by fostering dialogue and cooperation with Russia. At the same time, Norway has sought security and support in close cooperation with NATO allies in general, and the USA in particular. This balancing act has been the premise of Norwegian High North policy also in latter years.

As the research so far indicates, prospects for further developing the cooperation and dialogue line is good. Norway’s approach is and should be on multi-level cooperation and governance. For example: While the Russo-Norwegian bilateral cooperation is still clearly the most practical, core framework for managing fish stocks in the Barents Sea, the likely most effective means for regulating shipping in the Arctic, is through making the IMO Polar Code mandatory.

Research also shows that Norway has had notable success in contributing to a strengthened attention to “in-area” in NATO, thus also those Norway faces in the High North. However, it may also be concluded that while there has been some specific attention to the High North and the Arctic in NATO, Washington and other capitals and institutions, the Arctic can hardly be seen as hot in international policy terms.

This brings a final conclusion, which is that a certain degree of ‘alarmism’ may be necessary for a continued international focus on the Arctic and High North, as indicated above in terms of momentum for building i.a. a governance framework. To Norway this presents a dilemma. Norway has actively sought to emphasise the message of “High North, Low Tension”. Norway’s ambitions to put the region on the international agenda and thus achieve other Norwegian aims may, however, be difficult to achieve if ‘alarmist’ attitudes disappear entirely.





2009: Six ambassadors of NATO-member countries went on a study trip in northern Norway after the NATO Parliamentary Assembly session in Oslo 

After the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Oslo, the Norwegian Ambassador to NATO, Kim Traavik, invited five of his fellow ambassadors on a study trip to Northern Norway. It was the German Ambassador Ulrich Brandenburg, the Rumanian Ambassador Sorin Ducaru, the British Ambassador Stewart Eldon, the Estonian Ambassador Jüri Luik and the Danish ambassador Per Poulsen-Hansen.

The study trip started with a visit at the Norwegian Foreign Ministers Jonas Gahr Støre’s office. At the Parliamentary congress Mr. Støre emphasised the importance of NATO attention on the security issues of the High Norht. Mr. Støre believes that the biggest challenges in the north will be issues concerning climate, energy and security at sea. In Kirkenes the ambassadors were told about the good results of Norwegian-Russian cooperation projects.


©2014-2017 Geopolitics in the High North. All rights reserved

Norwegian Institute for defence Studies CSIS Fritjof Nansen Institute Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik University of Tromsø Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of the MFA of Russia University of Oslo Institute of general history Norwegian Defence Research Establishment Econ Pöyry
  The GeoPolitics in the High North research programme is now terminated, and the programme website will be preserved through 2016, but not updated.
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