Barry Scott Zellen, ed. The Fast-Changing Arctic: Rethinking Arctic Security for a Warmer World. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2013. xi + 395 pp. $41.95 (paper), ISBN 978-1-55238-646-0.
Reviewed by Valur Ingimundarson (University of Iceland)
Published on H-Diplo (March, 2014)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach
Geostrategic Visions for the Arctic
The global interest in the Arctic--accentuated by media spectacles about its lucrative potential or as a site of future conflict--has been reflected in the growth of scholarly output on the topic. To be sure, interventions of neorealist scholars following the Russian North Pole flag planting in 2007 have been replaced by narratives on neoliberal regional cooperation. To counter the political rhetoric and posturing--captured in the phrase “The Scramble for the Arctic”--politicians have resorted to such catchphrases as “High North, Low Tension” or ritualistic references to Mikhail Gorbachev’s “Arctic Zone of Peace” speech in the waning days of the Cold War. There is, however, incremental securitization currently taking place in the Arctic, even if it is not about projecting power over the region as a whole but more about policing sovereign territories and territorial waters. And for this reason, there is a need to put the security and military dimensions of state-centered activities within the context of the region’s social, economic, and ecological developments.
The Fast-Changing Arctic: Rethinking Arctic Security for a Warmer World seeks to address the strategic consequences of climate change and ice melting by looking “pragmatically” at what it claims to be largely missing in the scholarly literature--namely, “the military, defense, strategic and macro-economic opportunities associated with the polar thaw” (back cover). While this claim is contestable, the choice to focus on Arctic geostrategic issues is welcome. Edited by Barry Scott Zellen, who has written extensively on Arctic geopolitics, the book contains contributions from established and junior scholars as well as military and coast guard professionals. The interventions vary in quality, depth, and ambition. Some are scholarly and well documented, while others are semi-scholarly, with limited references to the specialized literature. But together, they deal with a wide array of Arctic topics, such as military and defense, governance and regional management, Arctic strategies, environmental politics, maritime and shipping developments, and sovereignty and legal concerns.
The Fast-Changing Arctic is a fitting book title, which captures the indeterminacy of an “incomplete” region. It also points to the work’s shortcoming: that its content has, in some cases, been overtaken by events. The book came out in 2013, but most of the contributions are either reprints or based on articles published elsewhere in 2010-11. Since minimal effort has been invested into updating them, some material is already dated. It would have made the work more topical, if key political issues that were on the agenda in 2012 had been given more weight. Such issues included the political jockeying surrounding the applications by non-Arctic states and organizations for observership in the Arctic Council and the growing interest of Asian states, notably China, and bodies, such as the European Union, in Arctic governance, shipping, and natural resource development.
The book is divided into three themes with sixteen chapters, together with a preface and afterword. Zellen and Lawson W. Brigham, a renowned specialist on maritime issues, write three contributions each. Under the first theme entitled “Arctic Climate Change: Strategic Challenges and Opportunities,” there are four chapters. Brigham analyzes increased maritime links between Asia and the Russian Arctic; search and rescue issues; regulations of ship traffic in Arctic waters; and what he sees as the need for more U.S. Coast Guard involvement in U.S. government bodies engaged in Arctic affairs. Alun Anderson discusses potential natural resource exploitation and Arctic governance issues. While he stresses cooperation among Arctic states, he points to problems, such as the limited mandate of the Arctic Council; the need to address the concerns for stakeholders, notably, the Arctic indigenous peoples; and the friction between the five Arctic littoral states (Canada, Russia, the United States, Norway, and Denmark on behalf of Greenland)--or the Arctic Five--and the three other Arctic states (Iceland, Sweden, and Finland). Lassi Kalevi Heininen recounts the development of environmental politics since the 1960s and ties it to the influence of non-state environmental actors in the Arctic and to a discussion of climate change, concerns about fish stocks and fisheries, and the danger of radioactive pollution and nuclear accidents. Finally, Daniel Clausen and Michael Clausen examine the relationship between the environment, on the one hand, and security and conflict, on the other, by discussing various theoretical and methodological approaches.
The second theme of the book, “Cooperation and Conflict: Paths Forward,” also includes four chapters. Ian G. Brosnan, Thomas M. Leschine, and Edward L. Miles focus on the Arctic strategies of the Arctic Five, stressing what they have in common: sovereignty concerns, resource development, environmental protection, and governance. They also argue that mutual interests favor avenues for cooperation rather than conflict in the Arctic. Nong Hong discusses legal issues with respect to natural resources, notably, claims by the Arctic Five for an Extended Continental Shelf in the Arctic Ocean and the role of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). In addition, Hong explores Asian interest in Arctic gas and oil extraction, contending that the energy sector offers opportunity for regional cooperation.
James Manicom draws comparative insights from East Asian coastal states with overlapping maritime claims to offer normative judgments on how Arctic states could solve maritime disputes through confidence-building measures, such as coast guard cooperation. The conclusion is that East Asian states have been able to pursue cooperation over contested resource-rich territories and that the presence of hydrocarbon resources is not necessarily a recipe for conflict. Henrik Jedig Jørgensen focuses on the Arctic Five and their common interest in abiding by a regulatory framework in the field of security and other domains. Stressing the weakness of the Arctic Council when it comes to security and governance, he pleads for more cooperation between the Arctic Five. He realizes that this forum lacks legitimacy and is mindful of the skepticism voiced by the United States of expanding its formal cooperation because of the resistance of Arctic indigenous peoples and the three other Arctic states. But if the Arctic Council fails to develop real institutional capacity, he argues, a closer Arctic Five cooperation, including formal agreements and an operational mandate, is preferable to bilateral arrangements.
The third theme on Arctic regional perspectives includes six contributions. Apart from one European perspective, five focus on the United States, Canada, and Russia and their interrelationships. Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen discusses the security and sovereignty challenges faced by Iceland as a microstate and Greenland and the Faroe Islands as self-governing micro societies within the Danish Kingdom by comparing their structural makeup and conditions, with references to their small populations, environmental factors, natural resources, and public administrations. What they have in common is the possession of large strategically important air and sea space in the North, but minimal absolute resources. The question is how to overcome this obstacle through what Bertelsen terms smart solutions designed to exercise sovereignty; contribute to international security; and offer societal protection from such threats as organized crime, illegal trafficking, and terrorism. Rob Huebert analyzes U.S. Arctic strategy and the growing interest of the United States in the region, especially through Alaska; in addition, he puts U.S. policy within the context of resource politics, the relationship with Canada, and the historical development of the Arctic Council. He argues that more Arctic engagement is needed on the part of the United States based on multilateralism and ratification of UNCLOS, not on unilateralist actions.
Zellen analyzes the U.S. military regional commands in Arctic areas, that is, the Northern Command (NORTHCOM), Pacific Command (PACOM), and European Command (EUCOM) areas. He asserts that EUCOM should, in the future, be responsible for Arctic defense since the potential threat does not emanate from China, whose interests in the region are largely economic in nature, but from Russia. As he puts it: “Proximity to an awakening Russian bear, and experience in taming its more aggressive instincts, will be an important key to a secure and peaceful North” (p. 244). An important part of such Western regional defenses--he maintains--has historically been through close ties to Greenland and Iceland. P. Whitney Lackenbauer compares official Canadian and Russian Arctic discourses. His point is that as critical Canadians are of Russia’s rhetoric and actions in the Arctic, Canada is actually mirroring Russian behavior. Indeed, politicians in both countries use enemy stereotyping and sovereignty discourses to justify investments in military defense. Yet he concludes that sovereignty and security as well as cooperation and competition are compatible in the circumpolar world. It is shared interests in, and commitments to, international law that will prevail over bellicose nationalist rhetoric.
Katarzyna Zysk analyzes Russia’s Arctic strategy with emphasis on such factors as natural resources, territorial sovereignty, military activities, and legal positions. While stressing the importance of the Arctic in Russia’s foreign and domestic policies, she argues that Russia’s vocal rhetoric and actions, such as the North Pole flag planting episode, have not necessarily promoted its interests. Yet, given the high economic stake, she believes that the military strategic importance of the Arctic for Russia will continue to be high. Brigham discusses the importance of the Northern Sea Route for Russia’s goal of linking its Arctic region economically to the rest of the globe. In addition, he examines plans to develop Murmansk as an oil, gas, and container port as well as a transshipment hub for the entire Russian Arctic. Caitlyn Antrim explores and compares U.S. and Russian Arctic strategies. In addition, she describes Russian-American interactions in the Arctic and places them within a cooperative bilateral framework--or what was dubbed “reset” by the Barack Obama administration in its first term. She argues that both countries, which she describes as “natural geopolitical leaders in the region” (p. 334), share interests in the areas of security and sovereignty, sustainable development, the environment, and international and regional cooperation.
The book ends with a concluding section, containing two contributions. In his treatment of future Arctic developments, Zellen conjures Cold War utopian and dystopian visions for the Arctic. He argues that an “Arctic Spring” has the potential to transform the Arctic Basin “much like the Prague Spring promised to open up and integrate Czechoslovakia with the West” (p. 343). The hope it expressed, he continues--while temporarily crushed in 1968--was realized with the Velvet Revolution of 1989. In addition, he stresses the empowerment of Arctic indigenous peoples and sees an independent Greenland as a real possibility. In an afterword, Brigham seeks to clarify key issues and dispel some myths about the Arctic. While the region is rich in natural resources, he does not see any Arctic Gold Rush taking place in the region. He also warns against too optimistic scenarios for transarctic shipping, pointing out that there are no predictions of an all-year ice-free Arctic Ocean. Finally, he claims that conflict is by no means inevitable in the Arctic given the intertwined interests of stakeholders. It is a clear-headed and convincing conclusion.
As this summary shows, the book offers insights into diverse geostrategic aspects of the Arctic. It does not add much to the existing scholarly literature and has only modest value for the specialist. But it serves as a useful introduction to a non-specialized general and student readership. It may be argued that the work focuses too much on the United States, Russia, and Canada and too little on European and Asian perspectives. Another weakness is that some contributions are colored by too much advocacy and a report-like tendency to “call for action” and to make exhortations to policymakers, especially U.S. ones, on Arctic issues--whether it involves more U.S. Coast Guard representation on the U.S. Arctic Council delegation (Brigham), a military security role for EUCOM in the Arctic (Zellen), or a plea for more U.S. multilateral engagement on Arctic issues (Huebert). This U.S.-centric agenda comes across as the ideological subtext of the book.
Finally, as noted, some of the contributions are outdated. A chapter focusing on the “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations is, thus, hard to reconcile with the current state in the bilateral relationship, even if tensions have not spilled over into Arctic issues. Similarly, the main conclusion of a chapter on the lessons of maritime dispute in the East China Sea for Arctic legal developments (a most interesting subject)--which stresses cooperation rather than conflict--is at odds with the current saber rattling, notably, between China and Japan. It is, of course, difficult to foresee “fast-changing” geopolitical developments, but in both cases, signs of trouble were discernible earlier. Moreover, the contributions contain overlapping accounts and repetitions, involving, for example, U.S. and Russian Arctic strategies. In general, the book would have benefitted from more rigorous editing work on the reproduced texts.
With so many contributors, it is not surprising that the book contains factual errors. While there is no need to dwell on them here, a few should be mentioned. It is wrongly claimed that the U.S. government extended its defense parameter to Greenland “on behalf of the Danish government in exile” in 1941 (p. 232). The Danish government and king remained in the country after the 1940 German occupation; it was the Danish ambassador in Washington DC, Henrik Kauffmann, who signed the defense treaty with the United States on his own initiative and without governmental or royal authorization. Moreover, it is stated that 87 percent of Greenlanders voted in favor of increased self-government in 2008 (p. 27); the correct figure is 75.5 percent (the right number is quoted in a separate chapter, p. 364). Finally, it is misstated that a Threat Assessment Commission established by the Icelandic government in 2007 was “inactive and did not produce any report” (p. 169); it was active and released its report in 2009.
These flaws do not, on the whole, overshadow the informational value of the book. Most authors argue that Arctic stakeholders share an interest in maintaining cooperation for the sake of regional stability. In fact, the editor--who is steeped in a realist tradition--is the only contributor prepared to project Manichean Cold War schemes onto the Arctic in his assessment of future strategic developments. Sometimes, he goes way too far in his analogies--the discourse on the “Arctic Spring” and the “Prague Spring” is a case in point. But he is also willing to contemplate other cooperative scenarios and transformative and empowering possibilities for the Arctic indigenous peoples. Thus, despite the hyperbolic language, the Arctic is, in the end, not seen as a geostrategic fixture, as was the case during the Cold War, but as a region open to different interpretations and outcomes, including emancipatory potentials.
. Siemon T. Wezeman, “Military Capabilities in the Arctic” (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute background paper, March 2012), http://books.sipri.org/product_info?c_product_id=442.
. See, for example, James Kraska, Arctic Security in an Age of Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
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Valur Ingimundarson. Review of Zellen, Barry Scott, ed., The Fast-Changing Arctic: Rethinking Arctic Security for a Warmer World.
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