The Geopolitics Of A Changing Arctic

The Arctic is experiencing drastic changes. Along with these changes are greater challenges to face.

The Arctic region is experiencing drastic changes in its physical, social, geo-economic, and geopolitical realities.

The challenges arising from these changes are discussed in-depth in Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) background paper, The Geopolitics Of A Changing Arctic published December 2019. Let’s look at the main points.

Unprecedented changes

Climate change is at the centre of all the changes occurring in the Arctic. The rise in global temperatures is thawing out significant portions of the region. This is causing disruptions in biodiversity, food security, access to water, and health.

The extreme weather patterns also render the Arctic vulnerable to forest fires. In 2018, flames ravaged the forests of Sweden. With disaster response geared towards extreme cold in the region, it is easy to see how this may be a problem.

With Arctic territories now being stripped off of their ice covers, issues on territorial claims have been reopened once more due to the rise of new economic opportunities for the extractive industry.

Increasing tensions

Apart from climate change, the increasing military presence in the Arctic for military exercises is also threatening environmental security as well as the indigenous communities living in the region.

Russia’s increasing pressure along with China’s economic interests in the region are truly unsettling developments for the Arctic states. Against the backdrop of the Russia-China-U.S. competition, it is not a stretch to consider the possibility of these tensions spilling over into the Arctic.

Way forward

For the longest time, the Arctic had been a region assumed to be safe from geopolitical turmoil. However, with all the drastic shifts happening in the environment and politics in and out of the region, this assumption simply cannot hold anymore. This situation calls for an elevated cooperation among Arctic stakeholders.

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In this respect, SIPRI provided five key recommendations:

  • Establish a platform for discussing Arctic military security. With the increasing tensions, it is an imperative to revive platforms for military-to-military contact to avoid aggravating issues of concern any further.
  • Increase cooperation on safety issues. Issues such as search and rescue, and disaster response require cross-border cooperation. Apart from keeping the Arctic safe, this is also an effective way to rejuvenate trust.
  • Include indigenous voices in discussions. Apart from dialogues, indigenous communities should also be represented and listened to when it comes to the discussions on Arctic security. Their input is vital since they possess unique knowledge, being inhabitants of the region.
  • Enhance people-to-people contact. Sustaining and enhancing people-to-people contact is another method to build trust.  Continued support for initiatives like the Barents Youth Council and Arctic Frontiers Emerging Leaders and encouraging youth involvement are only some of the steps that can be taken to make this happen.
  • Initiate multidisciplinary research. The treatment of the issues in Arctic security has often been siloed. However, it is important to recognise the interconnectedness of these issues to better understand how they can be solved. Involving new actors, expanding research, and addressing knowledge gaps are important in the formation of mitigation strategies.

If you want to read more on the changes and issues currently being experienced in the Arctic, you can read SIPRI’s paper.

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