Linda Jakobson, Neil Melvin, eds. The New Arctic Governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016. 192 pp. $60.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-19-874733-8.
Reviewed by Douglas C. Nord (Umeå University)
Published on H-Diplo (October, 2016)
Commissioned by Seth Offenbach
This slim volume from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) provides a very good overview of some of the challenges and opportunities associated with governance efforts in what the editors of the book note is a new Arctic region. Linda Jakobson and Neil Melvin along with their fellow authors offer useful analysis of how such governance undertakings have come into existence in the Far North. They also provide pertinent consideration of some of the barriers that still need to be surmounted if a system of cooperative international relations on the top of the world is to be maintained. The book is a welcomed addition to a growing literature on the contemporary Arctic and its current challenges and opportunities.
While the issue of governance is the central concern of the volume, it is clearly noted in its introduction that the book “does not aim to provide a comprehensive review of government structures and institutions.” Instead it chooses to “(a) illustrate the central aspects of Arctic governance, (b) identify trends within it, and (c) highlight the key dynamics and actors that affect governance in the region” (p. 2). It endeavors to do this by offering answers to four interlinked questions which provide the analytical framework for this SIPRI report. The questions posed are: What constitutes the current form of Arctic governance? What explains the emergence of this form of governance in the Arctic? What are the future challenges to Arctic governance? Does the experience of building multilateral, cooperative and peaceful governance in the Arctic offer lessons to other parts of the world? Each of the subsequent chapters within the volume seeks to address one or more of these questions.
Still another major interest of The New Arctic Governance is the issue of security and its applicability to an Arctic setting. In several of its chapters—most prominently within Allison Bailes’s contribution—various dimensions of the security issue are considered with regard to their impact on the forms of governance that are emerging in the region. The consequences of both hard and soft security concerns and perspectives are examined to some extent. This multidimensional security calculus becomes another framing tool for the book’s consideration of contemporary Arctic governance challenges and opportunities.
The bulk of the volume, however, is devoted to considering Arctic governance and security concerns from the perspectives of different national and regional players. Successive chapters are devoted to Western, Russian, and North Asian orientations. Kristofer Bergh and Ekaterina Klimenko offer an overview of North American, Russian, and Nordic approaches to security in the Arctic. Andrew Zagorski looks at Russian Arctic governance policies. Linda Jakobsen and Seong-Hyron Lee provide insight as to how the non-Arctic states of China, Japan, and South Korea evaluate the potential of the Arctic and their roles in the region. Each of these chapters is helpful in understanding specific national and regional interests and concerns regarding the Arctic as well as how the whole circumpolar region can be perceived differently depending upon the specific vantage point from which it is examined.
The final chapters of the volume are allocated, respectively, to a consideration of the impact that the Arctic Council has had in furthering the process of Arctic governance and a final summation of the major findings of the report. Svein Vigeland Rottem examines the significance of the recent Arctic Oil Spill Agreement and uses this frame to evaluate the efforts of the Arctic Council, the major international organization of the region. Linda Jakobson and Neil Melvin review the key insights advanced by each author in the volume and offer suggestions as to how their collective views have important implications for the future development of Arctic security and governance.
Perhaps the book’s most significant contribution is the manner in which it draws the reader’s attention to the process of international cooperation in the Arctic region. Unfortunately, most popular and scholarly interest in the Far North over the last several years has been focused on the potential for conflict in the region. Discussion of the “race for resources” and the possible military build-ups in the area has tended to suggest that confrontation rather than cooperation is the major theme of the circumpolar world. This volume helps to re-balance this discussion by emphasizing the region’s successful efforts at fashioning multilateral cooperative and peaceful forms of governance. Additionally, some of the contributing authors go so far as to suggest that these northern efforts at governance can provide lessons and useful models for other regions of the world far from the pole.
While The New Arctic Governance is, on the whole, well organized and analytically framed, there are some limitations to both its composition and approach that detract, somewhat, from its overall insights and likely impact. Perhaps the most significant of these is a rather odd allocation of attention to the policies and perspectives of different national and regional players. It seems a bit strange that a single chapter should address both North American and Nordic concerns. There is certainly scope here to devote more analytical space to each region. As a consequence, the present Bergh and Klimenko chapter seems a bit cursory at points and misses the opportunity to distinguish itself by giving careful attention to both the similarities and differences between geographic neighbors in their attitudes and policies toward the Arctic. The Russian section of the chapter could have been dropped as the very next offering in the volume is entirely devoted to that country. This would have freed up space to give more focus and attention to the distinguishing and changing features of Canadian, US, and Nordic approaches. The rather limited treatment of the latter group of countries is especially unfortunate given SIPRI’s location.
Similar questions can be raised regarding the Jacobson and Lee contribution. While the authors do an excellent job in describing Chinese, Japanese, and Korean interests and activities in the Arctic, one is left wondering why similar attention is not given to those of Singapore and India—especially as they were admitted as observers to the Arctic Council at the same time as the others. Either the framework for comparison should have been expanded to include these other significant Asian actors or another chapter should have been commissioned to explore their less studied but important roles in the region.
Some additional deficiencies can also be identified in the manner in which the issue of security is addressed in the volume. Although a laudable effort is made early in the volume to distinguish between hard security and soft security needs in the Arctic, much of the discussion found in many of the subsequent chapters of the book is focused around traditional hard security interests in the region. Environmental, economic, and societal security concerns were less frequently addressed. In similar fashion, the actions and behavior of states garner the bulk of attention in most chapters of The New Arctic Governance. The contributions of nongovernment actors and Arctic indigenous groups as well as the overall needs of civil society in the region are underreported. As a consequence, the sudden attention given in the conclusion of the book to the rise of new actors and to new types of security issues in the Arctic seems a bit belated.
Finally, the volume suffers somewhat from not fully integrating insights from across the entire circumpolar world. Much of the volume seems to be rooted in European, Nordic, and Russian perspectives often overlooking useful findings from Canadian, US, and indigenous scholars. This tends to limit the full applicability of its observations and policy recommendations. The book is also somewhat diminished by the lack of a comprehensive bibliography that could help to place its findings within the context of a larger Arctic research community.
Despite such limitations, however, The New Arctic Governance should be welcomed as a useful addition to a steadily expanding literature on the Arctic and the challenges of governance in the region. In focusing its attention on the existence of cooperative international relations in the Far North it draws our attention to not only the issues and concerns that may divide countries in their pursuit of Arctic resources but the also the real potential for these same states to join together to address common regional needs and concerns. This is an insight that needs to be more broadly recognized as the Arctic receives greater attention within the international community. This SIPRI report assists in highlighting such developments.
. See for instance Scott Borgerson, “The Coming Arctic Boom as the Ice Melts and the Region Heats Up” Foreign Affairs 92 (2008): 354-61; Michael Byers, Who Owns the Arctic? Understanding Sovereignty Disputes in the North (Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 2010); Franklyn Griffiths, P. Whitney Lackenbauer, and Robert Huebert, Canada and the Changing Arctic: Sovereignty, Security and Stewardship. Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2011); and James Kraska, ed., Arctic Security in the Age of Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
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Douglas C. Nord. Review of Jakobson, Linda; Melvin, Neil, eds., The New Arctic Governance.
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