Securitization of the Arctic: A Need for a Regional Security Architecture

Securitization of the Arctic: A Need for a Regional Security Architecture

Sukalpa Chakrabarti (Symbiosis International University (Deemed), India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6954-1.ch005
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The geopolitical importance of the Arctic is intensifying with the economic and strategic opportunities being unraveled in the wake of the impact of climate change. The chapter analyses the actors and the factors affecting the current security relations in the region and recommends the creation of a regional security architecture (RSA) to deal with the emerging conflict potential of the Arctic. Through the establishment of an effective RSA for the Arctic, the prime objective of building a security environment that protects the region and promotes sustainable economic growth will be achieved. The chapter has been conceptualized under the broad theme of security studies while drawing specifically from the constructivist-structuralist framework of the regional security complex theory (RSCT).
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The geographical boundaries of the Arctic region are contentious and there exists a disparity in the accepted definition, even within the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Nordic countries, Arctic indigenous communities, and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on the issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic (Arctic Council, 2018). The Nordic states include the eight countries of Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Russia, the USA, and Canada (Figure 1).

Figure 1.

Arctic Ocean map

Source: (n.d.)

Climate change in the Arctic which has resulted in the warming of the seas and the retreat of ice has made the area more accessible for exploitation of its rich economic potential. It holds new prospects for trade, transport, mining, energy, technology, and research. Consequently, the region is witnessing the opening up of maritime routes right across the North Pole, and countries vying for extraction and mining rights for natural resources. The increased interest in the spoils of the region is visible in the strategies being drafted by the Nordic states as well as the other powers, such as the UK, the EU, China, India, the Republic of Korea, and Japan, specific to the Arctic. History is a witness that over time, mutual interests in resources, trade, and economic exchange can bring nations together in the spirit of cooperation. A case in point is that, in spite of competitive geopolitical agenda, India and China were both instated as official observers in the Arctic Council.

An increasingly globalized world economy with a mounting population will continue to create demand pressures on the available resources. The rapid melting of the Arctic ice and the resultant newfound resources and maritime routes has prompted the region to emerge as one of the focal points of global geopolitics and geo-economics. The Arctic region, known for mining, fisheries, hydrocarbon, hydropower, and natural gases will, therefore, need the creation of a strong regulatory mechanism that can respond effectively to the competitive and disruptive changes. Alongside its economic significance, the geopolitical importance of the region is also on the rise and has been instrumental in driving securitization activities in the Arctic. According to Keohane (2005), this is essential because of economic issues, if they are crucial enough to basic national values, may become military-security issues as well.

Against this backdrop of the interplay of the geopolitics and geo-economics in the region, this chapter seeks to examine the challenges and opportunities related to the security aspects of the Arctic and assess the role of regional security architecture (RSA) for the Arctic. By pointing out the possibility of the Arctic turning into a theatre of a new cold war, the chapter analyses the actors and the factors affecting the security relations in the region, including the role of the extra-regional powers, efforts at regional cooperation and the rivalry for resource access. The author concludes that while economic interdependence would result in regional cooperation, there is an imminent need for putting effective regional security architecture into place before any power struggle spirals out of control. To this end, the author also makes recommendations with respect to the creation of the RSA for the Arctic.



The Arctic’s lure of untapped energy reserves, precious minerals, fish and its prospect of offering an alternate and faster sea-route with the retreating ice, has led many countries to seriously revisit their polar policy. Norway, Canada, Russia, the USA, and Denmark are the five major countries bordering the Arctic that have continued to be the significant players in the region. Despite internal tensions, cooperation among the Arctic nations has been quite strong in the post-Cold War era. Also, new players from outside the region such as China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and Singapore have started exhibiting a keen interest in the opportunities that the Arctic has to offer. This interlocking of interests has, in turn, escalated concerns over matters of security (both traditional and non-traditional) and led to the forging of new alliances among nations.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cooperation: The act of coming together by one or more actors to achieve a common objective.

Territorial Disputes: A difference over the ownership/ sovereign authority of land between two or more entities.

Security: Refers to protection from threats to interests. Traditionally in international relations, the concept of security was applied only in relation to the exercise of military force to protect the state territory. Over a period of time, it has come to include extra-territorial and non-territorial activities. The contemporary notion of security also encompasses non –traditional aspects such as human security, food and/or water security, economic security, environmental security, energy and resource security, biosecurity, health security and so on.

Realism: There are two schools of thought under the realist school in international relations. The traditional school seeks to analyze the world order as anarchist and thereby requiring states which are regarded as the principal actor, to maximize power and security and balance the power of other nations. The newer version, neo-realism examines the structure of the international system in a bid to explain systemic outcomes and choices as conditioned by the structures.

Regional Security Architecture (RSA): An overarching framework of standards, practices, relationships, and institutions created by nations to address issues of regional security.

North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD): Referred till March 1981 as the North American Air Defense Command, NORAD is a combined organization of the USA and Canada that looks into aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and protection for Northern America.

Geo-Politics: Analysis of the political behavior of states based on geographic variables, addressing power struggles between states

Sustainability: The act of being maintained or continued at a particular level or rate without compromising on future requirements. It is a process of development that accounts for social equity and environmental protection.

Institutionalism: A strand of liberal school of thought in international relations that seeks to analyze the impact of international institutions on state behavior.

Competition: The act of seeking to win something by one or more actors which cannot be availed by everyone.

Regional Security Complex Theory (RSCT): A theory espoused by Barry Buzan and Ole Waever, which identifies a regional security complex as a group of states whose primary national security concerns are so closely intertwined together that they cannot be extracted or addressed independently of each other. The theory views security interdependence as a critical factor in the creation of regionally based clusters. RSCT provides a framework for analysis and comparison of regional security of different regions.

Arctic Council: A cooperative forum among the Arctic states that intends to facilitate cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the states along with participation from the dwellers of the Arctic region. The member states are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the USA.

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