Arctic Yearbook 2012
Poland and the Arctic: Between Science and Diplomacy
Poland’s approach to the region is quite an exceptional case as it has neither of
these features. Polish presence in the Arctic is based on long-standing scientific research, conducted
primarily on Svalbard. The state’s main interest in the region is, therefore, to secure adequate
operation conditions for its scientists. Since the European Union (EU) has decided to step up its
involvement in Arctic affairs, Poland has gained an additional channel to rally support for its
scientific interests in the region through shaping the prospective EU Arctic policy.
This article argues that the current Polish political activity in the Arctic stems from both promotion
of its scientific interests and an attempt to play the role of an intermediary state (Schroeder, 2004: 78-
79) in relations between Arctic and other non-Arctic actors. Although Polish activity in Arctic affairs
has been boosted in recent years, Poland does not have any officially stated Arctic (or polar) policy.
Nonetheless, there is evidence that the Polish government has started to work on a more
comprehensive and coherent approach to the polar regions.
The purpose of the article is to
summarize actions taken in this regard and to assess prospects for a future Polish polar policy.
Following a brief background discussion focusing on Polish exploration and science in the Arctic
involving a low political interest, attention is given to the shift in Polish foreign policy concerning the
Arctic. Then, the main drivers behind an increased activity are identified and accompanied by several
examples of Poland’s initiatives. The article concludes with an assessment of prospects for a possible
Polish polar policy. Sections pertaining to the most recent developments (since 2008) are based
largely on author’s personal observations as a participant of most of the events.
Among Pioneers – Origins of Polish Political Presence in the Arctic
Poland has a well-established presence in the Arctic in both scientific
and political terms. The focus
of this article is on Polish political involvement in the region, which, however, stems directly from
the scientific one. Poland established its formal connection to the Arctic on 2 September 1931 by
ratification of the Svalbard Treaty.
Besides equal rights to “the exercise and practice of all maritime,
industrial, mining or commercial enterprises” (Svalbard Treaty, Art. 3), it also provides a foundation,
although not explicitly stated, for scientific activities in the archipelago for its parties (Machowski,
1995: 18-19). Although there is no international convention regulating scientific activities on
they are well carried out based on practices and procedures elaborated throughout the
years (Machowski, 1995: 20). Today, all research activities on the archipelago are coordinated by the
Svalbard Science Forum, a platform created by the Norwegian government, and chaired by the
Research Council of Norway.