Climate change has spurred global interest in the Arctic as an arena of new potential for petroleum and mineral exploration. The prospect of increased access to resources has informed scenarios depicting the region's future as a theater of geopolitical aggression. Militarization has been increasing in the Arctic despite the existence of multilateral region-building institutions, such as the Arctic Council. However, existing international frameworks for resolving maritime border disputes (UNCLOS) and emerging opportunities for collaborative resource development indicate that cooperation is more likely to occur than conflict among Arctic states in the coming decades. Contrary to recent media tropes signaling an impending Arctic 'Great Game' for resources, many oil and gas deposits are providing the impetus for international cooperation constituted through development and implementation of shared infrastructure. I invoke the term 'collaborative infrastructures' to describe a new paradigm of state and private collaboration within which Arctic actors are pursuing mutual economic and environmental interests. These collaborations work to address an imbalance between despotic and infrastructural power in the Arctic, manifest in a rise in post-Cold War militarization and nationalist rhetoric. The benefits to society conferred by infrastructural power are a powerful incentive for long-term cooperation among Arctic states. Even as states unilaterally increase their military presence, they are forging multilateral agreements to promote security and resource development at local and regional scales.
Scott Stephenson is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Geography at UCLA.