Heather Exner-Pirot and Joël Plouffe
Circumpolar relations have been nothing if not trendy in recent years. First came the domino sequence of Arctic strategies from each of the Arctic states between 2008-2011. This was succeeded by a rash of Arctic Ambassadorial appointments, with Japan's appointment of Masuo Nishibayashi in March, 2013, making eleven (click here for Arctic Yearbook 2012's list of Arctic/Non-Arctic ambassadors). But the most recent inclination has been to establish pan-Arctic forums, focusing on the 'future of the Arctic', and open to a global audience of self-appointed Arctic stakeholders.
The most high profile launch of this new breed of circumpolar organization is the Arctic Circle, Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson's vision of an open, global platform by which to address the region's most pressing issues. Uniting a motley crew of oil and shipping executives, climate advocates, Asian scientists and a European monarch – Prince Albert II of Monaco – the Arctic Circle is a response to the perceived parochialism of the Arctic Council and an attempt to create a space for a diverse range of interested voices (see Klaus Dodds' commentary in this volume).
Then there are the burgeoning Arctic economic conferences, including the World Arctic Forum (Canada); the Arctic Energy Summit (Iceland); the Arctic Imperative (United States); the Arctic Summit (Norway); the Arctic Exchange (Sweden); the Arctic Business Forum (Finland); the Arctic Policy and Economic Forum (Denmark); the Arctic – Territory of Dialogue (Russian Federation), and last but not least, the Arctic Council's own, as yet unlaunched, Circumpolar Business Forum, under the auspices of the Canadian Chairmanship. Significant new oil plays may be a decade away, but the Arctic looks open for business.
Add to these the scientific, such as the International Conference on the Arctic Ocean Acidification and the Circumpolar Agriculture Conference; the pragmatic, such as the World Snow Forum and the 5th Symposium on the Impacts of an Ice-Diminishing Arctic on Naval and Maritime Operations; and the obscure, such as the Nordic Theoretical Archaeology Group conference. Finally, we would be remiss to omit the growing number of Arctic-themed conferences held by and for the EU organization and its members, such as the EESC's public hearing on the European Union and Arctic Policy; the French Arctic Initiative; the Alfred-Wegener-Institut's Arctic Dialogue; or the very euro-themed Arctic Frontiers. The effect is one of intensification and momentum in all things Arctic, where the future of the Arctic is being actively constructed (click here for our *40-page* inventory of this year's Arctic meetings, conferences and events.)
Plus Ça Change...
There is nothing new about the development of regional organizations and forums in the Arctic. The post-Cold War era saw a proliferation of Arctic bodies, from IASC and IASSA to the Northern Forum (NF), the Northern Research Forum (NRF), the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS), and the Calotte Academy; and 2013 marks the 20th anniversary of a host of circumpolar organizations, such as the Barents-Euro Arctic Region (BEAR) and the Sami Parliament of Sweden.
But the preponderance of outside interest, and investment, in Arctic affairs is a conspicuous reflection of the breadth and depth by which the region is globalizing. The regionalization that took place in the early 1990s was very much an insider affair, composed of career scientists, indigenous leaders and the northern political elite. Now it is not just the Chinese that are demanding a voice in the region's affairs: garden-variety environmentalists, mainstream journalists and even the Swedes have discovered they care quite a bit with what happens in the region (see Doug Nord's article on the Sweden Chairmanship in this volume).
For Better or For Worse
It has been said of globalization that it is neither inherently good nor inherently bad, but a process to be managed for the betterment of society. The Arctic is particular in that the interests and values of different actors are often wildly competing, and the globalization of the region seems to have exacerbated many differences.
Misperceptions and romanticisms about what the Arctic represents and promises abound. The Arctic Council's Permanent Participants were probably right in their hesitancy to invite new actors in as Observers when their own seats were so hard won. But one must appreciate the extent to which newcomers to the region are attempting to become informed about the region's rich culture, politics and history. And if all the attention on the Arctic seems a little bit much, consider how it has also been productive: we are many times more likely to see stricter environmental regulations in the Arctic in the next five years then we are to see major conflict, something that would not have been said in 2008. High-quality information from a variety of sources and perspectives are being generated, communicated and used in policy-making, at a rate fast enough to have impact, but slow enough to ensure stability and consensus. If pro-development interests think progress in the Arctic is too cold, and pro-conservation forces think it too hot, then it is probably just right.
In that respect, the proliferation of new organizations can be seen as a positive development, and one, like all waves, that is likely to crest and retreat. But what they leave behind in their wake will have lasting impact.
Heather Exner-Pirot and Joël Plouffe are the Managing Editors of the Arctic Yearbook.