Conceptualising the Arctic as a political region has been done time and again in polar research, without any clear indication of how to grasp the kind and degree of circumpolar regionalism analytically. Inspired by the New Regionalism paradigm, this article provides a systematised framework for the study of political integration in the Arctic and analyses the region's identity in the respective historical context. Special emphasis is put on the marine area as a source of international governance and the way this impinges on the direction, functionality and virtue of Arctic regionalism. As intergovernmental cooperation in the North has made considerable progress over the past 25 years, the political evolution of circumpolar regionalism will be traced along three critical junctures: 1987 – 1996 – 2007. It was not before the late 1980s that regional cooperation gained momentum in Arctic affairs, because the region's strategic location as a buffer zone between the former Cold War rivals effectively prohibited any comprehensive regional initiative. This changed considerably throughout the 1990s with the establishment of the Arctic Council as a deliberative forum for scientific and political exchange. Further, it is argued that the Arctic Council today is about to become a relevant actor with independent agency in regional governance if it can successfully turn its delegated tasks and information advantage into practice.
Sebastian Knecht is a Research Associate and PhD Candidate at Dresden University of Technology, Germany.