This paper takes a closer look at the references to commonality, which are a salient, albeit ambiguous feature of the current discussion on Arctic governance. It does so from a legal perspective and with the purpose to unveil a twofold divide in the discussion. Legal and political purposes intersect and they vary depending on whether they are made from an Arctic or a non-Arctic perspective. Despite similar rhetoric, intentions may differ greatly and it is not unusual that different players refer to the law in irreconcilable or controversial ways. In a first step, the variety of references to commonality is charted and the underlying rhetorical strategies are carved out. In a second step, the references’ legal accuracy and their conceptual contribution to the development of a legal framework for Arctic cooperation are analysed. This should enable a better understanding of the diverging intentions and strategies at play in the discussion and the difficulties to reach a common understanding of how to govern the Arctic region.