Inuuteq Holm Olsen & Jessica Shadian
In recent years renewed global interest in the Arctic and the Arctic Council, in particular, has led to what can be called a ‘Westphalianisation’ of Arctic politics. This Westphalianisation can be found in the increasing number of globally powerful states including China, Japan, and India as well as the European Union which have all sought a formal role in Arctic policymaking (specifically by seeking observer status on the Arctic Council – the most significant fully circumpolar intergovernmental regime). The Arctic Council itself has shifted from a high level forum to an intergovernmental regime which has begun to produce a number of binging agreements under its auspice. At the same, over the past thirty years subnational regions around the world have become powerful global actors. This is due in part to the strength of certain subnational economies, the inability for states and the intergovernmental system (e.g. UN) to meet the challenges facing subnational regions, as well as a broader reconceptualization of sovereignty; namely the decentralisation of traditional governance. Subnational regions, subsequently, are increasingly finding or seeking a greater voice in global politics.
In the Arctic, unlike earlier periods of history when global powers arrived and were met with little if any political resistance, in today’s Arctic subnational entities from Greenland to Nunavut and Alaska have all attained the legitimacy and the agency to engage in global politics on their own accord. This chapter will focus on the future of the Arctic Council in light of this renewed global interest in the Arctic alongside the rise of globally situated subnational Arctic regions. In particular this chapter will focus on a global Greenland as a window into the incongruent forces between the Westphalianisation of the Arctic Council and the growing power of Arctic subnational regions. At the very time that Greenland is gaining its greatest strength on its path towards greater self-determination its role on the Arctic Council is being diminished. Borrowing from IR and political geography literatures this chapter will look at the implications of these tensions for the future of Arctic governance and within this the future efficacy of the Arctic Council.