Since 2007 there has been ongoing debate as to the prospects for conflict in the Arctic. Realists contend that great power competition, buoyed by newly accessible resources and shipping routes, makes the Arctic region vulnerable to conflict. Liberals on the other hand argue that the Arctic states share economic and environmental interests in the region that require a stable and rules based order in the Arctic. As such, they believe conflict is unlikely.
After more than a decade of debating the likelihood of conflict, it is time to devote our efforts towards steps that ensure the Arctic region remains peaceful. What would that look like?
There is a growing discussion over whether or not the security environment of the Arctic is reentering a “new” Cold War. The crux of the argument is that the era of Arctic exceptionalism is coming to an end. This era has been understood as a period in which the Arctic region was one in which great power rivalries ceased to exist and created an environment in which cooperation and peaceful relations were the core norms. Since the Ukrainian crisis of 2014, there have been growing questions as to whether or not this cooperative environment will be preserved or if the growing tensions between Russia and the West will result in a “new” Cold War in the Arctic. The reality is that there is no new Cold War. Likewise Arctic exceptionalism never really meant the underlying security requirements of the two sides ever really dissipated. Instead what is happening is a renewal of the Cold War with the Arctic as a core location of competition.
The Arctic, representing the shortest flight distance for strategic bombers and intercontinental missiles between the Soviet Union and North America, and with strategic nuclear submarines(SSBN) hiding deep below the Arctic ice, had been a central arena in the nuclear standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The Arctic was not only home to strategic bombers, missile systems and nuclear submarines, but also to highly advanced early warning radar and air defence systems, making the Arctic for many years one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world.