Andreas Østhagen & Clive H. Schofield

The Arctic region is sometimes described as an area of geopolitical competition and boundary disputes. However, in terms of maritime claims, such portrayals are misleading. Our examination of maritime boundaries in the Arctic, maritime claims and extended continental shelf submissions in the central Arctic Ocean, shows that the Arctic is a space where states have settled disputes before real conflict could emerge. In that sense the Arctic is arguably an ocean apart and the case of the Arctic can be of broader relevance regarding maritime disputes in other regional contexts.

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Cornell Overfield

This article examines the legal utility of a U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operation in the Arctic against Russian and Canadian maritime claims. It reiterates that a FONOP can only be conducted against coastal state claims that affect warships or foreign government vessels. It concludes that Russia’s Northern Sea Route is not a viable FONOP target, and United States action would be limited to where Russia claims internal waters in its Arctic straits. Canada offers a better target, as its internal-waters claim entirely covers useful navigation routes in the Northwest Passage and some of its environmental regulations in its EEZ may apply to foreign government vessels.

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Viktoriya Nikitina

This paper considers the geographical changes enabled by sea ice melting in the Arctic Ocean, which provide higher accessibility to energy resources and shipping routes, and seeks to understand how Russia benefits from the uncertainties in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and in the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code) as a coercion mechanism to limit freedom of navigation in the Northern Sea Route (NSR). The Arctic is a region of strategic and geopolitical importance for Russia, therefore all the possibilities enabled by climate change should be enjoyed. However, with increased accessibility to the Arctic Ocean, Russia seeks to control navigation in the NSR and ensure the protection of its national interest, through coercion of navigation. This paper discusses the uncertainties that enable Russia to consider the UNCLOS as a coercion mechanism, namely the ambiguity of Article 234, the uncertainty of international straits criteria, and the limitations in the Polar Code. It argues that the uncertainties and different interpretations in the law of the sea can influence the Russian legislation over the NSR by limiting freedom of navigation and implementing prejudicial measures toward foreign-flagged vessels. Nonetheless, through the Russian naval power, the Border Guard Service (BGS) and the Northern Fleet of the Russian Federation (Northern Fleet), and its effect of dissuasion based on sea control and sea denial activities, the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation (Ministry of Transport) can effectively ensure compliance with the Russian legal regime in the NSR and avoid infringements to the law.

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Gabriella Gricius

Traditional geopolitical theories characterize the Arctic as a zone of potential conflict with the overarching narrative that it is the site of the new Cold War and great power competition between Russia, the United States and China over resources. However, this dominant approach often ignores the extent to which colonial legacies and neocolonial ideas play an instrumental role in influencing these security narratives. There is a need for a more nuanced understanding of Arctic security, particularly as it has to do with how different Arctic states express their sovereignty in practice. A decolonial approach to studying security in the Arctic can better reveal how expressions of sovereignty represent much of the same social and political hierarchies that existed during the colonial era. In this research, I aim to unpack the security narratives and actions of three Arctic states, Canada, the United States, and Russia, by documenting instances of coloniality of knowledge in text as well as neocolonial actions that each state has taken. With this deconstruction of Arctic narratives, I propose a different perception of sovereignty in the Arctic as being heavily influenced by neocolonial narratives in practice and argue that traditional state-centered conceptions of sovereignty should change to acknowledge 1) the shifting geography of the Arctic, 2) the history and role of Indigenous people who live there and 3) adopt an approach that considers shared sovereignty as a more realistic Arctic version of sovereignty.

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Juliana Iluminata Wilczynski

This article examines how the nation-State paradigm of international relations and international law in the Arctic conflicts with Inuit self-determination in the Northwest Passage. This evaluation is made through the lens of four Indigenous rights which are relevant to the Northwest Passage: the right to self-determination, the right to traditional territories and resources, the right to culture, and rights to consultation and free, prior, and informed consent. This article makes three submissions, namely: (1) doctrinal reduction of sovereignty to the nation-state paradigm in international law functions to exclude Indigenous peoples from participation in international law and decision-making; (2) Inuit participation in the international politics of the Northwest Passage is a vehicle for the expression of their right to self-determination as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; (3) the inclusion of the Inuit as international legal actors as demonstrated by their historical transnational advocacy will be a necessary step for the international community to take in order to uphold the Inuit’s right to self-determination, especially in relation to the future of the Northwest Passage if the transit passage regime is deemed to apply in the future. Ultimately, this article adopts a pluralist and decolonial perspective to critically challenge the traditional notion of sovereignty as understood from a Westphalian perspective, and advocates for the imperative recognition of Indigenous peoples and inclusion of them as transnational legal actors.

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Nicolien van Luijk, Jackie Dawson, Natalie Carter, Gloria Song, Colleen Parker, Kayla Grey & Jennifer Provencher

Discussions of Arctic sovereignty and security have traditionally centered on the interests of the state and how it impacts the nation. More recently, scholars have noted the importance of addressing the interests of other actors, in particular, Indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples in the Arctic have long advocated for conceptualizing Arctic sovereignty as Indigenous sovereignty. While development in Arctic Canada has been relatively limited compared to southern Canada due to infrastructure, climate, and logistical challenges, this is all set to shift dramatically, with Inuit communities in the Canadian Arctic arguably weathering the brunt of climate change risks and experiencing everything else that comes with it. An Indigenous-centered conception of Arctic sovereignty and security requires an understanding of how Inuit communities are experiencing the front lines of these changes. Thus, this paper offers a valuable contribution to Arctic sovereignty and security discourse by presenting the concerns expressed directly by members of 14 communities located in three regions of Inuit Nunangat (Inuit homeland). Our findings show that Inuit communities have concerns about many unknowns associated with the changing climate and increased shipping, including implications of increased international interest in the Canadian Arctic, which could pose threats to the ability of Inuit to protect their sovereignty and the environment they live in. Given the potential for change in the Arctic climate to make Arctic shipping a more attractive and realistic option in the future, we argue that these concerns should be considered integral to climate change discussions and decisions in the Canadian Arctic, as well as in general discussions of Arctic sovereignty and security.

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