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Arctic Yearbook 2012
The above is indicative of the way in which the UK claims no interest in the Arctic
per se
. This stands
in contrast to the way that Arctic states such as Canada, Norway and Russia portray the Arctic as a
place that is intrinsic to their national identity/objectives. However, this has not stopped the UK
from seeking to use the Arctic to support its own interests, relating, for example, to scientific
research, negotiations on climate change, national security and potential economic opportunities.
These interests are largely linked to the UK’s own sense of itself (and the recognition it seeks from
Arctic states) as not just a ‘sub-Arctic’ or ‘near-Arctic’ state (as China has – see SIPRI, 2012), but as
the Arctic’s “closest neighbour” (FCO, 2012). This in turn is seemingly used to justify, to domestic
and international audiences, the claim that the UK has an extra responsibility to protect the Arctic
(Parliament, 2012a), as well as a sense that the UK is somehow more vulnerable (physically,
economically, and militarily) to an Arctic undergoing rapid geopolitical and environmental
transformation. The notion of vulnerability is particularly suggestive of the ways in which the Arctic
also physically demands attention from the UK, because of the influence the Arctic can potentially
exert on the UK’s local weather systems, marine surroundings, and ecosystems, as well as larger
Earth systems (terrestrial, oceanic and atmospheric). The UK is subsequently assembled by
government as an actor that is not only relevant to the Arctic region, but potentially more relevant
than other states and organisations from outside the region, particularly as a partner for scientific and
economic collaboration [see the recent MOUs signed with Canada and Norway, and attempts by
UK-based energy firms to secure hydrocarbon exploration licenses in the Arctic (Dulnev, 2011)], but
also in negotiations over the future role and remit of the Arctic Council (Koivurova, 2010) and
regional security (Depledge and Dodds, 2012).
A UK Arctic Strategy?
The FCO, which coordinates the various Arctic interests of different government departments, has
largely been against the idea of developing a formal, overarching Arctic Strategy for the UK
(Parliament, 2012b). FCO officials have privately expressed reservations that the publication of a
formal Arctic strategy would not be welcomed by Arctic states (FCO official, personal
communication, January 17, 2011). There is also concern in the FCO that a formal Arctic strategy
would provide a reference point for other, mainly Arctic states, to measure, evaluate and potentially
criticise UK policies and practices (Depledge and Dodds, 2011). And as noted earlier, other UK
government officials have questioned whether it is even helpful to talk about having ‘Arctic’ interests