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Arctic Yearbook 2012
The United Kingdom and the Arctic in the 21
because these are rarely divisible from the UK’s broader international objectives (personal
communication, September-December, 2011).
But how strong are these reservations? As noted earlier, the UK has not shied away from defending
its northern interests in the past, so these interests are clearly not marginal. It could be that the UK
government is anxious to avoid being caught up in the on-going debate about the status of observers
and applicants (such as China, the EU, Italy) at the Arctic Council. Canada and Russia have been
especially wary about the motivations of non-Arctic states and organisations (especially those which
do not have a tradition for Arctic-related activities) and see their presence as potentially detrimental
to the influence currently wielded by the Arctic states (North Norway, 2011). However, government
officials from other Arctic states (most notably Canada, Norway, Finland and Sweden) have generally
been positive about the UK’s continuing involvement in Arctic affairs, to the point where a number
of Scandinavian countries have expressed support for the writing of a UK Arctic Strategy, and called
for the UK to increase its level of participation in the Arctic Council’s working groups (Parliament,
2012c). At present these states seem more disappointed by the lack of British interest in the Arctic,
than concerned by an excess of it.
In continuing to take a reactive approach to the dramatic environmental and geopolitical changes
occurring in the region – one which simply seeks to benefit from opportunities and reduce risks –
the British government is leaving itself unprepared to respond quickly to political and economic
developments in a part of the world which is geographically proximate to the UK. A more
comprehensive approach has therefore been suggested (Archer 2011; Depledge and Dodds, 2011);
one which sets common objectives to coordinate the different activities of various government
departments involved and clearly establishes the contribution that the UK wants to make. The
Canadian Arctic and the Norwegian Arctic may be different places, but actions taken in one part are
likely to have ramifications for British actions in the other, just as they will across different issue-
sectors. Without a formal strategy, there is greater potential for such actions to contradict each other,
wasting time and resources, and potentially generating confusion and ill-feeling among the Arctic
states – something the UK wants to avoid.
It is unlikely that the actual content of a UK Arctic Strategy would prove controversial, with the
possible exception of content relating to the on-going disagreement the UK has with Norway over
the application of the Svalbard Treaty. Even in the case of Svalbard, greater transparency between
allies is likely to be far more constructive than lingering distrust that can be a barrier to closer