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Arctic Yearbook 2012
The United Kingdom and the Arctic in the 21
in the material capabilities required to be present in the Arctic then it is important that it has public
support, especially at a time when financial cuts are taking their toll across government.
In the UK, the Arctic has become a concern predominantly limited to the ‘especially interested’ (for
example, individual academics, journalists, politicians and researchers). Among civil servants,
attention to the Arctic dimension of broader UK interests is growing but from a low base. More
problematically for the UK, the attention of the civil service is often reactive and diffuse with
investments made on a short-term project-by-project basis. Few appear concerned with how Britain
should engage with the Arctic over the long-term, instead favouring a reactive approach based on the
management of emerging risks and opportunities. Ad hoc participation in Arctic Council activities is
paralleled by Britain’s broader tendency, at least since the Cold War, to dip into and out of Arctic
affairs, and potentially positions the UK as an unreliable partner in the region, whether for the
purposes of science, economic activity or defence.
A strong case can be made for the UK government to develop an overarching formal Arctic Strategy
to bring together the diffuse strands of government policy and embed them in a durable political
framework which charts a clear course for scientific and economic engagement with Arctic states and
peoples. A formalised strategy would also send a clear signal to the Arctic States that while their
sovereignty in the region is indisputable, pursuing greater exclusivity in the region is neither
constructive nor warranted when so many ramifications of environmental and economic change in
the Arctic reach out beyond the region (Depledge and Dodds, 2011). This would provide a political
basis for strengthening existing and developing new partnerships in the region, facilitating scientific
and commercial objectives, in particular the UK’s contribution to the working groups of the Arctic
Council. There are considerable similarities in the policies of the Arctic states and it is unlikely that
the contents of a UK strategy would be markedly different. Where such a strategy could prove
controversial is in the manner of its development. The UK will have to work openly and
transparently with the Arctic states and peoples if it is to maintain its long-standing presence in the