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Arctic Yearbook 2012
the surge in geopolitical interest in the region.
Even the European Union and China are planning to
draft Arctic policies.
Although the Arctic was a key geopolitical focus during the Cold War, the current situation differs in
two important ways. First, the Arctic nations are, for the most part, committed to collaboration on
issue-resolution and governance (Brosnan, Leschine & Miles, 2011; Heininen, 2011; Heininen &
Southcott, 2010; Keskitalo, 2004 & 2007; Young, 2009 & 2011) including active participation in the
Arctic Council, a high-level intergovernmental forum, created in 1996 to foster Arctic cooperation.
Second, Arctic indigenous peoples have mobilized politically and effectively in the last 30 to 40 years
and now play a significant role in Arctic policy development and decision-making at both the
domestic and international levels (Abele & Rodon, 2007; Griffith, 2011; Koivurova, 2010; Shadian,
2010; Plaut, 2011; Wilson, 2007; Wilson & Smith, 2011). The Arctic has become the meeting ground
for traditional state geopolitics and indigenous diplomacies.
Heininen & Nicol (2007) call the
geopolitical reality in the Arctic today “some sort of renaissance of regional co-operation by
circumpolar indigenous peoples and civil societies” (Heininen & Nicol, 2007: 161). The combination
of a collaborative approach to geopolitics combined with the participation of new actors on the
world stage – actors who have distinct values and goals that are not nation-state-centered – may be
contributing to a new approach to international relations in the Arctic region.
In international relations theory, the nation-state has traditionally been used as the primary unit for
political analysis. Therefore, traditional foreign policies reflect the interests of the nation-state and
prioritize national interests over community or individual security or capacity. The northern
dimensions of foreign policy for the eight Arctic nations begin to diverge from this tradition placing
greater emphasis on state collaboration (Heininen, 2011) including a commitment to working closely
with Arctic indigenous peoples to address current and future challenges to communities. At the same
time, Arctic indigenous organizations, in particular the international Inuit organization, the Inuit
Circumpolar Council (ICC)
, are challenging nation-state dominance in international relations by
reframing the Arctic as a region that transcends nation-state borders and by asserting their rights as a
people. Even mainstream media have noted the growing influence of the Inuit. For example, in
March 2010
The Economist
published an article about how the Inuit are influencing natural resource
development in the Arctic noting, “although they are only a small minority – an estimated 160,000 of
them are spread across the Arctic – they have achieved a degree of power” (para. 4). Parallel efforts
are also found at the national level particularly evident in recent efforts by the national Inuit