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Arctic Yearbook 2012
relevant for people living in the region have not been in focus for binding agreements about
Huebert et al. (2012) sum up Arctic policies presented by nation states as expressing a desire for
cooperation, but also a resolve to protect national interests. National interests are also a significant
driver behind the ongoing mapping of the Arctic sea floor and its geological features. This mapping
is key to submitting and substantiating claims to economic zones beyond the continental shelf to the
Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.
From these developments, it appears as if environmental concerns have been subsumed under the
more overarching goal of sustainable development,
that sustainable development is increasingly
tied to economic interests and to rhetoric of national interest and security. Moreover, while the
circumpolar perspective remains important, national interest has a much more prominent place in
the rhetoric than in previous decades. National interest is primarily related to issues of sovereignty
and access to economically important natural resources, rather than environmental security.
If this is indeed a trend, it raises new questions about the conditions for environmental politics.
Specifically, it is necessary to ask whether the environment has shifted from being a low politics
issue, and therefore amenable to cooperation, or if it is better understood as a potentially volatile, or
‘malign’ issue area closely linked to conflicting national interests, with different types of challenge
regarding the potential for cooperation (Underdal, 2001).
It is tempting to describe current developments in the Arctic in terms of classic realist politics, which
place the emphasis on states as the major actors and self-interest as the major motive affecting
international relations (Dunne and Smith, 2001; Lamy, 2001). However, the international political
landscape today includes a range of regimes that mediate the self-interest of actors (Krasner, 1983;
Keohane and Nye, 1994; Lamy, 2001) and within which national self interest is both defined and
redefined. A simplistic realist analysis may therefore reach misleading conclusions. Instead we are
faced with a situation in which conflict (potential and real) and cooperation are present at the same
time. Moreover, the situation requires attention to new issues at the nexus of different types of
resources, rapid environmental change, globalized markets, and shifts in power among global actors.
Analysis that takes this new situation into account requires new analytical tools that are beyond the
scope of this article, but important for understanding current developments in the Arctic.