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Arctic Yearbook 2012
It is clear that climate changes and their effects are pushing the Arctic states towards enhanced
institutionalization of relations, and the trend looks set to continue. What has provoked this
response? What are the benefits and the consequences? How far down the path of
institutionalization are the Arctic states likely to go?
This paper will examine the governance structure of the Arctic Council and the region in general,
including an analysis on the recent evolution of the system and where it is likely to head in the future.
History of Arctic Governance
The Arctic is not a
terra nullius
, absent from human regulation or concern. At the same time, it has
not been subject to as much regulation as other seas and oceans. This is due, firstly, to the fact that it
has experienced significantly less human activity than other regions, not least due to sea-ice cover;
and second, because the global order was such throughout the 20
century that meaningful, pan-
Arctic cooperation was very difficult given the state of relations between the Soviet Union on one
hand and the United States and its allies on the other. The 1973
Agreement on the Conservation of Polar
, between Canada, Denmark, Norway, the United States and the USSR is a notable exception,
but was a primarily scientific, as opposed to political, effort.
The political space for international cooperation in the Arctic region opened up in 1987, when
Mikhail Gorbachev gave his now famous Murmansk speech, calling to establish a “zone of peace” in
the Arctic (Gorbachev, 1987). The Soviet Union collapsed soon after, ending the Cold War and
allowing for kinds of regional collaboration that had not been possible before, such as Russian
inclusion in the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) and the formal establishment of the Northern
Forum and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC). Most significantly, it also let to the
establishment of the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS) in 1991, a non-binding
agreement between the eight Arctic states (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia,
Sweden and the United States) with a focus on monitoring and assessment of contaminants,
protection of the marine environment, emergency preparedness and response, and conservation of
flora and fauna (CARC, 1993-94).
Canada, which had been advocating for an Arctic Council since the late 1980s, was successful in
1995 in convincing the other Arctic states, in particular the United States, to establish an
international organization that could address a wider range of economic and environmental issues,
namely sustainable development (Bloom, 1999: 714). This was on the condition, imposed by the