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Arctic Yearbook 2012
New Directions for Governance in the Arctic Region
Second, the Arctic Council features real limitations in supporting the legalization of regional
governance arrangements. Unlike, for example, the European Union or North American Free Trade
Agreement (NAFTA), the Arctic Council has no legislative power or legal authority. To wit, the
search and rescue agreement was a treaty between the eight Arctic states, but it is not
the Arctic
Council. As such, one can expect legal instruments coming out of the Arctic region to be relatively
‘lowly’ legalized, lacking a third party to implement, interpret and apply rules; resolve disputes; or
make further rules (see Abott, Keohane, Moravcsik, Slaughter and Snidal, 2000: 401), unless the
instruments come out of other authorities with legal personalities such as the IMO or UNCLOS. In
the short to medium term, one should not expect any changes to this arrangement, as there would be
few advantages to the states involved. Russia and the United States would be particularly unlikely to
concede any authority to the other in such a small venue. As such, there is a limit to how creative the
Arctic states can and will be in framing governances solutions, because they will be encouraged to
operate under the auspices of other international frameworks wherever possible.
Finally, the scope of activity for Arctic governance frameworks will continue to be limited to
environmental management issues, particularly as relates to the Arctic Ocean. Despite having a
mandate for sustainable development, the Arctic Council simply doesn’t have the resources or
funding to enact social development policies; certainly none that could match or replace what
individual state governments are already enacting themselves. In addition, meaningful development
usually occurs at the local level, and only sometimes at the national level, but rarely at the regional
level. The Arctic Council has provided a useful political forum for Arctic indigenous peoples, and
has brought much needed attention to pressing cultural, economic and social concerns of
northerners. However, in terms of enacting a governance framework to address those issues, it is an
unlikely and unpromising venue.
Conclusion: Arctic Governance End Game
There are a number of limitations to the scope and intensity to be adopted by regional governance
frameworks in the Arctic, and as such they are likely to be reached in the next decade. A move
beyond the current piecemeal approach to a well-constructed, resourced and implemented regional
seas agreement is the logical end point for addressing and managing issues of common regional
concern. The goal is not for the Arctic to develop layer upon layer of regulation and intervention, but
to develop an appropriate framework that allows for the sustainable use of Arctic Ocean resources
and then focus on compliance. At some point, the region will have been able to de-securitize Arctic