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Scott Stephenson is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Geography at UCLA.
Collaborative Infrastructures: A Roadmap for International
Cooperation in the Arctic
Scott Stephenson
Climate change has spurred global interest in the Arctic as an arena of new potential for petroleum and mineral
exploration. The prospect of increased access to resources has informed scenarios depicting the region’s future as a theater
of geopolitical aggression. Militarization has been increasing in the Arctic despite the existence of multilateral region-
building institutions, such as the Arctic Council. However, existing international frameworks for resolving maritime
border disputes (UNCLOS) and emerging opportunities for collaborative resource development indicate that
cooperation is more likely to occur than conflict among Arctic states in the coming decades. Contrary to recent media
tropes signaling an impending Arctic ‘Great Game’ for resources, many oil and gas deposits are providing the impetus
for international cooperation constituted through development and implementation of shared infrastructure. I invoke the
term ‘collaborative infrastructures’ to describe a new paradigm of state and private collaboration within which Arctic
actors are pursuing mutual economic and environmental interests. These collaborations work to address an imbalance
between despotic and infrastructural power in the Arctic, manifest in a rise in post-Cold War militarization and
nationalist rhetoric. The benefits to society conferred by infrastructural power are a powerful incentive for long-term
cooperation among Arctic states. Even as states unilaterally increase their military presence, they are forging
multilateral agreements to promote security and resource development at local and regional scales.
In a world in which relations between states dominate geopolitical discourse, questions of the extent
of territorial sovereignty become rather uncomplicated. Sovereignty becomes inextricably linked to
territory itself once a doctrine of non-interference has been established among adjacent states. This
Westphalian world of neatly-drawn borders leaves “no space between or around the states once the
entire world is in sovereignty’s orbit” (Agnew, 2009: 79). Of course, geopolitical realities rarely afford
such simplicities. Lines on a map are a poor indicator of power exerted over bounded space or