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Arctic Yearbook 2012
Collaborative Infrastructures: A Roadmap for International Cooperation in the Arctic
The prospect of new access to these vast reserves has sparked a series of sensational media tropes
touting such themes as a “great rush for virgin territory,” “race for Arctic riches,” and “fight for the
top of the world (Krauss et al., 2005; Shalal-Esa, 2011; Graff, 2007). This surge in geopolitical
interest has coincided with a militarization not seen since the Cold War (Huebert, 2009). While
violence has yet to erupt, the fact that all Arctic littoral states have exercised demonstrations of
military force or made plans to expand their military presence suggests the possibility of armed
conflict. Furthermore, anticipation of military engagement remains prevalent in policy literature
(Cohen, 2007; Borgerson, 2008; 2009), fueling anxiety over an emerging northern “Great Game.”
Despite the allure of oil and gas, there is little reason to believe that international “resource wars” are
in the Arctic’s future (Brigham, 2010; Smith, 2010). While the UNCLOS framework allows states to
pursue national interests by claiming resources beyond their current EEZ, it provides for such
activities to be done through peaceful and internationally-recognized means. Furthermore, many
petroleum deposits are themselves providing the impetus for international cooperation constituted
through the development and implementation of shared infrastructure.
In this paper, I invoke the term ‘collaborative infrastructures’ to describe a new paradigm of state
and corporate collaboration within which Arctic actors are pursuing mutual economic and
environmental interests. Even as states unilaterally escalate their military capacity in the High North,
they are forging multilateral agreements to promote security and resource development at local and
regional scales. While provocative displays of titanium flag-planting may grab the headlines, less
heralded collaborative efforts are guiding the future of Arctic governance.
Sovereignty Anxiety and Limits to Shared Governance
In his discussion of Alfred Mahan’s argument for securing state power through sea control, Paul
Hirst (2005) points out that “even with modern technology like nuclear submarines, basic facts of
geography and the qualitative features of space do matter, and they benefit some powers at the
expense of others. The sea is only a great common to some” (70). Like other oceans, the Arctic
Ocean is “a single continuous space across which vessels may move relatively freely” (Hirst, 2005:
53) in comparison to overland travel. Unlike other oceans, however, the Arctic Ocean imposes
unique restrictions on vessel movement. The navigational limits and uncertainties created by
temporally and spatially variable sea ice mean that season and regional geography determine the
extent to which vessels move freely. Barring the use of ice-strengthened ships, Arctic navigation is