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Joël Plouffe is researcher at the Raoul Dandurand Chair of Strategic and Diplomatic Studies and
PhD Candidate at the Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada.
Thawing Ice and French Foreign Policy: A Preliminary Assessment
Joël Plouffe
Climate change is bringing non-Arctic states closer to the Arctic. For France, thawing ice and increased
human activities in the circumpolar north have initiated an ‘unofficial’ but discernable reevaluation of how
Paris looks at and relates to the Arctic. Although French officials have yet to pen into policy an official
French strategy or agenda for the Arctic, this article looks at how thawing ice has led various governmental
and non-governmental officials in Paris to rethink how French foreign policy should be addressing Arctic
change today. It explores how images of a changing Arctic have led policymakers to question the governance
structures of the Arctic. It also offers an initial overview of French interests related to the Arctic and identifies
key issues that are currently shaping the Arctic foreign policy discourse in Paris. The purpose of this
assessment is to first, explore how France is engaging in and with the Arctic in an era of climate change, and
also, to expand the discussion on the role and interests of non-Arctic states in the region.
The proximity between France and the Arctic has grown over the years. Considering that
France has no Arctic territory, the French have nonetheless nourished their relationship with
the circumpolar north mainly through scientific research and cultural inquiry. However,
natural resources and economic interests have also drawn French transnational corporations
(TNCs) to the High North, like Total which has been present in circumpolar areas since the
1970s. Furthermore, as a maritime (nuclear) power, the French have also maintained their
strategic interests in the region through military cooperation with, on the one hand, northern
coastal NATO allies such as Norway, Denmark, Canada and the United States, and on the
other, most recently, with Russia’s Northern Fleet. By appointing its very first
Ambassador for
International Negotiations on the Arctic and the Antarctic
(polar ambassador), assigned to former
Prime Minister Michel Rocard in 2009, France is indeed bringing its relationship with the