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Arctic Yearbook 2012
Arctic to another diplomatic level, as the Arctic Council and Arctic governance have gained
unprecedented attention by elected officials, academics and media in the country.
While French political interests in the Arctic are not new, climate change and thawing polar
sea ice have led to a recent reevaluation of the Arctic as a zone of interest and influence for
France. Appointed by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, Michel Rocard (also known as the
“political father” of the Madrid Protocol of the Antarctic Treaty) has been France’s leading
voice on Arctic foreign policy issues since 2009, reminding Arctic states that the future of
the region is a matter for all its users, regardless of their territorial connections with the
circumpolar space (Truc, 2011). Although this increased interest for the Arctic has yet to be
penned into a policy or strategy, France has nevertheless informally outlined, through its
newly appointed polar ambassador, some comprehensive Arctic foreign policy objectives
that appear to be relevant when studying Arctic geopolitics today.
Since the specific literature on French foreign policy making related to the Arctic is very
scarce, this discussion will try to address this gap by producing a preliminary assessment of
France’s approach to the circumpolar north in an era of global warming. The purpose of this
paper is to explore how France, as a world power and with vested interests in a future
navigable Arctic Ocean, is fine-tuning (or not) its foreign policy with Arctic change. The first
part of the discussion looks at discernable or potential French national interests related to
in the Arctic. The second part attempts to identify various political actors and discourses in
the French foreign policy
in Paris that have been contributing to the emerging
debate on how the ‘new’ Arctic is an issue for France (and the EU), thus requiring
corresponding actions by these actors in the region.
Part 1: The French
French interests in the Arctic are rooted in the exploration and the study of Arctic spaces
and northern peoples. Despite their geographical distances with both polar regions, the
French have produced many famous polar explorers and scientists dating back to the 18
century, such as geographer and glaciologist Charles Rabot (1856-1944) and
geomorphologist Jean Corbel (1920-1970), who now both share their names with France’s