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Arctic Yearbook 2012
Thawing Ice and French Foreign Policy: A Preliminary Assessment
The Air Force participated alongside the US and Canada in the exercise
“Red Flag” in 2009 in Alaska;
Every year, French pilots undergo survival exercises in the North Calotte
region (Arctic parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland).
In addition to reviewing its military capabilities for the North, and as of 2010, the Ministry of
Defense also integrated an Arctic security component to its national military school research
institute (IRSEM), as a way to produce and promote northern defense related academic
Part 2: Impacts of the ‘New’ Arctic on French Policies
As stated in the introduction, despite its interests in or related to the circumpolar north,
France has not yet developed any policy or strategy for the Arctic. However, it has started to
demonstrate through discourse that the changes occurring in the circumpolar north will have
beyond-the-region impacts, thus affecting French and European interests. While keeping in
mind the relationship between France and the Arctic (part 1), the second part of this paper
offers a brief overview of how France has been reacting to Arctic change. It tries to
unscramble an emerging circumpolar narrative that seems to be put forward to defend
French interests related to specific issues in the north.
Since the early 2000s, climate change has rapidly become a major issue of concern for both
Arctic and non-Arctic states (ACIA, 2004). This phenomenon has not been limited to Arctic
states, since others, such as France, have been openly concerned by the impacts of climate
change on
outside the Arctic zone. Furthermore, in the early 2000s, global warming,
thawing ice and increased economic activities in the Arctic, coupled with a Russian flag
planting ‘stunt’ in the Arctic Ocean, are today seen as accumulated contextual factors that
had impacts on how the world perceived the circumpolar north at that time. Arctic sea-ice
has been disappearing at record levels since the 1970s, attaining a historic peak in 2007. That
year, “the sea ice crashed, melting to a summer minimum of 4.3m sq km (1.7 square miles),
close to half the average for the 1960s and 24% below the previous minimum, set in 2005”
(The Economist, 2012). It was also the summer that “left the north-west passage, a sea-lane
through Canada’s 36,000-island Arctic Archipelago, ice-free for the first time in memory”
(ibid). Arctic change was thus becoming a reality. And so, thawing polar ice instinctively