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Who are the stakeholders of these alternative futures?

Posted By Tyler Mongan, Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Tyler Mongan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the ownership of Arctic natural resources in his ninth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

As Arctic nations pursue their interests, stakeholder relevance and opportunities will depend on which futures emerge. We can image four alternative futures that will shape the stakeholder landscape in the region: (1) A White Arctic with no change in ice levels, or a reversal of ice melt, leading to a decrease in access to the region. (2) A Blue Arctic featuring an increase in open and navigable waters governed by the rule of law (3) A Red Arctic featuring open waters within a context of strategic competition and conflict, and (4) A Green Arctic featuring open waters within a context of sustainable economic development and cooperation.

If the ice melt stalls, or shows signs of reversal, we will see a White Arctic future emerge. Current stakeholders will dominate the landscape with little change in power dynamics. Financial investment and overall risk will be extremely high for new stakeholders to venture into the region. Further, a trend of ice melt reversal would make future investments in the region and the promises of past investments less tenable. Overall, very few stakeholders would be in a position to make investments in the region. Russia would be an exception simply because they control the largest portion of the Arctic circle, but even their efforts would be stalled.

If the ice melt continues on the current trend, it will result in a Blue Arctic future with longer periods of ice-free waters. In the Blue Arctic rule-of-law is the norm and the Arctic Council is a relevant power. Russian transportation and natural resources extraction companies, and their partners become larger stakeholders in the region. In general, the shipping industry takes a larger and long-term stake in the region. Chinese research and investment partners expand their access in the region. US stakeholders continue to lag behind in their efforts to access the region. Canada solidifies control over their portion of the Arctic and increases indigenous people’s relevance to their region. Military stakeholder access will be limited by agreed upon rules and cooperation efforts.

The Blue Arctic could easily slip into a Red Arctic future if the rule-of-law is compromised by strategic competition and conflict. If this future emerges, the military could become the dominate stakeholder in the region. Russia will extend its control over the shipping routes and form new partnerships with China to invest in closing off a portion of the Arctic. The US will be forced to increase its military presence in the region, and Russia and China will respond with similar build ups. Shifts in fisheries could lead to naval conflict. In this Red Arctic future economic development stakeholders are overshadowed by military stakeholders in the region.

The Blue Arctic could also transform into a Green Arctic with a stronger Arctic Council to ensure the rule-of-law and support sustainable development and continued cooperation in the region. In this alternative future the environment and indigenous people become more important stakeholders in the decision making process. Stakeholders that bolster cooperation, follow sustainable development guidelines, and increase safety, while decreasing risk, will thrive in the region. This could include resources extraction businesses, transportation operations and research partnerships. Tourism could also open up the region to a more global stakeholder perspective as more people are able to experience the Arctic’s mystic.

As milestones alert us to which alternative future is most likely to arise, stakeholders will begin to position themselves to take advantage of emerging long-term possibilities. The stakeholders who are willing to take a risk and invest in their desired future will also shape the future of the region. This cycle will have local, national and global implications and will determine if Arctic geopolitics trend towards strategic conflict or economic and environmental cooperation.


© Tyler Mongan 2020
 

Tags:  Arctic region  natural resources  Russia 

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