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How can current and future stakeholders shape these specific futures?

Posted By Tyler Mongan, Friday, November 13, 2020

Tyler Mongan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the role of stakeholders who will likely affect Arctic alternative futures in his eleventh blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.

The rate of climate change is the key driver for investment and decision making in the Arctic. Regardless of nation state actions, a Blue Arctic seems inevitable, with ice melt continuing on its current trajectory leading to ice free summers by 2050. A White Arctic is a future outlier, rather than a future norm. A reversal of ice melt would require drastic global initiatives to reduce climate change effects. The Arctic Nations cannot drive these changes alone. Even with drastic changes, the complexity of climate change makes it difficult to predict the outcomes. Planning for the needle to move towards a White Arctic future has limited strategic foresight value. Geopolitical strategies must originate from the context of a Blue Arctic. Nation states will then need to decide if they want to shape the Blue Arctic into a Green, Red or Spotted Arctic future over the next 30 years.

A Green Arctic seems like the most responsible and advantageous future state for several reasons. First, even with ice melt there is still an opportunity for sustainable development and responsible extraction and use of the Arctic resources. To shape this, nation states would need to develop a common commitment to shared suitability goals and enforceable measures for rule breakers. This could mean a strong Arctic Council or the creation of a new governing body.

Second, within a Green Arctic, nations can cooperate to reduce the risk of developing and operating in the region, while expanding the access to new economic and transportation opportunities. Multilateral economic development and collaborative research projects would be the norm, while unilateral and bilateral activity decreases. This would reduce conflict over EEZs, shifting fisheries and limit the focus on military buildup.

Finally, a Green Arctic requires a commitment by Nation states to keep the arctic demilitarized. A demilitarized region decreases the burden of strategic competition on the region and removes the costs to develop, maintain, and operate an arctic-fit military. With a deceased threat of military conflict, multilateral cooperation and investment on arctic resource extraction and transportation infrastructure development can flourish.

To avoid a Red Arctic Future nation states must learn from past conflicts and be aware of how framing the future of the Arctic can create trajectories towards more competition. The Cod Wars provide insight into how micro conflicts in the region can escalate. If micro conflicts become widespread as nations purse economic and military interests, the region can easily become destabilized. Micro conflicts need to be addressed quickly and multilaterally.

Further, the US has framed the Arctic as a place of strategic competition, while Russia is initiating plans to renew cold war military infrastructure. If this trajectory continues there will be a steady growth in military infrastructure and activity in the Arctic. European Arctic Nations and Canada need to take more initiative in sustaining a demilitarized region by addressing both the US language and Russian activity. This might require a stronger Arctic Council that can enforce a rule of law. However, the development of a stronger Arctic Council will require approval and support by both US and Russia to limit unilateral operations in the region. Both countries might be hesitant to agree on this especially as the melting ice decreases the barrier between them.

A Spotted Arctic futures seems like the most likely outcome in the region. Some portions might remain ice covered, reducing accessibility and development of the area. Green Arctic areas can be developed through commitment to shared goals and be a path to cooperative prosperity. However, the threat of a Red Arctic, and the path towards competitive burden, can quickly overshadow the region and drive decision making. The Arctic Nations are at a critical decision making juncture that will set the tone for the next 30 years.

© Tyler Mongan 2020

Tags:  Arctic  competition  military 

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