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
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