The Future of Arctic Cooperation in a Changing Strategic Environment

Insights from a Scenario-Based Exercise Organised by RAND and Hosted by NUPI

by Stephanie Pezard, Abbie Tingstad, Alexandra Hall

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In recent years, the Arctic has been increasingly described as a region of intensifying geostrategic competition. As the region's ice cover gets thinner and smaller in area due to rising temperatures, there could be a number of implications:

  • Some resource-rich areas previously inaccessible may become increasingly attractive;
  • Maritime sea routes could be more heavily used by both commercial and military traffic; and
  • Coastal communities in the far north may experience new opportunities, as well as elevated risks from a variety of hazards.

By most accounts cooperation in the Arctic region remains strong. Institutions such as the Arctic Council support agreements between nations and other stakeholders on areas of common concern, such as search and rescue and oil-spill responses. Meanwhile, nations with an interest in the region have generally agreed that coordinated action furthers the interests of all.

However, despite Arctic being one of most conflict-free regions in the world, questions have emerged about how resilient it would be to major changes, some of which the region is already experiencing, and whether the current patterns of cooperation between nations would continue.

This Perspective summarises the results of a table-top exercise that examined factors that could potentially upset Arctic cooperation in the 2020 decade, focusing on overlapping extended continental shelf claims; increased maritime activity; and maritime incidents. This exercise confirmed the solidity of Arctic cooperation, but also identified potential "wild cards" that could make negotiated solutions more difficult to reach.

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This project is a RAND Venture. Funding was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted by RAND Europe.

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