Greenland’s Role in Changing Arctic Governance

World Policy Blog posted an article titled, “Greenland’s Role in Changing Arctic Governance.” The article reads in part as follows;

This week, former World Policy Journal editorial assistant Natasha Bluth interviews Inuuteq Holm Olsen, the first Greenlandic representative at the Embassy of Denmark to the United States, and Jessica M. Shadian, the outgoing Nansen Professor at the University of Akureyri and a distinguished senior fellow at the Bill Graham Centre for Contemporary International History, University of Toronto. In their article, “Greenland & the Arctic Council: Subnational Regions in a Time of Arctic Westphalianisation,” Olsen and Shadian examine changing Arctic governance, which they argue is best understood through the process of Westphalianization. Today, interest in the Arctic region and Arctic politics is growing among non-Arctic states at the same time that subnational actors are gaining or seeking greater participation in the Arctic Council. Olsen and Shadian look at Greenland as an example of what future intergovernmental relations hold for Arctic issues, highlighting the tension between this growing interest in the region and Greenland’s diminishing role in Arctic decision-making.

NATASHA BLUTH: Your article considers international relations theory to investigate subnational regions in a time of Arctic Westphalianization. What is Westphalianization and what does it look like in the Arctic region?

JESSICA M. SHADIAN: I use international relations theory to look at the role of subnational regions, because traditional international relations theory focuses only on state relations and state cooperation. In conventional international relations, when you have a political regime, it is comprised of its member countries, as is the case in the African Union, ASEAN, or even NAFTA or the EU. Conventionally, states come together for particular reasons—economic, political, or security reasons—to figure out how they can better cooperate, rather than compete, and how they can work together strategically.

The Arctic Council is quite interesting because, alongside the eight Arctic states, there have always been the indigenous Permanent Participants (PPs), which have seats at the table and have played an important role from the Council’s inception. I would argue that over the last six to seven years, since Arthur Chilingarov planted a flag in 2007 at the floor of the Arctic seabed, the Arctic Council has become more and more state-centric in the way it operates. Yet, because the Arctic Council was not created through a treaty, it cannot create legally binding regulations. Instead, the eight states have been going outside the Arctic Council and working together to construct and sign binding resolutions. It is this sidestepping of the Arctic Council (where PPs are members) to make binding resolutions that I call the Westphalianization of the Arctic region. Some of the actions by the member states with the most accountability are those resolutions that are made under the auspices of the Arctic Council and by the Arctic states themselves, but not as official actions of the Arctic Council.

There’s a Westaphalianization in a sense in the Arctic region, but what is also happening is that subnational regions in and of themselves are becoming more politically powerful. They are starting to cooperate with one another, they have more financial grounding, and they have a lot more political autonomy, knowledge, and experience than at the beginning of the Arctic Council. But there is not a formal role for those entities in the Arctic Council. So, we see two competing forces. And within all of this, you have the PPs who are trying to navigate both trends because they comprise many of the subnational nations and are doing their best in trying to represent them. They’re also trying to secure their role in the Arctic Council, which is increasingly difficult as it requires the skills and legal competences of statecraft. In addition, more work means more financial obligations, and many of the PPs have very limited operating budgets (the recent signing of the Algu Fund, to ensure northern indigenous participation in the Council, will hopefully come to offset some of the financial challenges).”

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