Explaining the Arctic Council Secretariat: Norms and Values (Part I)

The Arctic Institute published an article titled, “Explaining the Arctic Council Secretariat: Norms and Values (Part I)”. The article reads in part as follows:

Why does an organisation undertake a reform, despite having been resistant to change in previous years? And why does it choose a reform that contradicts its original loose structure without implementing further reforms that would make it a more formal, treaty-based organization? These questions arise in the case of the establishment of the Arctic Council Secretariat in 2013. This paper aims at explaining the reasons for this specific and rather surprising reform. The Arctic Council (AC) was created in 1996 as a high-level intergovernmental forum for the coordination of Arctic politics by the “Arctic Eight”.1) Its main aim is the promotion of “cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic states, with the involvement of the Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues”.2) While becoming an increasingly important actor in Arctic affairs by facilitating regional cooperation, the Council’s status as a high-level forum persists. It does not have the legal status of an international organization and its institutional capacity is limited.3) Instead, the AC is a loosely structured “creature of [its] founding states and routinely responsive to their wishes”.4)

Despite this permanent configuration as a political forum, the AC’s structure has been modified. In 2011, the decision to establish a permanent secretariat was declared. Two years later, the permanent secretariat was established in Tromsø, Norway. There are two reasons why this reform is a surprising step. First, the establishment of the permanent secretariat is the only reform of the AC’s institutional structure so far.5) Second, permanent secretariats are bodies associated with more formal, treaty-based international organizations.6) They are “tools to assist the parties to a treaty to fulfill the treaty obligations and to ease compliance with the treaty provisions”.7) Despite the establishment of the permanent secretariat, the AC was not transformed into a formalized treaty-based organization. Thus, the formal character of the permanent secretariat does not really fit the otherwise loosely structured political forum the Arctic Council is. Based on these considerations, the establishment of the permanent Arctic Council secretariat (ACS) forms an empirical puzzle that undergirds the research question of this paper: Why did the Arctic Council establish a permanent secretariat in 2013?

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