Arctic Strategies and Policies. Inventory and Comparative Study 

By Lassi Heininen

The Northern Research Forum (NRF) and University of Lapland Press, Akureyri, August 2011.

Full article is available as PDF file on the NRF website:




In the early twenty-first century international attention and global interest in the northernmost regions of the globe are increasing, at the same time the geo-strategic importance of the Arctic is growing. Since the end of the Cold War international northern cooperation - both between the Arctic states and between them and non-state actors - has become more institutionalized and dynamic. On one hand there is multilateral international cooperation within the Arctic Council as well as cooperation with and between indigenous peoples’ organizations, other international organizations and forums, in addition to bilateral inter-state relations. On the other hand, cooperation is functional within certain fields, for example, between academic institutions on higher education, civilian organizations on environmental protection, and civil societies on regional development and culture.

The circumpolar North is changing rapidly with respect to environmental, geo-economic and geopolitical terms. Among the more relevant indicators of such change are those of climate change, the importance of energy security, the increased utilization of energy resources and related transport, and the possibility of new global sea routes. All eight Arctic states – Canada, Kingdom of Denmark including Greenland and the Faroe Islands, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the USA – are responding to these changes by (re)defining their northern policies and interests nationally, as well as their position and role in the Arctic region and northern cooperation. After Sweden launched its strategy for policy in the Arctic region in May 2011 all of them have adopted their specific national arctic strategies and policy papers, or a draft thereof. Interestingly, The Kingdom of Denmark launched its Strategy for the Arctic 2011 - 2020 (Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2011), including Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, in August 2011.

With this in mind, it would be politically relevant and scientifically interesting to analyze the geopolitical situation and distinguish influential indicators, by identifying key factors and dynamics, as well as mapping relationships between indicators. Furthermore, it is relevant to study the Arctic states and their policies, and to explore their changing position in a globalized world where the role of the Arctic has become increasingly important in world politics. Moreover, a careful analysis of the interrelations between the Arctic states and other important international actors, particularly Northern indigenous peoples´ organizations, and those between the Arctic interests, agendas and objectives, would be essential for such a study. Thus on one hand, an in-depth scientific multi- or interdisciplinary research effort, and the ability to transform scientific knowledge into decision-making is required (e.g. Segerståhl 2008). On the other hand, an open and issue-oriented dialogue between members of the research community and a wide range of stakeholders is needed, as is the creation of knowledge-based networks or ‘epistemic communities’ (e.g. Heininen 2008). This could be achieved by observing the accumulated experience such as in the work of the Arctic Council and its working groups; the processes of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report (ACIA) and the Arctic Human Development Report (AHDR). Other examples would be those of the Arctic Parliamentarians and its conferences as well as in the open assemblies of the Northern Research Forum1.

The Northern Research Forum (NRF) and the University of the Arctic (UArctic) have put forth a tentative proposal to initiate a project concerning an “Inventory and Assessment on Arctic and Northern policies, and the Interplay between Science and Politics in Northern Issues” (see Tentative draft of November 2009). Such a project would be a (modest) step in support of the ambitious efforts mentioned above. Initially this would require the cooperation of the NRF, the UArctic and the Standing Commit ee for Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region (SCPAR) - all of which have accepted the principle idea - but would later, hopefully, include both the International Arctic Science Commit ee (IASC) and the International Arctic Social Sciences Association (IASSA). One way of implementing this idea would be by organising issue specific joint sessions in conferences and other meetings of the Arctic Parliamentarians or those of the University of the Arctic, as well as in the Open Assemblies of the NRF2. Furthermore, the joint Thematic Network on Geopolitics and Security of the UArctic and the NRF would act as a springboard or scientific advisory board, and the Standing Commit ee for Arctic Parliamentarians as a political advisory board for this kind of project.

A logical first step toward a comprehensive study would be an inventory and comparative analysis of the strategies, policies and agendas of the Arctic states regarding the Arctic. Consequently, this paper presents such an inventory on, and comparative study of, the national arctic / northern strategies and policies, and priorities / priority areas and policy objectives of of the Arctic states as well as the emerging Arctic policy of the European Union; a draft version of this (Heininen 2011) was presented to the Standing Committee for Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region in February 2011 in Tromsö, Norway. Were there to be enough interest and (financial) support, this could be followed through with, for example, an inventory on, and assessment of, policies and agendas of of the Arctic states as well as the emerging Arctic policy of Indigenous peoples’ organizations and other Arctic actors. Another method could include a survey and assessment of the interplay between science and politics in northern cooperation and policies, possibly including recommendations on how to further promote and strengthen such interplay.