Friday, February 6, 2015

Jokkmokk Winter Conference - The Other Side of Things

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Arctic Frontiers conference, what I saw, and how I interpreted it. It oozed a slick kind of velour with all of the enforced seriousness you get with heads of state in attendance. As a consequence those smaller voices were marginalized, or presented in a way that was to make the big players give themselves a pat on the back for bringing them in. But I'll save the bitter recriminations that are perhaps obvious to those who go to these things a lot. The short story is that though interesting, I felt there was a lack of the local there, a lack of the small voice, and a lack of frank discussion.

The Jokkmokk Winter Conference couldn't have been any more different, with the attendance being half made up of students and the rest being various professionals in the field. Overall it was set up to encourage a lot of frank discussion, and discussion was had. Geared as it was towards the young or up and coming researchers in the Arctic/Climate Change, the conference really focused on communicating results and the gap between knowledge and action and possible ways to overcome it. I saw it as something of a training workshop for all of us young people that are frustrated with lack of action on Climate Change, something to encourage us to get out there and make ourselves heard. There was also a heavy local flavor at this conference, and it came across as very grass-roots, very much the opposite of Arctic Frontiers.

I'll make a few comments on how I view what was said.

Communicating Complexity

One of the first presenters and, I think, the one that really set the tone for this conference was Ilan Kellman from University College London. He had a very practical and sobering message regarding how to talk about Climate Change and some puzzling questions for the reasons that governments have done so little. He reminded us that CO2 has been suspected as a potential climate altering gas since the 1820s, and that Climate Change as an issue has existed since the 60s, with the IPCC, in his words, drowning in its own bureaucracy since 1990. It's only become more clear that it presents a threat, but the message has remained very unclear. He outlined the slipperiness and origin of terms like adaptation and mitigation, what they really mean, and how they have changed over time. It seemed to me from his presentation that we have just been moving words around this whole time, with a still unclear goal. Are we trying to stop Climate Change? Are we just trying to muddle through it?

Ilan also spoke on the issues of power in play, with both the vested interests and the not, and how challenging it is communicating the full complexity of Climate Change. People have short attention spans and generally don't want to look at issues in a complex way. Climate Change is such an easy thing to ridicule in a 140 character tweet, and so difficult to defend in the same format. Climate scientists make mistakes, and any mistakes make them easy pickings. On the issue of power, it's not just the sort of black and white world of the activists, with the Koch brothers trying to drag us into an abyss to preserve their own fortunes. The same power struggles exist among climate scientists, and Ilan related personal stories of being told specifically never to criticize the IPCC no matter their mistakes. I try to imagine the complexity of the response to climate change, and see only countless drab offices each filled with this or that petty tribal chief defending their own turf from any perceived attack. We have on our hands an issue where everyone is to blame and nobody wants to take any, it's no wonder we haven't been able to respond effectively to this challenge. We're simply too confused to properly respond.

He left us with a few messages to hopefully cut through this kind of behavior, which is to be honest, critiquing, and self-reflexive. I think this is the right sentiment but wonder if several billion of us can adopt the sort of soul-searching introspective qualities and honesty that are probably required to head off Climate Change. I thought that one of his really interesting points was when he asked why it is that Climate Change in particular has to define everything when it might be better to plan for the future in general. This is interesting because it had a host of follow on considerations, like, if there was no defining issue for the future, would there be any incentive to invest in long-term planning like renewable resources or curbing emissions? I think strategically thinking there has to be at least an element of fear to push changes, certainly not the only element, but it has to exist in some part.

Application to Strategy

Strategically speaking, this sort of word play and fear making in the Climate Change narrative is necessary. The goal is to move a body of people in a general direction that they don't want to move in. Discomfort must exist for people to change. Yes, I hold some aspect of disgust at the fact that we have to resort to such word play to get things moving. Because if you look at things in a cold, rational kind of way, yeah, the Climate Change narrative can come across as extremely annoying. People are out there seriously telling people to do things that are "good for the planet." A stupider phrase might exist, but I haven't heard it, and it really trivializes the complexity of the relationship between humans and the ecosystems in which we live.

There is something incongruous about having to package the multifaceted, chimeric nature of Climate Change into such simple bits, but it's necessary, and the unfortunate side effect is that because the narrative doesn't encapsulate the full truth of the issue, it's easy to criticize and to troll. This makes it a bit self-defeating, but I'm not sure it can be avoided, because if it doesn't contain some element of fear or urgency in it, people aren't going to bother taking the long view when they have immediate issues affecting them. The Climate Change narrative either gets bogged down by nit-picking criticism or it runs the risk of never getting over the top of the immediate crises of the day.

It's perhaps easy to get frustrated by these very human fallacies, but Climate Change is a human issue and there's no getting around the fact that one of the biggest parts of finding a solution is communicating the problem in a way that galvanizes action. The greatest difficulty in curbing climate change won't be in finding technical means to make renewables viable, or in defeating resourced and vested interests, but in getting people to change very ingrained behavior and look to the long term. To link strategy to their daily lives.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Arctic Frontiers - My Impressions

I had the privilege to go to Arctic Frontiers last weekend as part of the U Arctic group of Student Ambassadors, and have a few impressions related to my work on Arctic Strategy (which has bloomed a bit to also encompass general research on whether or not governments are taking appropriate measures to confront climate change and protect the Arctic in a broad sense). These come from my viewings of a few of the presentations on hand, the general setting, and meetings with PM Stubb, the Prince of Monaco, the Foreign Affairs Minister of Norway, and Admiral Papp, US Special Representative to the Arctic.

One thing to note before I dive into it, is that this is a very high-level conference, and though grass roots players were present, they seemed to me to take a back stage or secondary role to the heads of state, business players, and NGO leaders. So it's not the whole story of thoughts and interests for the Arctic, but a highly influential side of things regardless. Perhaps the most influential.

Business Seems More Important than the Environment

This is the general theme that I got from this conference, though much of the time it was subtext that I interpreted. Many speakers brought up the recent Nature article about how to prevent a temperature rise of 2C or over, the oil in the Arctic has to remain in the ground, but these were limited to NGO leaders like Samantha Smith of the WWF or the Prince of Monaco, or their like. Business leaders and government officials emphasized the business opportunities of the globalized and warming Arctic.

Either that or they seemed to adopt a somber persona and warn of the dangers, right before getting animated and talking about the "exploding" rise in Arctic shipping as Papp did. Dr. Yang, a Chinese scientist gave a speech warning about the potential extreme weather and loss of coastline that China will experience under fully realized climate change, right before expressing the opportunities for shorter shipping routes. Interesting, will the kilometers saved from a northern sea route compensate for a submerged Shanghai (his own prediction)?  Likewise, Admiral Papp mentioned that the Singaporeans are hugely interested in the Arctic for both the threat a melting Arctic brings their small, coastal city-state, as well as for the potential for business.

This lack of urgency, as the Prince put it, is worrying, but not new. Governmental legitimacy is staked on providing a certain standard of living for their peoples, and this in the current day means a symbiotic relationship between them and big business (Mathias Finger, 2013, What Does the Arctic Teach us?). Keep the growth going at all cost, both of them rely on it.

Adaptation, not Mitigation

 Overwhelmingly, the strategic emphasis seemed to be on adaptation to climate change and changing conditions in the Arctic. Admiral Papp mentioned it as one of the three priorities for the American chairmanship, and there was little mention of strategic mitigation at this conference that I could see. This is possibly due to the fact that it's something of a regional gathering that perhaps has little impact on mitigation anyways, but many of the Arctic countries are highly involved globally, and what happens in the Arctic has global impacts so it's discouraging to see so little discussion of it.

Oil Drilling in the Arctic is Inevitable

Admiral Papp said this explicitly, and others, including a representative from an oil consulting company and Fran Ulmer, former Lt. Governor of Alaska, more or less implied this. Indeed, the aforementioned representative and Fran Ulmer had very similar statements about this topic, both saying that whether or not it happens is down to economics, politics, and (Fran only) demographics. But hearing this while at the same time hearing from Fran that the industry is of a split opinion on whether or not it's technologically capable of safely exploiting Arctic reserves is worrisome. Low oil prices now, true, but that is temporary. Economics and demographics then will likely demand it, and politics will, for the same reasons mentioned earlier, allow it.

The International System is Inadequate

I asked the PM of Finland whether or not he thought this was true and he confirmed it. He did say that the governance systems developing in the Arctic are a good start, but also mentioned that big countries like the US and Russia like the status quo because they benefit from it, while small countries may want differences, their ability to enforce that is relatively slight.

Overall then, I got the impression that most players are either resistant to change or have limited influence to bring it about, whether it be small countries or regional players. To me I see it as a disconnect between the Arctic region and the wider globe. What happens in the Arctic is determined by the activities of those outside of it. But with such powerful players in the Arctic I don't see this disconnect as insurmountable.

The Arctic is perhaps our best opportunity yet to test our systems' abilities to plan ahead, to take the long view in the context of confronting something that is on the horizon, but not quite arrived yet. On the issue of the Arctic, those with stakes seem to yield to the fact that the global system will enforce the effects of climate change, and are seeking to adapt more than anything else and get some gain out of it. This is too bad, the United States is a power that could powerfully merge global issues with the Arctic, instead of continuing to treat it like a region alone. Unfortunately, they seem to rate it a secondary issue at best. But their chairmanship is approaching, and they are paying more attention than before.

I will take the liberty of editorializing though and cherry picking a vignette from the conference to reinforce my thoughts. Dr. George Hunt, a fisheries scientist from the University of Washington, explained that there will likely be an increase in fishery viability in the Arctic due to warming, and that those species that rely on summer ice are in existential trouble. When asked by the moderator if there was anything to be done, he said something along the lines of "at this point it's not looking good for them." The moderator then replied "Well that's depressing," and moved the conference along. In my mind, I just see that as evidence that people don't want to confront the difficult truths at hand.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Barents Studies: Past, Present, and Future - Takeaways

 New Wrinkles

Yesterday I attended the Barents Studies Symposium at the Arctic Centre and learned some new perspectives and new angles on the Arctic that I hadn't thought of before. It's interesting when you think of something like the Arctic, and I'm the perfect tabula rasa for this because I grew up in a geographical desert paradoxically constantly abuzz with the activities of people, and could only imagine the Arctic as a big white empty place. Then, to have a conference like this which focused on a pretty small corner of the Arctic for an entire day that left me with the feeling that we had only really scratched the surface in terms of complexity made me happy. Nothing like finding a rich and novel lode of knowledge to delve into. I also have some more reasons to be positive after the conference than before, which is good because too much pessimism about our capabilities to right our ship won't help.

Cause to be Positive

I've developed something of a gloomy outlook on the world's and the Arctic's state of affairs, with the feeling that we have these huge, possibly insurmountable challenges in the way of adopting the right strategies and cooperating effectively. Normally I'm a very positive person in my daily life, and I'm very much not a perfectionist, preferring to just move ahead even when things aren't perfect. Why then /am was I so pessimistic about Arctic affairs and the current system's approach to complex problems? Because most literature is a litany of negatives! So out of this conference I heard some encouraging things from Aileen Espiritu, Pekka Huhtala, and Greg Poelzer.

Aileen's presentation was about futures of the Arctic, and man is this generally kind of a downer of a topic. She didn't present it that way, and in fact flipped something I had held as more less true and made it a bit more nuanced. I love nuance. I had become convinced, based off of some readings from various foreign policy think tanks and the general atmosphere of worry over Russia, that our increased interconnectedness would lead to the potential for spill-over tensions in the Arctic. She reminded me that northern Norway was liberated by the Soviets in WWII and that this has had a long-standing effect on their relationship to this day, and that the relationship remains very strong there. The people up there are aghast at the current unpleasantness and in fact are so interconnected economically that they stand to lose a lot if it continues. In her estimation, the peoples of the north have been able to compartmentalize themselves to some extent from the Ukrainian crisis, and people have continued to cooperate in spite of it. Peter Sköld from the University of Umeå backed this idea up and also said that research cooperation and most of the other long-standing forms of cooperation have continued more of less unabated. There's been no Cold War in the Arctic because of the Ukrainian crisis so far. I asked Aileen straight up if the increased interconnectedness is more a barrier to conflict than a potential flashpoint and she confirmed that.

Though I still tend to think it goes both ways. Pekka Huhtala talked about the town of Salla and its project to become a tourism gateway from Russia to bring it back from its flagging economic weariness. It all sounded very good and hopeful but he himself mentioned that the town they are partnering with could at any time be reopened to Russian military activities and become a prohibited place again, putting the kabosh on those plans. So yes overlapping cooperative commitments and long-standing enmeshed business interests that span ever increasingly impermeable borders have to a large degree deflected major conflict, but it can ALSO serve to bring distant problems to roost. Yes the peoples of the Arctic have mitigated and ignored the tensions of the Ukrainian conflict to a large degree, but not totally, and the fact it's even an issue people are discussing and worrying about suggests that it's a two way street. But it seems to be mostly a positive thing, this interconnectedness.

Another real positive takeaway that I noticed was just how active local authorities are in participating to a degree that gives their small areas some agency, and overall how local communities have positioned themselves in the Barents Region to benefit. That's one of the big worries for the future, that behemoths will descend and squash local communities. But from hearing Peter Sköld talk about how active Swedish municipalities and communities were in participating in research and policy fields, and from Pekka about how his local community and some neighboring ones in Russia are working to establish some industry for themselves is encouraging. In fact, many of the presentations were about local initiatives, or initiatives formed by local groups and municipalities in the Barents region that are actively participating in policy formation. As Aileen mentioned in her presentation, civil society has become very active in pursuing agency in the Barents, and is trending towards more and more activity.

Greg Poelzer from the University of Luleå even had some positives to say about the mining industry and its relations with local communities, which is generally not a sentence formulated by humans on Earth. Apparently in a couple of cases they went beyond the token consultations required and took it upon themselves to actively engage with the community and connect their well-being with the well-being of the company, in reality. Now ok, this is based off of two (2) cases in Sweden, a place where things that are usually bad are sometimes ok anyways, but it's an interesting case study.

Lastly, and this isn't really related to the conference except that it was pointed out to me there, but the United States has recently gone on something of a media campaign showing its new found respect for the weightiness of Arctic issues. Their priorities for the Arctic Council chairmanship don't even contain the words "economic development," instead focusing on environmental issues, stewardship (though I know from the US strategy that this is a more obtuse formulation of "sustainable development"), and the well being of Arctic peoples. Our new envoy delivered a great speech hitting the right points about how the Arctic is populated and that constitutes the most important considerations and the like. So the US appears to now be taking the Arctic quite seriously, although in a Q&A session Admiral Papp (the new envoy) mentioned that worldwide crises sometimes push the Arctic aside for those making the decisions. Take that for what you will.

But a Sobering Context

With all of those positives aside, staunch commitment to cooperation, extremely active participation at all levels, and increased and positive US engagement, they still need to be put in context, which proves to be a bit sobering.

There seems to be little movement on the front of climate change. Scientists from the IPCC and elsewhere have only gotten more shrill and more bleak up to their latest report. That's something that's going to happen outside of the Arctic and the Barents Region for the most part. It's great that local communities have some agency in parts of the Arctic on Arctic issues, but what influence do they have on the high politics and drama that is the upcoming climate talks? Not a lot. They are directly faced by the coming changes and they are happening now, to politicians in the centers of power it is still something to be hemmed and hawed about, though that seems to be slowly changing.

The Obama administration is more focused on climate change than any other US administration, and Secretary of State Kerry has worked tirelessly to advance that agenda, but that rings hollow in the face of the just resolved midterm elections that has seen the elevation of what will in all likelihood be a legislative body, at best, apathetic to climate issues and the Arctic (aside from resources). They have stretched what the executive branch can do more than most administrations, and beyond that there won't be a lot of legal movement it seems. As for their commitment to the Arctic, Admiral Papp has unveiled some exciting stuff, but it still smacks more of a media campaign than a herald for serious change, for the reasons already articulated. He wants to put the Arctic Council on "steroids" which is quite promising, but what teeth does that promise have after Obama's presidency?

What's more, even in the Arctic, the trends seem to be, as said by Aileen Espiritu, towards increased industry and urbanization. This might be very good for the local populace but what does it mean for the environment?

Overall yes, positives to take away from this Barents seminar. People are paying attention to the region, people in the region are being incredibly active in trying to make the changing situations benefit them, and the US is taking things more seriously, at least for the moment. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Problems Go Deep

The Problems Go Deep

I wrote previously about the possible governance structures for the future that would be needed to deal with the complex problems coming to both the Arctic and the wider world. Truly this is important in a nuts and bolts kind of way, important like a beam is important to a building's structural integrity, but I have to also think about things more fundamentally. Policy and the like is ultimately something of a reflection of what people want, at least in democracies. People put that beam there. Corruption and the like aside, governments cater to us, or try to anyways. But people want what is easy and what is comfortable, and generally we think about things in the short term and the near.

There's a sense in the US that voting and citizenship is just picking from an established menu, and for that reason politics seemed like something very far away. If people are conditioned this way, and think largely in the short term and selfishly, and governments reflect this kind of thinking, how will it be possible to address complex problems like those in the Arctic? I've been researching strategy but it seems that along this line of thinking it's going to reflect and cater to the same thin, short term thinking that has gotten us into this jackpot. 

 A New Way to Frame the Mindset

Recently I came across Jon Alexander's talk on Citizenship and Consumerism on the BBC, which you can check out here if you'd like, that inspired this line of thought. In it, he described the deep-set nature of how we have been drilled to think as consumers in all things, which he describes as being about passive choosers of the "best of these [options] for ourselves, measured in material standards of living, as narrowly defined individiuals, in the short term." And he does a good job putting into words something I had thought of in a nebulous way, which is that everything is measured against this mentality. Our success is measured in how much money we earn, what objects we have, and, especially growing up in southern California, it seemed that most people were content working simply to fill up their houses with accumulated bricabrac and fetishes (as in, objects of attributed worship) like a magpie or an infintely less useful accretion disk.

Mr. Alexander relates this seemingly unconnected way of living to politics, in that peoples' desires to be satisfied in material means in the short term over thinking to the long term and towards the collective good is reflected in politics, where politicians are elected to satisfy the same desires. You can relate this to Arctic strategy in that every one of the documents seems to hold economic performance and development as a high priority. I think back to the public relations element of these documents and have to wonder if all of that language about environmentalism is just to keep up appearances while countries continue to delve right into the paradox of Arctic development. It has seemed as though the bonanza won't be realised quite as fast as people thought, but that's perhaps more a function of global economic factors like lowering oil prices more than a conscious choice to leave the Arctic unspoiled, despite the more or less known long term benefits of doing so.

What to Do?

In terms of actual positive trends, Mr. Alexander sees some serious cause for hope in the Internet as a medium, in that it's very participatory and is a great tool to get involved and to become more of a Citizen than a Consumer, which he distinguishes as someone actively trying to take some agency over the menu rather than just picking from a set of options. Of course, I've been on the Internet enough to know that it can just be another area to be barraged with consumerist propoganda, but at least it is a two way street, unlike the television. We'll see if it becomes another case of "we can't have nice things" in the future. I can see either way.

Ultimately the message you can take away is that people need to be more participatory and look beyond their short term comforts as the only thing to worry about. One thing the Arctic has going for it as a region is that, in fits and spurts, it is seeing quite a lot of high level active participation in policy making by the average citizen. You can see that reflected in the Arctic Council, with indigenous participants, NGOs, and the like. In all it's a more experimental mix of vested participants than the usual arrangement and national strategies should be encouraging more of that diversification and more participation from the average citizen. To try to break the citizen out of apathy, in other words. But maybe that's not the place of government, and more the place of the citizens themselves. I suppose that's a bit cyclical, does the government prod the citizens or the citizens the government? Perhaps both.

Though as I pump up the grass roots good of the Arctic I look at the Arctic Frontiers conference coming up, wanting to go but baulking a little at the pricing just to attend. I feel like I'm trying to buy some Super Bowl tickets. Is this Doha or what? It's expensive to be a Citizen!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Thoughts on Strategic Agility and Arctic Strategy

I Played Too Many Strategy Games as a Kid

One of the most interesting things about strategy, and I'm talking about it from a general perspective as an overarching plan to accomplish a goal over a long time period, is how it is formed, and, in the case of the Arctic, if it is suitable for the many changes coming or if it will become obsolete quickly. A couple of months ago I came across an article called Governments for the Future: Building the Strategic and Agile State by Mikko Kosonen and Yves Doz from SITRA (The Finnish Innovation Fund).

It basically outlined that traditional governance models are not suitable for the types of complex problems beginning to emerge in the world, and how they need to change to respond with better strategies. It didn't specifically mention the Arctic but I think this is ultra relevant, because the Arctic is something of a lab for new governance models as climate change is moving faster there than other places. The complex problems of globalization and climate change, and the revealed inadequacies of the old state system to deal with them are nowhere more apparent than in the Arctic. And this is another interesting thing about strategies, which traditional thinking would relegate as set plans to deal with set problems, that they will in the future be defined more by how they can deal with changing situations, according to SITRA.

SITRA has a few solutions for how governments can change their old models for the future. Part of the problem is that governments are more often quite decentralized, and show little inter-agency unity. In fact, the nature of budgeting has locked up resources and incentivized turf wars between bureaucratic units, ensuring that money can't be quickly redirected to new problems. What's more these agencies often don't seek out opinions from outside sources, resulting in a kind of tunnel vision that sees no need to change practices. Structurally then, governments have become risk averse to the point where trying and failing at something new in good faith is discouraged. SITRA argues that these qualities have left governments unable to be proactive, and only capable of muddling through, which will not hold up in the face of rapid change, such as is facing the Arctic. They offer three ideas for making a government "strategically agile": resource fluidity (as in, people and funds moving between departments easily), strategic sensitivity (good dialogue and incentivized ambition), and collective commitment (shared agendas and the like).

So can Finnish or, for that matter, American strategy appropriately deal with the problems facing the Arctic? Do they show, as the article calls it, "strategic agility"? Or do they reinforce the same old systems and thus are incapable of addressing future challenges? Well that's a silly little trick I did, asking a question implying there's some high stakes to finding the answer when I already have a strong opinion on the matter! I tend to think that despite the holistic nature of most countries' Arctic strategies that they are still too tied to the old systems of the nation state to be truly appropriate for the Arctic and the transnational problems therein. At least, this opinion has been reinforced by SITRA's (Mikko Kosonen and Yves Doz really) article on the issue.

From what I can see now reading the texts is that though there is some experimentation on governance with the inclusion of many different levels of players and more extra-Arctic involvement, there is still a strong desire on the part of the Arctic states to focus on sovereignty issues. What's more, the structure of the government strategies for both Finland and the United States seem to go against the recommendations laid out by SITRA in their vision of governments for the future. The United States' approach is highly decentralized with something like 20+ agencies involved. There is some effort, as laid out in the US's implementation plan, to unify the efforts of the agencies involved, but there is nothing in there about how resources will be allocated, and the United States government is notorious for inter-bureaucracy turf wars. So perhaps they have one of the three. But they talk of cooperation between agencies all the time and who nows how it's going? Finland, too (and the article specifically looks at the case of Finland though not specifically for its Arctic strategy) has locked in ministries with little shared agenda, little incentives for changing jobs, and less of a robust dialogue to promote change. But, it seems they are making more efforts to change this and have more of a sense of urgency than the United States does, especially on the Arctic. I would think they even out, but Finland's government, being smaller and with less divisive issues, should be able to move quicker.

This is my initial impression, but I hope to learn more and incorporate this idea of strategic agility into my paper on this subject.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Beginning thoughts on Finnish and American strategy

A Fulbrighter in Rovaniemi

This will serve as an introduction to my work here in Rovaniemi. I'm a Fulbright Fellow working at the Arctic Centre on a project comparing Finnish and American Arctic strategies with the aim to find out if there are any lessons that can possibly inform the American government going forward on its burgeoning engagement with the Arctic region.

Why Compare the Two Though?

There couldn't be much more different between the countries, the USA, a superpower with global interests, and Finland, a small country trying to navigate a place for itself between Russia, the EU, and the global economy. But, in reading the two strategies for the countries, what struck me was that though there has been increasing interest in the US towards the Arctic, it's still very much a periphery, and a secondary, if not tertiary priority for the US government. Finland on the other hand has made the Arctic a high priority for its efforts in both a domestic and foreign policy context.

Stakes for the US

The US, even now, with the chairmanship of the Arctic Council quickly approaching is still struggling to define its focus and level of priority for the Arctic. The Coast Guard's icebreaker "fleet" is small and aging, infrastructure is as sparse as the population of Alaska, and though the US has appointed a new special envoy to the Arctic Council, they have neglected to name an Ambassador to the Arctic as most others have. There is a sense that the USA is neglecting to engage in the Arctic and has come to, as Philip Steinberg puts it in a chapter on US Arctic Policy,  "display the curious mix of disinterest and interest suggested in the two quotations that began this chapter: relative disinterest in the Arctic as a place in itself or as a focal point of U.S. global policy is coupled with a high level of interest in the Arctic as a region in which responses to emergent challenges and opportunities could potentially undermine the global political economic system of which the United States is a world leader." In other words, simply as a region to reinforce the ideas that make the US a superpower, so stability and sovereignty. But I think that simply cleaving to the old system is not enough to properly address issues in the Arctic, which are largely trans-boundary in nature, or to creeping world issues like climate change. A more innovative approach is needed.

Finland's Efforts

Finland, on the other hand, has spelled out an innovative strategy that puts a lot of priority, at least on paper, on the people living in the Arctic. The government has declared the country an Arctic country from top to bottom, rather than a country with an Arctic periphery. Finland, according to the 2013 strategy, wants to be an active Arctic player and establish Arctic know-how to boost its economy and living conditions. There is also a large priority placed on international cooperation. This isn't limited to the Arctic Council, and Finland actively wants to include extra-Arctic players like the EU and Asian countries to better engage the world on Arctic issues. There are, of course, still concerns about this (and all) Arctic strategy. One must ask if the environmental language is mere boilerplate when compared to the business interests. And is including the EU a particularly wise move when it seems that most Arctic states will resist such a move and strain the atmosphere of consensus? Speaking with professor Lassi Heininen too, an expert on Finnish policies in the Arctic, he expressed frustration with aspects of the strategy, such as too many differing priorities, and the knock on effects of declaring all of Finland an Arctic country. For instance, if all of Finland is Arctic, then why bother staying in Lapland to work on Arctic issues? But issues aside, I think that this innovative strategy and its implementation can give the US some ideas as it struggles to define its Arctic interests, and I will be writing about it in this space as my research progresses.