Institutional complexity in Arctic Governance: Curse or blessing?

In L.C. Jensen and G. H√łnneland (eds), Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic. Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 2015, pp. 328-351.

Institutional complexity is a predicament of Arctic governance because major economic, political and environmental developments in this region depend heavily on external processes and on non-Arctic players. Whether such complexity is a curse or a blessing depends on the quality of the interplay among the institutions involved – in particular, on whether their division of labour is accepted by the major states and reflects their respective niche advantages, meaning that each body concentrates on governance tasks it is particularly well equipped to conduct. In this chapter, I have argued that Arctic institutional complexity is unlikely to yield international conflict and is reflective of institutional niche advantages. The division of labour within the institutional complex derives from the UN Law of the Sea Convention, politically stable due to a potent mix of global acceptance and good alignment with the self-interests of the most powerful states - including those of the geopolitically rising Asian states that became Permanent Observers in the Arctic Council in 2013. As to the alignment with institutional niche advantages, I have distinguished among four governance tasks and shown that the Arctic institutions that emerged after the Cold War are especially well placed to generate the resources needed for knowledge building and capacity enhancement. In contrast, broader international institutions, often global ones, are in a better position to extract legally binding commitments from the relevant sets of players in those important issue areas where non-Arctic states and industries are prominent, including shipping, climate politics, and discharges of environmental toxics. In view of the rise in Arctic industrial and maritime activities, each of these areas may require stronger regulation and more intrusive enforcement, but Arctic-specific institutions are not best venues for such strengthening.

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