BIG Region – Arctic

Photo Credit: Mike Beauregard (Flickr)

Defining what an Arctic border means with respect to the land, ice, seabed and water column properties of the region is itself a massive research topic, never mind how to define Arctic borders with respect to the myriad regimes, partnerships, soft laws and agreements that define the extent of territory, its obligations and rights.

The Arctic is a space where many borders remain to be fixed. What exactly are these borders and what are the consequences of this potential for reorganization of space in terms of shipping and resource assessment? How appropriate are normative models of border security to Arctic contexts and how has security been designed and implemented to reflect unique northern environments and geographies?

More aggressive sovereignty and security exercises in recent years, often with respect to new opportunities and threats resulting from climate change, has resulted in considerable new activity and traffic in northern regions, especially that generated by annual sovereignty activities. There has also been a deployment of new infrastructure and technologies to assist in surveillance, and new ways of documenting individuals and goods across borderlines.

Climate change has also seen increased interest by the international community, as well as by Canadian companies in general, in Arctic resources and the exploration and exploitation of energy and mineral resources on Arctic lands, waters and communities. Given these realities, the Arctic Border Group has developed a series of issue areas that explores this complex new environment as it is faced by northerners and northern government structures.

Researchers considered the very meaning of sovereignty and territory from a northern perspective. The Arctic has become an identity issue for all Canadians, whether it is because of the ‘myth’ of northerness or due to nationalistic discourses that seek to ensure the ‘north’ becomes or remains “Canadian”. Meanwhile, investigators also wanted to attempt to map indigenous peoples and indigenous peoples’ organizations response at national and international levels to these processes.

Indeed, what are the potential impacts of the changing state of borders on identity? Researchers will also compare views on the northern border of Canada from the perspective of identity politics and national and sub-national governments, in particular Quebec, the Canadian federal government, and Alaska.

There was an interrogation of the historical emphasis on sovereignty and nation-building to changing capacities and mandates of state agencies, including police, military, coast guard and even research scientists.

It was also necessary to discuss the challenges that dynamic conditions, such as those presented by rapid climate change in the north, pose to existing governance models. What is the relationship between national, sub-national and international units of border management and governance with respect to such changes? And what are the broader issues resulting from the security demands of shipping, shipping codes and increased traffic in the Arctic? Relatedly, there needs to be an exploration of technological capacities involved in Arctic transit, infrastructure development, resource extraction, and communications.

Beyond state and private sector actors, what are the capacities of peoples, settlements, environments, and NGOs in responding to change?

Finally, researchers wanted to examine the Arctic as a neoliberal geopolitical region, as well as a geo-economic and geo-political space. How do the economic dimensions of globalization reconfigure border management and policy in the Arctic? 

Above all, what does the current Arctic, this most dynamic of border-imbricated spaces, tell us about the state of borders in general in Canada and the world? 

Dr. Heather Nicol at Trent University led the Arctic region.

Arctic Security Whole of Government Research Workshop

The Arctic Security Whole of Government Research Workshop was held in Kingston, Ontario on May 6-7, 2014. It represented a collaborative effort between Trent University, the Borders in Globalization Project, and the Department of National Defence (DND), represented by the Canadian Defence Academy (CDA), the Royal Military College of Canada (RMCC), and Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC). The purpose was to bring together Northern experts to discuss the role of Whole of Government in the DND’s approach to Arctic security, sovereignty and leadership capacity. Contributions came from a wide variety of defence, federal government departments, and academic institutions. Topics covered a range of issues including the role of the military, economic development, Indigenous inclusion, and food security. To learn more about the workshop click here