When Do Ideas of an Arctic Treaty Become Prominent in Arctic Governance Debates?

Keywords: Arctic, governance, Arctic Treaty, Arctic Council, Ilulissat Declaration, European Parliament, NGO, Polar Code, institutions


As climate change and globalization are opening the Arctic to human activities, the debate about how best to organize Arctic institutions in order to facilitate regional governance has been invigorated. One of the most controversial ideas in this debate has been the notion that a comprehensive treaty should govern the Arctic. Depending on its exact design, such a treaty could radically transform regional decision-making procedures and substantial issue areas. It has been opposed by several regional stakeholders, including most regional states. This article examines how specific factors determine the prominence of the idea of an Arctic treaty in governance debates, and whether it is likely to become a crucial feature in future discussions. It argues that there are multiple ideas concerning the content and purpose of an Arctic treaty. Some of its proponents favor radical transformation of the regional order, while others envision more moderate reforms of existing institutions. It maps how the Arctic treaty debate has developed in four phases from 1970 until today, showing that it has been driven by a combination of functional gaps in the regional institutional setup, changing public political discourses about Arctic governance, and the degree of opposition among regional stakeholders. As some of these factors persist, the Arctic treaty will most likely continue to play a role in regional governance debates. In case of a regional crisis, it can once again become a focal point for discussion.