How do non-Arctic actors’ interests matter the Arctic? – debates around Arctic Circle assembly

From October 13 to October 19, 2017, the Uarctic Thematic network “Arctic Extractive Industries” held a masters/Phd course on the topic of Security, Governance and Geopolitics in relation to Arctic Extractive Industries. This time the organizers invited participants to Iceland. The course brought together students and faculty from Arctic universities and research centers from 10 different countries. The program came in three stages:

Firstly, everybody had the chance to participate in the Arctic Circle Assembly, this large international forum which took place in Reykjavik. The students had assigned sessions according to the course topics, which then in the second part of the course formed the basis for discussion, analysis  and exchange of opinions on security, governance and geopolitics in the Arctic. The Arctic Circle Assembly was perfect ‘raw material’ for these debates, with its multiple presentations from government officials, science, industry and international organisations.  The goal was to form the participants knowledge and opinion through the presentations of different players in the Arctic.

Secondly, the whole group moved to the University of Akyreyri in the North of Iceland, where we got briefed on local content and the Icelandic specifics in energy development.


Auður Ingólfsdóttir lectured on the specifics of Iceland as an energy-producing country

In the classroom the students presented also their own work and exposed it to scrutiny by the present staff and fellow-participants. We were pleased to realise how the work of participants who had completed two or three courses at the post-graduate school had evolved, which showed that the programme in general was useful.

As a last wrap-up, we held discussions under the leadership the faculty how this ties in to the current tendencies in Arctic governance, security and geopolitics on all levels from the local village in the Arctic all the way to the United Nations.

From the scholarly point of view, it was most interesting to follow topical issues such as: what is security in all its facets in the Arctic, the role of science in Arctic geopolitics, track one and track two diplomacy, the role of China in Arctic governance, the future of the Arctic Council and the role of state and non-state actors in it, but also how good scholarship can help solving specific problems of the indigenous and local people in the Arctic, as well as how industry can take better into account the interests of indigenous people.

In past courses, this programme had set itself not only professional tasks, but also social ones. We continued this line also in Iceland, facilitating the meeting of the future scholarly elite in Arctic Studies with each other, to exchange ideas and make friends. Excursions are particularly useful for this, especially when you can tour the stunning Icelandic North and bath in the famous hot springs. Of course, the excursion was not just entertaining: it was a great idea of to organize it around a visit of the Chinese-Icelandic Aurora observatory “CIAO” close to Akureyri under construction.


CIAO is not only a nice Italian word for hello – it also stands for “Chinese Icelandic Aurora Observatory”, close to Akureyri. We were allowed to witness the “eyes” of the observatory. 

This facility is being built in Iceland for Chinese money, for scientific research in the Arctic. Marc Lanteigne’s lectures on the bus set this in very good scence as an example of Chinese track two diplomacy in the Arctic. Afterwards in the waters of hot springs we actively discussed the role of non-Arctic states in Arctic geopolitics, and how honest is Chinese scientific investment for the sake of science and not just for getting access to Arctic resources or transport routes.


CIAO is still under construction

Course participants shared the view that both in the classroom and beyond, courses like this are a good opportunity to get a broader understanding of Arctic issues beyond your own narrowly defined topic, expose your work to colleagues and get comments by experienced faculty not only from your own university but all across the Arctic. Now it’s up to the students to live up to the expectations and hand in their assignments for the credits:)


Relaxing in the hotsprings of Myvatn was a good place to informally continue discussions

Many thanks to the Centre for Peace Studies from UiT for spending so much time in putting this course together, and to our Icelandic hosts at the University of Akureyri, who provided an opportunity to conduct courses in their classrooms.


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