In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Arctic Region

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Hague Academy Courses
  • Encyclopedias
  • Journals

International Law Arctic Region
Elena Conde Pérez, Marzia Scopelliti
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 April 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 April 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199796953-0090


The two polar regions of the planet share some common features; namely, extreme climatic conditions, according to which the physical and effective occupation of the territory is complex. Each also possesses distinctive characteristics. While the Antarctic region enjoys a specific regime, the so-called Antarctic Treaty System, the Arctic region does not have its own legal system. While Antarctica is a terrestrial space, the Arctic is an ocean—or, rather, a set of ice seas—and, for this reason, it is governed in large part by the law of the sea. One of the main problems that arise in connection with the Arctic region is that of determining its spatial bounds. Various criteria have been developed: one is based on the limit of tree growth, and another is based on the Arctic Circle, located at a latitude of 66°30′. In the early 21st century, due largely to the process of global warming, the Arctic has great strategic and economic interest. From the strategic point of view, it is a region located in the territory of the traditional powers, which raises the issue of its possible militarization. From the economic point of view, it is a region where important natural resources abound, and the ongoing Arctic meltdown has made possible the opening of new routes to market. Territorial disputes in the Arctic are few (Denmark and Canada have disputing sovereign claims over Hans Island), and the issue of sovereign claims of the several states bordering the Arctic Ocean (Canada, Denmark, the United States, the Russian Federation, and Norway) raises issues centering on the delimitation of maritime spaces under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982), especially with respect to their respective continental shelves beyond 200 nautical miles (Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea). With the progressive melting of the ice, new trade routes (particularly the Northwest Passage and Northern Sea Route) are opening up, making exploitation of natural resources easier. In addition, indigenous communities are affected not only by climate change, but also by the political game of great powers struggling to take control over their natural habitats. The Arctic also faces environmental hazards connected with oil spills, fishing, and mining. These threats enhance the need to delineate and defend the Arctic region and the national borders therein, to establish surveillance of trade routes, and to ensure proper exploitation of natural resources and protection of the inhabitants. In sum, this region is a first-magnitude geostrategic fulcrum in which the interests of the international community converge. The same can be said of those of the national sovereignties of neighboring nations, which seek to control the region and its vast resources.

General Overviews

Since ancient times, polar spaces have posed an enormous challenge to mankind in its quest to explore and control. In the early 20th century, legal studies were already undertaken with respect to the Arctic region and its potential resources and, especially, to claims of sovereignty over this space. However, it was primarily in the first decade of the 21st century when monographic and collective works relating to the Arctic proliferated, and a concise selection of studies can be difficult to identify. In this context, Byers 2013, written in a simple and direct style, is especially useful for those who are approaching the topic for the first time. Jensen and Hønneland 2015 is relevant for any scholar seeking a general but well-researched overview on Arctic politics and affairs. Also, Conde and Iglesias Sánchez 2017 provides a complete overview of the most-challenging issues concerning Arctic governance. Pooter 2009, Manero Salvador 2011, and Labévière and Thual 2008 deal with the legal and strategic issues stemming from ongoing climate change in the Arctic. Osherenko and Young 1989, a classic study available digitally, treats the interests of the great powers in the area, most especially exploring solutions to the conflict from the perspective of the United States. A volume addressing critical socioeconomic changes in the Arctic is Larsen and Fondahl 2014. For essential volumes in Spanish and German, see also Cinelli 2012 and Bartsch 2016.

  • Bartsch, Golo M. Klimawandel und Sicherheit in der Arktis: Hintergründe, Perspektiven, Strategien. Springer VS Research. Wiesbaden, Germany: Springer VS, 2016.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-3-658-11148-9

    This volume, significant of the growing importance of polar studies in many European countries, considers the implications of climate change in the Arctic region and its security, adopting an interdisciplinary perspective. It combines the latest scientific and social evidence on the deep transformations ongoing in the North Pole, with an analysis of the policies of the eight Arctic States, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the European Union in the region.

  • Byers, Michael. International Law and the Arctic. Cambridge Studies in International and Comparative Law 103. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781107337442

    Byers is a known expert on the Arctic region. His study explains in a straightforward language the rules governing the division and protection of the Arctic and the disputes that remain unsolved. Giving a comprehensive overview of all international legal issues of relevance in the Arctic, he explains which is the prevailing governance regional approach, one that is based on international cooperation and law making.

  • Cinelli, Claudia. El Ártico ante el derecho del mar contemporáneo. Tirant Monografías 790. Valencia, Spain: Tirant lo Blanch, 2012.

    A comprehensive and updated study of the current legal problems facing the Arctic region. The author deals with the complex issue from two perspectives: from the confrontation of sovereign interests and from the perspective of international cooperation.

  • Conde, Elena, and Sara Iglesias Sánchez, eds. Global Challenges in the Arctic Region: Sovereignty, Environment and Geopolitical Balance. London: Routledge, 2017.

    This collection of essays analyzes Arctic complexity, revolving around pressing interconnected issues: sovereignty, governance, environment, security, and regional and international stakeholders.

  • Jensen, Leif Christian, and Geir Hønneland, eds. Handbook of the Politics of the Arctic. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2015.

    This collection, which combines the perspectives of leading experts of international relations and international law, gives an overview of pressing Arctic issues regarding geopolitics and resources, climate, and environment. It also addresses Arctic regional cooperation and the policy responses developed at the national and international levels to face these challenges.

  • Labévière, Richard, and François Thual. La bataille du grand Nord a commencé. Paris: Perrin, 2008.

    In their book, Labévière and Thual focus on problems making the Arctic a vital area, strategically and soon economically.

  • Larsen, Joan Nymand, and Gail Fondahl, eds. Arctic Human Development Report: Regional Processes and Global Linkages. Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers, 2014.

    Comprehensive report based on the fruitful collaboration of twenty-five lead authors and fifty-seven contributing experts. It addresses critical issues and emerging challenges in Arctic living conditions.

  • Manero Salvador, Ana. El deshielo del Ártico: Retos para el derecho internacional; La delimitación de los espacios marinos y la protección y preservación del medio ambiente. Cizur Menor, Spain: Aranzadi, 2011.

    Deals with the Arctic meltdown and the challenges for international law. The delimitation of marine spaces and the protection and preservation of its environment are among the environmental problems affecting the early-21st-century world. The status of the Arctic Ocean is one of the most worrying since it reflects the impacts resulting from global warming. The importance of the subject fully justifies the attention that should be given it from the perspective of international law.

  • Osherenko, Gail, and Oran R. Young. The Age of the Arctic: Hot Conflicts and Cold Realities. Studies in Polar Research Collection. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

    This is a classical study of the issue—originally published in 1989 and digitally printed in 2005—that provides a review of the situation from a social, political, and human standpoint and offers an in-depth study of modern global controversies involving the Arctic.

  • Pooter, Hélène de. L’emprise des états côtiers sur l’Arctique. Paris: Pedone, Institut de Droit Économique de la Mer, 2009.

    Pooter points out in her book that, due largely to global warming, the polar ice slot profoundly changed access to the Arctic region. The opening of new navigable seaways, providing access to significant reserves of oil, gold, gas, diamonds, and other minerals, encourages coastal states (Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark, and Norway) to assert their sovereignty over the Arctic Ocean.

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