Polar Record

Book Review

ARCTIC DOOM, ARCTIC BOOM. THE GEOPOLITICS OF CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE ARCTIC. Barry Scott Zellen. 2009. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. Xi + 232 p, hard cover. ISBN 978-0-313-38012-9. $49.95.

Svein Vigeland Rottema1

a1 The Fridtjof Nansen Institute, PO Box 326, 1326 Lysakert, Norway

(Online publication December 02 2010)

In Arctic doom, Arctic boom Barry Scott Zellen, research director of the Arctic Security Project at the Center for Contemporary Conflict at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, argues that the Arctic ‘often display[s] a seemingly paradoxical blend of competition and collaboration’. Such a statement could be brushed aside as being rather obvious. But what is often lacking in the debate on the future Arctic is a multilevel approach to the region, putting emphasis on both the international structures and the domestic level. In this respect Zellen's work is both timely and intriguing. The Arctic is at the top of the agenda amongst both politicians and academics, and Zellen offers new thinking on the subject. His point of departure is that the long awaited ‘Age of the Arctic’ predicted by Oran Young in 1986 ‘is coming, and coming fast.’

The book runs to 232 pages and consists of six chapters. In chapter 1 the broad picture is painted with emphasis on climate change; ‘. . . the climate is rapidly warming, threatening to bring an end to the Arctic as we know it, creating much uncertainty about its future – and ours.’ (page 2). Moreover, Zellen gives the reader a short introduction to some of the theoretical concepts and ideas applied in the coming chapters. In chapter 2 the author turns to a more theoretical analysis of Arctic sovereignty and security. While drawing on insight from the field of geopolitics and international relations theory it is also stated that the external dimension is just one part of the picture. The region is multinational and multiethnic and both ‘internal’ and ‘external’ forces of change must be taken into consideration. In this chapter the focus is on geopolitical characteristics of the region. Chapter 3 addresses the ‘inexorable drive to develop the Arctic (. . .)’ (page 45) or what is referred to as the ‘Arctic imperative’, discussing among other matters, property rights of local inhabitants. Zellen claims that the real threat comes from outsiders ‘who see the Arctic as a resting point, an adventure, a place of employment – in short, a colony’ (page 58). In chapter 4, the author returns to a more global perspective on the region, putting emphasis on the strategic repercussions of the melting ice. Drawing on the concept of geopolitics Zellen considers the profound impact a declining ice cap will have in this respect. In chapter 5 the author asks if conflict is inevitable in the ‘race to stake’ undersea claims. In this chapter the author also discusses the question of winners and losers of climate change, claiming that ‘the people of the Arctic could be the winners of climate change – after they adapt to the new seasonal patterns and rebuild on drier ground.’ In the last chapter entitled ‘The End of the Arctic’ the local perspective is again in the forefront in his concluding reflections. The author addresses the challenges Arctic people and environment will meet due to rapid climate change. However, in the concluding section the opportunities are in the forefront.

Zellen is an important voice in the debate on the future Arctic. One could disagree with statements made in his work, but they give the reader both new insights and a fresh introduction to emerging challenges and opportunities in the ‘new’ Arctic. Zellen engages in one of the central debates in the post cold war era. How will the future Arctic look like? He is quite optimistic regarding the future of Arctic. In the book Zellen looks at the uncertainty in the region as the shrinking polar ice cap might open up for commercial developments of hydrocarbon at the Arctic seafloor and new sea lanes. This could create environmental disasters for Arctic biota and indigenous people. But, as the author argues the future of the Arctic might also be bright. He suggests that new economic opportunities in part could offset the bad effects of global warming.

Arctic doom, Arctic boom explores the geopolitics of the Arctic from both a contemporary and a historical perspective, claiming that the warming of the earth is transforming our conception of the Arctic. In addition to addressing economic and environmental issues, the book also considers the vital strategic role the future Arctic can have. Such a broad analysis demands a clear structure and point of departure. The author has many points to make. At times this leads to fresh thinking but at times the reader is almost overwhelmed by Zellen's enthusiasm. This comes to show in statements such as: ‘. . . the people of the Arctic are well prepared for the coming transformation of their world – guided by their strength of spirit and identity, . . .’ (page 164). Moreover, his mixture of information, from military history to climate change to eagerly drawing optimistic scenarios on behalf of the future Arctic, leads the book at times to be a little repetitive. However, overall the arguments put forward in the book are easy to follow.

Zellen aims high and touches upon a wide range of highly interesting approaches on how to grasp and analyse the challenges and opportunities in the region. One could argue that this leads to a lack of analytical depth, but at the same time this wide scope offers its audience easy access, insight and plenty of food for thought into a wide range of pressing topics within the area of post cold war international relations. The book is a central contribution to the debate on the future of the Arctic.