Tall Tales from the High North: Contested Discourses of the Arctic as a Political Space
The Arctic region is rapidly changing amidst accelerating climate change. This has led to a striking international consensus on the importance of safeguarding its environment and keeping the region conflict-free. Despite this face-value consensus, discussions on Arctic politics are often framed in competitive and contentious terms. Why do actors with seemingly common goals clash in heated debates? This article seeks to explain this discord by analysing whether actors have a shared understanding of what the region is and thus what they are trying to manage and safeguard. This article reveals, through discourse analysis of a large range of actor’s descriptive documents on the Arctic, that environmental issues predominate discourses of the Arctic, but that this consensus is undermined by diverging conceptions about what these environmental changes entail. Disagreements on the nature of the Arctic as a zone with economic potential or geostrategic relevance reveal that there is contestation in how actors conceive of the region. These contested discourses have already left their mark on Arctic cooperation structures, and need to be considered in both current and future efforts to manage the region.