Arctic Yearbook 2015 - Page 314

314 Arctic Yearbook 2015 framework among eight sovereign states, the ‘A8’ (Keskitalo 2004; Dodds 2013a; see also Knecht 2013). Frequently, pundits offer explanations of Arctic regime strength based on classical theories of international relations, wherein a traditional concept of power-struggles ensures the relative benefit of state cooperation in the region. However, adherence to the present regime of governance is not just a matter of material or strategic importance for the eight Arctic states (A8). Rather, regime adherence in the Arctic is also a matter of status, pride, and identity. Indeed, domestic perceptions of a state’s role in the world are a powerful and often underestimated force in determining interstate relations. Accordingly, the regime’s strength lies not so much in provisions per se, nor in any ability to bind and govern actors in a top-down manner, but in its discursive power. That is, the implicit power of defining how the region comes to be understood, thereby rendering ideas, actions, behaviours, and futures possible or impossible to imagine. Through normative influence, the combination of AC membership and UNCLOS acknowledgement has come to not just provide a regulatory framework for the region, but moreover, to reify and legitimise a specific practice of Arctic politics that is recognised and normalised by the international community. Consequently, belonging to the group of A8 has come to signify more than merely a chair at yet another political roundtable. Indeed, with the added participation of indigenous organisations and permanent observance by a global community, being a member of this exclusive club is a privilege the states in question are well aware is not to be scoffed at. As such, one of the reasons behind the persistence of and adherence to the current judicio-political system in the Arctic is arguably the construction of a political, state-level identity based on being a so-called Arctic state – thereby linking Arctic policies to deep-rooted sentiments of national identity and belonging, which in turn internalise both rights and responsibilities as essential aspects of the states’ role in the world. Examining the specific case of one Arctic state, Norway, this paper explores the state-level discourses – understandings, articulations, statements, and imaginations – that construct an Arctic state identity, and how this in turn influences regime strength and adherence; indeed, how it may guide political, interstate relations in the region. Firstly, the concept of ‘state identity’ is briefly explained – as related to, yet distinguished from national identity – and its potential influence on political behaviour. This is followed by a presentation of the Arctic region’s current interstate regime of governance, as based specifically on the mutually reinforcing UNCLOS and the AC. The specific example of Norway illustrates how those representing an Arctic state may adopt a political identity based on, inter alia, rights laid down in UNCLOS and AC membership, thereby reifying the present-day regime. This section draws on interview data from a range of Norwegian state officials, who shared their perceptions on what it means to be an Arctic state. Through their reflections, a certain conceptualisation of Arctic statehood becomes clear, linking regime adherence to core idea(l)s of the Norwegian nation-state. For them, Arctic statehood is tied to political status, leverage, and legitimacy, thus contributing to a positive self-perception of the country as well as an advantageous position internationally. Furthermore, this state identity becomes connected to pre-existing notions of what the country is in terms of values, culture, and history; thereby reifying and legitimising Arctic statehood as a natural, unquestionable extension of the Norwegian ‘essence’. Big Fish in a Small (Arctic) Pond