Arctic Yearbook 2015 - Page 318

318 Arctic Yearbook 2015 focused forum for cooperation to a wide range of issue topics relating to regional development (Axworthy, Koivurova & Hasanat 2012; Pedersen 2012). This marks both the growing importance of the Arctic region in general, as well as the growing importance of the AC itself, as the ‘pre-eminent forum for international cooperation in the Arctic’ (Clinton, quoted in Pedersen 2012: 149). A few recent binding agreements aside, one of the major successes of the AC may be the sheer interaction of states on an equal playing-field; in particular states whose officials are otherwise prone to bilateral dialogue-aversion (see e.g. Byers 2010). Nevertheless, with no decision-making abilities, but only ‘soft’ power, relying on the cooperative spirit of the member states, concerns have been raised that the AC remains a weak institution, ill-equipped for the concurrent surge in Arctic interest, stakeholders, and temperatures (Heininen & Nicol 2007; Koivurova 2010; Koivurova & Vand erZwaag 2007; Young 2012). However, the AC has since its nascent days been seen as demonstrative of peaceful cooperation in the Arctic (Young 2005), and has consequently taken on a symbolic significance, reifying states’ positions in anticipation of Arctic prosperity (Steinberg, Bruun & Medby 2014; Steinberg & Dodds 2013). These hopes of prosperity are, of course, particularly linked to future shipping and resource opportunities, which in turn are contingent on peaceful and orderly relations. It is also, as international law’s diplomatic counterpart, mutually reinforcing and reinforced by UNCLOS, recently making recognition of the latter a criterion for Observer status in the former (Graczyk & Koivurova 2014). Thus, albeit it holds no ‘hard’ power to determine states’ behaviour in the region, the AC is instrumental both for norm-setting and for the reification of a specific Arctic understanding where cooperation is the only obvious, and indeed possible, political practice. Norway: A case study of Arctic state identity As one of the A8, and also among the even more exclusive five littoral states, Norway has both land and sea territories in the Arctic, is home to an indigenous Sami population, and has a long history of polar exploration. The basis upon which an ‘Arctic identity’ may be constructed are therefore numerous, and have led the government to designate the Arctic, or ‘the High North’,1 as Norway’s ‘most important strategic priority area’ (N.M.F.A. 2014). Norway may indeed be particularly advantageously positioned in the current political ordering of the Arctic, as it grants them both high status (Wilson Rowe 2014; see also Carvalho & Neumann 2015) and a ‘great power’-role in e.g. hydrocarbon extraction (Rottem, Hønneland & Jensen 2008; see also e.g. Hønneland & Jensen 2008; Jensen 2007; Kristoffersen & Jensen 2012). Thus, as a state with much to gain from its formal status as an Arctic state, Norway serves as an illustrative example of how this rather recent title may (or may not) translate to a self-perception among state officials as representing such; and, furthermore, to what extent this status may impact governance and regime adherence in the Arctic. In order to assess how state representatives perceive Norway’s role in the region a series of anonymous interviews were conducted with officials in various positions at the state-level.2 Altogether 16 interviewees shared their reflections on the topic, allowing for qualitative analysis of dominant discourses that may serve to legitimise or de-legitimise options of political behaviour available at the Big Fish in a Small (Arctic) Pond