Mapping Arctic Paradiplomacy. Limits and Opportunities for Sub-National Actors in Arctic Governance

RG v8n1, 2022

Landriault, M.; J.-F. Payette et S. Roussel (dir.) (2021). Mapping Arctic Paradiplomacy. Limits and Opportunities for Sub-National Actors in Arctic Governance. Londres: Routledge.

This book edited by M. Landriault, J.-F. Payette and S. Roussel, analyses the possibilities and limitations that sub-national actors face when developing diplomatic activities in the Arctic region.

Sub-national actors, such as civil society groups and sub-national governments or administrations, have been active in international relations for decades. They face specific political and economic limitations on the international scene as non-sovereign entities. This book investigates how these actors have developed their international presence in the Arctic region. It analyzes the diplomatic activities of states, provinces, regional administrations, and multilateral forums made of sub-national governments to offer comparative insights on the strategies, interests, and activities of sub-national governments. Alaska, Scotland, Quebec, Yakutsk, and Indigenous People’s organizations are among the examples covered in this book that have forged bilateral and multilateral relations to promote and defend their interests and values. Moreover, sovereign states are often using these sub-national actors to further their own interests, as exemplified in this book in how Russia and China harnessed the potential of sub-national governments to align with their Arctic policies.

The book explores several aspects of Arctic paradiplomacy. Some focus on the policies nurtured by one subnational unit. A chapter is dedicated to Québec’s Arctic paradiplomacy, its rise, decline and the reasons that led the province to eventually maintain an Arctic paradiplomacy. Another chapter tackles with the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and its proactive political efforts to support the development of contacts between subnational governments, notably through the Northern Forum after Alaska gave up its leadership role in 2011. Chapter 9 analyses Scotland’s Arctic policy, narratives and paradiplomacy in the frame of Scotland’s quest for more autonomy and, in the view of the Scottish National Party in power, eventual independence. All these subnational governments deploy Arctic paradiplomatic efforts to support Arctic development indeed, but it is also because it supports their own political objectives, whether economic or political on the domestic scene.

Other chapters explore the role of cities (Chapter 5, “Small enough to act, big enough to matter”) or Indigenous organizations, notably in the frame of the Arctic Council that enshrined an official role for them, but also through transnational organization like the Inuit Circumpolar Council, or lobbying at the IMO for the international governance of shipping traffic across the Bering Strait.

A third group of chapters explore the involvement of States, notably Canada-Russia subnational cooperation in the Arctic and how the relationship of subnational governments is largely  – but not completely – constrained by the state of the relationship between their respective national States (Chapter 3). Chapter 10 explores how China actively tried to capitalize on the autonomy subnational governments were seeking to build in its efforts to develop relations and economic opportunities in the region, notably with Quebec, or with Greenland, prompting in the latter case a strong reaction from Copenhagen in the frame of a deteriorating relationship between Western States and China.

A fourth group of chapters highlight regional analyses, regionalism in North America (Chapter 2, North American Arctic paradiplomacy: between multilateral and bilateral inclinations) and in the Barents area (Chapter 6). Both chapters underline the no-linear evolution of multilateral relations between subnational governments, with progress and decline over time and actors changing their strategies depending on their own agenda.

Of course, the editors do not claim to paint a complete view of paradiplomatic efforts by subregional governments in the Arctic. For instance, Japan’s Hokkaido province is absent from the picture and so is tiny France’s St Pierre and Miquelon, to name but a few. However, the book does provide useful analyses, at different scales – individual subnational governments ; national States ; regional groupings – and on three continents. It therefore brings relevant and interesting reflections on the various aspects of what paradiplomacy in the Arctic can embody, what the goals of the involved actors are, and the achievements and limits of their action.

Frédéric Lasserre