Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Global Alternatives for an Interconnected Arctic

Final Report Summary - GAIA (Global Alternatives for an Interconnected Arctic)

Executive Summary:

During the period of his international incoming fellowship, Philip Steinberg made significant contributions to Europe’s scientific knowledge through his research on how various proposals for governing the Arctic are rooted in conceptions of its geophysical environment. In addition to his research findings, he also successfully laid the groundwork for continuing study in this area by scientist-in-charge Klaus Dodds, by Professor Steinberg himself (since he is now relocating to Europe), and by other researchers and students in the European academic and policy communities with whom he interacted during his period as a Marie Curie fellow.

In terms of the specific research project – Global Alternatives for an Interconnected Arctic (GAIA) – Professor Steinberg made advances both in synthetic work evaluating the range of governance options and their foundation in ‘geographic imaginaries,’ and in more specific studies of unique situations. At the synthetic level, his primary work during this period was authorship of the book Contesting the Arctic: Politics and Imaginaries in the Circumpolar North. In this book, Steinberg and colleagues utilize findings from research undertaken both before and during the grant period to posit a typology of perspectives on Arctic governance based neither on national policies nor on specific institutional proposals. Rather, Steinberg and colleagues identify a dominant view of the Arctic as a relatively ‘normal’ environment into which established institutions of state governance and commerce are seamlessly expanding. They contrast this perspective with a series of alternative views, ranging from that of the Arctic as a land of impenetrable ice, to the Arctic as a uniquely dynamic geophysical environment in which both land and water are ripe for possession in contravention of state norms, to the Arctic as an indigenous homeland where ‘belonging’ and notions of ‘place’ transcend state identity and the land-water divide that typically serves as a foundation for state territory. This perspective, although rooted in a step backward from the noise of contemporary policy debates, can have significant implications for policy makers. Although Steinberg identifies an emerging consensus among interested parties concerning the future of the Arctic (in contrast with many other analysts who see it as an arena of inter-state competition), he warns that a range of adaptations will be needed – both to the region’s geophysical environment and to the needs and interests of specific Arctic parties – in order to maintain that consensus.

In carrying out his study, Professor Steinberg has also engaged in research in a number of more specific areas, also with direct policy implications. His research on perceptions of the region’s geophysical environment and how this influences the Arctic governance debate has led him to identify specific gaps in the range of alternatives normally associated with the Northwest Passage, and during the research period he has produced a number of publications proposing that the Northwest Passage be redesignated as primarily frozen, territorial waters. These proposals could be of use to Arctic policy makers in North America and beyond, and also in the development of a regime for Russia’s Northern Sea Route which could become key to guaranteeing Europe’s oil and gas supplies. In addition, his attention to the Arctic’s geophysical position as a relatively small inland sea, has led him to explore connections with other inland seas. Thus, during the research period he organized a practitioners’ workshop, co-sponsored by the Canadian government, on offshore oil and gas hazard readiness and response issues in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico, and findings from this research could be of valuable to resource extraction regulators in similar marine environments at Europe’s northern and southern frontiers, respectively. He has also presented on comparative European attitudes toward the Mediterranean and the Arctic, and further publications on this topic will be submitted soon after the end of the research period. This work has implications for the link between Europe’s sense of vis-à-vis those of peoples who reside just across its borders. Furthermore, he has produced two book chapters specifically looking at U.S. Arctic policy, a topic of special interest to European Arctic officials given the continuing importance of the U.S. as a world actor but the relative opaqueness of its Arctic strategy. And finally, together with scientist-in-charge Dodds, Professor Steinberg has conducted research on the transformation of the Arctic Council into a state-based organization, a topic that he is pursuing further in ongoing research on how differing national perceptions of the Arctic Council permanent-observer expansion issue are reflected in various nations’ media reports. This topic is of exceptional interest to both EU policymakers and officials in individual European countries, as they seek to maintain, or increase, their presence on the Arctic Council or as they wish to expand or contract the Council’s remit.

In addition to his specific findings, which will have direct implications for Europe’s understanding of policy options in the Arctic region, Professor Steinberg has engaged in numerous activities that will have a long-term impact on technology and knowledge production in the European Union. During his stay at Royal Holloway, University of London, Professor Steinberg worked intensively with scientist-in-charge Klaus Dodds across several domains. In addition to working together on specific components of the proposed research, Steinberg and Dodds collaborated in designing associated research in Arctic governance and policy, and in student advising. Professor Steinberg served as both formal and informal advisor to several doctoral students at Royal Holloway and was an active participant in and presenter to various research and study groups both there and in the broader community of London-based political geography and Arctic policy researchers.

Beyond London, Professor Steinberg made strong connections with Arctic policy researchers in a number of other European countries, making presentations in Denmark, Germany, and Norway, and organizing and leading a day-long seminar in Finland. During his period as an international incoming fellow, Professor Steinberg built a particularly strong working relationship with researchers at the University of Lapland in Finland, and they are currently working together to prepare a research proposal that will builds on findings from the Global Alternatives for an Interconnected Arctic research to conceptualise a model law for the land-sea-ice interface.

Finally, while Professor Steinberg’s move to Durham University necessitates that the fellowship be terminated early, it also means that he will have an ongoing career contributing to scientific research, knowledge development, and policy advisement in the European Union. In that sense, the technology transfer and socio-economic impact of his international incoming fellowship will be particularly thorough and long-lasting.