The last decade's technological development and states' increasing interest in exploiting the sea has led to a need for a better understanding of conflicts and conflict management at sea. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Arctic. Examples include overlapping continental shelf claims, the creation of protected areas, the legal basis for Arctic shipping routes and the distribution of straddling fish stocks.
This project has directed the spotlight precisely on disputes at sea in the Arctic. The underlying premise on which the project was founded is that in order to understand geopolitical challenges in a changing Arctic, we need to understand the dynamics of new disputes concerning the ocean and related marine resources. Therefore, we asked: What determines the emergence and development of disputes over marine resources and maritime boundaries in the Arctic? What factors lead to changes in this dynamic? What can this tell us about conflict management and resolution more generally at sea?
We divided the project into three work packages that correspond to jurisdictional areas in the coastal state's maritime space: exclusive economic zones, continental shelves and international waters. By combining different branches of social studies - international relations, international law, political geography and conflict studies - we have used different approaches to explain the geopolitical and geoeconomic dimensions of maritime disputes between Arctic states.
Firstly, in the study of the exclusive economic zone, we have examined practices around maritime boundaries in the Arctic. We have looked at how many are in dispute and how many have been settled between Arctic countries. Here is an interesting discovery that the Arctic is actually an "outlier" compared to the rest of the world: there is agreement on more borders in the Arctic than elsewhere on the globe.
Secondly, by looking at the continental shelves in the Arctic, we have examined the processes regarding the extended continental shelf claims from Canada, Denmark and Russia. Furthermore, shelf problems related to Svalbard have been studied. Here, there are clearly both tensions and disagreements related to Svalbard and the Arctic Ocean, but these are handled through international law, and are unlikely to create major conflicts between countries in the Arctic.
In conclusion, regarding the high seas in the Arctic, increasing geopolitical tensions have not prevented the strengthening of Arctic cooperative arrangements for the management of fisheries in pockets of the high seas and the adjacent exclusive economic zones. We have compared the new Fisheries Agreement for the Central Arctic Ocean (CAOFA), which has been in force since June 2021, with the long-standing arrangements in the Barents Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Bering Sea.
These are all important points for understanding the larger geopolitical and geoeconomic dynamics in the north. For example, important features of the Norwegian-Russian management of shared fish stocks in the Barents Sea have been shaped by the East-West conflict during the Cold War. The fact that parts of the scheme deal with geopolitical tensions and disagreements contributes to resilience.
The final step of the project was to synthesize the findings across the three work packages and examine what the aforementioned political dynamics mean for both Arctic geopolitics (i.e. conflict potential) and maritime disputes in general across the globe. This work must also be seen in the context of the increased need for information following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022, and assessments of the consequences for the Arctic and the High North. The project has thus not only been oriented towards disputes at sea, but has also largely studied the overall geopolitical picture in the Arctic, and developments related to China, the EU, Russia, other states, and not least the Norwegian Arctic policy and Norway's role between the great powers in the north.
In particular, we would like to highlight the book "Norway's Arctic Policy: Geopolitics, Security and Identity in the High North" edited by project leader Andreas Østhagen and published by Edward Elgar in 2023 at the end of the project (ISBN 978-103-5306-62-6). This publication is the final "end product" of the GEOSEAS project. Although the focus is narrowed to Norway, the book is about geopolitics and geoeconomics in the Arctic with regard to both military, political and economic conditions.
Overall, after 3.5 years of research, publication and external activities, the GEOSEAS project has delivered what was promised in the application in 2019. We have published over 30 peer-reviewed academic contributions, in addition to an extensive external activity that includes over a hundred lectures and media contributions , and a double-digit number of seminars and workshops. This project has thus also been a significant contribution to the Norwegian and international Arctic debate.
The outcome of this project has been a deeper understanding of how conflicting interests arising because of greater exploitation of marine resources and maritime space are handled, managed and potentially resolved. Beyond research, GEOSEAS has also had a direct impact on Norway's foreign policy, in the context of the Norwegian Government's increasing engagement with ocean issues through national and international efforts. More specifically we have contributed to research that enable:
I. Improved management policies concerned with marine resources, ranging from transboundary fish stocks to sedentary resources.
II. Development of a new branch of 'Arctic studies' through the establishment of an Arctic Ocean network focused on bridging the gaps between international relations, international law and political geography.
III. Input to the Norwegian Government's work in the UN high-level panel on sustainable ocean economy and the newly established Centre for the Ocean and the Arctic.
In terms of academic publications, we produced:
• 21 journal articles Level 1
• 1 journal article Level 2
• 5 book chapters Level 1
• 10 book chapters Level 2
• 1 book Level 2
• 1 edited book Level 2
During the project period, we organised 19 seminars of various sizes and formats. In total, during the project period, we have also registered 83 media contributions and 75 lectures.
Overall, after 3.5 years of research, publication and dissemination, the GEOSEAS project has delivered what was promised in the application in 2019. This project has been a significant contribution to the Norwegian and international Arctic debate.
To understand geopolitical challenges in a changing Arctic, we need to understand the dynamics of emerging spatial disputes over maritime space and related marine resources. The past decade's rapid technological changes and the growing preoccupation of states with maritime space are prompting a rethink of how we view conflicts and dispute management at sea. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Arctic. Examples include overlapping continental-shelf claims, marine protected areas, the status of Arctic sea lanes, and the spatial distribution of transboundary fish stocks as well as sedentary species. However, research on maritime disputes tends to be case-oriented and is rarely seen in relation to the wider (literature on) inter-state conflicts, international law and political geography. Moreover, maritime disputes have often been dismissed as peripheral in the conflict literature or treated on a par with disputes on land.
What determines the emergence and evolution of disputes over marine resources and maritime space in the Arctic? What factors prompt changes in these dynamics? What can this tell us about conflict management and resolution more generally in the maritime domain? We examine disputes within several jurisdictional areas of coastal-state ocean space: exclusive economic zones, continental shelves and the high sea. Combining various branches of social studies - international relations, international law, political geography and conflict studies - we take a new approach to explaining the geopolitical and geoeconomic dimensions of emerging maritime disputes among Arctic states. Hypothesising that the concept of geoeconomics - 'the geostrategic use of economic power' - is well-suited to explain the dynamics of disputes related to ocean-space, resources, and economic interests in the Arctic, we will test its relevance not only for the Arctic, but also for other maritime domains experiencing rapid environmental, economic and political change.