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Klaus Dodds: What strategy should the UK adopt to boost its engagement and influence?

Updated: Jan 7, 2023

Dr.Klaus Dodds, Senior Fellow in Geopolitics Security

Klaus Dodds is a professor in the Department of Geopolitics at Royal Holloway, University of London, and editor of the journal Territory, Politics and Governance. He has served as an expert adviser to the Arctic Select Committee in the House of Lords and the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee. His main research areas include geopolitics and security, media/popular culture, ice studies, and international governance of the Antarctic and Arctic. Related books include Ice: Nature and Culture, and The Arctic: What Everyone Needs to Know.


What strategy should the UK adopt to boost its engagement and influence?

1.Is UK paying excessive attention to the security of natural resources and hard power in the Arctic and neglecting the development of its soft power?


The UK is not an Arctic state, and does not describe itself as a ‘near-Arctic state’. As the UK’s Arctic Policy Framework (2013, 2018) makes clear, the UK is positioned as the Arctic’s nearest neighbour. The British policy towards the Arctic region does three things. First, it acknowledges the sovereignty and sovereign rights of the eight Arctic states and this is viewed as integral to continued membership of the Arctic Council as observer. Second, the UK works closely with allies such as Norway and the United States on areas of mutual interest including science and indeed I would argue science diplomacy, through the NERC Arctic Office based in Cambridge, has been integral to continued dialogue with Russia (despite wider tensions and complications). The UK’s soft power in the Arctic is also evident through popular culture including television documentaries, inter-cultural exchange and the UK’s collaborative network of academic engagement in organizations such as the International Arctic Science Committee. Third, the UK is eager to develop and maintain trading and commercial relationships with Arctic parties – ranging from shipping and energy to insurance and heritage. Climate change continues to be a game-changer and the UK is well aware that state-change in the Arctic carries with implications for UK weather systems, sea level rise and a host of other environmental changes such as fish stock migration.


What has changed markedly in recent years is a more explicit military-security dimension to the Arctic and Wider North. Russia is recognised as the greatest geopolitical threat and the UK will continue to work closely with NATO countries to ensure that the Arctic/Wider North is recognised as integral to the UK’s military and security posture. The 2021 Integrated Review on Defence and Foreign Policy recognises that the Arctic is part and parcel of the UK’s post-Brext and Global Britain mindset. Interested readers can explore this further in my piece on the polar regions and the Integrated Review:


2.How should a post-Brexit UK coordinate its relations with the EU and the Arctic states? To what Extent will this process involve the coordination between the central government and Scotland?


The UK will continue to work closely with EU member states and associated members such as NATO countries such as Iceland and Norway. Despite Brexit, the UK shares common interests with other European states; no one wishes to see Russia’s presence in the Arctic and the Baltic Sea region become any more disruptive. All countries in the wider Baltic-Arctic-Wider North theatre are concerned about Russia’s behaviour in the Ukraine/Crimea and will continue to watch Russia’s relationship with China in the Russian North. As is clear from this answer, I consider the Arctic to be inter-connected to other areas of regional concern and it needs to be recognised that individual countries in Europe all have their own relationships with Russia and China as well as any larger relationships forged by the EU. The UK has made it clear that the relationship with Norway in particular is considered to be highly strategic. At one stage around


Norway is the main supplier of both crude oil and natural gas for the United Kingdom in terms of energy imports.


Scotland’s position with the UK continues to provoke important constitutional questions about the opportunities and limits for a Scottish government to pursue its own commercial and geopolitical relationships. The Scottish National Party (SNP) has been clear that they have their own strategic sense of the Arctic, which is different to London’s. In 2019, Arctic Connections: Scotland's Arctic policy framework was published. It makes clear that the relationship with Nordic countries is valued and identifies areas of mutual interest from clean/renewable energy and sustainable development to transport and fishing. This will continue but it will also inevitably involve the UK’s security and financial embrace – UK military assets for example will remain stationed in Scotland including the nuclear deterrent.


3.What is the most serious problem facing UK involvement in the Arctic at the moment? What strategy should UK pursue to increase its involvement and influence in Arctic affairs?


The UK’s most serious problem as such is the unpredictability of Russia. The Integrated Review of 2021 sets out ambitions and much of this will depend on military and scientific investment and infrastructure (e.g. the polar vessel, Sir David Attenborough) available to ensure that the UK’s interests are defended and enhanced. Leaving the EU has meant that we have dropped out of the recent agreement to impose a moratorium on commercial fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean (CAO) and the UK will need to watch that space to ensure that the international waters of the CAO are managed in its interests are much as anyone else’s. The 2018 Arctic Policy Framework will be updated again and I don’t expect any fundamental change because the policy over security and defence in the Wider North is continuing in other guises. The UK’s involvement and influence is greatest in science and military matters via NATO but we should not neglect commercial and educational opportunities as well. Ultimately the UK wants the Arctic to be a peaceful and stable region mindful that ongoing environmental change is really the greatest challenge facing all parties, especially northern and indigenous communities.


Interviewer: CAI Hongze

Interview Date:Apr 24, 2021


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