Geopolitics and security in the changing Arctic

Informing international defence and security policy in the Wider North

A complex web of changes is testing governance structures and fueling rivalry throughout the Arctic.

The UK and NATO alliance are at the forefront of efforts to maintain regional peace and stability as new challenges and opportunities emerge.

Our research on Arctic geopolitical and security trends has changed attitudes and policies within the UK Ministry of Defence, underpinning its first ever Defence Arctic Strategy. It has similarly informed the Estonian government’s perspectives on the region.

We have also helped NATO to better understand how the Arctic is changing – informing its Strategic Foresight Analysis 2021 which supports national defence policy planning across all 30 member states.

Image courtesy of Duncan Depledge
Royal Marines in Arctic Norway - digging in for a night under the stars (February 2017)

Our impact

UK Defence Arctic Strategy

  • We have been working with UK defence officials, the House of Commons Defence Committee and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions since 2018, supporting the development of the UK Defence Arctic Strategy

Guiding NATO’s position

  • In 2019, we participated in four workshops that helped guide the development of the organisation’s Strategic Foresight Analysis 2021.
  • The Alliance continues to draw on our expertise to help guide its work in the region.
  • Work is ongoing - recently published article, NATO and the Arctic: The Need for a New Approach, examines NATO’s traditionally cautious approach and the need for a new strategy.

New perspectives for Estonia

  • The Estonian government called upon our expertise to guide discussions and approaches to policy in the Arctic.

Contributing to the wider discussion

  • Our insights feature in policy-oriented publications including The RUSI Journal, The Wilson Centre's Polar Points blog, and the Arctic Yearbook – an important open access collection of current policy thinking on Arctic affairs.

Institute of Advanced Studies – Spotlight Series 2020-21
Our international workshops explored the Arctic’s significance in key contemporary debates about the Anthropocene and Remote Geopolitics.

Watch the workshop recordings

The research

A growing number of states are anxious about how changes in the Arctic are likely to impact existing national defence, security and foreign policy interests. Our research addresses these concerns and informs evolving strategies towards the region.

Much of the work (2018-20) was conducted via engagement with UK Government, Estonian Government, and NATO civilian and military officials as well as other experts and stakeholders.

We have found that peace and stability in the Arctic are increasingly at risk. The interactions between climate change, emerging commercial competition, increasing military activity, and deteriorating relations among NATO allies and Russia pose a complex challenge.

These findings have revealed that the maintenance of regional stability is becoming a pressing security and defence priority for extra-regional countries and alliances, as well as Arctic states and people.

One of our key contributions has been the creation of an original dataset of the increasing number of military exercises in the Arctic. Challenging the claim that the region is one of low-tension, the dataset highlights the risk of military crisis which could have consequences beyond the Arctic.

Meet the experts

Photograph of Duncan Depledge

Dr Duncan Depledge

Lecturer in Geopolitics and Security

Professor Caroline Kennedy-Pipe

Professor of International Security and International Relations