International Arctic Law –IntArcticLaw

The obvious problem posed to international law remains to be its uniform implementation among sovereign entities. States only abide by rules of law, which they have consented to. Not all states at all the time give their consent to all the international agreements or treaties. The USA, for example, is not a party to UNCLOS; Canada has decided to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol; and Russia has not ratified several of the international agreements applicable to the Arctic. A common legal approach is not always there to mitigate a number of identical challenges facing nation states. For a broader understanding of the applicability of international law in the Arctic, it is crucial to analyse relevant hard law and soft law discourses in order to strive for a strengthened foundation of Arctic governance. The project will analyse doctrinal elements available and the Arctic states’ adherence to them, as well as gaps in knowledge when addressing the Arctic as a unique region. In this context the project aims to look into environmental governance regulations by taking into consideration many of the existing multilateral environmental instruments which many Arctic states are parties to. The project also intends to provide an understanding of the applicability of universal regulations to the Arctic, such as the law of the sea. The overall objective is therefore to identify diverse challenges and complications, which arise from Arctic issues, and to analyse and develop an understanding of these from the vantage point of international law. This study includes a multitude of issues ranging from sovereignty to international security and governance, from geopolitics to resource management, from environmental protection to economic globalisation, from human rights to human development, et cetera.


The Arctic is a region that ties together three continents: Asia, Europe and North America. Eight states are located within these three continents and are defined as Arctic states. However, none of these states, in their entirety, fall within the region as a whole. The Arctic only covers the northern region of each state. Over the past two or three decades the Arctic, once originally thought of as a peripheral region, began to attain a new status toward the end of the 1980s. The Arctic is part of a complex system of political, social, and economic dynamics linking actors inside and outside the region. The region is of tremendous significance, both in terms of its untapped resources (becoming readily available as climate change increases sea ice depravation) and in terms of the region’s geopolitical standing. It is suggested that whilst there are emerging economic opportunities, there are also significant concerns regarding the levels of change, which the region shall gradually undergo. International law will play an increasingly relevant role in the Arctic due to the region’s composition – eight states with territorial borderlines on land and sea, as well as sea areas beyond national jurisdiction. Unlike Antarctica, the Arctic has no single international governance regime. This is much due to the fact that one polar region is a continent covered with ice, uninhabited, and surrounded by ocean, whereas the other is an ocean surrounded by land and ice masses, making up the territories of sovereign states. Arctic governance is widely recognised as a complex system of fragmented international and regional regulations, which are complemented by non-binding soft law mechanisms, usually as a result of Arctic Council initiatives. These two types of legal apparatuses enshrined within the region, herald an age of diverse, convoluted challenges, which can only be dealt with responsibly through international cooperation between Arctic states and non-Arctic actors or states. It also remains to be seen whether external actors could influence Arctic governance in the following years to come; particularly the EU, which claims legitimacy in Arctic affairs and exercises its regulatory system in a number of Arctic states through mechanisms empowered by European Law. The aim of this project is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the practical role which international law plays in the broader context of Arctic governance. This broader context would also include the aforementioned complex geopolitical dynamics in which diplomacy and international relations play a significant role.

Specific Research Questions

The specific questions to be addressed include: What is the scope of international law in Arctic governance? How does international law function in the peripheral context, such as in the Arctic? Should there be a re-definition of international law where diverse legal mechanisms (hard law/soft law hybridisation) is present, such as in the Arctic? Would such hybridisation be capable of constituting an Arctic international legal order? What attitudes do Arctic states have towards international law, both in terms of exercising sovereignty as well as ensuring legal limits prescribed by international law? How do the new rules of the “game” emerge in an Arctic specific context? How do these new rules come into play for both Arctic and non-Arctic states/actors? Or, in other words, do so-called Arctic “insiders” and “outsiders” exist, especially in regard to the integration of various interests within the Arctic system of governance? How does the formal international law regime (hard law regime) interact with the informal regime (the so-called soft law regime), given that the hard law regime does not present a win-win situation in the Arctic context? How does the functioning of existing institutions, both international – such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – and, regional – such as the Arctic Council and/or Barents Euro-Arctic Council – play a significant role in the development of international law norms within the Arctic? How are Arctic institutions evaluated against the impression that institutions are not regarded as international organisations in the sense of international law and therefore lack legal personality or the potential to provide resolutions considered to be legally binding? Do these resolutions contribute to norm making in international law, and if they do, how? What would be the future of Arctic institutions in shaping environmental, socio-political and economic order in the Arctic? What developments has the Arctic shown in regard to the promotion of human rights, especially with respect to its indigenous peoples whose effective participation has been ensured by the governance structure of the Arctic Council which allows them a unique “Permanent Participant” status? What implications may this status have in the promotion of both international law and human rights? Does it imply that deeper engagement in the decision making process gives indigenous peoples more opportunities to contribute to law making in international law, which may over time give them an entitlement as passive legal persons in international law? In the effort to answer these questions, this project takes the form of an umbrella under which several of the issue areas of international legal significance will be addressed. The project aims to deepen our common understanding regarding the following international legal issues:

   a. Sovereignty, security and dispute settlement
   b. Climate change, environment, and resources management
   c. Law of the Sea and the Arctic Ocean
   d. Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples
   e. Globalisation and Arctic governance

Project Objectives

  • Research
  • Knowledge dissemination
  • Networking
  • Teaching and supervision


In answering the research questions mentioned above, the project will seek insights from theoretical approaches associated with political science and international relations. In other words, when answering research questions, an inter-disciplinary character of methodology will be achieved as studies combine researchers from different disciplinary backgrounds who shall identify relevant problems and possible solutions. Wherever necessary, a comparative legal method will be applied to better understand the national and international regulations within the Arctic.

Within the thematic areas mentioned above, the project will undertake extensive research; the foundations of which have already been made exclusive within the findings from previous projects carried out by the research leader of this project, his colleagues and team members. Since the purpose of this project is to primarily develop knowledge, the researchers would rather adopt an epistemological approach, where indeed practical aspects will be combined in the process of knowledge building.

In the first place, it is important to gather already existing literature available on the proposed theme. Literature may be contained within books and scholarly monographs, as well as scientific articles published in high quality international journals, such as those already publishing work done by the research lead and his colleagues worldwide. In addition, relevant national and international legislation including international treaties and agreements, significant documents produced by international organisations and bodies, et cetera, will be included as research material. The literature will not only include academic works, but will also include other informal sources, such as news clips, non-academic reports, policy reports, stake holder documents, et cetera. These materials will be collected both from physical and online sources. A literature review will create the preliminary basis for the research project.

The will require knowledge gathering by collaborating with other partners or partner institutions, both from Finland and abroad. The research lead intends to broaden the scope of already existing collaboration between these partners. For the purposes of this project, a number of internationally accredited scholars have kindly consented to take part as expert supervisors, who will also be invited as guest-speakers in workshops and seminars conducted as part of this project where these experts will guide to identify relevant coherent research questions.


IntArctic Law Team
Kamrul Hossain (Dr.), Senior Researcher

Dr. Agnieszka Wojcicka, Post-Doc Researcher
Adam Stepien, Doctoral Researcher
Michael Laiho, Doctoral Researcher
Nikolas Sellheim, Doctoral Researcher
Gerald Zojer, Pre-Doctoral Researcher
Stefan Holitschke, Pre-Doctoral Researcher

International Advisory Board


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