Security: The View from the “Top of the World”

(Photo credit: Alamy)

See The Simons Foundation's Disarming Arctic Security page for briefing papers on military policies and practices in the Arctic region by Ernie Regehr, Senior Fellow in Arctic Security at The Simons Foundation.

Security: The View from the “Top of the World” 

May 13, 2015

Ever since the late 2013 escalation of conflict in the Ukraine and the similarly escalated souring of relations with Russia, Arctic watchers have been asking about consequences for relations in the Arctic. A new EKOS Research survey (“Rethinking the Top of the World”), commissioned by the Gordon Foundation, is thus especially welcome for offering a window onto the views of Arctic populations on security and much more. It’s a mixed picture, but it’s clear that most people living in the Arctic do not want what is an essentially southern conflict to spill over into their region.

Deteriorating relations between Russia and the West have already impacted the Arctic and slim majorities in Finland, Iceland, and Russia (51, 58, and 50 percent respectively) told EKOS Research that the threat of military conflict in the Arctic had increased over the past year. But in the Canadian North and Alaska, majorities (64 and 55 percent) said the threat had either stayed the same or declined over the same period. The US outside of Alaska and Denmark were least inclined to think that the threat had increased (24 and 29 percent), and in both cases just over 40 percent thought the threat had stayed the same or declined, but in both cases about a third (34 percent in the US and 29 percent in Denmark) had no views on the matter. In Sweden and Norway feelings were evenly divided – that is, roughly a third thought the threat had increased, a third thought it had stayed the same or declined, and a third had no views on the matter.

In other words, while in a minority of Arctic state populations see the threat of conflict growing, in others views are mixed and in North America most do not see a rising threat of military conflict.

Perhaps more important, in none of the Arctic states does the majority favor ending cooperation with Russia in response to the conflict in Ukraine. In Finland, though the majority saw an increase in the threat of armed conflict, only 22 percent favored suspending cooperation with Russia, compared with Iceland and Sweden where over 40 percent favored suspending cooperation with Russia. In the Canadian North and Alaska 36 and 37 percent favored suspending cooperation, while in the Canadian and American South, the figures were 38 and 32 percent respectively. In other words, significant majorities rejected the idea that suspending cooperation with Russia in the Arctic would be an appropriate response to Russia’s role in the conflict in the Ukraine.  Continue reading...


Ernie Regehr, O.C. is Senior Fellow in Arctic Security at The Simons Foundation, and Research Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo.