Skip to main content
Log in

The role of science diplomacy: a historical development and international legal framework of arctic research stations under conditions of climate change, post-cold war geopolitics and globalization/power transition

Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Cite this article


The Arctic is undergoing transformation, where three important drivers are climate change, post-Cold War geopolitics and globalization/power transition from the rise of China. This transformation defines the nexus between science diplomacy, geopolitics, law and globalization under climate change, which is shaping the future of the Arctic and will bring considerable opportunity at national, regional and global levels. Research infrastructures (research stations both military and non-military, observation and monitoring networks) are opening access and data to new Arctic and non-Arctic players. Additional logistics hubs than those already existing are and should be established. Countries are sustaining and building new research as well as search and rescue bases/stations. Stations can be used as indicator of this transformation as well as their implications to improve cooperation, engage in multilateral rather than unilateral actions to protect the Arctic infrastructures and to improve military capabilities. These actions have started to attract also non-Arctic actors, such as China and the European Union (EU), which are developing new policies. Stations may not be developed and maintained only not only for the purpose of the scientific understanding of climatic and environmental impacts but also for function as entities that legitimize national or sovereign claims. At the nexus are the scientists that utilize the research bases and their international colleagues. Arctic/Northern bases are primarily military for historical reasons and for reasons of logistics and expertise, as historically indicated through the American presence in Alaska. This is not the same as saying that the bases are militarized—or part of some national militarization strategy in the Arctic. New steps to identify the role of stations at national, regional and global levels are needed. In this essay, we explore the implications and opportunities for these stations to act as pivots between scientific and geopolitical issues. We argue that where there is scientific collaboration, there is less risk of military conflict and that the Arctic is not “militarized” based on the international politics and science diplomacy of the Arctic.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. For a discussion of science diplomacy and the Arctic Ocean, see Berkman 2014; in the Antarctic setting, see Berkman et al. (2011); and historical perspective, see Elzinga 2009.

  2. See the news which is available at, China to Launch Satellite Data Receiving Station in Arctic, 2015-03-16. Accessed April 8, 2015.

  3. See the news which is available at, Chinese scientists look to Canadian Arctic for research outpost. The Globe and Mail, last updated March 18, 2015. Accessed April 8, 2015.

  4. For the purposes of our essay, we use the term indigenous in reference to all original Arctic peoples internationally.

  5. “Men” used in this sentence to reflect the historical fact that the soldiers were mainly men.

  6. The first Canadian commercial mining operation in the Arctic is very recent: North Rankin Nickel Mine, operative from 1957 to 1962. However, mining, though often advanced for the socio-economic development of the Arctic, has historically had very little positive social impact on the indigenous people near the mining operations and perhaps, as a whole, given the limited national impact of the mining operations (see e.g. and references therein, accessed April 8, 2015).

  7. This was expanded to an International Geophysical Year in 1957–1958.

  8. Though different governments and military service use these terms for different purposes, we will generally adhere to the convention that stations are designed as permanent or semi-permanent installations in the Arctic while bases and/or camps are more generally less permanent fixtures such as RADAR, weather stations or scientific outposts, or entail mobile assets that may leave from the station, such as aircraft, ships or submarines. In the case of camps, an ice camp might mean that it is relatively mobile for various glaciological studies. It is clear, however, that the naming of the “station” may not reflect the use of the station/base. In our article to simplify terminology, we will refer to all Arctic research activities as stations, and thus, in this essay, the terms stations or “research stations” or “research bases” will be used indistinctively to express the same concept.

  9. Plenary Presentation (PowerPoint slide number 3), Antarctic Treaty Summit 2009, Cornelia Lüdecke, München SCAR History Action Group. Accessed April 8, 2015.

  10. From a historian’s perspective, the scientists themselves may have been merely curious rather than politically or, otherwise, motivated. An expedition, and the establishment of a station, is however most definitely a political act, whether on behalf of the state, industry or universities.

  11. The US Senate has refused to ratify UNCLOS despite the support of different administrations and the US Navy. The USA, however, de facto follows the convention. See also the Nuuk declaration ( if a more in-depth understanding of the US viewpoints with respect to UNCLOS is desired.

  12. accessed April 8th, 2015.

  13. See Article 3 of the Treaty of 9 February 1920 relating to Spitsbergen (Svalbard).

  14. In addition, the “peaceful purposes” clause in UNCLOS has no practical effect on US military as the term peaceful purposes did not preclude for the US military activities generally. See UNCLOS debate and Schachte, W. “The Senate should give immediate advice and consent to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea: why the critics are wrong”, Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 59, No. 1, 2005 and also Vukas, B. See Vidas, D. “Protecting the Polar Marine Environmental Law and Policy for Pollution Prevention, Cambridge University Press, 2000 and Vukas, B. “Peaceful Uses of the Sea, Denuclearization and Disarmament, in Dupuy, R., Vignes, “A Handbook on the New Law of the Sea” Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht, 1991.

  15. Provision which leaves too much room for manoeuvre for interpretation by Arctic or non-Arctic states which could misuse or misinterpret this provision, in particular, if the provision is read by states with assertive behaviours deriving from e.g. a voracious appetite towards natural resources reserves in the Arctic, such as petroleum and gas.

  16. A protection staying along the other side of their role, which is the one to undertake scientific and technological research.

  17. See an Arctic Council initiative for improving Arctic Science Cooperation:

  18. See the document of the European Parliament, Plenary sitting, “Motion for a Resolution”, on the EU strategy for the Arctic (2013/2595 (RSP)/B7-0231/2014 by Charles Tannock, Konrad Szymánski on behalf of the ECR Group, page 3.


  20. For example, the mining company Greenland Minerals and Energy ( is a daughter firm of Greenland Minerals and Energy Ltd., which is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange and is headquartered in Perth, Australia.

  21. For example, in principle, the station is open for use to any nationality; in principle, the access is controlled and intentionally or unintentionally restricted to national researchers.


  23. “To militarize” means to “equip or supply (a place) with soldiers and other military resources”. See for that point, Glogauer E., et al., “Disarmament and International Security Committee (DISEC), Study Guide for CUIMUN XX, Topic—Militarization of the Arctic, page 4.

  24. As to this point, it is worth noting that polar regions have been object of several intensive interdisciplinary and international scientific research activities, namely the “International Polar Years” (IPY) where the role of stations is important.


  • Agnew J, Muscarà L (2012) Making political geography. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Lanham

    Google Scholar 

  • Berkman PA (2014) Stability and peace in the Arctic Ocean through science diplomacy. Science & Diplomacy 3(2):1–6

    Google Scholar 

  • Berkman PA, Lang MA, Walton DHW, Young OR (eds) (2011) Science diplomacy: Antarctica, science and the governance of international spaces. Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, Washington,

    Google Scholar 

  • Bertelsen RG, Li X, Gregersen MH (2015) Chinese Arctic Science Diplomacy: an instrument for achieving the Chinese dream? Global challenges in the Arctic region. Sanchez SI, Perez EC (Ed). Published in Ashgate (forthcoming).

  • Borgia F (2012) Il Regime Giuridico dell’Artico - Una nuova frontier per il diritto Internazinale? Editoriale Scientifica, Napoli

    Google Scholar 

  • Bruun JM, Medby IA (2014) Theorising the thaw: geopolitics in a changing arctic. Geography Compass 8(12):915–929

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cassotta S, Goodsite ME (2013) A regulatory multilevel and multidisciplinary contextual analysis of environmental impact assessment (EIA) relevant to Greenland: offshore oil drilling and the imperfect equation. Eur Energy Environ Law Rev 22:46–69

  • Cassotta S, Mazza M (2014) Balancing de jure and de facto Arctic environmental law applied to the oil and gas industry: linking indigenous rights, social impact assessment and business in Greenland. The Yearbook of Polar Law 6:63–119

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Collis C, Stevens Q (2007) Cold colonies: Antarctic spatialities at Mawson and McMurdo stations. Cult Geogr 14:234–254

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Conforti B (2010) The law and practice of the United Nations. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Boston

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Daniel T, Freeman K (2005) Legal aspects of Marine Scientific Research (MSR) and part XIII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). ABLOS Conference, Monaco

    Google Scholar 

  • Devetak R, Burke A, George J (eds) (2012) An introduction to international relations. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p 492

    Google Scholar 

  • Dinstein Y (2010) War, aggression and self-defence. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • Dodds K, Kirby P (2013) It’s not a laughing matter: critical geopolitics, humour and unlaughter. Geopolitics 18(1):45–59

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Elgerk K (2012) Report of the EU Commission “INTERACTact”

    Google Scholar 

  • Elzinga A (2009) Through the lens of the polar years: changing characteristics of polar research in historical perspective. Polar Record 45(253):331–336

    Google Scholar 

  • English J (2013) Ice and water: politics, peoples, and the Arctic Council. Allen lane. EPRC (European polar research cooperation), 2013., see the following links:

    Google Scholar 

  • EU Arctic Policy (2015) see the following links: accessed March 3, 2015.

  • Evans G, Newnham J (1998) The penguin dictionary of international relations. Penguin, London

    Google Scholar 

  • FARO(Forum of Arctic Research Operators) (2014) Arctic research stations., This can be accessed according to the following links:

    Google Scholar 

  • Fitzhugh WW, Ward EI (2000) Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC

    Google Scholar 

  • GRID-Arendal (2012) Major research stations in the Arctic., This can be accessed according to the following links:

    Google Scholar 

  • Harritt RK (1998) Paleo-Eskimo beginnings in North America: a new discovery at Kuzitrin lake, Alaska. Études/Inuit/Studies, 61–81

    Google Scholar 

  • Heininen L (2011a) Globalization and Arctic strategies indicators of a new significant geopolitical change in the Arctic region. Baltic Rim Economies 4:6. Accessed 16 Sept 2015

  • Heininen L (2011b) Arctic strategies and policies: inventory and comparative study. In: Northern research forum., pp 67–81

  • Heininen L (2013) Arctic security–global dimensions and challenges, and national policy responses. The Yearbook of Polar Law Online 5(1):93–115

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • INTERACT (International Network for Terrestrial Research and Monitoring in the Arctic) (2015 accessed time) This can be accessed according to the following links:

  • Li X, Bertelsen RG (2013) The drivers of Chinese Arctic interests. Arctic Yearbook

    Google Scholar 

  • Lüdecke C (2007) Wissenschaft und Abenteuer in der Arktis: Beispiele deutscher Polarexpeditionen. J Northern Studies 1:51–79

    Google Scholar 

  • Mearsheimer J (2014) Why the Ukraine crisis is the west’s fault: the liberal delusions that provoked putin. Foreign Affairs

    Google Scholar 

  • Nicol HN, Heininen L (2014) Human security, the Arctic Council and climate change: competition or co-existence? Polar Record 50(01):80–85

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nilsson A, Döscher R (2013) Signals from a noisy region. In: Miyase C, Nilsson A, Wormbs N (eds) When the ice breaks: media and the politics of Arctic climate change, Palgrave McMillan., under production

    Google Scholar 

  • Numminen L (2010) Breaking the ice: can environmental and scientific cooperation be the way forward in the Arctic? Polit Geogr 29:85–87

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Paglia E (2013) Geopolitics wrapped in science inside and idealistic Arctic community. Secretariat, Swedish Polar Research

    Google Scholar 

  • Pettersen T (2015) Russia plans new floating Arctic research station. Barents Observer, Kirkenes

    Google Scholar 

  • Raghavan M, DeGiorgio M, Albrechtsen A, Moltke I, Skoglund P, Korneliussen TS, Grønnow B, Appelt M, Gulløv HC, Friesen TM, Fitzhugh W, Malmström H, Rasmussen S, Olsen J, Melchior L, Fuller BT, Fahrni SM, Stafford T Jr, Grimes V, Renouf MAP, Cybulski J, Lynnerup N, Lahr MM, Britton K, Knecht R, Arneborg J, Metspalu M, Cornejo OE, Malaspinas A, Wang Y, Rasmussen M, Raghavan V, Hansen TVO, Khusnutdinova E, Pierre T, Dneprovsky K, Andreasen C, Lange H, Hayes MG, Coltrain J, Spitsyn VA, Götherström A, Orlando L, Kivisild T, Villems R, Crawford MH, Nielsen FC, Dissing J, Heinemeier J, Meldgaard M, Bustamante C, O’Rourke DH, Jakobsson M, Gilbert MTP, Nielsen R, Willerslev E (2014) The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic. Science 345(6200):1255832

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Royal Society (2010) New frontiers in science diplomacy: navigating the changing balance of power

    Google Scholar 

  • Southcott C, Heininen L (eds) (2010) Globalization and the circumpolar north. University of Alaska Press, Fairbanks

    Google Scholar 

Download references


The research and viewpoints presented in this essay contribute to The Sino-Nordic Arctic Policy Program (SNAPP) at the Institute for Security & Development Policy (ISDP), Sweden, the Nordic Centre of Excellence for Strategic Adaptation Research (NORD-STAR), which is funded by the Norden Top-Level Research Initiative sub-programme “Effect Studies and Adaptation to Climate Change”, and the Aarhus University (AU) School of Business and Social Sciences (BSS) contribution to the AU Arctic Research Center. The authors thank their respective institutions for their support.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael Evan Goodsite.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Goodsite, M.E., Bertelsen, R.G., Cassotta Pertoldi-Bianchi, S. et al. The role of science diplomacy: a historical development and international legal framework of arctic research stations under conditions of climate change, post-cold war geopolitics and globalization/power transition. J Environ Stud Sci 6, 645–661 (2016).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: