From the Bottom Up: Human Security in the Arctic

The Wilson Center hosted an event, “From the Bottom Up: Human Security in the Arctic”, featuring Gunhild Hoogensen Gjørv, professor of international relations at the University of Tromsø—The Arctic University of Norway.


Hoogensen Gjørv discussed the understanding of human security from “the bottom up,” and how this concept has been engaged in discussions about the Arctic. She looks at the way the concept of security, considered broadly, explains social and political behavior for Arctic stakeholders.


Non-traditional security challenges in the Arctic range from safety for Arctic inhabitants and visitors, to the reliable supply of necessities—including, but not limited to food, fuel, and medicine—across Arctic distances.


What role does the concept of power play in a regional understanding of security? Hoogensen Gjørv considers these issues and how policy can address them on a community level, at the level of the nation-state, and broadly across the entire Arctic region.


The main topic discussed at this meeting was the heterogeneous nature of the Arctic.  Hoogensen Gjørv felt that it was an unfortunate oversimplification to view all of the Arctic through the same lens.  Without touching on specifics, she said that the environmental changes, the economic environments and the energy production for regions are vastly different from area to area.  She also highlighted that the indigenous people of the Arctic are the most threatened and by far the most unique with many distinctive cultures.


Hoogensen Gjørv also noted that the problems for the Arctic are not homogenous, and viewing all energy consumption as bad was an oversimplification that in many scenarios might worsen the problem.  An example she used was while increased natural gas production might seem like further energy dependence, it actually shows that coal, which is far dirtier, is being offset.  This differentiation of energy types was agreed on and discussed by the group.


She finished on a positive note by stating that while communications between some of the Arctic nations on a national level has “cooled,” the environmental cooperation and communication is still strong.  She shared a story about trouble getting visas in Russia.


The event concluded with a group discussion about the many problems in the Arctic that are non-environmental. This includes lack of Internet access and poor infrastructure. One of the attendees gave an anecdote about a road with no purpose that randomly trails off into the woods.  The group also discussed the irony of eco-tourism as carbon-emitting vehicles are used to reach the Arctic.