How do emerging powers gain inclusion into club institutions, i.e. institutions with selective memberships that deliberately seek to avoid universality? We present a framework that highlights three factors: an emerging power’s ‘fit’ to the club’s logic of exclusivity, the club’s possession of goods of value to the emerging power, and the ability of the emerging power to incentivize the club to open up via different strategies. We hypothesize that, due to the selection effect of choosing to seek inclusion in a club, emerging powers will seek integration using integrative strategies such as co‐optation and persuasion. We apply the framework to analyse the case of China’s inclusion – along with several other countries – as a State Observer in the Arctic Council in 2013. While China did use largely integrative strategies, the political background to the decision to open up to new observers reveals latent features of power bargaining. Moreover, it is unclear whether observer status has been sufficient to satisfy China. The case highlights the significance of observers in international organizations as well as the importance of clubs’ logics of exclusivity to their ability to adapt to international power shifts.
- Club institutions such as the Arctic Council face a trade‐off between maintaining their exclusivity for existing members and adapting to changing realities by integrating new members. Policy makers should be aware that keeping clubs closed and snubbing outsiders comes with costs for clubs’ efficaciousness and legitimacy, but opening clubs up to newcomers may erode the relative privileges of existing members.
- Club institutions’ logics of exclusivity play an important role in shaping how open they will be to emerging outside powers and how they respond to changing distributions of power and interests. But logics of exclusivity can also be reconfigured or even re‐imagined if policy makers act with creativity. For example, regional clubs can become clubs of affinity, or clubs of affinity can become clubs of status.
- In contrast to the period at the time of the Arctic Council’s creation, the Arctic region is transforming as a result of global warming and economic globalization, generating spillovers that also affect non‐regional states. Arctic Council members should recognize the legitimate interests of non‐Arctic states in the region. Non‐Arctic states should respect the role of Arctic inhabitants and regional states.
- Ultimately, the hard distinction between Arctic and non‐Arctic states is imagined and increasingly anachronistic. The Arctic Council should consider revising its membership structure to reflect new realities, for example by expanding the role of observers, creating new member categories beyond observership, or expanding the number of full members. The latter option could be accompanied by the creation of a new internal body for the eight current ‘Arctic states’.