Keeping the Arctic ‘Cold’: The Rise of Plurilateral Diplomacy?

At a time when the Arctic region faces significant climatic transformations, a triple governance gap threatens to fuel major diplomatic tensions among regional actors over natural resources, navigation rights and fishery management. This article argues that a plurilateral diplomatic approach could help close these gaps by establishing an effective ‘web of contracts’ involving institutional networks defined around the Arctic Council as the central node of Arctic governance and NATO, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) / the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as supporting agencies. In so doing, the article makes a twofold contribution to the literature on global governance. It explains how governance gaps could be closed in a manner that does not require extensive institutional frameworks or rigid legal mandates, and it highlights the role of institutional networks in sustaining regional and global governance.

As multilateralism and bilateralism are being increasingly outpaced by the complexity and urgency of the 21st-century governance challenges, plurilateral diplomacy proves a better method of closing global governance gaps due to its flexibility, effectiveness and capacity for quick reaction.
Plurilateral arrangements are particularly useful when there is little political interest in forging multilateral agreements and when the governance gaps can be closed by drawing on the complementary competences of existing institutions with strong logistics, experience and know-how in the field.
The worsening diplomatic frictions in the Arctic regarding the control of natural resources, navigation rights and fishery management could be addressed by developing plurilateral connections between the Arctic Council, on the one side, and NATO, the IMO and UNDP/GEF on the other.