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Svalbard and Conflict Management in a Changing Climate


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Conflict in the Arctic is nothing new, and Svalbard is a geographical confluence of factors that create the potential for inter-group violence. The purpose of this paper is to explore those factors, identifying approaches to the evaluation of their associated risk. The emphasis is on biomarine resources, which at present constitute the most likely focus for escalating disputes. Contributory factors, including the catalytic effects of climate change, will also be considered. Given the political progress that has been achieved recently, the most likely situation for an intense interstate conflict in the short term is one that spreads tothe Arctic, rather than one igniting within it. However, as the century progresses, dormant problems relating to the Svalbard archipelago will combine with environmental, economic and political trends to exacerbate conflict risk. Traditionally, armed conflict has been viewed as a phenomenon that cannot be predicted. This view is identified as dangerously misleading. Using a risk based approach and noting advances in analytical techniques, representative scenarios in which conflict may occur are examined and prospective methods of risk management identified.
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Nordlit 45, 2020
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John Ash (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)
Conflict in the Arctic is nothing new, and Svalbard is a geographical confluence of factors
that create the potential for inter-group violence. The purpose of this paper is to explore
those factors, identifying approaches to the evaluation of their associated risk. The
emphasis is on biomarine resources, which at present constitute the most likely focus for
escalating disputes. Contributory factors, including the catalytic effects of climate
change, will also be considered. Given the political progress that has been achieved
recently, the most likely situation for an intense interstate conflict in the short term is one
that spreads to the Arctic, rather than one igniting within it. However, as the century
progresses, dormant problems relating to the Svalbard archipelago will combine with
environmental, economic and political trends to exacerbate conflict risk. Traditionally,
armed conflict has been viewed as a phenomenon that cannot be predicted. This view is
identified as dangerously misleading. Using a risk based approach and noting advances
in analytical techniques, representative scenarios in which conflict may occur are
examined and prospective methods of risk management identified.
Arctic; climate change; conflict; risk; Svalbard
The Arctic and sub-Arctic regions are amongst the most hostile physical environments in
the world.
It is hardly surprising therefore that as battlespaces,
they have proven to be
amongst the most challenging and costly locations in terms of casualties on the planet.
Yet, as the global climate continues to change, the likelihood of conflict of all types
increases (Hsaing, Burke and Miguel 2013) including violent conflict in the Arctic. The
aim of this paper is to examine prospective scenarios in which such conflict may arise,
and using Svalbard
as a focus, examine a risk-based approach to the management of
geopolitical hazards. It is not suggested that Arctic conflict is imminent; indeed, political
progress in recent years has been exemplary. However, the maintenance of that stability
is a challenge that requires consistent endeavour and innovative thinking.
See Piantadosi (2003) for a comprehensive exploration of the effects of cold on human survival.
The term ‘battlespace’ will be applied here using the definition endorsed by NATO: “The environment,
factors and conditions that must be understood to apply combat power, protect a force or complete a
mission successfully. It includes the land, maritime, air and space environments; the enemy and friendly
forces present therein; facilities; terrestrial and space weather; health hazards; terrain; the electromagnetic
spectrum; and the information environment in the joint operations area and other areas of interest”. (North
Atlantic Treaty Organization 2016).
See Ash (2016a) and citations therein, particularly in relation to Operation Sandcrab and the Falklands
Throughout this paper, the term Svalbard will be used to denote the archipelago defined in the so-called
Svalbard Treaty concerning Spitzbergen and signed in Paris 9th February 1920.
John Ash
Svalbard as a model for conflict management
The Svalbard archipelago has long been a site for conflict in the Arctic. In the 17th century
the Nine Years’ War – sometimes referred to as the War of the Grand Alliance spilled
over into the commercial activity occurring in the archipelago (Conway 1906, 217222).
1693 saw an attack by two French ships on forty Dutch whaling vessels at Treurenberg
Bay (now Sorgfjord). Thirteen of the Dutch ships were captured, the rest escaping (ibid.).
In the 20th century, Svalbard once again saw conflict as allied and German forces fought
to establish control over the collection of weather data (Schuster 1991). The Germans
established a number of weather stations on the archipelago at various times during the
Second World War, at one point mounting an amphibious assault to deny the Allies access
to information vital to the prosecution of the war effort (ibid.). It is significant that in both
of these historical cases, conflict did not ignite in the Arctic, but rather spread to the
region. Moreover, while both conflicts were derived from political struggles, the portion
of the violence associated with Svalbard centred on resources biomarine resources and
information. In the latter case, the physical location of Svalbard made it critical to
observations that could be incorporated into synoptic charts for weather forecasts.
Svalbard is by no means the only site of historical conflict in the Arctic.
Archaeological evidence at Saunaktuk in Arctic Canada indicates violence at a societal
level occurring as early as the 14th century (Melbye and Fairgrieve 1994). In older
literature, both climate change and conflict have been cited as factors contributing to the
decline of Norse settlements in Greenland (Birket-Smith 1928, 12). For a modern
assessment by a leading researcher, see Jette Arneborg (2015, 268), who notes:
The Thule Inuit appearance in the settlements was yet another stress factor for
the Norse. The Thule Inuit have long ago been cleared of having wiped out the
Norse … Still, with the recognition of the increased Norse dependence on the
outer coast resources at the same time as the Inuit might have reached the
settlements, the contacts between the Norse and the Inuit are worth
reconsidering. A few Inuit raids, like that recorded in the Icelandic Annals
(1379) when ‘the skraelings [the Inuit] attacked the Greenlanders, killed 18 men
and caught and enslaved two boys’, … could have been fatal for the settlements,
again seen in the light of the decreasing number of inhabitants.
The studies of Ernest S. Burch (2007) reveal raids and battles in Western Alaska during
the early contact period (c1775-1850). Some 80 battles have been reconstructed from oral
history, although dating is problematic (Mason 2012). Archaeological finds of slat-
armour in the coastal region confirm the occurrence of warfare (ibid.). Relatively
elementary weapons could prove effective in an Arctic context. In the 18th Century, the
Chukchi resisted the power of Imperial Russia (Forsyth 1992, 143151). By the 19th
Century, the Bering Sea witnessed the northerly extent of the American Civil War as the
confederate commerce Raider CSS Shenandoah attacked Union vessels (Baldwin 2007,
238239, 241243, 245247, 249253).
The 20th Century brought bitter conflict to the Arctic, both in the terrestrial and marine
environments. The Winter War of 1939-40, fought between Finland and Russia, brought
severe casualties. In the battle of Suomussalmi alone, the Russians lost some 27500 men
See Ash (2016a) and citations therein for a previous overview of Arctic conflict.
Svalbard and Conflict Management in a Changing Climate: A Risk Based Approach
to battle or cold weather fatalities (Gregory 1989, 110). In 1943, Operation Sandcrab was
mounted to retake Attu in the Aleutian Islands from the Japanese. The allied invasion
force, numbering more than 15,000 men, suffered 549 killed. Some 2,132 were taken out
of action by nonbattle injuries (Pennell 2008). Over 1500 of the nonbattle injuries were
cold related (US National Park Service, undated). Richard Woodman’s (2007, 447) study
of the Arctic convoys to resupply Russia with military materiel reveals the losses endured
at sea.
Although only a subset of the extensive history of Arctic conflict, the Svalbard
archipelago provides a useful example of the complex interaction of geopolitical and
other phenomena that typify the challenges of maintaining peace as the climate changes.
What was true of Svalbard as a prospective site for conflict in the 17th and 20th centuries
remains true in the 21st: its location and natural resources, coupled with its legal history
and status, make it a potential focus for violence at both the sub-national and international
levels. By the same token, if peace can be preserved in Svalbard, it bodes well for conflict
management in the Arctic as a whole.
The Arctic, Svalbard, and potential conflict
As climate change and its effects on the Arctic have gained wider attention, particularly
ice ablation and the prospect of greater access in oceanic areas, there has been much
comment on the potential for resource-related conflict (Young 2009, and citations
therein). The correlation between resource availability and conflict is not a simple one,
and has been disputed as a reliable predictive factor by some researchers (Koubi et al.
2014). In 2008, the Arctic Five
nations moved decisively to block calls for political
influence on the region by other nations; in particular, to preclude any authority conferred
by the establishment of a new treaty regime for the Arctic Ocean (Dodds 2013). Their
deliberations, held at Ilulissat in Greenland, excluded Finland, Sweden and Iceland all
nations that possess territory within the Arctic Circle, although not in the Arctic Ocean
littoral (ibid.). The discussion also occurred without representation from other parties
within the Arctic Council, such as the indigenous organisations (ibid.). The outcome of
the conference, the Ilulissat Declaration, expresses a determination to effect governance
of the region by means of extant treaty law; specifically, the law of the sea. The law of
the sea, as codified in UNCLOS, details the rights and responsibilities of states parties
with regard to resources and the marine environment in oceanic areas abutting their
coasts. It confers particular authority to nations whose shores border ice-adjacent waters.
Despite ice ablation, the most promising potential hydrocarbon deposits in the Arctic
occur mostly within areas over which no territorial dispute exists.
For those
hydrocarbons in disputed areas, Arctic states appear reluctant to mar valuable political
relationships by contesting ownership. Indeed, it would be doubly unwise to do so, as oil
companies have demonstrated a clear reluctance to prospect in such areas for fear of
embroilment in costly legal disagreements (Howard 2009, 34). Hence, the present
likelihood of resource wars over Arctic hydrocarbons appears small.
Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States; the coastal nations of the Arctic Ocean.
Under UNCLOS Article 26, governments may levy fair charges for services to vessels such as icebreaking
and pilotage in their territorial seas. Moreover, Article 234 empowers them to enforce nondiscriminatory
laws for the prevention, reduction, and control of marine pollution from vessels in ice-covered areas within
the limits of their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs).
Compare Gautier et al. (2008) Fig 1, with International Boundaries Research Unit (2015).
John Ash
For the most intense types of conflict at the interstate level open military action the
geographic location of Svalbard is of strategic value (Figure 1, see at the article’s end),
providing a position from which to launch attacks on maritime assets and block access
both to the Barents and the Arctic Ocean. Figure 1 provides a simple illustration of the
prospective hard power influence that might be exerted from Svalbard. The superimposed
radii give an indication of surface to surface anti-shipping missile engagement ranges.
To apply such force, it would not be necessary to establish dominance over the entire
archipelago; it would be enough to seize and hold tactically advantageous positions for
sufficient time to achieve the desired military and political objectives. These engagement
zones would be significantly enhanced if the shore based systems were employed to
protect surface warships and submarines with their own missile systems.
This begs the question why conflict at the state level would spread to the Arctic. In the
case of a European confrontation involving NATO and Russia, the Arctic is where
Russian naval forces, and particularly the maritime strategic assets
of the Northern Fleet
are based. Related to this factor, both sides would gain advantage from controlling access
to the Greenland and Norwegian Seas, and to the maritime resupply routes between
America and Europe.
In military terms, Svalbard is a pivot from which tactical barriers
can be deployed against an opponent, cutting off access to key portions of the battlespace.
Moreover, it provides an unsinkable base from which to conduct surveillance; a
metaphorical hill overlooking a battlefield.
While Svalbard becomes desirable real estate during inter-state conflict, further issues
arise as a result of the archipelago’s political history. The Svalbard Treaty of 1920
explicit in requiring not only the ‘non-warlike’ use of the territory, but also open access
to its resources. This confers a rather diminished form of sovereignty
on Norway as the
ruling state, and a complex set of security problems. Norway may not construct
fortifications, naval ports or conduct military exercises within the Svalbard area as
defined by the 1920 Treaty. Thus, its ability to mitigate conflict risk through deterrence
is limited, and as access to the archipelago is relatively unrestricted, border control is less
easy to impose. Svalbard’s population includes a number of Russians, who work the coal
mines and who are attempting to promote their principal settlement at Barentsburg as a
centre for tourism (Klelkowski 2015; Statistics Norway 2016). This provides not only an
environment in which military personnel could be concealed, but a potential casus belli,
The radii in Figure 1 are 350km, representing the maximum range of the Russian K-300P mobile coastal
defence missile system as reported by Defence Minister of the Russian Federation Sergei Shoigu (Sputnik
International 2016).
Principally, the ballistic missile armed submarines.
See Grove with Thompson (1991) for a full discussion of the development of NATO strategy for the
reinforcement of Norway and the containment or defeat of Russian forces in war.
This term will be used to identify the ‘Treaty between Norway, The United States of America, Denmark,
France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Great Britain and Ireland and the British overseas Dominions and
Sweden concerning Spitsbergen signed in Paris 9th February 1920’. In modern times, ‘Svalbard’ has
become increasingly used to denote the entire archipelago, with ‘Spitzbergen’ reserved as a reference to
the principal island; for that reason only, ‘Svalbard Treaty’ will be used here. The use of ‘Svalbard’ in
itself is political, as it alludes to an historical access of the landmass, which strengthens the Norwegian
claim to sovereignty (Berg 2013).
It is acknowledged that ‘Sovereignty’ is in itself a complex concept that has evolved over time and
continues to challenge political science to encompass it with an entirely compelling definition (See Ash
2016 b and citations therein). To preserve discussion within this paper, Philpott’s 2001 proposal ‘supreme
authority within a territory’, will be accepted here as an appropriate starting point.
Svalbard and Conflict Management in a Changing Climate: A Risk Based Approach
as the Russians represent a prospective ‘victim’ population to be ‘rescued’ as occurred in
Ossetia and the Ukraine.
Norway has attempted to keep interpersonal and economic
relations with Russia separate from geopolitics in the Arctic (Hyman 2016). Such
behaviour may have little benefit in a hybrid conflict situation. The comment: “‘Truth,’
it has been said, ‘is the first casualty of war’” has been attributed to Philip Snowden
(Morel 1916). In hybrid warfare,
the truth is dead long before the first shot is fired.
A further consideration in the light of current Russian military doctrine
is that a pre-
emptive occupation of key parts of the archipelago might be regarded as ‘de-escalation’
by the Russian military and political leadership. This may appear ironic, as offensive
military action on Svalbard by Russia would almost certainly trigger action under Article
5 of the North Atlantic Treaty of 1949.
However, such an action may be viewed in the
same light as other ‘de-escalation’ alternatives discussed in Russian doctrinal publications
(Zagorski 2011). Russia appears to have abandoned its prohibition on nuclear first use in
favour of a tactical strike option,
should Russian conventional forces be outmatched.
Such a strike may be ‘demonstrative’ in nature. The aim would be to confront NATO
forces with a choice either to accept the status quo ante bellum or embark on an
escalation into a devastating nuclear conflict (Zagorski 2011, 25). In contrast to a nuclear
strike, a preemptive occupation of parts of Svalbard and the emplacement of anti-aircraft
and anti-ship missile batteries would slam a door in the face of NATO at the
commencement of hostilities without having to cross the nuclear threshold. Plans for such
an occupation may already be in hand. Eirik Haugland, a head of Norwegian counter-
espionage, has identified the landing point location of the underwater cable providing
communications between Svalbard and mainland Norway as a target by foreign agents
(Associated Press 2014). More recently, Stormark (2017) claims multiple sources in
reporting that the Russian military exercise ‘Zapad 2017’ included a simulated invasion
of Svalbard. Such a move by Russian forces would involve significant military and
political risk, but is consistent with a perception that a sudden, aggressive demonstration
of military power against larger or better equipped forces could ‘de-escalate’ a conflict.
Types of Arctic conflict
Conflict exists in many forms, and Svalbard is a potential focus for more than open
military conflict at the state level. Other sources of risk include political violence at the
sub-state level terrorism and disputes over biomarine resources. Additional
prospective catalysts of conflict might be identified; a pandemic is one possibility.
However, this paper particularly concerns itself with hazards associated with Svalbard
and climate change; and examples are chosen accordingly.
Ironically, most of the inhabitants of Barentsburg are Ukrainian coal miners (Klelkowski 2015).
Introduction to Truth and the War, by E. D. Morel (1916), p. vii.
In hybrid warfare: “The adversary tries to influence influential policy-makers and key decision makers
by combining kinetic operations with subversive efforts. The aggressor often resorts to clandestine
actions, to avoid attribution or retribution.” (Pindják 2014).
The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation" approved by Russian Federation presidential edict on
5 February 2010. See also Sokov (2014).
The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation" approved by Russian Federation presidential edict on
5 February 2010. See also Sokov (2014).
John Ash
Arctic terrorism is a threat that is taken seriously. Russia, for example, is in the process
of establishing a number of counter-terrorism centres in various locations, including one
at Murmansk (Marex 2015). It is reported to have conducted counter-terrorism exercises
with new military units in the Arctic region (Barents Observer 2015). Canada and the US
have also been explicit in identifying Arctic terrorism as a significant issue (Nincic 2012
and citations therein). Terrorism, including maritime terrorism, may take many forms,
including hijacking and hostage taking for political purposes, direct attacks on vessels,
the use of a ship as a weapon, using marine transport as a "vector" to carry goods and
materiel for terrorist organizations, and sinking a vessel to block a chokepoint or
important trade route (ibid.). As the focus of this paper is Svalbard, the case of a direct
attack on a cruise vessel will serve to make the point. Of course, there is nothing new in
terrorists attacking tourists, which both brings the insurgents the broad publicity they seek
(Nacos 1994, 8) and harms the economies of polities they oppose. Cruise vessels,
however, provide an opportunity for spectacular attacks, a point that has not escaped the
attention of insurgents (Robertson et al. 2012). In the case of Arctic cruise tourism, the
number of potential victims and the political statement represented by harming
passengers from a relatively privileged demographic is compounded by the geographical
remoteness of the location. An attack in a remote location has two effects; it increases the
difficulty in deploying counter-terrorism and rescue forces in a timely manner. It also
suggests that nowhere is safe from insurgent attack. In fact, the latter statement is
deceptive, as insurgents only require an innocuous looking vessel and someone who can
navigate to reach an Arctic objective such as Svalbard in summer.
An example of an attack of the sort considered here was undertaken against the MV
Seaborne Spirit in 2005 in the Mediterranean (US Department of Homeland Security
2008, 14). The insurgents fired rocket propelled grenades
at the ship (ibid.). Fortunately,
the assault was repulsed by acoustic devices (ibid.), but the points to be drawn are clear:
attacking a cruise vessel does not require massive resources. The attackers do not need to
get on board to achieve their aim, and if they manage to start a serious fire, the
consequences could be severe.
The seas around Svalbard are fecund,
due to the physical oceanography of the
which supplies nutrient rich waters to nourish the marine food chain. This brings
clear benefit, but also the potential for conflict, both at the interstate and sub-state levels.
The potential for interstate conflict stems from disagreement regarding the interpretation
of the 1920 Svalbard Treaty and its integration with the subsequent provisions of
Specifically, this concerns the legal status of the fisheries claimed around
the archipelago by Norway (Churchill and Ulfstein 2010). The Norwegian interpretation
favours the view that their sovereignty of Svalbard confers the right to establish a non-
discriminatory fisheries protection zone (FPZ) (ibid.). The FPZ, enacted in 1977,
extends 200nm from the shoreline (ibid.), although curtailed in places by interaction with
A type of anti-tank missile. The weapon uses a shaped explosive charge to penetrate armour.
See Misund et al., (2016) for an historical analysis of the area’s biomarine productivity.
See Haug et al. (2016) for a discussion of the bioproductivity of Arctic waters, and the prospective effects
of climate change.
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), 1833 UNTS 396, signed 10 Dec 1982,
Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Royal Decree of 3 June 1977. Regulations on the Fishery Protection Zone around Spitsbergen. Norsk
Lovtidend, 1977, Part 1, p508, cited in Churchill and Ulfstein (2010, 560).
Svalbard and Conflict Management in a Changing Climate: A Risk Based Approach
other maritime boundaries.
Norway has also enlarged the territorial sea to 12nm.
Under this argument, the territorial sea alone should be subject to the non-discriminatory
economic access provisions of the 1920 Treaty, and not the FPZ, to which the treaty does
not apply (Churchill and Ulfstein 2010, 564-565 and citations therein). The Russian view
contradicts this (ibid.), and while Norway grants fisheries licences to other nations for
regulated use of the FPZ, including Russia, the legal status of the zone remains a point of
contention. Canada and Finland appear originally to have given support to Norway’s
position, although that support appears subsequently to have been withdrawn (ibid.).
Other treaty parties either concur with Russia that the Treaty applies beyond the territorial
sea, reserve their position, or withhold public pronouncement on the subject (ibid.).
The risk of conflict at the sub-state level relates to Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated
(IUU) fishing, sometimes referred to as pirate fishing; and it is a problem that confronts
not merely Svalbard, but the global ocean. In some of the world’s important fisheries,
30% of the catch is attributable to IUU operations (Trent, Williams and Buckley 2005,
4). To give an indication of the extent of the problem in Arctic waters, an estimated
100,000 tons of cod were caught illegally in 2005 alone (Burnett et al. 2008, 11). The
value of this catch was some $350m (ibid.). With such large sums at stake, there is always
the potential for violence when regulatory enforcement is applied.
Thus, Svalbard is a confluence of factors geographical, historical and political - that
make it the focus of conflict risk. These risks are likely to increase as the century
Climate change and the increased potential for conflict
It has been argued that the risk of terrorism in the Arctic is modest, or at least,
comparatively less than the risk posed by non-terrorism related maritime incidents
(Nincic 2012). The basis for such risk judgements will be examined in greater detail
below. Certainly, the Arctic 5 have made exemplary political progress to date in securing
peace and stability. Preserving that situation may require more action than re-action, since
the risk of conflict arising in the forms noted above is likely to increase this century.
Hsaing, Burke and Miguel (2013) in their statistical metastudy of the correlation between
changes in climatic conditions and violence, find strong causal evidence linking climatic
events to human conflict, including conflict at the intergroup level. Their defence of their
findings (2014, in response to comments by Buhaug et al. 2014), is a robust one. The
work of Hsaing and his colleagues requires further exploration, to develop an appropriate
model to complement the mathematical analysis, and thereby properly to inform policy.
Yet we may have at least some confidence in the inference that the world will become a
more violent place as the planet continues to undergo climatic change. In the context of
the types of conflict noted above in Svalbard, it may be concluded that the probability of
violence will increase and the archipelago’s strategic geography will not alter. Moreover,
the level of tourism and fishing will also remain high or increase, against a general
background of increased violence.
A map illustrating the various maritime boundaries, created by the Norwegian Mapping Authority, may
be found at: Norway’s Maritime Borders. BarentsWatch, 20 May 2013. .
Act of 27 June 2003 No.57 relating to Norway’s territorial waters and contiguous zone, sections 2 and 5,
sections 2 and 5, reported in Law of the Sea Bulletin (LOSB), 2004, 54, p97. .
John Ash
Larsen et al. (2014) identify climate change as a catalyst for a potential increase in
cruise tourism in Arctic locations. Data compiled by the Association of Arctic Expedition
Cruise Operators (AECO) indicate a more subtle trend, with Svalbard alone witnessing
an increment in cruise passenger visits (reported in Nilsen 2014). Nonetheless, an
increment in visits to Svalbard waters by cruise vessels provides an enlarged opportunity
for terrorist attacks.
Capture fisheries will remain critical to satisfying the world’s growing demand for
protein as the 21st century progresses (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations 2016). Earlier hopes that climate change would increase the overall productivity
of the oceans now appear unfounded. Recent research suggest that increased predation at
particular trophic levels, coupled with factors such as increased stratification in the water
column and more oxygen depletion, will defeat temperature related phenomena that might
otherwise enhance bioproductivity (Goldenburg et al. 2017). The catch concentrations of
finfish will also move towards higher latitudes (Cheung et al. 2010), a phenomenon that
is already being observed (Norwegian Ministry of Climate and Environment 2015, 19).
With greater catch potential in Svalbard’s waters, and increased demand for the product,
we may expect a greater risk of IUU fishing and a consequent increase in the risk of
conflict in the region as government endeavours to retain control over the fishery.
Having evidence that the likelihood of conflict in a location is likely to increase is not
the same as having specific information on which to take action. The management of risk
rests in no small measure on the ability to predict it, and historically, this has proven a
challenge for conflict risk.
Interstate conflict risk
The purview of this paper is to consider violent conflict that potentially results in human
fatality. Of the conflict hazards alluded to above, interstate conflict is likely to give rise
to the largest number of fatalities, and will be considered first. ‘Interstate conflict’ as
applied here may fall short of the strict definition of war identified by Small and Singer
(1982, 205206, cited in Sarkees 2010).
However, in this paper it will refer to a societal
process during which one or more fatalities is sustained amongst state appointed officials
through the deliberate action of another state.
Traditionally, it has been held that conflict particularly at the interstate level cannot
properly be evaluated in terms of risk. As Lindley-French and Boyer (2010, 663) note:
“War is unpredictable, as are its consequences.”
Ironically, thoughtless acceptance of this view constitutes a hazard in itself, as it implies
that valid and valuable predictions concerning armed conflict cannot be made, and a
policy based entirely on reaction may increase both the probability and severity of conflict
harms. It is important to differentiate between event prediction and risk assessment (Woo
2002a). In a troublous world, national polities are obliged to make risk management
decisions concerning armed conflict. Indeed, as Adam Smith noted in the Wealth of
in regard to the functions of government, it is the primary responsibility: “The
first duty of the sovereign, that of protecting the society from the violence and invasion
of other independent societies…”
Sustained combat, involving organized armed forces, resulting in a minimum of 1,000 battle-related
fatalities (later specified as 1,000 battle-related fatalities within a twelve month period).
The Wealth of Nations, Book V, Chap. 1, part 1.
Svalbard and Conflict Management in a Changing Climate: A Risk Based Approach
In this context, we may make comparisons with protection against fire risks. It may not
be possible to predict which particular buildings will suffer a fire, but the risk can be
managed before (with fire precautions), during (with a fire brigade), and after a fire
incident (with hospital treatment and insurance). Similarly, in the field of armed conflict,
the risk can be reduced before the event, through diplomacy and deterrence; and during a
campaign with armed forces. The risk may also be shared, through military alliances.
A great deal of research effort has been undertaken, particularly in respect to political
violence, to develop risk assessment and crisis early warning systems (Abdollahian et al.
2006; Bueno de Mesquita 1997; Cioffi-Revilla and O’Brien 2007; Connery 2013; Davies
and Gurr 1998; Davis 2014; Feder 2002; O’Brien 2002 and 2010; Reifel 2006). Since the
end of the Cold War and the emergence of a more complex, highly dynamic political
environment, NATO has moved from a threat-based to a risk-based process for planning
and policy (Morgan 2015). At the national level, the UK is an example of a states party
that employs a risk-based approach to security planning and procurement, with the
National Security Council (NSC) identifying and categorising risks within a 3-tier priority
system (HM Government 2015). The NSC created the National Security Risk Assessment
2015, an unclassified summary of which is published as an annex to the National Security
Strategy and Strategic Defence Review 2015 (ibid.). In contrast to a security planning
process based on external threat, or the capability of own forces, a risk-based approach
focusses resource and procedural planning on the minimisation of harms.
It further
supports comparative judgements of very different security risks,
while the assessment
process itself develops understanding of the hazards under examination.
The definition of risk is a topic to which many commentators have addressed
themselves. Vaughan and Vaughan provide an excellent summary of various conceptions
of risk (1996, 13 et seq.). Samuels and Gouldby (2009, 14-15 and citations therein) offer
an overview of definitions by a number of commentators and recommend a simplified
solution, which is reflected in the definition employed in this paper. They further counsel
that: “…there is no unique specific definition for risk and any attempt to develop one
would inevitably satisfy only a proportion of risk managers. Indeed this very adaptability
of the concept of risk is one of its strengths” (Samuels and Gouldby 2009, 4).
Sarah Wolf (2011), speaking in the context of climate change and natural hazards,
argues persuasively that differences between approaches based on vulnerability and risk
do not rest on matters of concept, but of terminology.
For the purposes of this paper, risk will be characterised as the product of a probability
term, and a loss (Eq. 1). This choice has been made for two reasons. First, it is an approach
to risk that is readily understood within government. Second, it facilitates comparison
with the concept of threat.
For an overview of the application of risk management in operational planning, see Latrash (1999).
See for example, HM Government (2015).
For a discussion of the advantages of risk assessment in general, see Kolluru et al. (1996, 1.17 and 2.23).
Aven, Renn and Rosa (2011, 1075) provide an examination of the ontological status of various definitions
of the term ‘risk’. They note that while the effects of vulnerabilities and barriers are properly part of risk
calculations, they are not essential terms in defining the concept of risk.
John Ash
Risk = Probability * Loss (Eq. 1).
Numerical values are ascribed to the probability of an undesired event per unit time,
and the loss term is generally measured in money or in lives lost. J David Singer famously
conceptualised Threat Perception as a combination of the Estimated Intent of a foreign
power and its Estimated Capability (military capability) (Singer 1958, 94). While a
distinct concept to that of risk, Singer’s formulation of threat may be seen to hold parallels
with the classical risk equation:
Threat Perception = Estimated Intent * Estimated Capability (Eq. 2).
Risk = Probability * Loss (Eq. 1).
The question arises how representative numerical values are to be ascribed to the terms
of an equation depicting conflict risk. The loss term, particularly as that indicates possible
human casualties, is something for which tools already exist. Prior to military operations,
medical specialist staff have to prepare figures for probable casualties the medical
This is used as a basis for planning medical support.
Ascribing a value to the probability term is something that has proven challenging to
date. Judging if violence will break out is something of a holy grail in intelligence, not to
mention foreign policy (Feder 2002). However, recent research indicates a promising way
ahead. Bueno de Mesquita’s Expected Utility Theory (EUT) grew out of a statistical study
of conflict (Churchman 2005, 153-155; Bueno de Mesquita 1997). His approach, initially
embodied into his Policon model, has three assumptions regarding the state actors who
make decisions regarding commitment to violent action (Churchman 2005, 154); namely,
that they:
1. Are instrumentally rational.
2. Consider options based on outcome probabilities multiplied by outcome utilities.
3. Choose the option with the highest expected utility.
Bueno de Mesquita is not suggesting that political and military leaders are necessarily
making mathematical risk analyses per se (Churchman 2005, 155), nor is his approach an
agent based model in a strict sense, although it does incorporate the degree of decision-
maker preference for a particular objective and their relative authority within the polity
For a comparative analysis of the accuracy of different approaches to this problem, see Gibson (2003).
Svalbard and Conflict Management in a Changing Climate: A Risk Based Approach
(potential aggressor) under analysis (Bueno de Mesquita 2009). While his approach has
its critics (Churchman, 2005, 155), it does enjoy the distinction of having achieved a
reported predictive accuracy of almost 90% (Feder 2002).
EUT is not proposed as a replacement for subject matter specialists (Bueno de Mesquita
1997; 2009). Rather, Bueno de Mesquita’s model is offered as an augmentation to the
interpretative skills of subject experts in determining risk levels. Nor does this approach
necessarily require detailed information of the sort collected by governments; the system
may be applied with the use of open source information (Bueno de Mesquita 2009, 54-
55). However, use of EUT to date suggests that a risk assessment can be made of the
of a foreign power taking recourse to violent action; and indeed, that the
assessment will be of greater reliability than the judgements of subject matter specialists
Terrorism risk
"Subtle is the Lord, but malicious He is not."
Albert Einstein’s dictum is central to usefully applying risk assessment to terrorism risk.
The hazards of nature can be subtle, but their eventuation may be predicated on a
mathematical assumption that they constitute discrete, random variables. By contrast,
terrorists are subtle and malicious (Woo 2002 b). For this reason, Brown and Cox (2011)
argue that probabilistic risk assessment (PRA) of terrorism hazards may actually increase
risk, creating analyses that are either self-defeating, or result in self-fulfilling scenarios,
as the attackers are reasoning agents. Their alternative emphasises increasing the
resilience of critical infrastructure (ibid.). In other words, mitigating the loss term in
equation 1. However, they also identify the potential use of a probability set to
accommodate the range of values, given that the knowledge base of the potential attackers
is unknown (ibid.). Woo (2002 b) confirms that the loss term is essentially a complex
engineering problem. However, speaking from an actuarial perspective, he proposes for
‘showpiece scenario’ terrorist attacks (within which one might include an assault on an
Arctic cruise vessel), relative probability may be derived by treating the problem as a cost
function (ibid). Planning time, personnel effort, technical problems, and the consumption
of financial and material resources would be critical factors in determining the
attractiveness or even the possibility of attacking specific targets (ibid.).
Woo is primarily concerned with macroterrorism (Woo 2002 a). This is defined within
Willis et al. (2007) as an attack inflicting economic loss exceeding $1bn, or more than
100 fatalities, or over 500 injuries, or massively symbolic damage. Major (2002) notes
that terrorists may not wish to maximise damage in terms of dollars or lives, preferring
instead media air time as an objective. Clearly, identifying the goals of such organisations
is significant in analysing the probability of a specific attack scenario (Woo 2002 a).
Major discusses in detail a severity model that draws on game theory, and although he
properly identifies the system’s shortfalls, such an approach offers a way ahead in the
The EUT model does not output a probability per se, but the most likely choice in decision processes
with multiple actors of varying agency and attachment to a specific outcome (Bueno de Mesquita 1997).
Feder (2002, 119) notes the ability of such model use to help avoid analytic traps, such as expecting the
future to be like the past, and thereby failing to consider alternative outcomes.
Albert Einstein Site Online:
John Ash
allocation of resources to counterterrorism and resilience. Woo (2002 b), by contrast,
discusses terrorist organisation and takes a cost function approach to derive a frequency
value for potential targets. Willis et al. (2007) derive informative findings from the
application of the Probabilistic Terrorism Model developed by Risk Management
Services Inc.
Specifically, they examine three types of problem; resource allocation,
developing standard profiles of terrorism risk for specific cities, and in intelligence
analysis, translating information about terrorist goals into surveillance targets.
There appears to be general agreement that no single model or approach is sufficient to
evaluate the complexities of terrorism risk (Ezell et al. 2010; Haimes 2009). However,
basing resource allocation on risk (Willis et al. 2005) offers the best means of informing
decisions at present, and while significant challenges remain, a number of approaches to
generating useful risk assessments are being explored (Brown and Cox 2011; Ezell et al.
2010; Major 2002; Willis 2007; Willis et al. 2005; Willis et al. 2007; Willis and
LaTourrette 2008; Woo 2002 a and b).
IUU risk
Crime risk modelling has its own literature.
However, the value of the analysis may be
marred by a variety of factors, including availability of data, confusion of the phenomena
being measured, political agendas, an unwillingness to accept the relationship between
the legitimate and illegitimate economies, and even inflated claims of value by
researchers (Beare and Naylor 1999, 9). An innovative approach adopted recently begins
from the perspective of crime as unlawful economic activity (Albanese 2008). Illegal drug
supply in particular is an activity with interesting parallels with IUU fishing, since both
are shadow activities accompanying legitimate markets, both may operate under market
conditions, and both feature actors who are used to taking risks. One counterintuitive
finding by Werb et al. (2010, 15) suggests that traditional policing removing key
perpetrators from the illegal drug market - may not be effective. Perversely, this may
create financial incentives for others to enter the market and fill the vacuum (ibid.). Such
knowledge is valuable in itself, if the intention of a polity is to ruin, or at least limit an
illegal market. Albanese (2008, 268) notes the research identifying the utility of risk levels
in determining a range of mitigating processes in enforcement, including the intensity of
probation supervision, parole release guidelines and sentencing guidelines in criminal
justice. Other interesting recent work with potential for application to the policing of IUU
fishing may be found in Camacho-Collados and Liberatore (2015) in which the authors
reports a decision support system that merges predictive policing capabilities with a
patrolling district model.
Thus, in confronting an increased risk of conflict in Svalbard as the century progresses,
there may be recourse to a range of predictive measures on which policy may be based
with greater confidence. However, such information requires translation into policy and
action if risks are to be managed.
An insurance model for use in analysing macroterrorism (Willis et al. 2005).
See for example Albanese (2008), Vander Beken (2004) and Tusikov (2011).
Svalbard and Conflict Management in a Changing Climate: A Risk Based Approach
Conflict risk management
There are three guiding principles in risk management (Vaughan and Vaughan 1996), and
each has its analogue in the case of Svalbard and conflict minimisation. These principles
are tabulated below.
Do not risk what you cannot afford to lose
Do not allow the increased risk of
conflict associated with climate change to
Do not risk a lot to save a little
Do not favour a ‘do-nothing’ approach as
a default policy.
Always consider the odds
Use a risk-based approach to anticipate
and manage prospective conflict situations.
Table 1: Risk Management Principles and their Analogues in Managing Conflict in the Svalbard
The first principle is elementary: do not risk what you cannot afford to lose. The
unaffordable loss in this case may be considered to be the peace and stability of the Arctic
region, and although the focus of this paper is primarily Svalbard, as part of the Arctic
geopolitical environment, the impact of an Arctic war could be catastrophic. In this
regard, we should note that while the probability of such a conflict is low at present, a
modest risk does not equate to no risk. Moreover, a low risk does not justify inaction if
its low probability is to be maintained.
The second principle translates to the risk of inactivity when confronted with
provocation. The 2005 incident in which the Russian trawler Elektron made a dash for
Russian waters with two Norwegian fisheries inspectors aboard (Åtland 2010; Åtland and
Ven Bruusgaard 2009) is one that is quoted as a hopeful indication that potentially serious
events can be managed without escalation, or ‘securitisation’ as it is sometimes referred
Note that this is not an incident in which the Norwegians elected to do nothing. It
contrasts with the British lack of action during the events leading to the Falkland Islands
conflict of 1982. Socarras (1984-5) identifies that:
Based on Vaughan and Vaughan (1996, 10-12, 41-2).
In fact, security assets were deployed by both sides (Åtland and Ven Bruusgaard 2009). The Norwegian
Coast Guard, itself part of the navy, deployed KV Tromsø (the original arresting vessel), KV Svalbard,
KV Harstad, and KV Nordkapp, two coast Guard helicopters and a maritime patrol aircraft (ibid.). Plans
were also laid to board the fleeing vessel using helicopter borne Special Forces, although these were
aborted due to the weather and distance from shore (ibid.). For their part, the Russian Northern Fleet
despatched the Udaloy class destroyer Admiral Levchenko to the margins of their territorial waters to
ensure that Norwegian vessels did not enter, and to escort the Elektron towards Murmansk (Konovalov
2005, cited in Åtland and Ven Bruusgaard 2009). A 100,000 rouble penalty for illegal fishing was
subsequently imposed (Barents Observer 2007). Contact was maintained between Norwegian and Russian
authorities, both military and diplomatic (Åtland and Ven Bruusgaard 2009).
John Ash
…British signals conveyed an animus derelinquendi a willingness to abandon
- with respect to the Falklands, while Argentine signals conveyed increasing
Argentine authority over the islands.
British signals included a lack of response when Argentina announced an intention to
enforce fisheries protection in Falklands waters and then proceeded to act on that
intention, detaining seven Soviet and two Bulgarian fishing vessels during September and
October 1977 (ibid.). A Bulgarian sailor was wounded by Argentine fire during
enforcement activity (ibid.). Of course, the Falkland Islands dispute is a longstanding one
with a complex history. It might be argued that British disinterest in discharging sovereign
authority over the Falklands was indicated in several ways, not the least of which was the
decision to scrap the Antarctic Patrol Ship HMS Endurance without replacement (Briley
1997). However, Socarras’ point is that a function of government exemplifying its
sovereignty was being exercised by a rival claimant states party. Britain’s inactivity was
interpreted as a deliberate political statement.
The third principle: always consider the odds, is interpreted here as making studied
choices in managing conflict risk. Advances noted above in augmenting the judgements
of subject matter experts may prove beneficial in confronting the potential for conflict
risk increment. For example, with respect to inter-state conflict risk, given the apparent
descriptive power of the utility based approach (Bueno de Mesquita 1997), as evidenced
by its predictive accuracy (Feder 2002), it would be unwise not to make use of the
technique in making risk assessments.
A risk management approach to Arctic security policy
In the first instance, a risk management approach to deterring and defeating conflict may
be informed by inversing the problem. That is, by asking the question: ‘what would raise
the risk from a potential adversary’s perspective to a point at which they will not take an
undesired course of action?’ Where an adversary states party foresees a likelihood of
political, human and economic loss that exceeds the tolerance levels of the principal
actors, it is unlikely to engage in conflict.
In the case of sub-state actors, such as those engaged in IUU fishing in the Svalbard
FPZ, they are in effect engaged in an unlawful business practice. When the mathematical
product of the likelihood of detection
and potential losses (such as confiscation of catch,
fines, imprisonment) exceeds the tolerance level of those involved, the activity will cease.
Of course, risk tolerability is defined in part by the potential benefit of engaging in a
hazardous activity. Where reward is high, the risk / reward balance is tilted and
tolerability levels change. If, as the world population increases and their food aspirations
raise, demand increases for finfish, then we may expect that the rewards of IUU fishing
will increase, given constancy in other factors. We may further anticipate that the
poleward shift in catch concentrations with climate change (Cheung et al. 2010) will bring
increased IUU fishing activity with it to Svalbard’s waters.
The term ‘detection’ is used here in the sense employed by the police service; that is, the discovery and
apprehension of criminal activity.
Even if catch levels do not increase substantially in the Svalbard FPZ, the relative depletion of other
oceanic areas may bring about the same effect.
Svalbard and Conflict Management in a Changing Climate: A Risk Based Approach
Historically, risk has been managed by the application of four general strategies, as
illustrated by the graph at Diagram 1
(see at the article’s end). In the context of Svalbard
conflict risk, not all of these may be helpful. For example, if a risk were to be very likely
and extremely harmful, avoidance might not be possible. Consider a scenario in which
IUU fishing reaches epidemic proportions and enforcement is failing in the face of
unrelenting, and perhaps, armed perpetrators. The damage is such that the marine
ecosystem approaches collapse. Avoidance - relinquishing sovereign responsibility over
the Svalbard FPZ in an attempt to secure peace would not only be politically
unacceptable, it might actually encourage further violence in the future.
Sharing a risk in this context by calling on a military alliance a strategy more usually
reserved for unlikely but very harmful risks, would be a potential solution. The NATO
alliance would be a classic example of such a risk management device. However, a
potentially significant issue associated with a massive criminal affront to Norwegian
sovereignty in the Svalbard FPZ, is that it may be regarded as too small (or domestic) a
problem to trigger NATO support under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty (1949).
Moreover, not all NATO nations agree with Norway’s interpretation of the Svalbard
Treaty, and the use of violence by IUU fishermen may not be viewed as an armed attack
per se on Norway. Even if IUU incidents developed into a fish war, with a states party
sending armed vessels to support the right of its nationals to fish the FPZ (see the scenario
example below), the wording of the treaty does not commit its signatories necessarily to
meet armed force with armed force.
Article 11 notes that: “…the Treaty shall be ratified
and its provisions carried out by the Parties in accordance with their respective
constitutional processes.” The action ‘deemed necessary’ under Article 5 in response to
an armed attack is subject to consideration both by national governments and between
NATO representatives.
Retaining a risk means tolerating the harms a risk incurs, given the probability of
eventuation. In political terms, it equates to the ‘do nothing’ option; and doing nothing or
‘restraint’ is a choice that will almost certainly be considered in any significant public
political or administrative decision. Doing nothing as a polity that is confronted with a
challenge to sovereignty, including crime,
may have significant consequences beyond
the economic, as with Britain’s choice not to react to Argentinian fisheries protection
activities in Falklands waters (Socarras 1984-5). Thus, frequent minor loss events that in
themselves may be economically tolerable should be calibrated in the broader context of
state behaviour.
Mitigating a risk is to reduce its probability, its loss, or both. Recalling that the principal
aim in deterring (minimising the probability of) conflict is to render the risk to the
potential aggressor intolerable, there are number of intervention options available to a
After Vaughan and Vaughan (1996).
In this context, ‘likely’ should be glossed as ‘frequent’.
Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty (1949) states that: ‘The Parties agree that an armed attack against
one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and
consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of
individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will
assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other
Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the
security of the North Atlantic area (italics added).
For a discussion of crime as an affront to sovereignty, see Ash (2016b).
John Ash
state. These have been characterised under the acronym DIME (Kem 2007): diplomatic,
informational, military and economic. To these have been added financial, intelligence
and law enforcement (DIMEFIL) (ibid.). Clearly, some of these options may also be of
benefit in minimising loss, for example, by reducing the duration of a period of conflict,
or be used in combination to effect the mitigation of the probability and / or loss of the
Application of risk management measures in practice some examples
Table 2 offers a simple set of scenarios that illustrate potential conflict hazards and
prospective mitigation approaches for Svalbard. Many of these may apply equally to other
parts of the Arctic.
Table 2: Conflict Risk Management Scenarios for the Svalbard Archipelago
Note that the ranking is subjective and denotes probability; not risk. Risk would have to
incorporate a consideration of prospective loss.
Note also that the tabulated scenarios
are illustrative, and not comprehensive.
Such a calculation would be context dependent in the extreme. In the case of open warfare, for example,
a conflict that escalated to a full nuclear exchange might irremediably harm the global environment: an
existential risk to the human species.
Fish pirates
IUU fishing
Policing and
and possible
Policing and
and possible
Fish wars
Foreign state
in prohibited
and possible
The high
Interstate war
Mitigation and
alliance and
military action
Svalbard and Conflict Management in a Changing Climate: A Risk Based Approach
In the first scenario, the mitigation of IUU fishing requires policing, and intelligence to
inform the enforcement process. Mack (1996) has observed that: “Successful
enforcement requires a high level of detection capability, procedures for inspection of
proper gear and licenses, and the ability to arrest and apply sanctions.” While on-board
inspection and arrest are essential, considering the experience reported by Werb et al.
(2010, 15) in tackling drug crime, a comprehensive, market-led approach may be
necessary if the risk is to be fully addressed. This is for two reasons. First, in a dynamic
market supplying a commodity for which the demand is projected to increase (World
Bank 2013), removing by arrest some operators merely creates market opportunities for
competitors and new entrants. Second, those engaged in IUU fishing are likely to be
individuals with a high risk tolerance, perhaps hailing from communities with similar risk
attitudes. All open water fishing, including legal catch activities, carries a relatively high
professional risk of harms, including fatal injury.
Therefore, driving the risk to a point
in excess of the tolerance levels of those engaging in IUU may require additional thought.
For example, a high likelihood of arrest may be insufficient unless there was a
complementary expectation that shipping insurance would be withdrawn from
perpetrators (Soyer et al. 2017). Le Gallic and Cox (2005) propose a range of measures
aimed at reducing revenues, increasing operating costs, and increasing the risks of
engaging in IUU activities. Crucial to the success of such measures is the cooperation of
flag and coastal states in creating a comprehensive legal environment (ibid.).
The ability to detect, identify and track vessels engaged in IUU operations may require
remote sensing from satellites and drone based sensors, and the exchange of information
on potential perpetrators and their vessels. Thus, intelligence in counter-IUU operations
may well be a collaborative effort, but is not risk sharing per se, as the collaborating party
does not bear a potential direct loss from eventuation. There may, however, be a measure
of indirect loss, such as over-predation or ecosystem impact on straddling fish stocks.
Ultimately, bringing about respect for the rule of law is likely to be in the joint interest of
all polities, and collaboration in enforcement may also improve political relations
between states parties, thereby reducing other conflict risk.
The second conflict scenario considered at Table 2 is terrorism. Once again, the strategy
is primarily mitigation; with policing, particularly intelligence led policing, constituting
the method. International cooperation therefore is critical. The possibility that the risk is
shared arises if specific collaboration is disclosed and the terrorists attack the cooperating
polity in retaliation. Exchange assets personnel, aircraft and ships may also be directly
The fish wars scenario is one that rests on three elements: the prospective increased
availability of biomarine resources in Svalbard waters, consistent or increased global
demand for the product, and the legacy dispute over interpretation of the Svalbard Treaty.
Fish wars are conflicts in which unlikely antagonists take violent action against each
other’s flag vessels, and in some cases, sovereign platforms (Bailey 1996). Consider a
case in which a states party an extant Svalbard Treaty member - chooses to uphold by
force the rights its fishermen claim to access in the Svalbard FPZ. The British provided
such protection against the Icelandic Coast Guard in a series of conflicts (Ingimundarson
2003; Jónsson 1982). It is tempting to assume that diplomacy or legal action would prevail
While fatal incident rates in fishing have declined by approximately 50% from 1980-2010 to 0.25-1.2
per 1000 man-years, the fatal accident rate compared with other industries is some 25 to 50 times higher,
or worse (Jensen et al. 2014).
John Ash
over armed conflict. Although the Svalbard Treaty itself contains no dispute resolution
mechanism, states are under a duty to seek a solution to disputes by peaceful means, as
enjoined under the Charter of the United Nations, Article 33(1), and Part XV of UNCLOS
(Pedersen 2008). Unfortunately, the delegation of authority to third parties is viewed as
an encroachment on sovereignty (ibid.), and state vessels such as warships and coast
guard cutters do not merely fly flags, but are icons of sovereign authority expressions
of sovereignty by their mere presence.
A specimen case might feature the expanding role of China in the Arctic. The Chinese
high seas capture fishery is the largest by volume in the world (Sala et al. 2018), with a
global extent and over 800 distant water vessels. While its Arctic policy, recently
declares allegiance to the principles of international treaty law, it has
demonstrated an imaginative interpretation of such law in the South China Sea. Of course,
China is not the only states party that interprets international treaties to its own advantage,
but as its economic and political influence in the Arctic grows, the question arises as to
how far it would be prepared to go in order to satisfy its citizens’ need for food. One
might also cite Iceland and Spain as prospective belligerents, both of which nations have
signalled an intention to take their cases against Norway to the International Court of
Justice and in both cases have chosen not to do so (Pedersen 2008, 187). Icelandic
vessels of course were directly involved in confrontations with British warships during
the Cod Wars (Ingimundarson 2003; Jónsson 1982). Spain deployed patrol vessels in
protection of their fishing boats off the coast of Canada during the Turbot War (Gough
2009). At one point, the Canadian Prime minister authorised Canadian aircraft and ships
to fire on Spanish naval vessels if they uncovered their guns (ibid., 70). McLaughlin
Mitchell and Prins (1999) find that a large proportion of the militarized disputes between
democracies post World War II involve fisheries, maritime boundaries and resources of
the sea. Such disputes may be of short duration (ibid.). However, interstate conflict over
biomarine resources have involved such violent and potentially fatal practices as ramming
(Jónsson 1982) and gunfire (Bailey 1996, 257).
The final scenario considers a state of war that spreads to the Arctic and engulfs
Svalbard as the belligerents press to access its geographic advantages and deny them to
their opponents. The risk management strategies here are mitigation and sharing, applied
by the use of political and military intelligence, diplomacy, and measures taken in
alliance, including military action. Norway’s principal security guarantor against and
during war is NATO, and it has carefully cultivated its membership of the alliance, while
simultaneously exercising a policy of non-aggression in its dealings with Russia
provides no provocation to its neighbour, and no reasons to suspect that it is fortifying
Svalbard contrary to the provisions of the 1920 Treaty, but its NATO membership
provides both a deterrent to conflict and a means of resisting the potential military harms
of a more powerful nation.
For an English translation, see; China’s Arctic Policy, The State Council Information Office of the
People’s Republic of China, January 2018.
See Østhagen 2018 for a review on how mutual interest and the socialising of cooperative mechanisms
have facilitated relations between Norway and Russia.
Svalbard and Conflict Management in a Changing Climate: A Risk Based Approach
One point regarding balance in risk mitigation measures that bears noting in the case
of Svalbard is that while adherence to the Article 9 provisions
may do much to reassure
Russia that NATO is not encroaching on its borders, or compromising the freedom of
movement and security of Russian military assets, such risk mitigation comes at a price.
Specifically, the inability to fortify or reinforce the archipelago in advance constitutes a
significant military disadvantage and undermines actions that might be needed to defend
Norwegian interests in time of open war.
The peril of complacency
A superficial reading of recent history may seduce an observer into the view that
promising political developments in the Arctic obviate the need for a studied, risk based
approach to conflict management. This paper has taken a broad view of conflict at the
sub-state and state levels. It should be evident that problems such as those engendered by
IUU fishing, which are likely to be exacerbated by the oceanographic effects of climate
change, have hitherto been managed peacefully in no small measure through the
application of such risk mitigation measures as policing and diplomacy. Risk assessment
has a particular benefit in evaluating the risk of (currently) low probability but high
consequence hazards such as interstate violence. Such risk is dynamic, and fluctuates in
response to a range of factors, including those influenced by the climate. Through its
geostrategic and economic circumstances, Svalbard stands at the centre of potential inter-
state conflict. It would be irresponsible to eschew a risk based approach as a resource in
managing such violence.
Conclusions and implications for policy
This paper has examined aspects of Svalbard and the potential for conflict in a changing
environment. Svalbard may be seen as a model for Arctic conflict and its management,
not only because of the instances in which violence at the state level has visited the
archipelago in the course of its history, but because it represents factors that relate to
potential conflict in the modern era; such as the likelihood of war spreading to the Arctic,
rather than igniting within the region.
Although there has been considerable focus on the potential for resource related
violence, the correlation between resource availability and Arctic conflict particularly
in the context of climate change is not a simple one. Considerable political progress has
been made in the region. However, due to its strategic location, in an interstate conflict
between NATO and Russia, Svalbard would be of pivotal importance. At the same time,
it combines natural resources, legal circumstances that some may question, and a mixed
population from different interested states parties.
Climate change will increase the probability of conflict at all levels from the criminal
to insurgency and inter-state violence. However, a risk based approach using recent
advances in analysis techniques offers the potential to manage the hazards more
effectively. Applying a basic risk management approach to potential conflict scenarios
related to Svalbard, this paper provides examples of how various risks may be addressed.
Article 9 states that: “Subject to the rights and duties resulting from the admission of Norway to the
League of Nations, Norway undertakes not to create nor to allow the establishment of any naval base in the
territories specified in Article 1 and not to construct any fortification in the said territories, which may never
be used for warlike purposes.”
John Ash
Risk analysis is also beneficial in managing a diverse range of risks; and where current
political progress indicates a low likelihood of conflict, forms a safeguard against
complacency with a potentially catastrophic outcome.
The author thanks Mr Toby Benham, Scott Polar Research Institute Associate, for his
support in producing the chart used in Figure 1, and those who provided peer review.
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John Ash
Diagram 1: Risk Management Strategies
... 12 While this scenario seems the least likely, 13 at least as long as Russia benefits from a stable environment around Svalbard, some of the norms and customary practices emanating from Norway's track-record of ensuring peaceful cooperation with its Eastern neighbor have recently deteriorated in the context of the war against Ukraine. 14 Global geopolitical trends, combined with Svalbard's dormant points of contention, may exacerbate the risk of conflict 15 and highlight the need for NATO to consider the security concerns specific to the archipelago when pondering its High North involvement. By doing so, there are at least two elements that should be factored in the Alliance's strategic and operational thinking over the archipelago. ...
Full-text available
Although the opportunity, form and level of NATO’s High North engagement have long been a matter of debate, the renewed invasion of Ukraine by Russia and its strategic implications at the global level have dragged a reunified NATO into the Arctic as a fait accompli. Yet, the Arctic is not one uniform bloc. When pondering its involvement, the Alliance should consider the particulars of each Arctic territory in its area of responsibility. The Svalbard archipelago, under the sovereignty of Norway -the most vocal advocate of NATO’s High North increased presence- is one of the Arctic areas falling under NATO’s responsibility. Global geopolitical trends, combined with Svalbard’s specific points of contention, may exacerbate the risk of conflict affecting the archipelago. This paper argues that NATO should consider the security concerns specific to Svalbard when pondering its High North involvement and highlights two elements that should be factored in the Alliance’s strategic and operational thinking over the archipelago. The first relates to the diverging interpretations of Article 9 of the Svalbard Treaty while the second lies in Svalbard’s vulnerability to gray-zone tactics due to its particular legal and geographical features. Bearing these particulars in mind, the paper provides key recommendations for NATO to adopt a tailored approach to the archipelago.
Full-text available
While the ecological impacts of fishing the waters beyond national jurisdiction (the “high seas”) have been widely studied, the economic rationale is more difficult to ascertain because of scarce data on the costs and revenues of the fleets that fish there. Newly compiled satellite data and machine learning now allow us to track individual fishing vessels on the high seas in near real time. These technological advances help us quantify high-seas fishing effort, costs, and benefits, and assess whether, where, and when high-seas fishing makes economic sense. We characterize the global high-seas fishing fleet and report the economic benefits of fishing the high seas globally, nationally, and at the scale of individual fleets. Our results suggest that fishing at the current scale is enabled by large government subsidies, without which as much as 54% of the present high-seas fishing grounds would be unprofitable at current fishing rates. The patterns of fishing profitability vary widely between countries, types of fishing, and distance to port. Deep-sea bottom trawling often produces net economic benefits only thanks to subsidies, and much fishing by the world’s largest fishing fleets would largely be unprofitable without subsidies and low labor costs. These results support recent calls for subsidy and fishery management reforms on the high seas.
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In 1977, Norway established a maritime Fisheries Protection Zone (FPZ) around Svalbard, yet avoided claiming an outright Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). A dispute with Russia over the status of the Zone arose. In the late 1990s, Norwegian enforcement of fisheries regulations became stricter, as fish stocks were in decline. This led the Norwegian Coast Guard to attempt to arrest Russian fishing vessels on several occasions, resulting in reactions from Russian fishermen, as well as officials in Murmansk and Moscow. In 1998, 2001, 2005, and 2011 specifically, incidents had the potential to escalate beyond a fisheries issue. Today, an event in the maritime zone is of concern to both Norwegian and Russian authorities. Given the potential volatility of events in the FPZ, how do Norway and Russia manage to avoid escalation in the case of a crisis? Whereas previous scholarly work has explicitly focused on the legal status of Svalbard and its maritime zones, or looked at how Norway manages fisheries in cooperation with Russia, this article brings forth new knowledge by examining the specific incidents in the Zone and placing these in the wider context of conflict theory. Limited to the Norwegian perceptions of the dispute only, this article adds to our understanding of this specific issue of Arctic conflict management and governance. Based on several years of data collection through interviews, the argument put forth is that Norwegian and Russian cooperation is based on both mutual interests and the socializing effects of cooperative mechanisms, which in turn are key to avoid escalation in crisis-scenarios. In sum, we need to recognise how a combination of economic interests and the effects of socialisation have enabled Norway and Russia to keep conflict levels low, when incidents at sea have occurred.
Full-text available
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is a global problem, which threatens marine ecosystems in addition to putting food security and regional stability at risk. It is often linked to major human rights violations and even organized crime. Legal measures, such as introducing monitoring and surveillance systems or denying services to vessels engaged in IUU fishing, are often implemented at national and international levels to combat such practices. Academics and economists have suggested that IUU fishing might be discouraged equally well by taking the profit out of it. Building on this premise, this article analyzes the extent to which the availability of liability insurance contributes to the problem of IUU fishing. To this end, an empirical study has been carried out, which supports the contention that vessels suspected of involvement in IUU fishing have no serious difficulty in obtaining liability insurance from the market and insurance sector, thereby inadvertently facilitating IUU fishing. The authors conclude that to deter IUU fishing, access to insurance for those involved in it should be restricted. Some success can be achieved if certain steps are taken to improve the risk assessment procedures of underwriters. However, it is advocated that the most effective approach would be the reform of European Union or domestic legislation and putting providers of liability insurance under a clear positive obligation to refuse cover to those involved in IUU fishing.
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Global warming drives changes in oceanographic conditions in the Arctic Ocean and the adjacent continental slopes. This may result in favourable conditions for increased biological production in waters at the northern continental shelves. However, production in the central Arctic Ocean will continue to be limited by the amount of light and by vertical stratification reducing nutrient availability. Upwelling conditions due to topography and inflowing warm and nutrient rich Atlantic Water may result in high production in areas along the shelf breaks. This may particularly influence distribution and abundance of sea mammals, as can be seen from analysis of historical records of hunting. The species composition and biomass of plankton, fish and shellfish may be influenced by acidification due to increased carbon dioxide uptake in the water, thereby reducing the survival of some species. Northwards shift in the distribution of commercial species of fish and shellfish is observed in the Barents Sea, especially in the summer period, and is related to increased inflow of Atlantic Water and reduced ice cover. This implies a northward extension of boreal species and potential displacement of lipid-rich Arctic zooplankton, altering the distribution of organisms that depend on such prey. However, euphausiid stocks expanding northward into the Arctic Ocean may be a valuable food resource as they may benefit from increases in Arctic phytoplank-ton production and rising water temperatures. Even though no scenario modelling or other prediction analyses have been made, both scientific ecosystem surveys in the northern areas, as well as the fisheries show indications of a recent northern expansion of mackerel (Scomber scombrus), cod (Gadus morhua), haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) and capelin (Mallotus villosus). These stocks are found as far north as the shelf-break north of Svalbard. Greenland halibut (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides), redfish (Sebastes spp.) and shrimp (Pandalus borealis) are also present in the slope waters between the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. It is assumed that cod and haddock have reached their northernmost limit, whereas capelin and redfish have potential to expand their distribution further into the Arctic Ocean. Common minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) and harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus) may also be able to expand their distribution into the Arctic Ocean. The abundance and distribution of other species may change as well – to what degree is unknown.
Future climate is forecast to drive bottom-up (resource driven) and top-down (consumer driven) change to food web dynamics and community structure. Yet, our predictive understanding of these changes is hampered by an over-reliance on simplified laboratory systems centred on single trophic levels. Using a large mesocosm experiment, we reveal how future ocean acidification and warming modify trophic linkages across a three-level food web: that is, primary (algae), secondary (herbivorous invertebrates) and tertiary (predatory fish) producers. Both elevated CO2 and elevated temperature boosted primary production. Under elevated CO2 , the enhanced bottom-up forcing propagated through all trophic levels. Elevated temperature, however, negated the benefits of elevated CO2 by stalling secondary production. This imbalance caused secondary producer populations to decline as elevated temperature drove predators to consume their prey more rapidly in the face of higher metabolic demand. Our findings demonstrate how anthropogenic CO2 can function as a resource that boosts productivity throughout food webs, and how warming can reverse this effect by acting as a stressor to trophic interactions. Understanding the shifting balance between the propagation of resource enrichment and its consumption across trophic levels provides a predictive understanding of future dynamics of stability and collapse in food webs and fisheries production.
Introduction to Modeling and Optimization Classical Unconstrained Optimization Problems Classical Equality Constraint Problem Newton-Raphson Method Linear Programming Dynamic Programming Generalized Nonlinear Programming Multiobjective Decision Trees Derivation of the Expected Value of a Log-normal Distribution Derivation of the Conditional Expected Value of a Log-normal Distribution Triangular Distribution: Unconditional and Conditional Expected Values Standard Normal Distribution Probability Table
The Svalbard archipelago in the High Arctic is influenced by cold Arctic water masses from the north-east and the warm West Spitsbergen Current flowing northwards along its western coast. The eastern waters and the fjords are normally frozen during the winter months, while the coastal waters west of the archipelago remain open. Norwegian fishers have been harvesting from Svalbard waters for decades and detailed records of catches exists from 1980 onwards. We analyze the catch records from the Svalbard zone (approximately ICES area IIb). The large fishery for capelin in summer yielding annual catches up to 737 000 tons was closed by a Norwegian fishery regulation in the mid nineteen nineties. Demersal fisheries have been continuous, and the results clearly indicate a northward trend in landings of Northeast Arctic cod, haddock, ling and Atlantic halibut. Fisheries of Northern shrimp have been more variable and shown no clear geographic trends. A “gold rush” fishery for scallops north of Svalbard lasted for about 10 years (1986 – 1995) only, and ended due to low profitably. These results are discussed in relation to the possibility of further northward extension of fisheries subjected to climate change.