The receding perennial ice sheets over the polar north have fueled interest in the possibilities for new shipping routes through Arctic waters as well as concern over growing incentives for competition in the region. While these incentives are likely to become more prevalent as Arctic ice continues to melt, to date the existing institutions dedicated to promoting cooperation in the Arctic have largely proven themselves up to the task. We examine four broad developments—increased access to new sea lanes of communication and maritime resources, ongoing disputes over Arctic claims and growing militarization of the Arctic, weakening cohesion in Arctic institutions of governance, and growing extralegal patterns of behavior among Arctic states—which, taken together, challenge the capacity of existing Arctic and maritime institutions to promote cooperation in the region. Each of these trends is troubling in isolation, but when viewed together, their effects show that the behaviors incentivized by an increasingly accessible Arctic have counterintuitively worsened the prospects for cooperation and international commerce in the Far North.

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