June 1, 2021

Estonia’s Interests and Opportunities in the Arctic

Polaarrebane Arktikas
Gavriil Grigorov/TASS/Scanpix
An Arctic fox on Alexandra Land, an island of the Franz Joseph Land archipelago, in the Arctic Ocean.
An Arctic fox on Alexandra Land, an island of the Franz Joseph Land archipelago, in the Arctic Ocean.

This policy paper explores Estonia’s interests in the Arctic. In recent years, the Arctic has become an increasingly important region for Estonia and the world. The Arctic presents both risks and opportunities. This paper offers an overview of Estonia’s interests and opportunities in the Arctic, focusing on regional cooperation, security, research, the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples, and the transport and logistics, ICT and space industries.

As a starting point of the analysis, the paper highlights three major developments that are changing the Arctic.

The first is global warming, which is happening in the Arctic at twice the rate as in the rest of the world. Secondly, climate change is a serious global problem, but it also provides new opportunities for economic activity in the Arctic, especially for the extraction and transport of natural resources.

The third development that is changing the Arctic is the rise of geopolitical and geoeconomic tensions. For years, security experts have looked at the Arctic as the hotbed of a growing great-power struggle. Notable developments include Russia’s efforts to strengthen its military presence; China’s growing activity, which focuses on research cooperation and the economy but raises questions about the underlying strategic interests and the risks involved; as well as the increased US attention to the. The Arctic is still at low risk of seeing military conflict, but security considerations are growing in the Arctic policies of the countries of the region.

The authors, Estonian experts on the Arctic, stress that it is important to keep these two issues separate:

  • Estonia’s opportunities to participate in the Arctic regional cooperation are based on scientific competence, where Estonia has a strong base, but needs more attention and funding from the government.
  • The growing strategic importance of the Arctic for Estonia is primarily due to the changing geopolitical environment, and it has a significant impact on the security of the Baltic Sea region. Therefore, Estonia must closely monitor these developments and strengthen cooperation with allies and partners.

All the Estonian experts interviewed for the paper were convinced that the only way Estonia could make a practical contribution to the development of the Arctic is through scientific and cultural cooperation. In the field of social sciences and humanities, Estonian researchers in ethnology, folklore and linguistics have developed a decades-long tradition of research and cooperation in the Russian Arctic. Based on this expertise, Estonia plays an important role in protecting the rights of indigenous peoples in the Arctic. Estonian natural scientists have contributed to Arctic studies through providing specific solutions for conducting environmental research in difficult climatic conditions.

The policy paper concludes that Estonia needs a comprehensive Arctic Strategy and offers structured recommendations how to formulate it.


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