Regime interplay in Arctic shipping governance: explaining regional niche selection

  • Olav Schram Stokke
Original Paper


Distinctive institutional features can make a regime particularly suited for conducting one or more generic tasks of governance: building knowledge, strengthening norms, enhancing problem-solving capacity, or enforcing rule compliance. Each of those governance tasks constitutes a potential “niche” that a regime can specialize in within a larger institutional complex. Applying this niche-oriented approach to the case of Arctic marine transport helps to explain the emerging division of labor between regional and global institutions in an issue area marked by rapid change. Drawing on earlier regime-effectiveness research, the article examines the potential of regional institutions, especially the Arctic Council, to contribute to strengthening the international governance system for shipping, based on the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO). Although the Arctic Council is not well positioned to regulate regional shipping activities, it may facilitate regulatory advances in the IMO, in part by knowledge-building and in part by helping Arctic states to find common ground on matters of controversy. The Council is also well equipped to enhance regional maritime infrastructure, like capacities for responding to oil spills, and search and rescue operations. Should binding region-specific international rules on Arctic shipping be adopted, Arctic institutions could play a role in coordinating port-state enforcement measures—but existing institutions with broader participation are better suited and will probably remain dominant. The larger question of achieving cross-institutional interplay that can promote effectiveness is relevant in any region or issue area, because efforts to solve specific problems usually involve more than one institution.


Governance International regimes Institutional interplay Shipping Arctic 



Exclusive economic zone


Working Group on Emergency Prevention, Preparedness, and Response


International Civil Aviation Organization


International Maritime Organization


Law of the Sea Convention


International convention for the prevention of pollution from ships


Memorandum of understanding


Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment Working Group


Particularly sensitive sea area


Search and rescue


Safety of Life and Sea


Standards of Training and Certification of Watchkeeping



I would in particular like to thank Oran Young for providing candid criticism, constructive advice, and generous support of my work over the past 25 years. Many thanks also to Ole Kristian Fauchald, Øystein Jensen, Timo Koivurova, Ronald Mitchell, Erik Molenaar, David VanderZwaag, Davor Vidas, and two anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments on this article. The work has been financed by the Research Council of Norway under the Geopolitics of the High North program.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fridtjof Nansen InstituteLysakerNorway

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