12 Feb

Messages on Arctic Policy: Effective Occupation in the Postage Stamps of the United States, Canada and Russia

Preview was written by Corine Wood-Donnelly

Q: What is the main purpose of your study?
A: Through a study (or analysis) of postage stamps, this article illustrates how the United States, Canada and Russia have performed policies of effective occupation in the Arctic Region. The Arctic region includes land, ocean and air spaces that States wish to control, often for reason of military and resource security. One way states demonstrate this control is through administrative policies, which communicate their authority over these spaces to the observer. This study of postage stamps illustrates what types of policies have been used by these states to communicate their effective occupation, and therefore, their sovereignty over this space.

Q: What are the practical, day to day implications of your study?
A: Sovereignty in the Arctic has become very important for the United States, Canada and Russia due to the combined drivers of climate change and hydrocarbon discoveries. This study shows how these states demonstrate their Arctic sovereignty, as well as revealing policy priorities. Interestingly, it also indicates the weaknesses, or vulnerabilities in their policy, which could become political fault lines in their engagement with the region. For observers of Arctic political developments, this study should provide insight into expected future policy releases, and possibly, future stamp designs. 

Q: How does your study relate to other work on the subject?
A: This study covers two different subject areas: Arctic studies and a growing body of literature analyzing postage stamps. Contemporary Arctic studies seek to explain the development and cooperation occurring in Arctic geopolitics in the post Cold War era. The contemporary cooperative trends in the Arctic represent a massive shift away from the hostility experienced in the Cold War and current research seeks to explain this cooperation between the Arctic states. This study shows both the similarities and differences in individual states policies in the Arctic, showing how each of these states individually engage with the region, and demonstrates where similarities exists which allow for interstate cooperation in the Arctic. This study relates to postage stamp literature in using the same government documents for analysis. However, it differs in that most literature considers trends or specialist issues within a single state, whereas this study uses these same trends to inform a comparative analysis.

Q: What are two or three interesting findings that come from your study?
A: 1) Postage stamps reveal niche strategies used by individual states for maintaining sovereignty. For the USA, this includes a focus on a celebration of the environment and the portrayal of stewardship over natural resources. Canada focus on the incorporation of the Inuit people as integral to the fabric of Canadian society and as an important part of Canadian history. Russia meanwhile promotes its long-term mastery over nature in conquering the extreme elements of the Arctic through man’s superiority and technology.
2) Postage stamp images reinforce policy and diplomatic actions within single states, but also demonstrate overlapping policy agendas that allow these states to cooperate in the emerging governance of the Arctic.

Q: What might be some of the theoretical implications of this study?
A: The use of postage stamps as a source of empirical data and the findings of this study indicate that there are theoretical implications for performative politics as a mechanism for establishing and/or maintaining sovereignty. The establishment of sovereignty and corresponding doubts over the legitimacy of sovereignty over the Arctic has been predominantly situated in the 21st century, a period when the international legal landscape was in a state of flux. During the development of the legal landscape, these states have had to modify their approaches to demonstrating sovereign claims over Arctic territory. The shifting policy tactics employed by these states demonstrate their dedication to exercising Arctic sovereignty through performing effective occupation and administration over the territory to demonstrate continued legitimacy.

Q: How does your research help us think about Geography?
A: The research helps us think about Geography by considering how political relationships with Arctic spaces have been formed. It does this by investigating how governments administrate over a region that is resistant to ordinary forms of effective occupation due to its climatic conditions. It then shows how these three states approach this problem with different priorities, based on their political preferences. Analysis of the postage stamps demonstrates that there are patterns consistent with the policy priorities pursued by these states in the effective administration of the Arctic.

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Click here to read the abstract of this article on the Wiley Online Library.