The Economy - New Tool in Russia's Foreign Policy: the example of the Arctic

Abstract: In what manner does the Russia's Arctic policy represent an economisation of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation? In other words, do the stated policy objectives and their actual implementation within the Arctic indicate that the Russian Federation is relying increasingly upon economic tools to obtain political objectives? And if so, how? These are the questions posed by this paper; a paper that chooses to focus on the Arctic region as a case-study in order to shed light on a potential shift in policy that can reasonably be expected to manifest itself elsewhere.

The ill-defined Arctic frontiers are rapidly emerging as a key element in the foreign policy strategy of bordering nations, for global warming is rapidly rendering accessible terrain that was once inhospitable. At stake is control over as much as one quarter of the world's estimated undiscovered oil and gas reserves, along with control over the Northeast passage - a maritime route that could halve the distance between Asia and Europe ... and net as much as $5 billion in revenu per year to the country who successfully controls it. Understanding how Russia is approaching the negotiating table, and the tools its negotiators are using, thus becomes critical for those actors operating in the region, as well as for those seeking to better understand how Russia's foreign policy is likely to evolve in other regions.

This paper finds that Russia appears to be shifting its foreign policy to rely actively upon economic tools to obtain political objectives within the Arctic. Although a stable economy is mentioned in the strategy documents from 2000 (thus predating the oil bubble that allowed Russia to repay the sovereign debt inherited from the USSR and to rebuild its economy after the 1998 default), these early documents refer to it as a passive pre-condition that must be met for the State to maintain its sovereignty. What we are currently witnessing is a shift in how the economy (and thus, tools that stimulate the economy) can be used - from a passive to an active tool. The Russian State continues to recognize the importance of a stable diversified economy that is sheltered from external shocks, but also appears to recognize that certain economic tools can be used to achieve political ends. Thus, we see the state negotiating with Norway to secure its northern borders (at a time that is most advantageous to Norway) ... in exchange for the technology that may, twenty years hence, permit Russia to develop a tertiary sector in its own economy. We also see a commoditization of the access to Russian natural resources, which appears to be being used to solidify bi-lateral relations with key States, such as France, Norway and the Ukraine. Furthermore, we can read the opening of the Northeast passage as an attempt to diversify the Russian economy while weaning itself from a political alliance with other oil-producing states, such as Iran. The complexity of these approaches indicates a distinct shift in the role that economic tools play in shaping Russia's Arctic policy. And, since the stakes are currently the greatest in the Arctic, and since the approach appears to be producing favorable results, it is likely that we will soon see an increasing reliance on economic tools in the other aspects of Russia's foreign policy.

This masters thesis was written during the spring of 2010 and was successfully defended on June 22nd 2010, after which I was awarded the degree Master recherche, mention bien. It is currently available for download in French and will soon be available in English (I am still in the process of translating it).