Desecuritization as Displacement of Controversy: geopolitics, law and sovereign rights in the Arctic


  • Marc Jacobsen
  • Jeppe Strandsbjerg



By signing the Ilulissat Declaration of May 2008, the five littoral states of the Arctic Ocean pre-emptively desecuritized potential geopolitical controversies in the Arctic Ocean by confirming that international law and geo-science are the defining factors underlying the future delimitation. This happened in response to a rising securitization discourse fueled by commentators and the media in the wake of the 2007 Russian flag planting on the geographical North Pole seabed, which also triggered harder interstate rhetoric and dramatic headlines. This case, however, challenges some established conventions within securitization theory. It was state elites that initiated desecuritization and they did so by shifting issues in danger of being securitized from security to other techniques of government. Contrary to the democratic ethos of the theory, these shifts do not necessarily represent more democratic procedures. Instead, each of these techniques are populated by their own experts and technocrats operating according to logics of right (law) and accuracy (science). While shifting techniques of government might diminish the danger of securitized relations between states, the shift generates a displacement of controversy. Within international law we have seen controversy over its ontological foundations and within science we have seen controversy over standards of science. Each of these are amplified and take a particularly political significance when an issue is securitized via relocation to another technique. While the Ilulissat Declaration has been successful in minimizing the horizontal conflict potential between states it has simultaneously given way for vertical disputes between the signatory states on the one hand and the Indigenous peoples of the Arctic on the other.





Jacobsen, M., & Strandsbjerg, J. (2017). Desecuritization as Displacement of Controversy: geopolitics, law and sovereign rights in the Arctic. Politik, 20(3).