Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science


Elizabeth Riddell-Dixon


The Arctic Council is an international institution made up of the eight states that have territory in the Arctic, namely Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States, as well as six indigenous peoples’ organizations. When states created the Council in 1996, it was a research institution that addressed environmental issues and a loosely defined version of sustainable development. It was a weak institution, without a permanent secretariat. By 2014, it had become a policy-making body, as well as a research body, that addressed a wide range of issues, with the aid of a permanent secretariat. New states and institutions sought to become a part of the Council, which potentially challenged the role of the indigenous peoples’ organizations. This thesis answers the following question: how can we explain this evolution of the Arctic Council? It examines the Council’s evolving mandate, policy-making role, institutional capacity and membership. It addresses this question by analyzing three international relations theories, namely functionalism, neorealism and neoliberal institutionalism. This thesis concludes that the economic opportunities in the region made possible by climate change best explain the evolution of the Arctic Council. Neoliberal institutionalism best explains the evolution of the Council, while neorealism provides the best explanation for the outcome of that process.