Scenario Planning for Arctic Security

Each year the Atlantic Council, as part of its Arctic security issue area, hosts the event Looking North: Conference on Security in the Arctic (not to be confused with the United Kingdom’s Arctic Policy Framework of the same name). This year’s conference, concluded yesterday, featured remarks by Esther McClure, DoD Director of Arctic and Oceans Policy: “We are facing risks from an increasingly assertive, and even aggressive action by Russia and the People’s Republic of China.”

Prior to this year’s conference, in September 2023 one of the Council’s fellows, David Auerswald, published Alternative security futures in the High North. The article summarized the results of an “abbreviated scenario planning exercise in December 2022 with twenty-six diverse experts from the United States and northern Europe,” from which the above table is excerpted.

The scenarios are interesting thought experiments in their own right. They are also interesting from a methodological perspective, due to their use of a few of my favorite tools for strategy analysis: the PEST analysis (Auerwald uses the STEEPS variant), 2×2 matrices, and scenarios.

The exercise involved small groups identifying causal variables that might influence Arctic security conditions. Two interesting outcomes obtained: first, and this might be a function of the fact that almost all of the participants were from nations other than the United States, “…none of the groups cited the United States as a major driver of Arctic security futures.” Second, “…three causal variables drove the majority of group scenarios: Russia, China, and climate change.”


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