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On Thin Ice: The Inuit, the State, and the Challenge of Arctic Sovereignty Hardcover – Nov. 12 2009

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Barry Scott Zellen poses tough questions about Canada's own claims to a vast swathe of the soon-to-be hotly contested resource-rich Arctic. Zellen not only shows how much these depend on whether a collaborative and interdependent relationship can be successfully forged with Native peoples struggling to preserve fragile ecosystems and their own ethnic identity, but how conceptions of human security, tribal security and national security are inexorably tied together. Zellen's keen insight and painstaking research suggests that truths from the land of the midnight sun might illuminate and guide the struggles of indigenous peoples around the globe. A must read for the 21st century. -- Martin Edwin Andersen, author of Peoples of the Earth: Ethnonationalism, Democracy, and the Indigenous Challenge in Latin America

From the Afterword of On Thin Ice: As Barry Zellen poignantly reminds us in this book, the Arctic is no longer a no-man's land of interest only to missionaries, military strategists, and outdoor adventurers. In the not-too-distant future, the forces of climate change are going to transform this icy world into a new economic frontier. The end of the Arctic, as we once knew it, will be the beginning of a new chapter in history. That new chapter in history must be co-authored by the people who livethere... -- Ed Struzik, author of The Big Thaw: Travels in the Melting North

For those who know a piece of today's Arctic story, Barry Scott Zellen's
On Thin Ice neatly connects the dots from Alaska to Greenland with a wealth of detail. His research and his experience living in the region come together here to buoy a generation of scholars, scientists and policy-makers. -- Mike Peters, editor of First Alaskans Magazine

Tribal-state relations, border conflicts, militant insurgencies, economic exploitation/dependence, climate change, and oil politics are the stuff of this fascinating trilogy that is not about the Middle East. Barry Zellen has written a dense and meticulously researched book on the trials and tribulations of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic region as they strive for sovereignty, and confront and adapt to modernity, globalization, and a potential polar thaw. Zellen tells a story that has significant relevance to many of the present dilemmas facing the international political economic system. I suspect that it is only a matter of time before this book serves as the important primer and source for policy makers concerned with Arctic policy. -- Thomas Johnson, Program for Conflict and Culture Studies, Naval Postgraduate School

Barry Zellen is way ahead of the curve in the field of security studies in focusing on the intersection that state rivalries and environmental issues in the Arctic will have on global security and stability. In
On Thin Ice, Zellen highlights the important role this part of the world will play in moderating the historic clash between indigenous tribes and the modern state, re-defining the conception and limits of state sovereignty in frontier regions where tribal forces endure. All serious students of security studies should closely examine this work and ensure that it receives the space it deserves on their library shelves and course curriculums. -- James Russell, Center for Contemporary Conflict, Naval Postgraduate School

Barry Scott Zellen has written an intriguing and challenging book on the place of the Arctic northern peoples that must be read by anyone interested in the new Arctic. It is not necessary to agree with all of Zellen's arguments to understand that his book is a comprehensive effort to understand the central role that the Inuit must and do play in the developing issues surrounding the transformation of the Arctic. This is a must read for anyone wanting to understand the massive transformation that the Inuit now face in their home. -- Robert Huebert, University of Calgary

From the Afterword of
On Thin Ice:As Barry Zellen poignantly reminds us in this book, the Arctic is no longer a no-man's land of interest only to missionaries, military strategists, and outdoor adventurers. In the not-too-distant future, the forces of climate change are going to transform this icy world into a new economic frontier. The end of the Arctic, as we once knew it, will be the beginning of a new chapter in history. That new chapter in history must be co-authored by the people who live there. -- Ed Struzik, author of The Big Thaw: Travels in the Melting North

About the Author

Barry Scott Zellen is research director of the Arctic Security Project at the Center for Contemporary Conflict at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Product details

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Lexington Books (Nov. 12 2009)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 270 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0739132784
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0739132784
  • Item weight ‏ : ‎ 549 g
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 16.15 x 2.16 x 23.9 cm
  • Customer Reviews:
    5.0 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 ratings

About the author

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Barry Scott Zellen is an independent scholar specializing in polar geopolitics, international relations, and the tribal foundations of world order. Zellen's early research and writing focused on the Western Arctic region, where he lived during the 1990s while managing several northern, Aboriginal language media organizations funded by the Northern Native Broadcast Access Program (NNBAP), and occasionally developing and teaching college courses on Arctic land claims for Arctic College (now Aurora College) in Yellowknife, NWT and the Center for Northern Studies (CNS) in Wolcott, VT. In more recent years, Zellen's research has shifted from focusing exclusively on the Arctic region to include indigenous peoples of the Pacific for a more global and comparative understanding of the role of tribal polities in international relations, from Oceania to the Arctic.

Zellen serves as International Arctic Correspondent for Intersec: The Journal of International Security, where he had earlier served as Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Correspondent (2002-09). Since 2018, he has held an appointment as Research Scholar in the Department of Geography at the UConn; since 2012, he has also been a nonresident Senior Fellow of the Institute of the North, founded by and dedicated to the preservation of the important historic legacy of Alaska governor (1966-69 and 1990-94) and principled U.S. Secretary of the Interior (1960-70) Wally Hickel (who kindly authored a guest foreword to Zellen's 2009 volume, Arctic Doom, Arctic Boom: The Geopolitics of Climate Change in the Arctic.)

Zellen has held numerous other research and editorial affiliations over the years: ​In 2020, Zellen served as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Akureyri (UNAK)'s Polar Law Centre, where he designed and taught a graduate course on Arctic security through the lens of IR theory (Spring 2020); in 2019, he was appointed the rotating Class of '65 Arctic Chair at the United States Coast Guard Academy, a position he held for over three years); in 2016 he was appointed Co-Chair of the Arctic and Northern Section, Association for Canadian Studies in the United States (ACSUS), a position he held from 2016-21; Senior Fellow, Center for Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Studies (CANZPS) at Georgetown University's Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (2012-18); Board Member, Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS, 2012-14); Research Affiliate, Program for Culture and Conflict Studies, Naval Postgraduate School (CCS, 2008-12); Research Affiliate, Center for Contemporary Conflict (CCC), Naval Postgraduate School (2004-12); and Editor of Strategic Insights Journal, Center for Contemporary Conflict (CCC), Naval Postgraduate School (2004-10).​

Zellen is a mid-career returnee to the academic world. In 2015, he completed and defended his dissertation at the University of Lapland (earning the high honor, eximia cum laude approbatur), and from 2016-18 he conducted a two-year, field-based postdoctoral research project funded by the Kone Foundation in Helsinki on "Tribal Buffer Zones and Regional Stability from the Polar to Oceanic Region: Understanding the Interface between Indigenous Homelands and Modern States, and the Foundations for Stable Borderlands." ​

Its aim is to understand the theoretical contours of, and practical implications of, this oft-overlooked but nonetheless distinct structure in world politics -- think of it as the long-ignored but nonetheless salient "4th image" in IR -- that can be pre-, sub-, trans- and/or post-state, and which is contiguous with the historic boundaries of tribal and indigenous homelands which, after state expansion, have become subdivided by recognized international frontiers. Questions include whether these indigenous borderlands can foster greater international collaboration, and thus become potential oases of peace, owing to the existence of an underlying regional order that pacifies these regions in an otherwise anarchic international realm.

Zellen earned his doctorate in international relations from the University of Lapland, and has his master's degree in political science from the University of California, Berkeley and his bachelor's degree in government (magna cum laude) from Harvard University. In addition to the hundreds of articles he has written, Zellen has authored over a dozen books. He is author of the following books: Breaking the Ice: From Land Claims to Tribal Sovereignty in the Arctic (Lexington Books, 2008); Arctic Doom, Arctic Boom: The Geopolitics of Climate Change in the Arctic (Praeger / ABC-Clio, 2009); On Thin Ice: The Inuit, the State and the Challenge of Arctic Sovereignty (Lexington Books, 2009); The Realist Tradition in International Relations: The Foundations of Western Order (including volume 1, State of Hope: Order in the Age of Classical War; volume 2, State of Fear: Order in the Age of Limited War; volume 3, State of Awe: Order in the Age of Total War; and volume 4, State of Siege: Order in the Age of Insurgency) (ABC-Clio/Praeger, 2011); State of Doom: Bernard Brodie, the Bomb, and the Birth of the Bipolar World (Continuum Books, 2011); The Art of War in an Asymmetric World: Strategy for the Post-Cold War World (Continuum Books, 2012); and State of Recovery: The Quest to Restore Homeland Security After 9/11 (Bloomsbury, January 2013).

Zellen is also editor of The Fast-Changing Arctic: Rethinking Arctic Security for a Warming World (University of Calgary Press, 2013) and co-editor of Culture, Conflict, and Counterinsurgency (Stanford University Press, 2014) and Land, Indigenous People and Conflict (Routledge, 2015). For more details about Zellen's published writings, please visit his website at

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