Rebecca Pincus

The cruise liner Crystal Serenity plans to conduct a cruise from Alaska to New York in August 2016. This will be, by far, the largest commercial cruise transit of the Northwest Passage ever attempted. The journey raises questions about the capacity of governments to respond to a large-scale environmental or human disaster in the Arctic maritime realm. Mass rescue operations in the Arctic are technically complicated by the extreme cold and enormous distances present in the region, and operationally complicated by governance challenges, including multiple and overlapping jurisdictions, networks of responders, and state-to-state variations in capacity, commitment, and funding schemes for disaster response.

The challenges of disaster response policy in the Arctic make this issue a “wicked” policy problem. Wicked policy problems pose special challenges to policymakers. This class of public policy problems involves a diversity of stakeholders holding varying interpretations of causes and solutions, and is closely interconnected with many other problems. The theory and literature that have developed around wicked problems offer a number of lessons about how actors and networks address these complex governance challenges.

This paper will address the challenge of effective disaster response in the Arctic, using the analytic framework of wicked problems. First, the wicked aspects of disaster response in the Arctic will be analyzed, using the Crystal Serenity as a case study; second, lessons from the literature that identify strategies for managing wicked problems will be identified; finally, the paper will draw practical conclusions about readiness in the Arctic.

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