Date of Award

Fall 10-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International studies

Committee Director

Regina Karp

Committee Member

Cathy Wu

Committee Member

Yuval Weber


Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia experienced an abrupt discontinuity in its sense of identity. This break in identity, and a more profound lost sense of self, creates a strong need to reestablish continuity. The need to regain that sense of self is strong and can supersede other concerns. Ontological security theory proposes that the need to maintain identity can outweigh physical security considerations. This study uses game theory methodology and the Arctic as a contextual example to demonstrate that ontological security-seeking actors are willing to sacrifice physical security. Today, the current conditions in the Arctic reflect a security dilemma. This study argues that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia pursued its ontological security needs by militarizing the Arctic. Militarizing the Arctic was a way that Russia could reassert its power and dominance over a region with little resistance. Arctic states and stakeholders cooperated over Arctic matters for decades. As Russia continues its pursuit of dominance in the Arctic, Ukraine, Georgia, and Syria, it has conditioned the U.S. and NATO to respond by increasing their Arctic military capabilities. The resultant conditions in the Arctic may appear as a security dilemma, but the traditional causes of the security dilemma cannot sufficiently rationally explain Russia’s decision-making. Assuming Russia is a rational actor, understanding Russia’s behavior requires us not to look to alternatives to neorealism’s or constructivism’s explanations. Ontological security helps us understand Russia’s need to create an Arctic security dilemma to validate its status as a great power.


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Copyright, 2022, by Brian W. Cole, All Rights Reserved.