The first "A" – The Arctic
The Arctic is changing. I will focus three things:
- It is affected by climate change - not as frozen as it used to be.
- It is affected by a confident Russia reasserting its Great Power status - but also in this respect not as frozen as before - with the historical agreement on the demarcation lines with Russia, and good cooperation in areas like SAR, among others.
- It is affected by global economic crisis, and will be affected by what strategy NATO will choose post ISAF. We have argued for the alliances need to focus on its core areas - bringing NATO home, and avoiding the development of a gap in the alliance, neither Transatlantic nor European.
The changes - in relation to the building of confidence in the High-North - happen mainly within three domains.
First, geophysical change is melting what used to be the playground of the polar heroes. September this year we registered the least amount of polar ice that we have ever seen. In 1979 the ice cap extension was approximately square kilometres 7.6 million. This September it was 3.6 – less than half.
Second, the Arctic is affected by geopolitical changes taking place worldwide. The economic crisis has left Europe with a serious struggle. Rivalry increases among the world's great powers, and conflicts might spread to the north. The USA is reorienting its attention towards the Pacific and Asia, resulting in less attention towards Europe.
Third, the Arctic is affected by geostrategic change. Russian military modernisation and activity is increased, including within the nuclear triad. Simultaneously NATO is gradually returning from Afghanistan reemphasizing its original tasks related to Article 5 in the Washington Treaty – collective defence of Allied territory.
The Norwegian policy approach to the Arctic region is this: "High North, Low Tension". The question is of course: Is this a mission impossible?
Our point of departure is this: a sound and peaceful Arctic region. In my view, the changes in our time have served us opportunities to develop stronger bilateral and multilateral relations and sustainable prosperity in the Arctic.
The stability in the Arctic - from a Norwegian perspective must be based on four main pillars.
The membership in NATO is the defining aspect of Norwegian defence policy. To a small nation the presence of, and more practically the training of allies is synonymous with stability and predictability. With our defence having gone through a major restructuring in the last fiteen years to become a modern, well equiped and highly trained organisation, we have great expectations to how the renewed emphasis on the allied Core Area and NATO's new strategic concept will be effectuated. In effect NATO needs to go backt to its core area. Bringing the Alliance home so to speak.
Essential contents will be informed decision making through enhanced situational awareness. We will make sure we have the ability to plug and play with the NATO Command system. And as ISAF is coming to an end, we expect an increase in allied training and exercise to enhance interoperability and credibility to operational concepts.
Modern and Capable Forces
Another important aspect is a modern and capable military force. Our procurement of new weapon systems is not to be considered a build-up – its modernisation. Our experience is that a robust, transparent and predictable military presence has a conflict preventive and stabilising effect. Our military structure is reformed to permit us to handle a crisis in the lower end on the scale ourselves, and in the upper end together with allies. By restructuring, and reforming we build a threshold - to prevent conflict - through modern defence capabilities.
The plan of acquiring up to 52 fifth generation combat aircraft is a major effort from the Norwegian government - to maintain future stability. In fact our F-16s have long since been in use on a regular basis, as a part of NATO Air Policing, identifying Russian flights close to our border. The committment to the F-35-programme is about building air capabilities relevant for the continued presence for Norway in our core areas in the High North.
The third stabilising factor to the Norwegian approach to the Arctic is institutional frameworks. As a small nation Norway relies on the UN as the main arbritor to guard international law and state sovreignity. The UN recommendation concerning the Norwegian continental shelf surrounding Spitsbergen in 2009, was a result of a long term process.
Since the Arctic Council was established in 1996, it has been the only framework which includes all Arctic states. An Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic was signed by the Arctic states in 2011. It is considered as a valuable forum to develop relations and activities. Especially in relation to our powerful neigbour in the East.
To develop the relationship with Russia is of vital importance. We know our neighbours – and our neighbours know us. We have a long term perspective.
An example of this perspective and close cooperation is the agreement on the demarcation lines with Russia in 2011, following nearly 40 years of interim solutions. A step forward of vital importance.
Norway relies on openness and communication with Russia, both regarding the Arctic in general and military activity. We conduct bilateral crisis management exercises within search and rescue, and even common military exercises have been carried out. A hot line between our headquarters enables instant communication in case of difficult situations.
But of course we will continue to monitor the activities, and the overall situation in the High North closely.
The Arctic has - to be more like the Amazonas, so to speak in - in temperature. And more like the Antarctic in relation to tension and transparency.
The High north is indeed not as frozen as it used to be during the Cold War, (neither in relation to ice, nor neigbours).
There is an increase in activity, interest and presence of both civilian and military activity - mainly in realtion to increased activity as a result of the opening of the northeastern sea route and the exploitation of energy resources in the area. Increased activity, attention, in the area - undelines the importance of transparency and building trust in the High North. I think it is extremely important for a low tension outcome.
We will maintain the warm invitation for both NATO presence and training in the High North.
With an active presence, showing a strong comittment, and relevant military capabilities in our most important area of strategic interest - the main objective of Norway in the Arctic is to avoid conflict and provide good conditions for sustainable prosperity. This requires active policies and cooperation among the parties, based on transparency, dialogue and predictability.
I would like to sum up our objective regarding stability in the Arctic in four words:
High North – Low Tension.