The Future of the Arctic

On 28 September, YPFP Brussels held a NATO-sponsored event on Arctic security, titled “The Future of the Arctic”. Ville Majamaa, Security and Defence Officer at YPFP Brussels, moderated the panel with three speakers: Heidi Kjærnet, Permanent Delegation of Norway to NATO; LtCol Richard Showalter, NATO International Military Staff; and Dr Niklas Nováky, Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies.

Main takeaways:
– European security and economic prospects are linked to the stability, security, and future economic potential of the Arctic region.
– Geo-political tensions elsewhere in the world, most recently between Russia and the West over the war in Ukraine, can also influence the relations and cooperation in the Arctic.
– Trust between Western Arctic states and Russia has been severely undermined, and this has introduced new threat scenarios regarding Arctic critical infrastructure, long- distance reconnaissance and nuclear safety.
– Due to the weather conditions, logistics in the Arctic pose huge challenges to operations by Allied or other militaries as well as economic operators.

The event opened with a discussion on what the current security situation is in the Arctic and how NATO is engaged in the region. Ms Kjærnet presented how Norway, an Arctic country, sees the region from a national perspective as well as from the perspective of the Alliance. For Norway, the Arctic is a key region, which is shared between several Arctic states, including

Russia. She explained that Russia’s war in Ukraine is having an effect on the geopolitical tensions throughout the world, including a negative effect on the relations and cooperation in the Arctic as well. Finland and Sweden joining the Alliance will strengthen NATO and of course ensure that Arctic security always remains of key importance to the Allies.

Having been stationed in the Arctic before, Mr Showalter presented some of the practical aspects of operating in such cold terrain. He explained how the cold affects weapons, the human body, movement, and every other aspect of operations. You need to plan carefully, prepare the soldiers accordingly, and train in those conditions as much as possible to be able to operate in them successfully when needed. This is why NATO training and exercises are crucial to ensure the Alliance’s readiness.

Dr Nováky delved into a more academic assessment of relations in the region and to what extent the Arctic could be affected by climate change. At the moment the region is not a high tension zone; nevertheless, with the melting of sea ice and the opening of more Arctic shipping routes, the region will likely see more contention in the future. Furthermore, China has been increasingly interested in the Arctic over the years and has declared itself a “near-Arctic” state. As this interest develops, it will be important for NATO to follow China’s rhetoric and actions as they pertain to the region.