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Norway and the Northern Areas - High North Strategy

When Norway refers to the adjacent areas, these are areas in the vicinity of NATO. It could be areas round the Baltic, the Black Sea or the Mediterranean. Norway, though, defines the Northern Areas, the High North, as the most important adjacent area. This is evident both from the Soria Moria Declaration of 2005 and from the updated policy platform from autumn 2009.

After World War II the Norwegian government perceived the security challenges in North Norway to be of a larger scale than in any other parts of the country. There was a clear mismatch between the resources in the northern region and the enormous sea and land areas which had to be defended in case of crisis or war. There was also a strong ideological element in the northern defence challenge. The population in North Norway was perceived as being more heterogeneous than society in the south. Norwegian authorities assumed, among other things, that there was a higher number of hard-line communists in the north. The authorities feared, in particular, that the hard-line communists had strong footholds in several small local communities in the eastern parts of Finnmark.

Half a century later, there is growing international interest in the changes taking place in the Arctic. This interest is seen in allies, in Russia and in Asia. The possibility of new sea routes and the potential for oil and gas extraction gives rise to expectation and optimism. At the same time, increases in maritime traffic and petroleum production could lead to serious adverse consequences for fisheries and for the environment. And the fact that the Arctic ice is melting is very bad news for all. This must not, however, prevent beginning to think about the consequences of it actually happening.

The High North, from the standpoint of security policy, presents challenges that are of a largely civil nature. Climatic, environmental, energy and fishery-related. But if the Armed Forces were to lie low in these areas, rather than inviting increased military activity, such a passive policy would signal a lack of ambition, ability and will to take care of both Norway's interests and obligations. The key words are the upholding of sovereignty and the exercise of authority. For example through the Coast Guard service, surveillance, search and rescue and the Border Guard. In principle there is nothing new in this. What is new is that the challenges are increasing in volume and in geographical extent as a consequence of climate change. If Norway does not prepare for this, it cannot reckon on anyone else doing it.

Due to the large distances involved, a military presence in the north is essential to be able to reach an operational area at the right time. Having ships, aircraft and land forces deployed in the North also enhances the ability to prevent episodes and crises. It also serves as an important signal contributing to regional stability.

Four of the five states bordering on the Arctic Ocean - that is to say Canada, Denmark, the United States and Norway - are members of NATO. NATO member Iceland is also strongly affected by developments. The Alliance therefore has a natural role to play in relation to possible security challenges in the region.

Norway is not calling for a permanently high level of NATO presence in the North, such as there was during the Cold War. What Norway would wish to see first and foremost is an awareness of potential security challenges which is reflected in Alliance planning, information exchange and exercise activities. In addition Norway would like to see closer cooperation between the new operational headquarters in Bod° and NATO's command structure. More regular exercises under NATO auspices would further demonstrate solidarity. These would at the same time provide a basis for cooperation with Russia in a number of areas, especially search and rescue at sea, operations under winter conditions, protection of the sea routes and anti-terror operations.

Norway sharply increased its military cooperation with the United States after 2014. Until this year, the Norwegian and Russian Navy conducted joint exercises, and relations after the disaster on the Russian submarine Kursk were rather friendly and pragmatic. Since 2014, everything has changed.

In 2015, Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Sulberg said that the country is ready to participate in the creation of the Euro missile defense system and will decide on the deployment of its facilities on its territory, which may include the appearance of a new American radar on the polar island of Vard° near the borders of Russia. Existing radars have been operating on the island for a long time, and now work is underway to lay cables for the supply of electricity for the new American radar Globus 3 under construction. It will allow monitoring missile launches from Russian submarines.

Norwegians say the new radar is just a modernization of the existing system, designed to monitor space debris and debris of failed satellites, as well as "monitor the zone of national interests in the north." According to the Americans, a common European missile defense system is being deployed to intercept Iranian long-range missiles.

Lasse Haughem, a former mayor of Vard° and a veteran of Norwegian military intelligence, is more blunt: "This place is very, very important for America and the Western world, because from here you can follow what the Russians are doing." The Russian border is only 40 miles from the island. Russian Ambassador to Norway Teymuraz Ramishvili said that "we will follow the answer, not only the answer of Norway, but the whole of NATO," and warned that the consequences of commissioning such a system would be catastrophic.

High North Strategy

The High North has been firmly placed on the map of Europe. Decision makers in other countries have realised that the High North has significance that extends far beyond Norway's borders. The reasons for the international interest in the High North are the living marine resources in the Barents Sea, global climate change, which is most obvious in the Arctic, and the Norwegian and Russian petroleum resources in the Barents Sea. Increasing attention is also being directed to the importance of protecting the unique environment in the north and the ecosystems that produce living resources for future generations. Norway's stewardship, and Norway's invitation to cooperation, will be crucial for sustainable development in the region.

The presentation of the Government's High North strategy in Troms° on 12 January 2006 put the spotlight on a new dimension of Norway's foreign policy. This includes increased activity and a stronger strategic focus on maintaining longstanding Norwegian interests, developing cooperation with Russia, and gaining acceptance for the importance of sound management of resources and efforts to protect the environment and respond to climate change. The focus on the High North will make it easier to see these issues, and how they are interrelated, in the context of foreign policy vis-Ó-vis other countries and in international forums.

According to the strategy, a long-term perspective and predictability are important factors in Norway's High North policy. As our activities increase, Norway's approach in the High North will continue to be consistent. The Government will safeguard Norway's interests through its presence and its activities.

By maintaining a presence, and exercising its sovereignty and authority, Norway is making it clear that it is taking its international and national obligations seriously. Therefore, the presence of the defence forces, the police and the prosecuting authority continues to be of great importance.

People-to-people cooperation is an important part of Norway's High North policy. Health, education, culture, sport, child and youth work and volunteer activities are key components, and these will involve closer contact with Russia. Opportunities for people to come together to take part in joint activities in these areas foster mutual understanding and trust which in turn foster stability and development in the High North. The strategy indicates that the Barents Cooperation will continue to play an important role in creating meeting places and networks for people in the High North.

Another key aspect of Norway's High North policy is its relations with Russia. Russia is undergoing rapid economic development. The changes that are taking place in the country's economy, society and politics do not affect the objectives of Norway's policy, but developments will be followed closely and measures adapted accordingly. Norway's policy towards Russia is based on pragmatism, interests and cooperation.

Norway will continue to speak out with a clear voice on issues relating to the development of democracy in Russia, human rights and freedom of expression. There are plans to strengthen cooperation with Russia, for example on the management of resources and the environment in the Barents Sea, and on energy issues. Cooperation with Russia and other countries on the fight against illegal fishing in the Barents Sea will also be strengthened.

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Page last modified: 24-02-2020 18:18:17 ZULU