The eight countries, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, the United States, Canada and Russia, which have gathered in the Arctic Council, have common interests in the far north. From environmental protection and scientific research to developing shipping methods. The Arctic Council has focused on these issues since its founding 25 years ago. This greatly contributed to his success. On the other hand, geopolitical, military and security issues have been consistently excluded.
But this is getting more difficult. Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State under President Donald Trump, has already given a preconceived idea of this. He spoke of the beginning of the “era of strategic engagement and strategic competition in the Arctic”. His successor, Anthony Blinken, has expressed this more diplomatically, but likewise in the end: There are areas in which you have to work together. And those where it is difficult.
Russia is pushing forward
At the ministerial meeting in Reykjavik, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demanded that the Arctic Council also consult on military issues. It encourages regular meetings of the leaders of the armed forces of the countries bordering the Arctic. The voice of Russia has its weight. First, no country is evenly found in the Arctic. Second, the Russians now hold the presidency of the Arctic Council for two years and fervently claim the Arctic as their “region”.
The United States would prefer if the Arctic Council continued to focus on civilian use. At the same time – and this is a huge contradiction – the Americans themselves are relying on the Alliance’s policies in the Arctic, suggesting that power politics considerations have reached the Arctic Ocean.
That is why the Western NATO military alliance is more evident than in the Arctic, for example with US nuclear submarines in Norway. The United States, which has long been on the Arctic priority list, has suddenly registered a much larger presence. They plan to replace their old icebreakers with a modern icebreaker fleet with at least six ships. This is in response to Russia, which has been aggressively expanding its military infrastructure in the Arctic Ocean for years.
Climate change makes natural resources within reach
Background to this development: As a result of climate change, Arctic ice is melting. Natural resources and sea routes can be accessed simultaneously. This introduces the Far North into the power politics of the major powers. The area is not far from the crowds.
After all, all member states have so far accepted that the numerous territorial disputes will be decided by the United Nations and Unclos in accordance with United Nations maritime law. This prevents military confrontations and guarantees a minimum of stability. But no one knows how individual states will react once arbitral awards are issued – especially those states whose claims have been rejected.
China also stems from its connotations
Additionally, China recently enjoys at least one observer status in the Arctic Council and it indicates a greater interest – both economically and geostrategically. China already has a research station in Iceland.
Chinese investments in the northern Norwegian port of Kirkenes and Greenland are also being discussed. Beijing also seeks to establish direct contact with indigenous peoples, often bypassing the capitals. These Chinese investments are often tempted. China’s commitment is understandable, but it is met with great suspicion by Arctic governments.
So the harmony has ended in the Arctic. The region has become very exciting in terms of power politics and economics for that.
Diplomatic reporter, SRF
The diplomatic reporter is deputy chief editor of SRF Radio. Prior to working in radio, he was an international editor for “St. Galler Tagblatt, Middle East editor and “Zeit” correspondent in Paris and editor of “Weltwoche”.