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The militarization of the Arctic: is it a threat to global security?

28.02.2019 16:54

In the modern world, the Arctic region is becoming a zone of long-term geopolitical rivalry. At the same time, Western states show less willingness to compromise in defending their national interests. NATO activities in the Arctic lead to a reconfiguration of security relations and create new challenges and opportunities.

For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the Arctic has been defined by NATO as a strategically important region that requires constant attention, new approaches and solutions. A modern comprehensive approach to security has led to the expansion of the boundaries of NATO engagement beyond the North Atlantic region. NATO countries are developing actively national Arctic strategies formulating the basic principles for establishing state policy in the Arctic.

The number of military exercises in the Arctic zone involving foreign countries is growing. Furthermore, the activity of the United States, Canada, Denmark, and Norway exceed even the level of it during the Cold War.

Norway is the strategic actor of NATO in the Arctic. It is the only country in the world with a permanent military headquarters located above the Arctic Circle. Norway is lobbying for an increase of Arctic role in the Alliance’s plans. At the same time, Oslo holds regular large-scale military exercises, aimed at deploying and using armed forces in the Arctic in order to block a wide range of threats from high-intensity warfare to terrorism and mass demonstrations.

In particular, exercises of the Norwegian Armed Forces (Joint Reindir-2019) and the manoeuvres of the Standing NATO maritime group 1 (Dynamic Guard-2019) were held in Norway in February. They were aimed at improving the skills of electronic warfare, countering underwater threats, maintaining and developing the operational capabilities of the Brigade Nord, as well as ensuring interaction with other branches of armed forces and allies in winter conditions.

The exercises demonstrated the ability of the Alliance and Allied forces to unite quickly to accomplish the tasks set by NATO. They involved naval patrol aircraft, submarines, helicopters and warships. Germany, Denmark, Spain, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the United States of America, and France took part in the events. Totally more than two thousand people participated in the manoeuvres. 

In addition, the increase in quantity and quality of military equipment used in the region contributes to the aggravation of the situation in the Arctic. Thus, in 2016 the Norwegian military intelligence received two new Eger type warships, which became the main NATO intelligence ships in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. According to the head of the Norwegian military intelligence, Lieutenant General Kjell Grandhagen, this is an important factor in ensuring the Norwegian interests in the High North, since control over the region is strategically important for the land of fjords. The warships are equipped with high-tech devices necessary for conducting reconnaissance in the Arctic waters.

Beyond NATO, Norway is also stepping up the efforts of the Scandinavian states to create a special security zone, already known as a “mini-NATO”. A new “defensive alliance” of five countries - Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Sweden is to strengthen their military positions in the Arctic.

Whether the NATO activating in the Arctic helps create positive security zone there through international partnership or, on the contrary, reinforces negative security trends in multinational relations, time will show.