Norway, the High North and Security: Shaping a Template for the Way Ahead


2016-03-15 By Robbin Laird

Norway is in a unique position with regard to the future of the Arctic.

The Norwegian High North is a key part of Norwegian territory and with decades of development of energy supplies on the Norwegian continental shelf has established approaches and procedures for the future development of energy supplies in the High North/Arctic region.

The High North is an elastic concept in Norwegian policy which covers its bundle of interests in the Arctic region, and will evolve over time as the template for dealing with the challenges, including those posed by Russia are engaged and dealt with.

As Odd Gunnar Skagestad noted in his paper on the High North published in 2010:

“What can be expected is not the disappearance of the High North as a high-profiled topic in Norwegian public discourse ad politics, but occasional and gradual shifts of emphasis in its contents and directions (Fridtjdf Nansen Institute, 2010).”

They directly face Russia and have needed to shape a working relationship with Russia for regional development and security, which means that cooperative safety, development and security are part of the Norwegian profile.

Yet the Norwegians are clearly concerned with Russian policies in Europe and beyond, and view defense as part of the overall development and security mix.

Norway's Air Force F-16 fighters (R) and Italy's Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon fighters participated in Arctic Challenge Exercise 2015. (/ Ints Kalnins) / Reuters).
Norway’s Air Force F-16 fighters (R) and Italy’s Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon fighters participated in Arctic Challenge Exercise 2015. (/ Ints Kalnins) / Reuters).

The challenge of course is to cooperate with, compete and protect one’s sovereignty against a very large neighbor with an assertive global agenda.

As it was put in the December 2006, Norwegian Government’s High North Strategy:

“It is a question of our ability to continue our tradition of responsible management of resources, predictable exercise of sovereignty and close coopeation with our neighbors, partners, and allies.

But it is also a question of a broad, long term mobilization of our own strengths and resources….”

Norway’s High North Strategy

Norway faces a complicated balancing act, and because their leadership in forging a way ahead in dealing with a competitive Russia is in advance of the opening up of much of the Arctic, they are shaping a template for the other Arctic powers as well.

The energy side of the equation is pretty straightforward from the Norwegian point of view – Europe needs energy diversity in order to have a secure future.

There is clear concern with how the Germans have over-relied on Russian natural gas supplies, and the latest Nordstream proposals, known as Nordstream 2, would only enhance Germany’s dependence on Russia, something which concerns Norway.

The pipeline would solve a problem for Russia and Germany, namely this gas pipeline would avoid the troubled Ukrainian region.

Nord Stream 2 is a second pipeline that is being built by Russian energy giant Gazprom and Germany’s BASF and E.ON energy companies.

It will run in parallel to the first Nord Stream pipeline, which was completed in 2011 and sends gas under the Baltic Sea directly from Russia to Germany. In doing so, the pipeline weakens Ukraine’s role as the major transit country for Russian gas exports to Europe.

In a presentation to the Atlantic Council in Washington DC on February 25, 2016, Tord Lien, Norway’s Minister of Petroleum and Energy,  provided his perspective on Norway, the High North and European Energy Security.

Having grown up in the Norwegian High North, the Minister emphasized that Norway unlike other members of the Arctic Council were working their resources in the region virtually year round.

Known as the Blue Arctic, Norway is able to extend its production techniques shaped in the Norwegian Continental Shelf to the Arctic region.

He focused on the importance of shaping a global natural gas market, and upon the contributions which natural gas can provide as Europe gets off of the use of coal, such as the current UK government has stated as a strategic objective.

Energy security in the broad sense for Europe, for the Minister, was having a diversity of supplies. Norway and Russia are the top natural gas suppliers to the European market, and by having the Norwegian channel as well as LNG imports from the United States, and growing supplies from Africa, Europe would not need to be dependent upon Russia, which would, thereby, enhance Norway’s security.

The Norwegians have made it clear that they seek cooperation with the Russians in shaping rules of effective development, safety and security in the development of the Arctic region.

But the defense of Norwegian sovereignty is not to be based on Russian good will.

The Norwegians are reshaping their defense forces to become more integrated with safety and security forces and to provide for the kind of capability which could provide for on the spot defense of sovereignty.

The approach was laid down in the 2006 strategy document:

“Norway will maintain its presence, and exercise its sovereignty and authority in part through “the presence of the armed forces is vital for meeting national security needs and maintaining our crisis management capacity in the High North.”

The relationship with Norway’s NATO partners is seen as a key part of the effort, and the hosting of Cold Response exercises is an example of Norway’s focus upon evolving real capabilities for defense of the region.

In this year’s version of Cold Response more than 15,000 military personnel from 14 nations participated.

As the Norwegian Ministry of Defense put the purpose of the exercise:

“Norwegian winter can be extreme, and the cold and changing conditions might be unfamiliar and surprising to many. In case of an emergency situation, military personnel need experiece with combat operations in cold weather.

Norway is ideally suited​ for this kind of winter training, and exercises like Cold Response give us the opportunity to test and confirm our plans and tactics. Cold Response also strengthens cooperation between military and civilian organizations, and military cooperation ​between the participating countries.​​”

The Norwegian Minister of Defense visited U.S. Marines during Exercise Cold Response 16 at a training location near Steinkjer, Norway, March 2, 2016.

The increased spending of Norway upon army, naval and air systems to contribute more effectively to the dynamic protection of Norway’s sovereignty is also part of the mix.

The 2006 strategy document highlighted that a primary task of its military is “to provide background information for national decision-making through up-to-date surveillance and intelligence….(and that) such information is crucial both as regards natural resources and the environment and as regards civilian and military developments.”

This is certainly why the Norwegians is adding the F-35 to its force and looking to integrate it with its overall ISR, C2 and defensive capabilities, such as their P-3s and Aegis ships.

The goal is to shape an interactive dynamic among development, safety, security and defense to provide for the kind of engagement which Norway wishes to have with Russia. Norway clearly seeks cooperation but also to find ways to best protect Norwegian sovereign interests,

Norway's Minister of Defence, Ine Eriksen Søreide, in front of the country's first F-35 combat aircraft. (Photo: Torgeir Haugaard/Forsvaret)
Norway’s Minister of Defence, Ine Eriksen Søreide, in front of the country’s first F-35 combat aircraft. (Photo: Torgeir Haugaard/Forsvaret)

This topic was discussed recently in Canada by the Norwegian Ambassador to Canada at the Conference on Security held in Ottowa, Canada on February 19, 2016.

At that event the Ambassador highlighted the importance of the Arctic and the challenge of dealing with Russia.

According to the Ambassador, to understand the rationale behind Norway’s approach it is often instructive to look at the world from a circumpolar perspective and Norway’s position geographically and strategically.

The Ambassador added that 80% of our maritime areas are north of the Arctic Circle and almost 90% of the export revenues come from the sea-based economic activities and resources. In other words, Norway has important economic interests to safeguard in the north.

According to the Ambassador, located on NATO’s northern flank, Norway puts special emphasis on the need for predictability and stability in our relations with Russia.

This is an area where NATO and Russian interests meet. Norway has a common interest in keeping the High North a region of peaceful cooperation and sustainable development. This is the situation today and we want to keep it that way.

The challenge is to shape a template which can allow for development, cooperation, and the protection of national sovereignty without having that template shaped by the Russians and their definition of Arctic interests.

Clearly, Norway has a key role in shaping the way ahead.