Security, Norway, and the High North

Shaping a Template for the Way Ahead
Norway’s High North region puts this nordic nation in a unique position with regard to the future of the Arctic. To ­protect and exploit the valuable energy supplies on its continental shelf, Norway has established approaches and procedures for the future development of energy supplies in its key 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 templates for dealing with the challenges, including those posed by Russia are implemented and refined.

(Photo: Mona Ødegård / Forsvaret / Norwegian Armed Forces)

Odd Gunnar Skagestad, a Norwegian political scientist, researcher, diplomat and writer, noted in his 2010 paper on the High North: “What can be expected is not the disappearance of the High North as a high-profiled topic in Norwegian public discourse and politics, but occasional and gradual shifts of emphasis in its contents and directions (Fridtjof Nansen Institute, 2010).”

Norway directly faces Russia and has worked to shape a cooperative relationship 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 defence as part of the overall development and security mix.

The challenge, of course, is to cooperate with, compete and protect one’s sovereignty against a very large neighbour with an assertive global agenda. As it was put in the Norwegian Government’s 2006 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 cooperation with our neighbours, partners, and allies. But it is also a question of a broad, long-term mobilization of our own strengths and resources….”

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

Norwegian  soldier at M113  weapon station during  Exercise Cold Response 2016.
Norwegian soldier at M113 weapon station during Exercise Cold Response 2016. (Photo: Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvaret / Norwegian Armed Forces)

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 Nord Stream proposal, known as Nord Stream 2, will increase undersea capacity and, in effect, enhance this dependence on Russia.

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.

NH90 Swedish helicopter arrives at base camp
February 2016 – NH90 Swedish helicopter arrives at base camp so members of 3RCR (3rd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment) can test the loading of kit during Exercise Cold Response in Namsos, Norway. (DND Photo: MCpl Maggie Gosse)

In a presentation to the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C. (25 February 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, is working its 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 natural gas can provide as Europe weans itself off of the use of coal, such as the current UK government has stated as a strategic objective.

For the Minister, energy security, in its broad sense, means 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 Russia in shaping rules of effective safety and security in the development of the Arctic region. But the defence of Norwegian sovereignty will not depend on Russian good will. The Norwegians are reshaping their defence forces to become more integrated with safety and security forces, and to provide for the kind of capability that can offer rapid defence of sovereignty if necessary.

The approach was laid down in the 2006 strategy document: Norway will maintain its presence, and exercise its sovereignty and authority with the option of an effective military at the ready. “The presence of the armed forces is vital for meeting national security needs and maintaining our crisis management capacity in the High North,” it states unequivocably.

Special forces from both Norwegian Naval Special Operation Command and the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps use an RHIB boat during winter exercise Cold Response 2016.
Special forces from both Norwegian Naval Special Operation Command and the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps use an RHIB boat during winter exercise Cold Response 2016. (Photo: Torbjørn Kjosvold / Forsvaret / Norwegian Armed Forces)

The relationship with Norway’s NATO partners is seen as a key part of the effort, and the hosting of Cold Response exercises is one example of Norway’s focus of evolving real capabilities for defence of the region. This year’s exercise included more than 15,000 military personnel from 14 nations.

As the Norwegian Ministry of Defense explained 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 experience 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 increased spending of Norway on 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 Norway 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 overall goal is to shape an interactive dynamic – among development, safety, security and defence sectors – to provide for the kind of engagement that Norway wishes to have with Russia. Norway clearly seeks cooperation, but also to secure options to best protect its sovereign interests.

This topic was discussed recently in Ottawa by Anne Kari Ovind, Norway’s Ambassador to Canada, at the Conference of Defence Association’s annual defence and security conference in February 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 instructive to look at the world from a circumpolar perspective, and Norway’s position geographically and strategically.

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

Located on NATO’s northern flank, “Norway puts special emphasis on the need for predictability and stability in our relations with Russia,” said Ambassador Ovind. “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, then, is to shape a template that 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.

Robbin Laird is a defence journalist based in the USA.