The Arctic is a paragon of peace and stability

The Arctic is a region of stability and peaceful cooperation. Norway and the EU share a strong common interest in ensuring it remains so, argues Børge Bren.

By Børge Brende

10 May 2016

In a volatile world, the Arctic stands out as an example of a remarkably stable and peaceful region. However, this stability should not be taken for granted.

Some analysts have suggested that contemporary geopolitical tensions could spill over and pose a challenge to security in the Arctic. The overall goal for Norway's Arctic policy is to ensure that this does not happen.

The peace and stability that characterise the Arctic is built on sound respect for international law, cooperation based on common interests, responsible resource management and smart institution building.


This year, the Arctic Council celebrates its 20th anniversary. The council brings together all the Arctic states, including Russia and the US, as well as representatives of indigenous peoples and a growing number of observer countries. It has proven instrumental in finding solutions to regional challenges.

In an increasingly unstable world, the Arctic Council leads the way as a model of regional governance and for promoting knowledge, stability and predictability based on respect for international law. This is even more important in times of heightened geopolitical tensions and when relations between Russia and European countries are strained.

The accomplishments of the Arctic Council are manifold. Its initiatives have resulted in binding agreements between the eight Arctic states on search and rescue and on oil spill preparedness and response.

Moreover, the Council's comprehensive studies have highlighted the speed at which climate change is affecting the region. Snow is melting and glaciers are receding at record pace. The acidity of the oceans is rising. Entire ecosystems are affected.

The consequences of the dramatic changes taking place in the north are far-reaching. Climate change in the Arctic is amplifying the impact of the global warming, which is causing unprecedented damage to our planet.

The melting ice cap is also making energy and mineral resources more accessible; in the future, the Arctic Ocean may become an attractive shipping route from Europe to east Asia.

Protecting the vulnerable Arctic environment is vital. If we are to meet future global demands for food, energy and raw materials, we need to enhance our capacity to sustainably harvest and manage a wider range of ocean resources.

To ensure balanced and sustainable use of natural resources, Norway is promoting an integrated, ecosystem-based management approach. In the Barents sea, science-based fisheries management, in cooperation with Russia, has made northeast Arctic cod one of the most productive fish stocks in the world.

The importance of international law for stability in the Arctic cannot be overestimated. The five coastal states of the Arctic ocean agree that overlapping claims to the continental shelf will be settled within the legal framework established by the law of the sea.

This commitment to international law is effectively preventing an unsustainable race for resources. It enhances cooperation easier and makes conflict less likely and offers a good example of how adhering to agreed principles benefits small countries and great powers alike.

We need to bear in mind that stability in the Arctic is the result of a modern and comprehensive approach to security. For Norway's part, our Nato membership compensates for the lack of symmetry between ourselves and our larger neighbour, Russia. 

Our experience is that having a robust and predictable defence capability in the north does not prevent cooperation - it enables it. Nevertheless, Russia's military build-up and intensification of military exercises in the Arctic is a sign that we must remain constantly vigilant.

In the future, the strategic importance of the Arctic for Europe's economy and security will continue to grow. Even as the world's geopolitical balance shifts eastwards and southwards, interest in the north will keep increasing.

Indeed, the Arctic has already become an area for cooperation between Europe, North America and Asia. The EU in particular is already making important contributions to Arctic research and to the work of the Arctic Council, the Barents Euro Arctic Council and the Northern Dimension.

Our vision is for the Arctic to become the best-managed region in the world, striking the balance between conservation and sustainable use.

To achieve this we must increase our understanding of the Arctic while strengthening international cooperation to avoid geopolitical tension and an unsustainable race for resources.

Europe's long-term economic and security interests in the Arctic are best served by a coherent approach, based on sustainable resource management and respect for international law.


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