Eide said NATO “is at the core of the security and defence strategies of all but one Arctic Ocean state” and “therefore cannot avoid defining its role in this area.” He identified the challenge as how to devise policies which address the “fundamental security interests” of NATO member states while recognising the concerns of others, including Russia.
Eide outlined the security challenges in the High North:
- existing and potential conflicts of interest in the area which could undermine its stability;
- the Russian Northern Fleet’s continued role in the Russian nuclear triad, the sheer weight of the Kola military infrastructure and their “vital strategic importance to Russia”;
- continued use of the Barents Sea as a training ground for military forces and as a testbed for new weapon systems; - new sea lines of communication enhancing the High North’s military-strategic and economic significance after the Arctic becomes free of ice, which will reduce the sailing time between North America and Asia by 40%; and
- the possibility of deteriorating relations between Russia and the West.
He pointed out that NATO already has a presence and plays a role in the High North, primarily through its Integrated Air Defence System, including fighters on alert and airborne warning and control (AWACS) surveillance flights, as well as NATO exercises in Norway and Iceland. But he called for an increase in this Alliance profile in the High North: “there is a need for a renewed focus on security challenges in and around Allied territory.....regular activities in a NATO framework would demonstrate collective solidarity.”
Eide went on to say, “An increased NATO profile in the Arctic should be tailored not to provoke Russia, but to demonstrate Allied interest in the area. This could be done by establishing a presence sufficient to act as a stabilising factor in conceivable crisis scenarios and provide opportunities for interaction with Russian counterparts.” In this context, he emphasised the need for confidence-building, cooperative activities and the development of common procedures. “Such a presence would not necessarily have to be permanent and threatening in the shape of military hardware and personnel, but should be linked to planned training activities, exercises and visits,” he told NATO parliamentarians.
Eide called on the Alliance to search actively for areas of cooperation of mutual benefit with Russia, including addressing challenges related to expected new Arctic sea lines of communication. He cited as examples surveillance, patrolling, and search and rescue.
Eide went further in calling for a comprehensive approach by NATO to the challenges in the High North, especially the development of good working relationships with organisations such as the Arctic Council, the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas, the International Maritime Organisation and the EU.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which brings together some 320 delegates from 28 NATO member, partner and observer states, is currently holding its Spring session in Oslo, Norway.