Jean-Charles LARSONNEUR (France)

16 April 2021

Receding ice is expanding access to surface transit routes and subsurface resources in the Arctic, which are predicted to have a seismic impact on global trade and commodities markets. Greater access to the Arctic is driving increased attention to the region – from both Arctic and non-Arctic states.

Competing investments and visions of the Arctic’s future risk changing its post-Cold War reputation from a region of peaceful cooperation to one of great power competition. Driving this new reality are two principal factors: a widening policy divergence between NATO Allies and Russia in the Euro-Atlantic area; and, partially related to the first, the growing effort by non-Arctic states, led by China, to claim a future stake in the 21st -century Arctic.

As Arctic economic activities grow, military investments are following close behind to protect new as well as long-standing interests. New Russian military investments have been the most significant, as the country increasingly faces a new exposed northern coast. China is also seeking the ways and means to expand its economic footprint and scientific research across the region – experts believe much of this is laying the groundwork for an eventual People’s Liberation Army’s presence.

Allies are taking steps to adapt their capabilities to defend current and potential future interests in the High North. A key shared concern is the maintenance of Allied freedom of navigation as the Arctic sea lanes will continue to grow in strategic importance. In light of the expected launch of the Strategic Concept revision in the near-term, Allies have the opportunity to outline NATO’s approach to the rapidly evolving Arctic.

This draft report reviews the growing strategic relevance of the 21st century Arctic, and the subsequent impact increased attention to the region may have on the international security environment in general, and the Alliance’s High Northern flank in particular. 

This preliminary draft report will be discussed by the Defence and Security Committee (DSC) at the Spring Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.