Russia’s war against Ukraine, climate change upend security situation in the North, Helsinki seminar highlights

27 October 2022

Photos of the seminar

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted a seismic shift in international security, upending the security landscape of the North as well. Moreover, the implications of climate change are changing the environment dramatically as the world is witnessing a race for the Arctic, where natural riches are becoming available as the polar ice cap melts at a quickening pace. 

These were key messages at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Rose-Roth seminar in Helsinki, Finland, on 18-20 October, which brought together 62 parliamentarians from 25 NATO member and partner countries. 

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has provoked major policy changes in Finland and Sweden. Both countries are united in condemning Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified war against Ukraine and demonstrate strong support for the Ukrainian government and people, seminar participants heard. Moreover, both Finland and Sweden have decided to abandon their longstanding policy of non-alignment and have applied for NATO membership. 

“Finland and Sweden share our democratic values. Their membership of NATO will make our Alliance so much stronger”, stressed NATO PA President Gerald E. Connolly (United States) in his video address. 

Finnish officials, including President Sauli Niinistö, stressed the contribution Finland is already making and will make to NATO and Euro-Atlantic security once it becomes a member. “Here in Finland, we do not only ask what NATO can do for us, but what we can do for NATO”, the President emphasised. Matti Vanhanen, Speaker of the Eduskunta, the Finnish Parliament, underlined that “Finland is a security provider, not a consumer”. Karin Enström, Head of the Swedish delegation to the NATO PA, delivered a message from the recently elected Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson who stressed that “Both in terms of capabilities and geostrategic location, we will be able to bring value to the Alliance and increase the ability of our countries in the Nordic-Baltic region to cooperate and provide an important defence threshold. Sweden will continue and deepen our support for Ukraine’s defence. We will continue to work together across the Atlantic for a Europe whole, free and at peace.”

As littoral states of the Baltic Sea, the two future NATO Allies will make significant contributions to NATO’s maritime security in the north, the seminar highlighted. This is all the more important as the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines serves as a reminder that Allied maritime infrastructure is vulnerable.

The Alliance will also benefit from the close and longstanding Finnish-Swedish cooperation in the security and defence realm, highlighted Finnish Foreign Affairs Minister Pekka Olavi Haavisto. Both countries also have similar defence concepts which emphasise a whole-of society approach in the defence of their countries in case of an attack. Finland and Sweden are also increasing their defence investments, delegates learned.

NATO responded to Russia’s war against Ukraine with a fundamental shift in strategy and posture. Discussing NATO’s strategic adaptation and, in particular, the key decisions coming out of the June 2022 Madrid Summit, Ruben-Erik Diaz-Plaja, Senior Policy Adviser of the Policy Planning Unit in the Office of the NATO Secretary General, noted that a fundamental change is that NATO’s new Strategic Concept describes Russia as “the most significant and direct threat to Allies’ security.” The Alliance is also implementing a significant strengthening of its defence and deterrence posture. The seminar offered a range of initial lessons which NATO Allies should learn from Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine. Participants also reaffirmed their ongoing support for Ukraine and for their colleagues in the Verkhovna Rada, two of whom were present at the seminar. 

The seminar’s discussions further highlighted how security in the Northern Hemisphere is affected by the effects of climate change which is accelerating particularly in the Arctic where it will have a much more profound impact than in other parts of the globe. 

There, the West’s strategic competitors, Russia and China, are increasing their military activities and seeking to extract economic opportunities that are harmful to the planet. The Arctic’s strategic significance will grow, with implications for world trade and the environment as well as for political, economic and military rivalries, seminar participants were informed. 

Addressing the climate change challenge in the North requires broad, multilateral cooperation, long-term partnerships, coordinating mechanisms including on search and rescue, maritime domain awareness, disaster relief, as well as security and military cooperation, the seminar’s discussions underlined. 

NATO’s own commitment to meeting the challenge of climate change is solid and firm, assured Michael Rühle, Head of NATO’s Climate and Energy Security Section. NATO will drive its climate security agenda forward by encouraging Allies to “green” their militaries, using new, energy-efficient technologies which will lower the carbon footprint of military activities. “For NATO, there can be no turning away from climate security”, Mr Rühle stressed.

Other issues featuring prominently on the agenda of the seminar included hybrid and cyber security threats and NATO’s role in defending against these, as well as military capacity building in a changing security environment.   

The seminar concluded with a visit to the Guard Jaeger Regiment in Santahamina, where the Deputy Chief of Staff of Operations, Major General Kari Nisula, briefed the delegation on the Finnish Defence Concept and Colonel Asko Kopra presented the regiment. Parliamentarians also had the opportunity to engage with conscripts and learn about the firmly established Finnish conscription system.

The seminar was organised in cooperation with the Finnish Parliament along with the generous support of the Swiss Government and the Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance. The primary objectives of Rose-Roth seminars are to promote exchanges and mutual understanding among legislators from Allied and partner nations and to assist partner parliaments in developing tools for effective and democratic parliamentary oversight over defence and security.

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