In late December, NATO's Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, gave a keynote address at a Reykjavik seminar on "Security Prospects in the High North." Does NATO have a role in the Arctic. He thinks so:
Expect more shipping in the north, more shipping accidents, and associated search and rescue and environmental response requirements.
I believe NATO has a clear role to play. Allied nations have the necessary capabilities and equipment to carry out such tasks, and our Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre has the necessary extensive experience to coordinate any relief effort, and support search and rescue operations.
There's a lot of oil and gas up there. It will become more accessible as the ice-cap shrinks:
At our Summit in Bucharest last year, we agreed a number of guiding principles for NATO’s role in energy security, as well as five specific areas for possible NATO involvement: information and intelligence fusion; projecting stability; advancing international and regional cooperation; supporting consequence management; and supporting the protection of critical infrastructure. These are all tasks, given by NATO Heads of State and Government, where NATO has a clear value-added to offer. And I believe they all have a particular relevance in the context of any increased energy activity in the High North.
This paragraph probably means more to a NATO audience than to most of the rest of us. "Information and intelligence fusion" apparently refers to pulling together diverse information from diverse sources and making it available to the people who need it, "projecting stability" apparently refers to NATO outreach to work cooperatively with other partners, and "cconsequence management" to steps taken to respond to the the use of weapons of mass destruction.
The Arctic nations have different opinions about the dimensions of their Exclusive Economic Zones and their territorial jurisdiction over the continental shelves.
...NATO provides a forum where four of the Arctic coastal states can inform, discuss, and share, any concerns that they may have. And this leads me directly onto the next issue, which is military activity in the region.
What about that?
Responding to the changing environment, several Arctic Rim countries are strengthening their capabilities, and military activity in the High North region has been steadily increasing. It is understandable, and fully legitimate, for Allied nations to ask how we should approach, as an Alliance, but also as an international community, the military aspects of the High North.
Should NATO, as an organization, as an Alliance, discuss the possibility of stepping up its focus in the region? And if so, what form should this take?
Some things to keep in mind if it does:
...once the conditions are right for resuming normal business with Russia in the NATO-Russia Council... I see merit in using that particular forum for including Russia in wider cooperation, and also as vital element in building mutual confidence.
The Alliance and Russia have already acquired shared experiences in search and rescue, as well as in disaster management. I believe that these experiences could usefully be built upon, and expanded, to address common challenges in the High North region.
...If the most appropriate role for NATO in the High North is as part of a “comprehensive approach”, involving other players like the Arctic Council and the EU, then we will need a better understanding of what is already happening, and what is likely to happen in the future. NATO should continue to monitor the developments, upgrade our knowledge and look for opportunities in our day to day business.
...The indivisibility of the security of Allies has always been a core principle of NATO. And it’s a principle we ignore at our peril. Clearly, the High North is a region that is of strategic interest to the Alliance. But so are the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean. There are many regions -- but there is only one NATO. And we must ensure that, as we look today at the High North, and perhaps in the future at other regions, we do not get drawn down the path of regionalisation – because that is the path to fragmentation....
Of the five countries that border the Arctic Ocean, four are members of NATO. One may become a threat to the physical or energy security of NATO members (Hang together or separately). The speech emphasizes the potential for cooperative efforts with Russia and doesn't say anything about the nature of potential security threats from that source.
I'm grateful to Mark Collins, who let me know about the NATO seminar and the Secretary General's speech and sent me links to reporting (Here is Collins' post on the speech: Now it's NATO and the Arctic).
Reporting conveyed a message from the Secretary-General de-emphasizing the threat of conflict: David Stringer for ABC (Arctic's Thaw Brings Security Risks for NATO): " "I would be the last one to expect military conflict — but there will be a military presence," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters." James Neuger reported for Bloomberg (NATO Sees Little Risk of Arctic Confrontation as Ice Caps Melt):
NATO’s chief played down the risk of military confrontation in the Arctic as the melting polar ice cap threatens to trigger a race between Western countries and Russia for oil and gas resources.
Increased Russian bomber patrols over the North Atlantic and the planting of the Russian flag on the seabed are not even a “nuisance,” North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said.
“The word threat is unjustified and inappropriate in this regard,” De Hoop Scheffer told reporters today in Reykjavik. “I would be the last one to expect or to make any reference to military conflict, definitely not.”