Arctic Security Roundtable Washington 2017

Emerging Security Challenges in the Arctic

Norway's foreign minister Børge Brende discussing at the MSC Arctic Security Roundtable (Photo: MSC / Kuhlmann).

"Arctic Security will increasingly become an important topic on the international agenda, and that is why the Munich Security Conference will pay more attention to it in the future." With these words, MSC Chairman Wolfgang Ischinger opened the Arctic Security Roundtable, which took place on May 9, 2017, at the margins of the MSC Core Group Meeting in Washington, D.C. The MSC Arctic Security Roundtable was hosted jointly with the Wilson Center's Polar Initiative and the Arctic Circle.

Several Northern European foreign ministers, among which Timo Soini (Finland) and Børge Brende (Norway), US Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska as well as other experts came together to discuss emerging security challenges in the Arctic as well as the state of governance and cooperation with respect to Arctic issues.

As one participant noted, it was high time to focus on neglected security questions in the High North. After all, militarization of the region was progressing – and many non-Arctic states, not least China, were beginning to show great interest in the region. Others noted, however, that the Arctic remained an area of stability and of mostly cooperative governance, including between Western states and Russia. As much as some worries were justified, this should not be underestimated. There was good potential to build on existing constructive governance to strengthen cooperation. Particularly promising areas that were identified in the discussion included economic and scientific cooperation as well as joint environmental approaches. One participant brought up the idea of creating a "sort of Uber for icebreakers" so states would be able to share this capability.

US participants stressed that the United States was still lacking "Arctic awareness," both in terms of necessary infrastructure investments – for instance in icebreakers – and in terms of defense planning. "At the Pentagon, the Arctic is an orphan," one expert argued. Another pointed out that Russia was merely taking advantage of opportunities that presented themselves. Discussants also noted that migration and open borders in the High North would more and more become an issue of public debate and concern. Finally, roundtable participants stressed that, for the Arctic, in particular, it was essential to look towards future challenges. What economic, governance and security issues will arise when the changing climate will have altered the Arctic even more? What circumstances can be foreseen, and how can we prepare for them?
The MSC's focus on Arctic security issues will continue with a roundtable in October 2017 in Reykjavík, on the sidelines of the Arctic Circle Assembly.