Arctic Security Series

Roundtable on Arctic Security in Helsinki (May 2019)

An impression from behind the scenes of the MSC Roundtable on Arctic Security (Photo: MSC / Kuhlmann)

With growing great power presence in the Arctic, there is plenty of reason to discuss risks and opportunities for regional cooperation in the High North. On May 7, the Munich Security Conference (MSC) – in cooperation with the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA) and with the support of the Finnish government – organized a Roundtable on Arctic Security in Helsinki, Finland. The event assembled a select group of around 40 key decision-makers and experts to discuss the current state of cooperation in the Arctic, alternate models of governance, and intelligence activities in the region.

About the Arctic Security Series

Arctic Security has become a key topic on the international security agenda: Warming at a pace of at least twice the global average, the Arctic is undergoing a dramatic transformation that has far-reaching geopolitical and security implications. The MSC aims to contribute to the emerging debate through a series of events aimed at select decision-makers and experts at the highest levels of politics, the private sector, and civil society. 

Roundtables and other activities

As part of the Arctic Security Series, the MSC organizes regular Roundtables on the issue, as well as other events, which vary in size.

MSC Roundtables are intimate, off-the-record gatherings of no more than 40 participants that aim to facilitate frank and open debates between key actors. They typically take place throughout the year at the sidelines of high-level international events around the world. The topics of discussion are tailored to reflect current debates and security challenges pertaining to the Arctic region, attracting high-ranking representatives from governments, militaries, the intelligence community, academia, and civil society.

In addition to the events specifically dedicated to the topic, Arctic security issues continue to feature in various MSC activities. The MSC stages panel discussions as well as side events on Arctic security at the annual flagship conference in Munich and at the MSC's Core Group Meetings. Further, a chapter on the Arctic was featured in the 2017 edition of the Munich Security Report.

Past Events

Arctic Security Roundtable in Munich (2019)

As part of its Arctic Security Series, the MSC organized a roundtable on February 16 during this year's main conference. The event brought together more than 30 high-ranking representatives from governments, the military, international organizations, NGOs, the think tank community, and the private sector.

The changing balance of power and growing presence of great powers in the Arctic served as the background for a lively discussion. Participants saw Russia and China as particularly interested and active in the Arctic. In the discussion, the positive effects of this development were highlighted, including a growing interest in economic cooperation among regional actors. The debate also suggested that a shared urgency to combat climate change might further stimulate dialogue among Arctic nations.

Yet, some participants also voiced concern particularly with regard to Russian actions and military buildup in the region and warned about the tensions this may provoke. They highlighted the need to preserve the Arctic as an exceptional region of peace and cooperation. Security issues, the debate suggested, had only recently entered the discussion of the Arctic and more dialogue on this matter was urgently needed.

Roundtable on Arctic Security in Stavanger (August 2018)

The Arctic is developing into an ever more important geopolitical arena. Over the past years, major powers – Russia and China in particular – have steadily increased their economic activities in the Arctic. This provides both a chance for multilateral cooperation in the region but also involves significant risks.

On August 27, the Munich Security Conference – together with its partners from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs and the NATO Centre of Excellence for Operations in Confined and Shallow Waters – assembled a small group of prominent experts and stakeholders to an informal discussion about current developments in Arctic governance, trust-building, and intelligence cooperation in the region. Participants included Espen Barth Eide, Member of the Norwegian Parliament and former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Defence; Admiral Charles Ray, Vice Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard; Sergey Kislyak, Member of the Federation Council of the Russian Parliament and former Ambassador to the United States; Marie-Anne Coninsx, Ambassador at Large for Arctic Affairs of the European Union, and Anti Pelttari, Director of the Finnish Security Intelligence Service.

For a brief summary of the discussions, see our report. Our media library features a selection of photos from the event.

Arctic Security Roundtable in Munich (2018)

As part of the Arctic Security Series, the MSC organized a roundtable on February 17 during this year's main conference with over 40 representatives from the military, the think tank community, governments and international organizations as well as the private sector.

During the discussions, it became clear that the Arctic is no longer an emerging policy issue but one that already carries global geopolitical significance. The debate focused on the growing military build-up in the Arctic, although it was also made clear that a clash over resources in the Arctic seems unrealistic at this stage. Russia’s increased cooperation with Asian neighbors on Arctic issues was also debated as was China's pivot and growing interest in the Arctic. Finally, governance questions were discussed intensively, such as a potential security dimension for the Arctic Council or the precise role of NATO in the Arctic.

Arctic Security Roundtable in Reykjavík (2017)

On October 12 in Reykjavík, just before the start of the annual Assembly of the Arctic Circle in the Icelandic capital, the Munich Security Conference brought together 40 leaders and experts from governments, navies and coast guards, research institutes, and civil society for an Arctic Security Roundtable.

Participants included U.S. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, Finnish Minister for Nordic Cooperation Anne-Catherine Berner, Prime Minister of Iceland Bjarni Benediktsson, Swedish Minister of Defense Peter Hultqvist, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, and the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon. Senior representatives from all Arctic states, including Russia, Canada, and Norway, were present.

The Roundtable was supported by the Government of Finland, the Mayor of Reykjavík, and Arctia Ltd., as well as the Munich Security Conference's partners in our Arctic Security Series: the Polar Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, the NATO Center of Excellence for Operations in Confined and Shallow Waters, and the Arctic Circle.

You can find a brief summary of the day's discussions in our event report. A selection of photos from the day is available in our media library.

Arctic Security Roundtable Washington, D.C. (2017)

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 discussed new security challenges in the Arctic during the MSC Core Group Meeting in Washington, DC, on May 9, 2017.

The MSC Arctic Security Roundtable was hosted jointly with the Wilson Center's Polar Initiative and the Arctic Circle. You can find a brief report here. A few photo impressions are available in the photo album of the MSC Core Group Meeting in Washington.