"Cooperation in the Arctic Spirit" – Report from the Roundtable on Arctic Security in Stavanger

With the Arctic developing into an ever more important geopolitical arena, there is plenty of reason to discuss challenges of Arctic security. 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.

The Roundtable on Arctic Security in Stavanger (Photo: MSC / Kuhlmann).

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. Both of which were the focus of in-depth discussions among roundtable participants – including representatives of governments, militaries, the intelligence community, business, and academia. 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.
 
When the world changes, the Arctic changes

The geostrategic importance of the Arctic is rising as more states increase their economic footprint in the region. Moreover, states that boost their commercial presence in the Arctic have incentives to back it with military force. Thus, cooperation becomes ever more important and is in the interest of all actors with a stake in the Arctic. Participants discussed whether there is an "Arctic exceptionalism" – meaning that the region could be treated as rather insulated from other developments in international politics. But the globalized Arctic is not insulated from political conflicts in other regions of the world. Rather, spill-over effects from tensions on a global level will likely also be felt in the Arctic. A few participants stressed that some Arctic risks stem from political tensions between Arctic nations elsewhere in the world rather than from actual developments within the Arctic region itself.  
               
"Arctic Spirit" of cooperation

The question of how Arctic nations – and powerful countries active in the Arctic – can respond to these developments without risking a militarization of the region occupied a pivotal position in the debates. In this context, the group discussed whether US-Russian cooperation on Arctic matters, on shipping routes for instance, could help restore trust in the US-Russia relationship. Participants were alert to China’s growing ambitions as an Arctic power and particularly to the potential effects that its "Polar Silk Road" initiative might have on Chinese-Russian relations. To properly manage these and other Arctic security issues, the actors involved need proper venues for discussing security matters as they emerge. Moreover, existing governance frameworks must be able to tackle the growing need for managing accidents and misunderstandings. As several participants pointed out, the historic "Arctic spirit" of compromise and cooperation presents a fertile ground for constructive exchanges in these areas. 
 
Intelligence cooperation in the Arctic

With regard to the prospects of trust-building in the region, the role of intelligence services was a particularly focus. Participants discussed the current state of intelligence cooperation among nations active in the Arctic. Some participants warned about influence operations that might target Arctic nations. The predominant view in the group was that it was imperative to strengthen information sharing mechanisms. A critical question raised was what effective information sharing on Arctic matters could look like between Western countries and countries like Russia or China. Clearly, actors in the region need more resilient lines of communication, especially when external tensions could spill over to the Arctic region.

Many of the developments discussed in Stavanger are bound to gain more momentum in the coming months and years. MSC thus plans to return these issues to the agenda by assembling experts and stakeholders for further discussions. The next MSC event in this regional series will be a Roundtable on Arctic Security during the Munich Security Conference in February 2019; preparations are also under way for an Arctic Security Summit to take place in early May 2019 in the Finnish city of Rovaniemi. 

28 August 2018, by MSC

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