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Changes in the High North has implications for NATO and beyond

The 77th Rose-Roth Seminar: Changes in the High North: Implications for NATO and Beyond, Tromsø, 22 June 2011

Speech by Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre

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Members of NATO Parliamentary Assembly, MPs, ladies and gentlemen,

Welcome to Tromsø – the Arctic capital – well situated in the High North at almost 70 degrees north, 2200 km from the North Pole, the world’s northernmost university town.

Extensive research is carried out here in Tromsø. There are about 500 polar researchers in a number of research institutions, and all major research disciplines are represented. Polar research has also contributed to making Tromsø an international town; more than 100 nationalities are represented.

I am honoured to have the opportunity to address elected representatives of NATO’s member countries as well as representatives from Russia, Ukraine and other partners and associate members, as well as observers.

And I am proud that we belong to a military alliance that has its own parliamentary assembly. The assembly reflects the public strength of NATO as an alliance – and as an instrument of democracy and stability.

The High North is the Norwegian Government’s number one foreign policy priority, and our goal is to ensure peaceful, sustainable and prosperous development in this region – through increased activity, presence and knowledge. This is the part of Norway’s neighbouring areas where most change is taking place, where we have the most interests to safeguard, and where we have both a responsibility and the ability to make a difference. Today, I will devote my remarks to five issues;

First, the geopolitics of the North,

Second, the political and legal structure of the Arctic today,

Third, Norway’s relations with Russia,

Fourth, oil and gas and shipping in the Arctic, and

Fifth, the role of NATO.

The geopolitics of the North

The world is undergoing significant changes in terms of international politics, business, trade and science. They are also having an impact on developments in the High North. There is now increasing international interest – and a stronger focus – on developments in the High North and the Arctic. Why?

First, geography: there is a general shift in economic and political power from west to east (and partly from north to south). Western countries today account for less than half of total world production, while an increasing proportion of the World Gross Product originates in non-Western countries, particularly in East Asia.

Second, a stable and secure supply of energy is becoming increasingly important.

Third, climate changes are taking place. They are more evident and profound than previously anticipated – particularly in the Arctic – where the sea ice is melting – leaving open previously ice-covered areas.

Thus, the prospect of new sailing routes in the Arctic Ocean can be regarded in the light of the increasing trade between Europe and Asia. Although regular transpolar traffic lies quite far in the future, these developments could give rise to fundamental changes in international transport and trade patterns.

Those countries that have most to gain from the opening up of new maritime transport routes are following the situation closely and seeking to position themselves with a view to exploiting a situation where transpolar line traffic is becoming commercially viable. For this reason, Asian countries such as China, Japan, South Korea, India and Singapore, and the EU, are showing great interest in developments in the Arctic. Their interest is legitimate. This is a development I very much welcome.

Fourth, the dependence on non-renewable energy will remain strong far into the next century. Studies indicate that the Arctic may hold up to 25% of the world’s undiscovered hydrocarbon reserves. The exploitation of these resources depends on future prices, physical access and development of new technologies. A range of countries have strategic interests in how these reserves are exploited in future, both with regard to capacity and as producers and consumers.

Fifth, the need for food for an ever growing world population will continue to increase and put pressure on remaining productive soil. In this connection we need to secure the supply of marine proteins such as fish. This underscores the importance of integrated management of resources based on an understanding of the links between the oil and gas activities, new transport routes and fisheries.

Some of the world’s richest fisheries lie in the Arctic. They must be preserved and enhanced as one of the world’s most important sources of food.

As the sea ice retreats in the Arctic Ocean, the area will be gradually transformed from a frozen wasteland to a waterway connecting three continents – North America, Europe and Asia.

Some have indicated that the Arctic coastal States (should) feel threatened by this development. I do not share this view. As I said, I welcome this development.

Several states and organisations (Iceland, Russia and the EU, among others) have developed their own national strategies for the Arctic, all of which are quite similar in their outlook. The most striking feature is that they share more or less the same view on the geographical, political and legal realities in the Arctic.

“Legal structure”

Remember: The Arctic – unlike Antarctica – is an ocean (see the illustration) surrounded by states with sovereign rights in sea areas off their coasts in accordance with international law.

Existing international law provides a predictable framework for dealing with present and foreseeable challenges in the Arctic Ocean. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) forms the legal basis for all activities in the Arctic Ocean.

In the Ilulissat Declaration of May 2008, the five coastal states surrounding the Arctic Ocean – Denmark/Greenland, the United States, Canada, Russia and Norway – came together to agree on the fundamental legal approach – to be applied towards both the status of and developments in the Arctic. At that meeting we all shared the ambition to counter a prevailing thesis – at the time – that there was some kind of a “legal vacuum” in the Arctic.

We agreed that there is no vacuum. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea provides a crystal clear framework for national measures and international cooperation in the Arctic Ocean, e.g. related to environmental protection, science, delimitation of the outer limits of the continental shelf and shipping. The key principles of the convention bestow upon us – as coastal states – both rights and responsibilities. And we must be ready to assume both.

The Ilulissat Declaration of 2008 is important because it is a binding expression of these coastal states’ recognition of their duties and responsibilities pursuant to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, including the duty to resolve any overlapping claims in an orderly manner.

All the Arctic coastal states abide by the convention’s provisions, including the United States, although the US has yet to become party to the convention. The convention establishes legal clarity and predictability in the Arctic Ocean. Such clarity – regarding rights and duties – is essential for preserving stability and presenting conflict.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea governs who has the right to exploit resources and to regulate activities concerning oil, gas and fisheries. The coastal states are accordingly also responsible for ensuring a balance between exploitation and the need for sustainability in the fragile Arctic environment.

So, we have the basic legal framework in place.

“Political structures”

The Arctic is also home to one of the world’s most successful forums for multilateral cooperation – the Arctic Council. The members are Canada, Denmark (Greenland, Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the US. Six indigenous people’s organisations have the status of Permanent Participants. The Council has a good track record in developing guidelines and best practices and producing knowledge – in particular about pollution and the climate changes taking place in the Arctic and how to face these changes. The new SWIPA report – Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic – from the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) brings together the latest scientific knowledge about the changing state of the Arctic “cryosphere” – such as: the past six years (2005-2010) have been the warmest period ever recorded in the Arctic.

The Arctic Council cooperation has been consolidated and updated in recent years, and there is now agreement between the Arctic states to strengthen this work further. We welcome the decisions of the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Nuuk, Greenland last month to establish a permanent secretariat here in Tromsø.

An agreement on search and rescue in the Arctic was also signed during the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting, the first ever legally binding agreement negotiated within the auspices of the Arctic Council.

In recent years, there have been extensive discussions on the role of observer states in the Arctic Council. It is Norway’s view that the Arctic Council benefits from the participation of observers that have demonstrated a real and sustained engagement in the Arctic and for the work of the Arctic Council. New permanent observers would strengthen the undisputed role of the Arctic Council as the leading circumpolar high-level forum.

Norway supports the applications of China, South Korea, Japan, Italy and the EU Commission for permanent observer status. But we also agree that we need a clear definition of what it means to be a member and what it means to be an observer, also in terms of what kinds of contributions each category of states must be ready to make to the developments in the Arctic.

For Norway, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council is the forum for regional and cross-border cooperation in the High North, bringing together Norway, Russia, Sweden and Finland. Since the organisation was launched in 1993, concrete cooperation between 13 counties in four countries has yielded tangible results and built an atmosphere of confidence and trust in a common region. In October Norway will take over the chairmanship of the council for the next two years.

I could also mention the broader web of sub-regional cooperation patterns in the North, adding to the Arctic and Barents structures: the Baltic Sea Cooperation and the Northern Dimension, which covers the EU member states, Russia, Iceland and Norway – and of course the well established and traditional Nordic cooperation between the five Nordic states within “the Nordic Council family”.

I mention all this to make this point: Here in the North you find some of the most successful, pragmatic, problem solving and sub-regional patters of cooperation in the world.

I often say that there are three key drivers behind Norway’s Arctic policy: (first) our close relations to Russia, (second) climate change and (third) the rich natural resources in the region. Director Jan-Gunnar Winther dealt with the challenges of climate change in the Arctic in his address, so I’ll focus more on the other two issues.

Key driver 1: Norway-Russia.

Norway enjoys good, sound and stable bilateral relations with Russia.

Although our border is right where East met West – where the NATO Alliance met the Warsaw Pact – and although we are all too conscious about being a close neighbour to one of the world’s largest arsenals of nuclear weapons - the fact is also that in bilateral terms we have managed the region in a spirit of “High North – low tension”, and historically Norway has lived in peace with Russia for a thousand years.

Our relations are steadily expanding. Let me highlight some aspects:

Whereas our land border with Russia has remained fixed since 1826, our boundary at sea has been disputed – up to now. Our long sea boundary will for the future date from 2011.

Two weeks ago – on 7 June in Oslo – my Russian colleague and I exchanged our respective instruments of ratification for the delimitation treaty – a historic event indeed. The treaty will enter into force on 7 July 2011 – after 40 years of negotiations.

The disputed area of 175 000 square kilometres has been divided into two parts of approximately the same size.

The treaty will establish the necessary legal clarity for exploitation of natural resources in the area. It confirms the longstanding Russian-Norwegian fisheries cooperation, and regulates cooperation in case of possible cross-border hydrocarbon deposits. Thus, the delimitation line (shown on the map behind me) creates new ground for cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

The treaty demonstrates how good neighbours in the North can, peacefully and with patience, resolve issues of overlapping claims in accordance with international law. It will enhance predictability and stability in the Arctic even further.

We see prospects for potential petroleum resources – on both sides of the line. Norway will start seismic and other surveys before the end of the year. The Norwegian-Russian agreement will therefore have an impact on petroleum activities in new parts of the Barents Sea and create new opportunities for business and research science cooperation in both countries.

The agreement also establishes a framework for cooperation between our environmental authorities, with the aim of developing general management plans for the whole of the Barents Sea.

And thanks to close and extensive cooperation over several decades in the fisheries sector at all levels – research, catch quotas, combating illegal fishing, etc. – the cod stocks in the Barents Sea have grown steadily in recent years. Today it can be considered one of the best managed stocks in the world.

The military cooperation plan for 2011 is more expansive than ever. It includes more than 20 visits on different levels, including that of the Russian Chief of the General Staff to Norway and our Chief of Defence to Russia. For the third time the Russian-Norwegian exercise “Pomor” was successfully carried out in May 2011 in the Barents and Norwegian Seas, with the participation of a Norwegian and a Russian ship, as well as Norwegian and Russian fighter jets and maritime patrol aircraft.

The military cooperation – an important part of our bilateral relations – builds confidence as partners in the High North and develops skills for future cooperation.

Last year Norway and Russia also signed an agreement on local border traffic under the Schengen regime. Once it is ratified, the agreement will provide for freer movement across the border for citizens living within 30 kilometres on both sides.

Border crossings have increased from a few thousand people in 1990 to more than 140 000 last year. Today the region is marked by vibrant and growing cross-border cooperation in all fields – trade, culture, education, local politics, etc. More than 40 Norwegian companies are represented in the Murmansk region. In fact, the Barents region was recently singled out by the trendy journal Monocle as one of the world’s five most promising areas for doing business.

To sum up this point: We must acknowledge the obvious: Russia’s position as a key player in the Arctic as well as in shaping policies for the Arctic. Russia is the largest Arctic state. Norway and Russia have agreed on an important, fundamental principle (in our approach) – the importance of approaching this vast region on the basis of key principles of international law. We have demonstrated that good neighbours resolve complex issues in the Arctic by means of peaceful negotiations.

Norway and Russia have common challenges – and common responsibilities – up here in the North – and they call for common solutions.

Key driver 2: Natural resources.

I have defined Norwegian-Russian relations as one of the key drivers behind Norway’s Arctic policy. Another one is the natural resources – and business possibilities. I spoke briefly about the healthy fisheries sector. The melting ice in the Arctic Ocean is also making other resources more accessible.

There are important renewable and non-renewable resources in the Arctic. The prospect of developing the Arctic petroleum province is perhaps the main reason for the increasing interest in the Arctic over the past few years.
Some estimates indicate that the region may have more than 20% of the world’s total undiscovered petroleum resources. However, there is great uncertainty attached to these estimates (as they are based on discovery probability estimates and geological scenarios rather than technical field data).

At the same time, there is general agreement that much of these undiscovered resources are likely to be in the form of natural gas and to be found mainly in the West Siberian Basin and East Barents Basin, on both the Russian and the Norwegian side.
Significant petroleum production is already taking place in the Arctic, primarily onshore in Russia, but also in Norway and in several of the other Arctic states. The Norwegian Snow White field in the Barents Sea is the world’s northernmost offshore gas field, and the LNG processing facility on Melkøya Island off the northern coast of Norway (see photo behind me) is the first – and so far only – plant for liquefied natural gas in the Arctic region.

Statoil recently struck hydrocarbons in a reservoir containing between 25 and 50 million standard cubic metres of recoverable oil, and 2–7 billion standard cubic metres of recoverable gas. As (I believe) the Statoil representative told you, this is the biggest and most important discovery in many years – and it will help to secure energy supply to Europe at a time when the future of nuclear energy is – once again – being debated. The well is being drilled about 110 kilometres north of the Snow White field. This shows how petroleum activities are gradually being introduced in the Arctic.

With Russia we have established a project for the harmonisation of health, safety and environmental standards for petroleum activities in the Barents Sea. The project is essentially financed by industry partners with a modest contribution from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The project represents Norwegian offshore expertise combined with Russian cold-climate expertise – a highly successful collaboration.

Let me also comment on some of the effects of the melting ice in the Arctic. Let me stress that the key message of melting ice is that global warming is happening – it is happening fast – and there are no place you can observe it more strikingly than in the North.

So, above all this should be a clarion call for action – action to steer the international climate negotiations forward. There is a real impact of warmer weather for the Arctic region, as Dr Winther presented to you, but let us not forget that the most dramatic consequences for people will not happen here in the High North – but rather in Africa – or elsewhere where the global weather patterns will go through dramatic changes.

At the same time, the melting of the ice is also opening up new opportunities for international shipping (see map behind me). This may have important commercial implications. The journey from Shanghai to Hamburg via the Northern Sea Route, which runs along the coast of Russia, is 6 400 kilometres shorter than the route via the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal, saving almost 40% of the time generally spent, close to 20% of the fuel – and of course money. The Northern Sea Route would also make it possible to avoid bottlenecks like the Suez and Panama canals, and there are security benefits entailed in avoiding the Gulf of Aden.

However, the seas are stormy and navigation is difficult due to fog, ice forming on the deck, and the need to pass through narrow, shallow straits, particularly along the “inner” Northern Sea Route along the Russian coast. The sea ice conditions also vary from year to year, both in time and place. This means that regular commercial, cost-efficient logistics will be difficult, at least in the near future.

For the time being, ships going through the North Sea Route are reliant on icebreakers. Last summer, a cargo ship (Nordic Barents), carrying 41 000 tonnes of iron ore concentrate, sailed successfully from Kirkenes in the north of Norway to China, accompanied by two icebreakers from the Russian company Atomflot.

Knowledge is essential for addressing the challenges that Arctic shipping entails. The keyword is safety of navigation. It is especially important to maintain effective search and rescue services in such a large sea area. As I mentioned, for this reason, the Arctic Council Foreign Ministers signed at the meeting in Nuuk (in May) a legally binding agreement on cooperation on and coordination of search and rescue services.

We are also developing new regulations and standards for the design and equipment of ships operating in the Arctic, as well as clear guidelines for the training of personnel. Together with all our partners represented here today and others, Norway is working actively through the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to develop a mandatory polar code for ships operating in the Arctic region.

The development of Arctic shipping and hydrocarbon activities may be accompanied by a greater risk of oil spills. The Arctic Council has established a special task force with a mandate to negotiate an international instrument for prevention, preparedness and response, and define geographical areas of responsibility, mutual assistance procedures and logistics. Measures to boost search and rescue, shipping standards, health, environment and safety standards and oil spill prevention are vital to enable the orderly, safe and secure use of the Arctic marine areas.

These measures show that the coastal states and the Arctic Council take a holistic approach to the sustainable use of the Arctic. We are not focused exclusively on our rights but are conscious of our responsibilities as well.

“High North – low tension”.

Finally – let me sum up, with my favourite map – but also by challenging something else – namely your “mental maps” – the predisposed views of relations and facts in the North. Because we see it constantly – that we define this region with “cold war instincts”. It is wise, of course, not to abandon assumptions without thoroughly examining them. But here in the North, we need to do two things: remember why we had tensions and still may have tensions – but also look forward, towards the new realities that help shaping our room to work together.

We all know that the High North used to be a “cold war theatre”, an area where military tensions could be felt, which was the focus of international attention. Times changed, and after the end of the Cold War the Arctic was gradually relegated to the background, until we again began to focus on the region due – mainly – to the consequences of climate change.

Today, the Arctic is a peaceful region. There are no military threats in the classical sense of the word, actual or perceived. There are, however, challenges – and possibilities – we need to face and handle together – melting ice, sustainable use of natural resources, scientific cooperation, business opportunities, etc.

Greater interest in the region is not conducive to conflict. And there is no “race for the Arctic” either.

I therefore continue to brand our vision in this way: “High North – Low tension”. Our priority is to ensure that this continues to be the case despite the changes that increased human activity is bound to entail in the North.

The prospects are good. The policies and mechanisms that have been established in the region will ensure that close cooperation will continue: the Arctic Council, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, Nordic cooperation, bilateral arrangements, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, etc. Cooperative policies, agreed legal instruments and well functioning institutions make the High North an area of low tension.

To underpin this it is necessary to exercise jurisdiction, sovereign rights and authority in a credible, consistent and predictable manner in the High North. Knowledge, presence and capabilities – keywords for Norway’s High North strategy – promote stability and predictability.

NATO has an inherent role in the High North as a defence alliance – for Norway, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the United States (among others) – based on the principle that all parts of NATO territory enjoy equal security.

NATO’s presence and exercises in the High North are everyday business – as it has always been - and NATO is an integrated partner in our exercise of sovereignty.

NATO needs a knowledgeable, updated understanding of the High North – the reason why you are here – and NATO performs its role – as a security provider – in a transparent manner.

Times are changing and the relationship between Russia and NATO is evolving. NATO and Russia are now seeking joint approaches to common challenges. The NATO-Russia-Council (NRC) is an important forum. This steadily growing cooperation - and shared sense of responsibility for security and safety in the transatlantic area – are something we also bring with us with respect to common High North issues.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A hundred years ago, large parts of the Arctic – as well as the Antarctic – had not even been explored. It had not yet been established whether the central Arctic was ice-covered land or ice-covered ocean. In 2011 we are commemorating some of those pioneers – polar explorers, scientists – who opened up these regions to us:

We are celebrating that it is 150 years since Fridtjof Nansen – the humanist, politician, diplomat, polar explorer – was born, and we celebrate that his colleague Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole 100 years ago – on 14 December 1911.

We are also celebrating – together with our Russian friends – the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov. Their expeditions had scientific purposes and they used the cutting edge technology of their time – and the best and most multi-talented and experienced men they could find.

Lomonosov, Nansen and Amundsen – and others who followed their tracks – were always willing to go the extra mile in order to reach their formidable goals. We need to do the same today, by using knowledge, science, new technology and close cooperation across borders, languages and generations, as a basis for taking bold political action when we face the challenges and possibilities in the High North of our times.

– Thank you

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