From Gerard O’Dwyer, Defense News: Norway’s ambition of persuading NATO to establish a strong direct military presence in the Arctic High North — and as a strategic counterweight to Russia’s intensifying rearming programs in the region — suffered a setback after the leader of NATO said the alliance has no plans to expand its role there. . . .
Although NATO is aware of increasing concerns among Nordic and Baltic nations about Russia’s military rebuilding programs, there will be no major change in the alliance’s strategic position in the High North, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
“At this present time, NATO has no intention of raising its presence and activities in the High North,” he said.
Tensions in the region, and the potential for disputes over sovereign rights to the region’s estimated vast oil and natural gas resources, could be best handled through dialogue, the NATO chief said.
“The Arctic is a harsh environment. It rewards cooperation, not confrontation,” Rasmussen said. “I trust we’ll continue to see cooperation.”
Norway, he added, has a legitimate expectation like all other member nations to enjoy the benefits of the alliance’s collective defense, which extends to the High North.
The lack of a strengthened NATO presence in the High North will not hinder Norway’s plans to modernize and reinforce its High North defenses and maintain a strong level of spending to upgrade its military capabilities, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said.
“We have made the High North a top defense priority, and we will continue to encourage NATO and the European Union to play a higher role in its security,” he said. “The Arctic’s untapped mineral resources will bring it more into focus in future years. Dialogue is essential among the Arctic Council nations, including Russia, which we are working to form a better relationship with.”
Norway has urged NATO to work more closely with the country’s military to improve the alliance’s level of knowledge and situational awareness in the High North. Norway also would like to expand geographic expertise within NATO, proposing that the alliance improve connections between the national units within NATO’s command structure.
“Such a link between national structures and NATO would be a cost-effective way to better utilize the resources we already have,” Norway Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen said.
“Collective defense is the backbone of NATO,” she said. “We must ensure that we can operate well even after the operation in Afghanistan has ended. We must ensure that the alliance can act quickly, should a situation arise that makes this necessary.” (photo: NATO)