Russian military buildup in the Arctic has northern NATO members uneasy - article for DefenseNews

This article dated 11.04.21 is by Sebastian Sprenger who is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.


COLOGNE, Germany — Russia’s continued military investments in the Arctic may spur NATO to accord the region a more prominent focus in the alliance’s defense planning, according to Nordic officials and analysts.


The push comes amid a delicate dance by northern European governments to both deter and cooperate with Moscow — simultaneous efforts that risk drowning in a pit of fresh geopolitical ambitions laid bare by climate change.


A warming Arctic is opening new fronts of competition in the resource-rich region — even faraway China is getting involved — that could spill over into a security problem for the alliance. If that happens, NATO should have a strategy in place to manage the conflict, the thinking goes.


“You have so many components for a classic security dilemma increasing in the Arctic,” Anna Wieslander, the Stockholm-based director of the Atlantic Council’s Northern Europe program, said in an interview. “It’s not about immediately putting more surveillance up there, or more troops and military installations; it’s more about getting a joint understanding of how to deal with it and find ways forward, if it’s possible, with the Russians.”


NATO member Norway, which shares a border with Russia, has long walked the line between alarm over Russia’s military buildup on the nearby Kola Peninsula, home to Russia’s Northern Fleet, and seeking good neighborly relations on fisheries management and coast guard cooperation.


The Norwegian military headquarters and the Northern Fleet headquarters near Murmansk have maintained a hotline even after Oslo cut all other defense ties following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.


“We are working on an open dialogue with Russia,” Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said at a March 19 virtual conference organized by the Atlantic Council. The idea is to “lift” whatever successful instruments are still in place, he added, namely the joint search-and-rescue service and the crisis telecommunications channel.


But Norwegian officials are getting increasingly spooked by Russian long-range missiles, new underwater weaponry and naval exercises inching closer to the coastlines of NATO allies. They see Moscow returning to a version of the Cold War-era “bastion concept,” a kind of area-denial strategy that sought to create safe waters for Soviet nuclear submarines to stage a nuclear counterstrike in the case of an atomic war.


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