A changing Arctic: Norway’s position
Kåre R. Aas
The Royal Norwegian Embassy
Those who have never been there might picture the Arctic as a monotonous expanse of ice and polar bears. But to many Norwegians, the Arctic is home. In fact, nearly 10 percent of Norway’s population lives north of the Arctic Circle—the highest such proportion of any Arctic nation.
Rather than a barren tundra, visitors to northern Norway will see a region bustling with life and human activity. The Norwegian Arctic is connected and thriving. In the Norwegian Arctic, warm water brought by the Gulf Stream keeps the ports ice-free year round. You will find airports, universities, innovative businesses, coffee shops, broadband internet, film festivals, and more. The people living in the region are at the core of Norway’s Arctic policy. Building resilient societies in the north is of strategic importance for Norway.
The Arctic is a place where Norway’s economic, political, and strategic interests come together. That is why Norway has worked hard to raise awareness about the Arctic for the past two decades. Today, the region does indeed get increased attention. This is not least because of climate change, which is affecting the Arctic at an alarming speed.
As the ice melts and the ocean warms, the fine-tuned ecosystems of the north are undergoing dramatic changes. Solutions to these challenges cannot be found within the Arctic alone, as the melting of the ice happens mainly because of activities outside the Arctic. We therefore need to find global solutions to cap emissions and halt the warming through green and sustainable solutions for the future.
Most of the maritime traffic in the Arctic passes through Norwegian waters. The changes taking place in the Arctic will make resources and shipping lanes increasingly accessible. As an Arctic coastal state, Norway exercises authority over and provides monitoring and emergency preparedness in sea areas that are more than five times the size of our landmass. We take these responsibilities seriously.
Together with our Arctic partners, such as the United States, Norway is working to ensure that any increased activity will not jeopardize the fragile environment or the responsible management of resources. We believe the Norwegian experience shows that it is possible to harvest the bountiful ocean resources responsibly and sustainably. As an old seafaring and fisheries nation, Norway has a strong record of strict standards and diligent enforcement at sea.
The fact that the Arctic will open up as the ice melts leads some outside observers to assume that there will be a race for the resources in the north. But the Arctic is not an ungoverned no man’s land. An extensive national and international legal framework already applies to the region. The Law of the Sea provides the basic architecture for all ocean governance in the Arctic.
Most of the resources and activities in the Arctic fall under the national jurisdiction of one of the Arctic states. The region is not up for grabs. All of the Arctic coastal states—Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States—have agreed that any overlapping claims shall be resolved in an orderly way. Norway settled the maritime border with Russia in 2010 after 40 years of negotiations.
The Arctic also has an institutional framework. For decades, the eight Arctic states (Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States) have cooperated in the Arctic Council, based on common interests and respect for international law. We should all work hard to maintain the peace and stability of the region.
Norway and the United States have a strong dialogue on Arctic issues. We agree that the Arctic Council is the primary arena for Arctic discussions. On a regional level, the cooperation between businesses and academia in northern Norway and Alaska continues to grow. I have had the pleasure of visiting Alaska several times.
The people of all parts of the Arctic face many of the same challenges, as climate change alters the region. This makes it even more important to keep up the good cooperation that has been the region’s hallmark. Norway will work diligently to keep it that way.
Kåre R. Aas became ambassador of Norway to the United States on Sept. 17, 2013, having most recently served as political director in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo. He was also Norway’s ambassador to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2010. From 2003 to 2008, Ambassador Aas served as director general in the Department for Security Policy and the High North, where his portfolio included the bilateral relationships between Norway and the United States, as well as Russia and the Central Asian republics.
This article originally appeared in the March 6, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.