On the Edge: Up in the High North
A few weeks ago, I once again had the privilege of visiting Svalbard. Located halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the archipelago of Svalbard features the most northerly town in the world with more than 1,000 inhabitants. It’s named Longyearbyen and located on the western coast of Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago.
The town of Longyearbyen was in fact founded by John Munro Longyear from Michigan. Longyear was for a short time a mayor in the city of Marquette, but in 1906 he established the Arctic Coal Company and founded the town of Longyearbyen. During my visit to Svalbard, I was pleased to see the establishment of the most northerly part of the Progress Party team. 78 degrees North is a place known for hosting more polar bears than humans, but Longyearbyen Progress Party is now up and running.
The current Norwegian government has underlined that the area of most strategic importance to Norway is the High North. I agree, but if this is more than empty words, we must make sure that we put actions behind.
The policies that form the basis of our High North strategy must be clever and future-oriented. Svalbard is central in such a strategy. On Spitsbergen, only 55 km away from Longyearbyen, one finds the Russian town of Barentsburg, owing its existence to the Versailles conference, which handed Norway sovereignty over Svalbard but gave other countries the right to establish settlements. Only Russia took this up. Norway is the only neighboring country that has never been at war with Russia. Although our approaches in many areas may differ, the relations between our two countries are characterized as quite good and stable.
A future scenario of sailing through the Northeast Passage and across the Polar Sea will make Norway a gateway to the entire European market, and all transport from Europe through these routes will pass by. This will facilitate the development of port facilities and associated infrastructure in the North, including Svalbard. In that context it will be necessary to evaluate whether we could maintain the strict restrictions around Svalbard, or whether technological development would allow these to be relaxed a little.
It is estimated that 25 percent of the remaining petroleum resources in the world remains in the High North. This area will become one of the worlds dominating energy provinces. The world needs stability in energy supply, and Norway should continue being a stable energy provider for the future. The environmental side is important, but we need a realistic approach. Norwegian petroleum industry has been active for more than 30 years and drilled more than 1,000 wells in the North Sea and 60 wells in the Barents Sea.
Technology and environmental standards have developed through these years and created a stronger basis for sustainable petroleum activities, for example, in Vesterålen/Lofoten/Senja and the Barents Sea, although the Norwegian government decided not to elaborate any consequence study for first mentioned. For the government it was more important to secure the jobs for the four Socialist Left ministers in the coalition, than to lay the basis for the creation of thousands of new jobs for people living along the Northern coast of Norway. Luckily for them, we’re only two years away from the next election, which hopefully could lead the way to a change of position.
The Russians are rebuilding and reorganizing their military capacities, such as with the new Arctic brigade in the Kola Peninsula. This doesn’t necessary mean that they’re changing positions. The security and defence policy of Norway must be based on our national and strategic interests. A strong and operative military capacity in the North is essential if we really mean that the High North is more important than other areas. Such a capacity is also necessary if we want to take our role as a steward in the High North seriously. A good steward has a set of tools available and must also be prepared for complex situations.
Siv Jensen is the Leader of the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet) and also the parliamentary leader for the Progress Party`s group in the Storting (The Norwegian Parliament). The classical liberal (libertarian-conservative) Progress Party is the second largest party in Norway and the leading opposition party. Ms. Jensen has been elected member of the Storting since 1997, representing the district of Oslo. Ms. Jensen is member of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense and member of the Enlarged Foreign Affairs Committee.
Please bear in mind that opinions expressed in “On The Edge” are not necessarily those of the Norwegian American Weekly, and our publication of these views are not an endorsement of them.
This article was originally published in the April 22, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email email@example.com.