When the current EU strategy on the Arctic was published in 2016, the world and the Arctic region was in a very different security setting. This reflects in the old strategy, where cooperation is a cornerstone, but the cooperative partners are mostly focused on preserving the environment and creating a forum for dialogue about fishing- and sailing rights.
For many reasons having such fora is a good idea. They allow for worries and concerns to be mentioned, discussed and solved peacefully and constructively which has proven successful on policy issues where there is a large, natural range for cooperation.
The new strategy should include a larger emphasis on global climate change, because as global temperature is expected to rise, dramatic changes to the geography of the Arctic is expected to happen as a result of water levels rising. This is also an argument for the new strategy containing a larger emphasis on security issues and security partners, as that will become crucial in the changing Arctic region.
Russia is arming and NATO is responding
We have already seen that since 2016, the Russian Federation has grown increasingly aggressive in the region, for example they have re-opened several Soviet-era military posts in the Arctic Sea and expanded their fleet in the Arctic region as well as treating the Northern Sea Route as their territory, which it is not, and increased the navy budget to expand the Russian fleet in the arctic and equipping military vessels there with the newest, most complex military technology.
Furthermore, the Russian Federation has posted and tested nuclear undersea drones and other nuclear military equipment.
This aggression and militarization of the Arctic zone, despite not being as expensive as in the Soviet Union era, raises concern to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and its member states. Therefore, there has been a need for NATO to respond.
So far, NATO has responded with an increasement of the number of troops active in the annual military exercises in the area as a form of deterrence. The 2020 iteration of the Cold Response exercise, for example, involved 16.000 troops compared to the 10.000 in 2006.The EU should formalize and deepen a partnership with the NATO alliance to keep the Arctic area free as it is today.
Many benefits of a strong partnership
The EU can benefit from NATO’s military expertise and mandate in a partnership and NATO can benefit from EU’s vast knowledge of and competency in diplomacy and policy coordination. For the Arctic this constellation is relevant because the Arctic is not only an area of military interest, but also of interest in terms of civilian issues.
This partnership should be with respect to national sovereignty of the Arctic states, for example by inviting relevant Arctic states to lead operations or meetings.
Such a constellation would make sense for all parties, respecting all interests and working constructively towards the common goal of keeping the Arctic accessible and secure in a time off climate change as well as continuing the EU-NATO tradition of peaceful dialogue for constructive cooperation.
The EU can already be used as a forum to create foreign policy, and NATO is a forum for executing foreign policy. Thus, an EU-NATO partnership about the military situation in the Arctic would give us, and our allies, a chance to discuss and coordinate policies before going into meetings in the Arctic Council, as Denmark is the only Arctic Council country that is already a member of both the EU and NATO.
This coordination of policy, as well as an increased level of knowledge from both organisations, could be a powerful tool in collectively deterring the aggressive situation in the Arctic.