Militarizing the Arctic

OSLO/BERLIN | | norwegen

OSLO/BERLIN (Own report) - The German government is broadening its military policy engagement into the Arctic region. According to reports following a meeting of several Northern European and the Baltic region defense ministers - with Germany attending for the first time - the participating countries are seeking to enhance their military cooperation. Their cooperation should include joint military maneuvers in the High North, the Norwegian defense minister reported. The melting of the Polar Cap over the next few decades will not only provide access to the natural resource deposits buried under the Arctic Ocean, but also open new maritime trade routes toward the booming regions of Eastern Asia. German transport vessels are already using large parts of these routes to supply Western Siberia. With the growing role played by the military aspect, Berlin has, already since some time, been trying to win influence in the political dispute over Arctic hegemony. Observers note the beginnings of an arms race in the Arctic. Germany seeks to broaden its influence via the EU and its close cooperation with Norway. To optimize its controlling capacities in the North, Norway has recently moved its Operational Command Headquarters from the south to the Northern part of the country.

Security in the High North

The Northern European and Baltic countries are seeking to broaden their military cooperation, the Norwegian defense minister declared, following a meeting of eight North European countries last Wednesday, that was enlarged for the first time, to include representatives of Germany, Great Britain and Poland.[1] The meeting's agenda included not only NATO's new strategic concept and the war in Afghanistan, but also "security challenges in the High North".[2] According to the German defense ministry, the focus is particularly on the control of maritime routes along Europe's northern coastline. And Oslo would like to intensify cooperation in areas such as operational capabilities or joint military exercises. "Norway would welcome more allied units to take part in exercises set in our demanding natural environment," the Norwegian defense minister declared. Christian Schmidt, Parliamentary State Secretary in the German Ministry of Defense, announced at the Nordic-Baltic meeting of defense ministers that Germany will continue its participation.[3]

Trade and Raw Materials

The melting of the Arctic ice, which has accelerated over the past few years, is the reason for Berlin's new military activities in the High North. Last month, a report, commissioned by the US government, confirmed that the warming of the Arctic is rapidly advancing, with temperatures reaching a record high around the North Pole. The period in which Greenland is covered with snow has reached a record low and the average volume of ice is receding. The time is approaching when access to raw material deposits under the Arctic Ocean will become profitable. Even though the findings have not been confirmed, it is estimated that these natural resources constitute up to one-fourth of the global oil and natural gas deposits. German shipping companies are hoping to use the "North East passage" along the Northern European and Asian coasts in the near future to transport goods between Europe and the booming regions of eastern Asia, which also means a considerable potential for cutting costs, if the route is ice-free long enough. This route is several thousand kilometers shorter than those used today and free of the threat of piracy. Last year, the Beluga Group shipping company in Bremen made a test transporting goods to South Korea and saved 350,000 US-Dollars per ship.[4] Beluga has already been maintaining maritime transport along the Western part of the route - from Europe to Western Siberia.

GeoPolitics in the High North

Unable to lay claim on any part of the Arctic, Germany is nevertheless seeking to gain influence via the EU. Even though the Arctic country, Greenland, is not a member of the EU, its defense is guaranteed by the EU member Denmark. In 2008 Brussels initiated comprehensive activities aimed at the Arctic Ocean, including the adoption of the Commission paper "The European Union and the Arctic Region".[5] On the other hand, Berlin is also trying to secure its influence via NATO member, Norway, which is also bordering on the Arctic. The German chancellery financed Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) is participating in a 4-year research program that is organized by the "Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies" and financed by the Norwegian government. The program "GeoPolitics in the High North" is analyzing the interests, claims and activities of all the countries in the High North - Denmark, the EU and Norway, the USA, Canada and Russia - and is developing initial proposals for an Arctic strategy. To counterbalance US influence, Germany insisted on involving Russian think tanks in the project.

Military Buildup

The countries of the High North have already begun to secure their influence in the Arctic Ocean. Since 1989, they have built at least 66 warships that can be used or were particularly designed for combat in the Arctic Sea, a Canadian specialist wrote last spring. Last summer, Denmark and the USA participated for the first time in a Canadian military exercise in the Arctic, just after the Canadian Air Force intercepted two Russian fighter jets in the High North. Moscow resolutely rejected the Canadian claim that the Russian fighter jets had entered "Canadian airspace". Russia, in turn, announced its intention to regularly patrol the Arctic Ocean with warships and submarines beginning in 2015. And Norway has recently opened an Operations Center at its new Operational Command Headquarters at Reitan outside Bodø in northern Norway. "The move is in line with the Government's increased focus on the northern regions. With the new location above the Arctic Circle, Norway's supreme operational command will get first hand contact with all questions concerning the High North."[6]

Possible NATO Interventions

Because of this growing militarization of the Arctic, Germany is seeking to develop its own military activities in the High North in cooperation with Oslo. The Arctic Ocean is "the most profound maritime challenge of the near future," the Parliamentary State Secretary in the German Ministry of Defense, Thomas Kossendey, recently observed, and it could bring about a "resurgence of territorial disputes".[7] The Bundeswehr's Center for Transformation also foresees the possibility of a NATO intervention in the Arctic Ocean: The fact that four of the five countries bordering on the Arctic Ocean are NATO members, could signify that "in case of territorial disputes (…) involving a non NATO member country (…) the Transatlantic Alliance could get involved."[8] Already last year, one could hear from the German Bundeswehr that Berlin is wondering whether German military "ships, boats and aircraft that are already deployed" could be used in "maritime operations in regions of the High North."[9] These considerations are also reflected by Berlin's initiation of regular military cooperation with the Northern European and Baltic countries. The planning of joint military exercises are the first steps toward direct military cooperation in a possible theatre of operations in the future.

Please read also Ice Cold War, Cold War at the North Pole, Bridgehead to the Arctic and Arctic Roadmap.

[1] Regelmäßige Teilnehmer des "Nordic-Baltic and Extended Nordic-Baltic Defence Minister Meeting" sind: Dänemark, Estland, Finnland, Island, Lettland, Litauen, Norwegen und Schweden.
[2] Desire for broad cooperation in the North; 12.11.2010
[3] Staatssekretär Schmidt in Oslo: Nordisch-baltische Sicherheit im Fokus; 12.11.2010
[4] see also Vor fremden Küsten
[5] see also Eiskalter Krieg (II)
[6] Operations Center opened at NATO's first HQ above Arctic Circle; 10.11.2010
[7] Deutschlands Sicherheit von See her denken; MarineForum 7/8-2010. See also Die Seekriege der Zukunft
[8] Peak Oil. Sicherheitspolitische Implikationen knapper Ressourcen; Zentrum für Transformation der Bundeswehr, Juli 2010
[9] Markus Kraus-Traudes: "Arktis wird eisfrei!" ... und das bedeutet? MarineForum 11/2009. See also Arctic Roadmap