Arne O. Holm says The Arctic Arms Race Extends Beyond Military Power

KNM Thor Heyerdal, en av Norges fire fregatter, er her på oppdrag for å vise tilstedeværelse i nordlig del av Norskehavet og i Barentshavet. (Foto: Marius Vågenes Villanger/Sjøforsvaret)
KNM Thor Heyerdahl, one of Norway's four frigates, on a mission to show presence in the northern part of the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea. (Photo: Marius Vågenes Villanger / the Norwegian Navy)

Commentary: The proposal of an extensive rearmament of the Navy in the North is not just about military capacity. It is just as much about the security policy approach to Russia and who will keep their hands on the wheel in the Arctic.

Les på norsk.

The Norwegian government's proposal for a new long-term defense plan includes an extensive strengthening of the Norwegian Navy. New submarines, new frigates, and other types of Navy and Coast Guard vessels are among the items on the government's list of actions.

Increased presence

The proposal aligns with both the Defense Commission and the Chief of Defense Eirik Kristoffersen's recommendations. The commission particularly pointed to the challenges at sea for a country with a very long coastline. The obvious arguments include an aggressive Russia and exposed and vulnerable sea areas - vulnerable in regard to supply lines and international energy supply from the Norwegian sector.

Or as the commission puts it: The prospects of stability and low tension in Norway's vicinity areas are worse than they have been for a long time, and the Norwegian value creation in the same area has never been greater. 

In these sea areas, Norway has significantly increased its presence through military exercises and operations, together with the USA and other NATO countries. This happens concurrently as the Northern Fleet is given more emphasis and strengthened with several submarines.

However, this is about more than military capacity.

Predictability replaced by surprise.


It is also about holding on to a security policy built on predictability in the relationship with Russia. This is not a strategy shared and adhered to by a collective NATO.

In the American doctrine, predictability has been replaced by surprise.

It is this difference that the Norwegian Navy Chief, Rear Admiral Oliver Berdal, points to in an interview with High North News.

"We must be able to protect our maritime interests independently," says Berdal, and adds:

"If we had to leave this form of patroling mostly to others, it could worsen situational awareness and create challenges that go against the low tension we desire in the North."

A defense chief could not provide a clearer description of the differences in strategic thinking among allies.

Invasive agreements with Finland and Sweden.

Norway and Russia know each other. Russia's attack on Ukraine has not changed that, although much of the knowledge deteriorated when the direct contact between the countries is at an absolute minimum.


The Norwegian approach to Russia has been and should still be a combination of deterrence and reassurance. Yet, the US has gradually gripped increasingly more decisively around the Norwegian security policy in the Arctic as well, reinforced by the somewhat invasive bilateral agreements with the new NATO countries Finland and Sweden.

Following a short hearing, Norway's renegotiated supplementary defense cooperation agreement with the US is now being processed by parliament. At the same time, the parliaments in Sweden and Finland will decide on bilateral defense agreements with the US for the first time.

It is problematic, and it happens almost entirely without political debate.

As Rear Admiral Oliver Berdal says, strengthening the navy in the North is necessary for the low tension we still desire in the North.

Giving away expertise and control in the North is a bad security policy.

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