Moscow/Arkhangelsk: In less than six weeks, four of the Arctic states have rolled out or will roll out their High North strategies. There are great ambitions for a ‘land’ that does not exist on the map. Because the Arctic is a state of mind as much as a geographic area.
Just over three weeks ago, I was in Arkhangelsk listening to Russian President Vladimir Putin presenting his vision for growth and peace in the north.
Not long after, the journey went to Bodø, where a.o. Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Foreign Minister Børge Brende presented the new Norwegian High North Strategy.
In just over a week, Fairbanks, Alaska is up. For the first time a Republican Foreign Minister, Rex Tillerson, attends a top-level meeting of the Arctic Council. There is much curiosity about what ambitions Donald Trump’s administration has for the Arctic.
On the very same day, Thursday 11 May, Finland takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from the USA. Thus, the Finnish High North Strategy will also be presented.
The paradox of war
Right now I am back in Arkhangelsk, following a 24-hour train journey from Moscow. The endless taiga has been a faithful companion along the way. There are about 40 towns en route, but I have hardly seen anyone at all.
There is a large contrast from gigantic Moscow to the Russian countryside.
As is the Arctic. An almost infinite wilderness in sharp contrast to vibrating cities.
But also an international fellowship at a safe distance from brutal war areas.
Therein lies the paradox.
For while both the USA and Russia participate on each their side of conflicts further south, the dialogue in the north continues. The Arctic becomes the glue that keeps the world together, even in the midst of cruel brutatlity.
When Putin organized his grand, Arctic conference in Arkhangels, he did so under the slogan “The Arctic – Territory of Dialogue”.
The Norwegian High North Strategy (Norwegian only) also builds on international dialogue and cooperation, in particular in relation to our Russian neighbor.
The same is emphasized in the Finnish High North Strategy.
And even with Donald Trump being the US President, Foreign Minister Rex Tillerson will most definitely emphasize dialogue when he enters the podium in Fairbanks. This is further underlined by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov’s participating at the meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska.
For the record; other Foreign Ministers will also be attending, like our own Børge Brende.
The situation was different when Canada passed the chairmanship to the USA two years ago. Following a heated war-of-words, where in particular Canada was very aggressive, Russia chose to miss out on the meeting. A meeting that was more or less just noted in the passing.
The question raised most often now, is whether the Arctic dialogue, the Arctic fellowship, is robust enough to withstand the conflicts that play out further south.
There is fear that the brutality shall spread, though most assume the contagiousness to be limited. Many argue that the situation in and around North Korea represents the biggest insecurity.
It also demonstrates most clearly how important the Arctic cooperation is.
The people are most important
The High North, or the Arctic, is the territory of dialogues; however, it is also the hope of millions of people fleeing from war and despots.
If the Arctic countries are to be able to continue their cooperation, it requires their continually placing the Arctic human at the center of their policies. Continued economic growth is a tool, not a goal in and of itself.
A tool for creating secure, social and democratic structures.Because that is how we enable ourselves to help people who are about to lose their basic right of survival.
This text was translated by Elisabeth Bergquist, High North News.