Newsletter: The High North on a Visit to the South

Utenriksminister Ine Eriksen Søreide under Arendalsuka 2019

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide speaking about the upcoming whitepaper on the Arctic during the Arendal Week. (Photo: Amund Trellevik)

Dear HNN reader! 

This week, High North News as well as other actors from Northern Norway have brought the High North and the Arctic all the way down south in Norway, to Arendal – a gem of a town.

The Arendal Week, a “political festival”, aims to be an annual national arena on which actors in politics, society, business meet each other as well as people and the public in order to debate and shape policies for the present as well as the future.

And if there ever were a time to discuss the presence as well as the future of the Arctic, that time is now.

Big changes emerging

The summer of 2019 has been the worst wildfire season ever and experts predict that coming summers will become even worse.

There is consensus among scientists t hat the global temperature will increase by one degree over the next years. However, in the Arctic it will increase by three to five degrees, on Svalbard by up to 10.

That makes the archipelago an indicator of what will happen with climate changes – both locally in the North as well as globally.

While the panelists at the debate about how climate changes affect and will affect Svalbard in the future are happy that increasing numbers of young scientists want to come to the Svalbard “climate lab” to study the changes in the field, they worry that their engagement is not reflected amongst decisionmakers.

If we are to judge by what was communicated when [Norwegian] Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide and Minister of Local Government and Modernization Monica Mæland presented the main outline for the upcoming whitepaper on the High North, they are right. Climate changes were barely mentioned.

The Foreign Minister emphasized that the relationship with Russia is challenging and makes work on the whitepaper harder.

Must start listening

Norwegian authorities consider Norway’s opening up for American soldiers in central and northern Norway on a rotational basis a response to Russian military build-up in the Arctic. However, NUPI researcher Julie Wilhelmsen argues the opposite.

- The increased military [Russian] assertion is a response to a development Russia does not want and that she has warned against since 2014. They are defensive measures against NATO and the USA, she said. She questions Norwegian authorities’ claiming not to understand the rationale behind increased Russian activity along the Norwegian coast.

Wilhelmsen fears that the conflict may escalate and grow dangerous if Norway de-legitimizes the Russians’ motives and does not recognize the build-up as a direct reaction to e.g. Trident Juncture.

Robert Mood, retired Lieutenant-General, agrees with the NUPI researcher in that the total Norwegian dependence on NATO and the USA may potentially drag Norway into a larger conflict. But he goes even further:

- If anyone next week wants to exploit Norway’s weaknesses in critical infrastructure, it would be very simple [to do so], he said to High North News following the debate “Total Defence in the High North – Are We in Control?”

Mood argues that Russian intelligence has far more knowledge about Norway’s weaknesses than most representatives at Stortinget, the parliament. He warns against believing that deterrence will work towards Russia.

Both FNI researcher Andreas Østhagen and Hedda Langemyr of UTSYN have written op-eds about this theme this week. (Norwegian only.)

Important young voices

Maintaining a good relationship to Russia is something young politicians in Northern Norway are concerned with too. We spoke to them about what they expect from the upcoming whitepaper.

- The good connection with Russia is lacking today. The government does not take responsibility to promote civil society cooperation with Russia. Cooperation with Russia is more or less left at the hands of the three northernmost countries alone, said a.o. Sander Delp Horn of Nordland County Labor Youth Party, and Jon Machlik of the Socialist Youth Party in Troms County concurred.

They all also pointed to the climate as being a very important issue.

Northerners without confidence

In addition to climate changes and balancing the relationships with Russia and the USA, there is yet another major obstacle hampering a vibrant Northern Norway: Business development.
If we are to believe the panelists in the debate “The Arctic – Will to Develop”, northerners may be their own worst enemy in the fight for a more feasible and sustainable business in the High North.

- Northern Norway is booming, we just have to start believing it ourselves, said President of Innovation Norway Håkon Haugli.

He was not the only one who wanted a more confident and less whining North Norwegian business. Both when facing investors and in applications for public funding support schemes, and also when specific North Norwegian projects like the Northern railway are discussed.

Christian Chramer of NHO, the Norwegian Confederation of Businesses, focused on the upcoming local and regional politicians growing better at facilitating good and long-term area and business plans that can provide businesses with more predictability and support to think ambitiously and for the future.

Talk more about the Arctic

High North News streamed most about the High North and Arctic debates live on our Facebook pages. We did not have the capacity to cover all of them with texts and images, however, the videos are there and can be enjoyed at your convenience.

More than 2,500 debates took place during the Arendal Week. And even though attendance was good and even great at most debates about the High North and the Arctic, it is not impossible that many who should have been in attendance were not.

Because knowledge of the Arctic is found wanting, in particular further south in Europe. You do not have to travel far to find people and communities who believe that the Arctic is just snow and ice, void of viable societies. The [Norwegian] Ministry of Foreign Affairs spends a lot of time communicating facts about the High North to the world, and that is also the encouragement to you from us at High North News this week.

Talk about the Arctic, about our living here, working here – and loving it!

Have a great weekend!
Siri Gulliksen Tømmerbakke
News Editor