Arne O. Holm says Increased Militarization of the High North is No Guarantee for Peace and Stability

Britiske og amerikanske soldater må returnere hjem. Foto: Forsvaret
The Norwegian government reinforces American presence in the High North. (Photo: Norwegian Armed Forces)

Commentary: The High North is Norway’s most important peace project, if we are to believe the government platform. In a time when MP’s need police assistance to find out where they actually live, it is perhaps too much to ask that they can find the road to peace and low tension in the Arctic.

The Hurdal platform, the new Norwegian government’s founding document, does not mention commuter housing and travel expense forms very much. On the other hand, it says quite a great deal about peace and stuff, this political document that is staking out the course for the Labor and Center Party government coalition.

In addition to highlighting the Arctic as Norway’s most important peace project, the document also states that “the government wants to contribute to low tension in our immediate neighborhood”. The neighborhood referred to is the one in the High North.

High tension or low tension?

According to the government, low tension is to be achieved “through Norwegian presence and through acting clearly, predictably and reassuring”.

A pretty clear message, in other words, yet also quite unfit as a description of the current high tension in the High North.

Just the other day, Norway’s new Defense Minister Odd Roger Enoksen came back to Norway following a visit to his American colleague Lloyd J. Austin III.

With him, he brought a not-so-small addendum to the Hurdal Platform, described in the defense magazine Forsvarets forum as well as here at High North News.

“We want more [military] exercise activity. It is increasing already, yet we want better coordination between the allies. This is important for decreasing tension.”

MP’s need police assistance to find out where they live

Stripped of the Christmas wrapping paper in which one often finds military jargon, his statement simply means that we have to pour in more American troops and arms in the High North in order to achieve the low tension in our neighborhood to which the government wants to contribute, according to the Hurdal Platform.

Barely any debate

The government that left office when current PM Jonas Gahr Støre assumed his had the same peacekeeping recipe. Increased American presence in the Arctic as a peacekeeping tool has broad support in parliament, the Storting; support so broad, in fact, that there is barely any debate about such a defining part of Norwegian security policy.

Add to that the argument that the government, according to the Hurdal Platform, also wants to “further develop bilateral cooperation with Russia in the High North”, the question becomes whether or not the Hurdal Platform and the arms speak the same language.

Or, to phrase it differently:

Can we expect Russia to view increased American presence in the High North as an invite to develop the bilateral cooperation between Norway and Russia?

Push comes to shove

Or do the Russians read it as a reinforcement of Northern Norway’s military strategic significance, a reinforcement that stands in sharp contrast to the general message about peace, stability and predictability in the High North?

There are obviously different views as to what creates peace and stability in the north.

Lieutenant-Colonel Tormod Heier of the Norwegian Army in a High North News interview characterized the previous government’s Arctic strategy as “a policy mainly focused on letting push come to shove in the relationship with Russia”.

Does the Hurdal Platform and the arms speak the same language?

My personal claim is that the current government continues and reinforces this policy line.

What is worrying, is that this happens with barely any political discussion at all.

When the police is done helping MP’s find out where they live, my wish is that the very same MP’s shall come out from their temporary residences and commuter houses and contribute to a debate about how big international military forces and weapons it will take before the government can start its first bullet point of the government platform.

To contribute to low tension in the High North through acting predictably and reassuring.

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This commentary was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.