It Is Time to Discard the District Policy in the North

Strengthening security and preparedness in Kirkenes has nothing to do with district policy. (Photo: Arne O. Holm)

Commentary: As international tension increases in the North, national responsibility is weakened. According to a report on the preparedness in the North, it may be time to discard district policy as a device in the North " because it is serious now. "

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The Arctic conference season has officially begun. In the coming weeks, I will return to 'school' to learn how things are going here in the North.

Yet, where I previously listened to foreign and security policy visions about the High North under the auspices of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, High North policy in Norway, is now the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development's field.

This is happening at the same time as Russia continues its warfare against a neighboring country, and the military activity is increasing nearly every day.

A paradox

This is a paradox. This international situation demands clear prioritization, particularly within healthcare, infrastructure, energy, preparedness, demography, and military presence. These challenges are not solved through traditional district policy.

A clear example is the controversy surrounding the Northern Norway Regional Health Authority's suggestion to attenuate emergency preparedness. Only after massive activism by doctors, health personnel, and the local population did the government step up and order the Health Authority to maintain necessary health preparedness in the North.

No matter where you live or who you are.

District policy measures are welcome to be used where they work, in central or Western Norway. On the border with Russia, however, district policy should be discarded and replaced by what this is really about: Norwegian foreign and security policy.

The term district policy is meaningless in relation to the challenges Norway is facing in the North. This meaninglessness reaches new heights as I examine the political parties' platforms, searching for a district policy adapted to the current reality.


The government's district policy aims for "people to be able to live good lives across Norway, that all local communities have room for development and value creation, and that the population will grow in district municipalities."

Unsurprisingly, the government party, the Centre Party, has the longest list of district policy measures. "We want to develop all of Norway" is the title of "The District Promise 2025". "Society is to be built from the down-up," reads the Centre's promise, which promises that "everyone will live good lives in good homes wherever they wish."

The High North is vulnerable to unforeseen incidents.

The flow of people moving from the North to the South continues, proving that not all northerners have gotten the message.

The Conservative Party says it is "about building the country together, spreading power, and releasing the districts from central overrule." In an attempt to separate itself from other parties, the Conservative Party emphasizes that it is concerned with "specific measures with real significance."

The Green Party wants it to be "good and safe to live in green Norway, whether in the city or rural areas and no matter who you are," while the Red Party wants "active and alive districts where people can live."

There are other parties, but I give up the search for a district policy adapted to the gravity of the North. The common thread is "all of Norway" and not the security policy situation in the North.

Same shit

Elverum or Kirkenes. Geilo or Narvik. Same shit.

The use of measures in the North is not about district policy.

The High North policy has gradually forced its way out of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and into the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development. This has been conscious politics.

Even the Barents Secretariat has been kicked out of the nest and into the district policy.

One argument for this shift is that it will increase national support for the domestic policy dimension of the High North policy.

The opposite is true.

Insisting that the use of measures in the North is district policy, not national security policy, is jumbling the terms together.

If one doubts whether there are differences between the "districts" in Norway, one could start by reading Chief of Defense Eirik Kristoffersen's professional military advice from last year. The High North's military significance is emphasized again and again, like here:

"Ability for situational awareness in Norway's immediate areas, with particular emphasis on the High North."

In comparison, Oslo is barely mentioned, except for saying that the Armed Forces has offices in Oslo.

The Defense Commission

Next on the reading list is the Defense Commission's report, also presented last year. The High North is mentioned 63 times, for example, when the commission writes, "A small defense with limited depth entails that Norway's ability to protect national freedom of action in our immediate areas is limited and that our dependence on others is increasing."

The opposite is true. 

This commission also touches on Oslo, but first and foremost, as the committee members' home address or in overviews of where the commission meetings have been conducted.

The final depiction of the situation in the North belongs to the Total Preparedness Commission, which presented its report in June last year. If we have not grasped the gravity yet, the committee's leader, former chief of defense Harald Sunde, reminds us in every lecture he gives.

The High North is mentioned 54 times in the report, including to emphasize that "good preparedness in the High North is becoming more important" and by dedicating a whole chapter to it.

"The demographic development, the long distances, and the area's security policy significance make the High North vulnerable to unforeseen incidents and contribute to some preparedness challenges being clearer and more pressing in this region compared to the rest of the country," reads one of the report's analyses.

Something entirely different

I will stop there. One must be incredibly dim-witted not to understand that the use of measures in the North is about something entirely different from district policy. This does not mean that "district policy measures" cannot be significant in the North.

It just means that the demographic, preparedness, and military challenges in the North do not hinge on districts but on the nation's security.

In October, when the government announced it would strengthen efforts in the High North with "a new model for cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development," a part of the argument was that the geopolitical development in the North required more efforts from the MFA to protect Norway's international interests.

That is a correct analysis, but it should also be used to protect our national interests. Therefore, the MFA should strengthen, not attenuate, its grip on the use of measures in the North. 

The High North is about national security and preparedness, not district policy.

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