“Norway has an unstable and more dangerous Russian neighbor that will affect Norwegian High North policy”, says Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt (Labor).
“30 years of development in Norwegian neighbor policy towards Russia has changed. That will affect our High North policy”, Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt announced when giving addressing the Norwegian parliament with a foreign policy briefing on Tuesday.
She referred to the war as a pivotal turning point that will change the framework for Norwegian foreign and security policy.
“Now we have an unstable, unpredictable and thus more dangerous Russian neighbor in the North”, Huitfeldt said during her brief, which was mostly centered on the war in Ukraine and the consequences it has for Norway and the High North.
She announced that the long-term consequences may be significant and that the war is a brutal reminder about what foreign policy is all about.
It may, amongst others, mean that Finland seeks NATO membership and that Sweden may follow suit. It is too soon to tell what the outcome will be and how the Nordics will be affected.
“Nevertheless, a strategic and security policy turning point for the Nordics, and through that; for Norway, is emerging”, Huitfeldt said.
Before NATO’s summit on Thursday, Huitfeldt invited parliament, Stortinget, to cooperation about how Norwegian authorities can secure broad support for Norwegian security policy interests.
We must demonstrate our ability to stand united when push comes to shove
She believes it is nevertheless too soon to judge about the full extent of consequences for Norwegian security and foreign policy, however, she warns that the consequences may be significant.
On Monday, Swedish PM Magdalena Anderson (S) visited the Cold Response 2022 NATO exercise in Northern Norway, joined by opposition leader Ulf Kristersson (M).
“That is telling”, Huitfeldt pointed out that this is not the time to ride one’s hobby horse.
The new, Nordic community will be important in the time ahead.
“We must demonstrate our ability to stand united when push comes to shove. To not consciously misunderstand one another the security policy debate, and demonstrate our ability to cooperate with our neighbors.”
A new era
“We have had several good decades behind us. A deep peace. Key Norwegian security and foreign policy interests, as well as our immediate areas, have not been challenged much. For 30 years, we have been fortunate”, the foreign minister says and adds that this now has changed.
The MFA is currently reviewing the service’s design in order to equip Norway in the diplomatic field too when facing a new era in Europe.
First of all, it will affect the security policy in our immediate areas
Because the war will not only affect Norwegian security politics and our relationship with Russia, but also the entire political landscape when it comes to markets, energy prices and food shortage.
She says Norway is perhaps the country in the world that is best situated to handle this.
A turning point
The foreign minister further stresses the government’s emphasis on a clear and predictable foreign policy and says the war in Ukraine is a turning point for Norwegian as well as European security.
The sanctions from the EU, USA and other states has led the Russian economy to drop dramatically and Norway has joined the EU’s extensive sanctions.
What is certain, is that the war in Ukraine will have, and has had, major consequences – for Norway too.
“First of all, it will affect the security policy in our immediate areas. We now have an assertive and aggressive neighbor to the East who is willing to use military power to reach its targets”, Huitfeldt said and added that this is the reality Norway will have to face.
Yet the Norwegian security policy is to continue to be recognizable and predictable.
Norway is not, never was and never will be a threat against Russia.
“Deterrence and reassurance are still the core elements of our approach to Russia. Even in the current situation, we cannot choose between the two. However, deterrence and reassurance are not two equal sizes”, she says and refers to deterrence as the rock on which Norwegian security rests.
And the deterrence is NATO.
“Reassurance is to contribute to preventing misunderstandings, reduction tension and promoting dialogue. We need both. It is decisive for our security that Norway can be bolstered by the Allies during crisis or war”, the foreign minister said.
That requires the Norwegian Armed Forces to train and exercise with its allies during peace time, and for advance storages to be in place beforehand, not after a crisis has emerged.
Defending the additional agreement
In the 1990s and 2000s, most of the allied infrastructure in Norway was relinquished. That is why, Anniken Huitfeldt argues, the additional agreement about defense cooperation with the USA (SDCA) is so important.
“We need infrastructure to be able to receive reinforcements and that is what the agreement is to contribute towards. The reinforcement policy and all its elements – exercising, training, advance storing and infrastructure – are not a threat to the base policy”, Huitfeldt said.
“It is a precondition for the base policy. The target has always been the same; reinforcement during crisis and war, not a permanent presence. It is crucial for us to demonstrate solidarity with our Allies, just as we expect solidarity if we were to need it one day.”
At the same time, we limit allied military activity that may appear provoking to Russia
At the same time, reassurance is still important.
“Norway is not, never was and never will be any threat against Russia. That is why it has been important to us to draw up clear lines in the work with the SDCA agreement: The Norwegian base policy, nuclear policy and limitations for foreign military activity in Norway during peace time remain firmly in place.”
Huitfeldt stresses the fact that Norway enjoys a close and good cooperation with its allies.
“At the same time, we limit allied military activity that may appear provoking to Russia. Our self-imposed restrictions have always been just that; self-imposed.”
She stresses that Norway always has practiced transparency when it comes to military exercises in Norway.
“We notice Russia in advance and maintain an open line of communication between the Joint Operations Headquarters and the Russian Northern Fleet, even today.”
She argues that these self-imposed restrictions do not weaken Norwegian security, but rather strengthen it.
Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine leads to radical changes in our bilateral relationship with Russia
“And we have chosen these ourselves, just as we chose NATO membership all on our own.”
Another consequence of the war will be the progress of global disarmament efforts, which also affects Norway. The USA and Russia established a bilateral dialogue about strategic stability last year.
“That is now facing an uncertain future, however, it is crucial for nuclear weapon states to have such a dialogue. In a time when war rages and in which Putin has announced the mobilization of nuclear weapon forces, committed cooperation about nuclear disarmament is demanding. However, this cooperation has to be strengthened, because the alternative is worse”, Huitfeldt said.
Along with countries in and outside NATO, Norway wants to increase efforts for nuclear disarmament and contribute to focusing on the disastrous humanitarian consequences of nuclear arms.
Cooperation forums affected
Regional organizations of significance to Norway, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Arctic Council, are affected. It is too soon to tell what the consequences will be.
“Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine leads to radical changes in our bilateral relationship to Russia. We will notice this in particular in the High North. The High North is in many ways the frontline for a strong and robust Norway”, Huitfeldt says and refers to the High North as a national concern of major strategic importance.
“In the High North, regional politics and security politics are finely interwoven. No people, no security. No security, no people.”
In the Barents cooperation, the people-to-people contact is suffering
It is too soon to say anything for sure about the long-term consequences for Norway’s High North.
Arctic Council without Russia
“However, High North politics is not a one-single project. It is a Norwegian core interest. It affects all sectors, the whole government, and the whole country.”
Next year, Norway takes over the chair of the Arctic Council. It will be a different leadership than what anyone had imagined. Russia is an important and large Arctic state.
“However, cooperation with Russia in the Arctic Council has been put on hold. In the Barents cooperation, people-to-people contact is suffering. And it hits both ordinary Russians and ordinary Norwegians. In the future, we must think wisely about how we organize this cooperation and use our support arrangements. Our initiatives are aimed at Putin’s Russia, not Russians.”
What we cannot do anything about, is geography. Russia will remain Norway’s neighbor and will be there also when the Putin regime one day is history.
“Joint borders, joint resources, and joint challenges in the North makes us want to have a functioning practical cooperation with Russia in the North that works well. Without it, we run the risk of the cod stock in the Barents Sea collapsing.”
And that is not in the interest of Norway, nor of Europe.
“We can nevertheless not take for granted that the practical cooperation in the North will remain, however, we will not be the ones destroying it”, Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt said in closing.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.