Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide (Conservatives) would have preferred for the eight Arctic states to agree on a joint declaration prior to the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Rovaniemi, Finland.
ROVANIEMI, FINLAND: - The outcome did not come completely out of the blue. At one point it became obvious that it would take a lot to arrive at a joint declaration. The Americans had made a clear choice about that. And we, the remaining seven countries, did not want a declaration with too weak language about climate issues. That is why we could not arrive at a compromise on that. Yet we also see that Finland’s summary is very clear about climate change and in that way reflects our view, she says to High North News immediately after the meeting.
The statement that was signed at the opening of the meeting says that the majority of the members note climate changes with concern and consider it a major challenge.
When asked about what signal this formulation sends to the rest of the world, the minister responds:
- I am not very surprised, given how the American have furthered that agenda. That has led our climate cooperation with the USA being more about our cooperating largely with the various states, which are very forward-leaning and proactive both when it comes to new technology as well as the green shift, than with the USA on a federal level. We have to take note of their political policies on climate while we also underline the strong and fundamental disagreement that exists in other areas.
She points at Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statements about the commitment to the Arctic Council and Arctic cooperation.
- This is in fact only the second time ever that all eight foreign ministers are convened. And that goes to say something about the priorities made in the Arctic Council.
Pompeo free to speak out
Mike Pompeo held an unannounced speech in which he lashed out against Russia, China and partly also Canada.
Søreide is not very surprised about what many perceived to be a solo stunt from the US Secretary of State.
- The Americans are, of course, free to do this, without my having any knowledge of what they may have agreed about with the Finnish chairmanship beforehand. Pompeo is on a tour to several countries in the region and has given talks in most of them. I also believe that there is a certain expectation that when an American foreign minister comes to visit, some form of statement will be given.
It is important to her to emphasize that there is good cooperation in the Arctic and in the Arctic Council.
- And it does not come about for free. We have worked really hard and made many difficult political decisions in order to get there. And we have to be prepared to do that in the future too. There will be no less hard work to keep the Arctic a peaceful region and as a region in which we actually solve what we perceive to be joint problems.
Only hours before the opening of the Ministerial Meeting, Pompeo said in his speech that “There are only Arctic and non-Arctic states. There is no third category. And claiming something else gives China exactly zero rights”.
Norway’s foreign minister largely agrees with Pompeo on this:
- We are clear that cooperation with non-Arctic states in the Arctic must take place on the conditions that exist. International law, the UN Law of the Seas, the frameworks and regulations we have agreed on for this cooperation. They should be respected. Even if we want good cooperation with China and other countries, this will have to take place on the premises we outline.
“A bit special”
Pompeo also attacked what he argues is a Russia rattling her sabers.
- Russia is already leaving its footprints in the snow in the form of military boots. No one denies that Russia has significant Arctic interests. We recognize that Russia is not the only Arctic nation making illegal claims. The USA has a long-standing dispute with Canada regarding the Northwest Passage, Pompeo said.
- What does this signify? Has the international spillover effect reached the Arctic Council?
- I believe we shall be very careful before interpreting it that far, Søreide says in introduction, and continues:
- What Pompeo says is not really new, though it is a bit special for it to be uttered in the context of an Arctic Council meeting. Based on what Pompeo said yesterday during dinner and from the podium, there is nothing that goes to indicate that the Americans have lost interest in the Arctic as a peaceful and stable region – on the contrary. However, the choice of words is slightly different from what we are used to and what we have seen now for two, two and a half years, and that takes some getting used to, of course. However, I do perceive the Americans too to be committed to cooperation and to the Arctic Council.
Americans have a long-term perspective
She believes that the key to understanding the speech and the purpose of its message is to realize that the USA wants to signal renewed engagement with the Arctic and that they are looking far into the future to identify potential problem areas.
- However, many of these problem areas do not exist today. On the contrary; the Arctic is a region to which many are looking. A region like this without this cooperation could have been very challenging.
She recognizes that many still live in a belief that the Arctic is a region where there is a race for resources and where everything is in a downward spiral.
- However, that is most incorrect. The interest that the Chinese are demonstrating, for instance, has so far not materialized in too much concrete cooperation. The resources that we know of in the Arctic belong to the various Arctic states.
Must strike a balance
She makes no secret of the Arctic being an area increasing in military-strategic importance.
- We need to strike the correct point of balance. Having accurate and thorough knowledge about what goes on there, is crucial in that respect. We contribute from our side through communicating that not all military activity in our immediate neighborhood means that there is a military escalation, nor does it mean that everything is as we would want it to be.
She believes that the Americans often look 20 years into the future before making a statement:
- The strategic image may have changed until then, obviously. We probably work on a more here-and-now basis while also keeping an eye on the strategic implications of what may come, she says in closing.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.