Arctic Frontiers is Norway’s largest conference about the High North. During an extensive working week, politics, science and business are topics of discussion. The conference is a given for those of us who are working with the High North one way or the other.
Not one from Russia
This year, [Norwegian] Foreign Minister Søreide’s analyses and input during the political part of the conference received a particular focus.
As the organisers write in their program declaration: When the world moves towards increased confrontation, nationalism and protectionism, will the Arctic eventually change too?
That is a well-founded question, however, one that was only indirectly answered during the conference.
And that is not by any fault of Foreign Minister Eide, who did her very best to answer this question as well as others.
Nor is it, possibly, by any fault of the organisers, who may have – for all that I know – invited participants from both the East and the West to answer the question.
Whatever the explanation; Norway’s foreign minister was left standing alone in her attempt to answer a question that can only be answered through international dialogue. Dialogue is, as we all know, rather hard to achieve when talking to oneself.
Two main themes appeared from the Foreign Minister’s keynote speech:
The relationship with our allies, and the relationship with Russia.
But there were no participants from Russia in the discussion. And the explanation given, if only a limited one, was about practical issues.
Disagreeing with the president
Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski came from the USA to participate. Just like Foreign Minister Søreide, she is an analytic and knowledgeable politician with clear visions about international dialogue.
The problem is, however, that despite her Republican viewpoint, Murkowski does more or less not in any way represent the political roadmap based on which her President, Donald Trump, navigates.
There was thus no international discussion about development in the Arctic during the Arctic Frontiers. Instead, we received a thorough introduction to Norway’s view on this development, whereas the international absence went to confirm that the Arctic, too, is going through a political change.
On a national top level, dialogue is about to come to a halt for the benefit of nationalism and protectionism. Donald Trump yesterday cancelled a previously announced visit to Davos where globalization should have been the theme. The American President prioritizes the communist dictatorship of North Korea rather than western capitalists who believe in free trade.
Who carries the responsibility?
Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide left no doubt that this is a most demanding territory to navigate for a small country. Even amongst Norway’s traditional allies, skepticism to multilateral cooperation looms large. And in the end, in the words of the Foreign Minister, the question is:
- Who shall carry the multilateral responsibility?
Even here in Norway, where we have traditionally been used to political unity on foreign policy, there is a growing skepticism to international cooperation.
For those of us living in the High North, this means that the platforms on which we cooperate become increasingly important – in particular when political leaders fail.
Cooperation in the North
The Barents cooperation continues. As does people-to-people cooperation between Russia and Norway. Our two universities in Bodø and Tromsø have close relations to both the East and the West. One of the most recent examples is AlaskaNor, a cooperation between Nord University and Alaska-based knowledge institutions. Increased activity in the Arctic also means closer cooperation about search and rescue (SAR) operations in the region.
The list could be longer, of course. However, it cannot replace dialogue among world leaders. That is why Norway launches a more cynical approach to international questions.
- We must make plans and strategies that hold the opportunity to succeed, said Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide when asked to summarize Norway’s future position on international questions.
Time will show what that entails.
This op-ed was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.