We are Not Victims of a Political Game, We are a Strength to Democracy

USAs marineminister, Kenneth J. Braithwaite
Then-US Ambassador to Norway Kenneth J. Braithwaite, current US Marine Minister, does not mince his words about China and Russia's role in the High North. (Archive photo from the Ambassadors' Panel during High North Dialogue 2018. Photo: Trine Jonassen)
Commentary: Attention is raised when American and British marine vessels have a joint exercise off the Norwegian coast, without Norwegian participation. Nevertheless, leading American officers argue that we who live in the High North carry a personal responsibility for American security politics at all times.

That is of course not the case, especially not when the USA is run by a president without any other preferences than his own ignorant incompetence.

We northerners are, according to recently confirmed US Marine Minister Kenneth J. Braithwaite, victims of a Chinese game.

Chinese and Russians everywhere

“The Chinese and Russians are everywhere, especially the Chinese”, says US Marine Minister Kenneth J. Braithwaite

“You would be alarmed at the amount of Chinese activity off the coast of Norway”, he adds and continues: “China now recognizes the importance of Kirkenes, securing a western terminus on the Northern Sea Route, and they are up there and trying to, again, win over the people of northern Norway”.

These statements came during a hearing to confirm his appointment as minister.

As usual since 20 January 2017, when Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the USA, such claims are not substantiated through documentation.

Fifth column activities

In an interview with High North News, State Secretary Audun Halvorsen of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs refutes the notion that China represents a threat in the Arctic. He is supported by Øystein Tunsjø, Professor at the Norwegian Institute of Defense Studies, who sees no open signs that China conducts any form of military activity in the High North.

I have often met Kenneth J. Braithwaite in debates about the Arctic and the High North. He was until recently US Ambassador to Norway. What he seemed to enjoy the most was telling stories from his impressive life. He was less enthusiastic when confronted with critical questions about American foreign policy in the Arctic.

When he preaches to his choir, there are hardly any critical questions to his attempts at privatizing American security policies. Just like the man who appointed him, Braithwaite confuses political disagreement with a form of fifth column activities. Senior Researcher at the Norwegian Institute for International Affairs (NUPI) Julie Wilhelmsen says to High North news that this reminds her of the rhetoric of the Cold War, where the population in Finnmark county in Northern Norway was frequently subject to stigmatization. Those who lived in the closest proximity of the Russian bear were the most dangerous amongst us, and were thus also subject to extreme degrees of political surveillance.

Now, it is the American Marine Minister who worries.

The Americans are coming

However, despite American claims there is not much new to report about military Chinese activity in the High North.

What is new, is that American warships are once again sailing the Barents Sea.

We have to go decades back to find the previous US warship visiting this ocean area.

What is new, is that American warships are once again sailing the Barents Sea.

“US Navy surface vessels have not operated in the Barents Sea since the mid 1980s”, the US Naval Forces wrote in a 4 May press release.

Timewise, we are back in the days before the Berlin Wall fell. Mikhail Gorbachev’s assuming of power in the Soviet Union was imminent. Along with then-US President Ronald Reagan he signed a disarmament agreement and the Cold War eventually came to an end. The USA was the undisputed superpower of the world and the western world could breathe again.

Increasing tension in the High North

When Russia annexed the Crimea in 2014, the western world held its breath again. And during the six years since that invasion, the conflict between East and West has reignited and escalated. And the Americans are now back in the Barents Sea. This time with a new enemy in sight. Russia is no longer the only one pulling American military forces north. China also represents a military threat in the Arctic, according to American defense and security policy experts.

Kenneth J. Braithwaite’s description of the security policy in the Arctic is supported by a series of similar American statements recently and represents a renewed American interest in the Arctic.

The American reason for increased military engagement in the High North is what they describe as aggressive behavior from both China and Russia. At the same time, the USA wants to stress the importance of “freedom of navigation” and it wants to defend and exploit the abundant natural resources in the Arctic.

Democratic independence

The first official American analyses pointing to an aggressive China in the Arctic came from Foreign Minister Mike Pompeo in Finland in May last year. Immediately before the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting he laid the foundation for what was later to become an American truth; that China is arming its military in the Arctic.

There is little or no documentation to support such a claim.

However, American authorities do not only send their military forces, without Norwegian participation, into our immediate neighborhood. They also send their own conspiracy theories along on the voyage.

Norwegian foreign policy is a demanding balancing act. However, independent thinking on political and industrial cooperation with Russia and China is a strength to our democracy, not a threat against it.

Whether coming from the North or the South.

 

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

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