“What the USA Does Now, is Directly Conflicting with Norwegian Interests”

Mayor Rune Rafaelsen in the Sør-Varanger municipality is positive towards Russian and Chinese investments in the Arctic. Photo: The Norwegian Government
Mayor Rune Rafaelsen in the Sør-Varanger municipality is positive towards Russian and Chinese investments in the Arctic. Photo: The Norwegian Government
Representatives from the US State Department recently issued strong warnings against Chinese and Russian attempts to challenge western allies’ interests in the High North. Sør-Varanger Mayor Rune Rafaelsen (Labor) argues that Norway should develop its own, independent High North Policy.

“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” Kenneth J. Braithwaite said recently during his hearing for being confirmed as US Marine Minister.

Mayor Rune Rafaelsen of Sør-Varanger municipality says to High North News that listening to the USA is not in Norway’s interest.

“What they are saying is ahistorical. I hope that there will be a change at the Americans as soon as possible. What they do now, is destructive”, Rafaelsen argues.

The Northern Sea Route

Rafaelsen argues that entering into cooperation with Russia about transport along the Northern Sea Route is in Norway’s interest.

“Due to climate changes, the Nothern Sea Route will be accessible probably year-round by 2040. The biggest economic development will not take place in Europe, but in Asia. If a major part of in-trade to Europe is to go via Asia, the best, most efficient and secure way of transporting goods and products will be to ship it along the Northern Sea Route”, he says.

Map over the Arctic region showing transport routes for the Northeast Passage, the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage. Illustration: the Arctic Council/Wikimedia Commons
I hope that there will be a change at the Americans as soon as possible.
Sør-Varanger Mayor Rune Rafaelsen

“Norway has a window of opportunity now where we can decide to cooperate with Russia. Russia has no interest in only cooperating with China, Japan and South Korea. They are also interested in European cooperation. Germany and France will play a major part too.”

The Russian government has planned to construct at least 40 Arctic vessels, upgrade four regional airports, construct railways and ports, and facilitate extensive exploitation of its Arctic natural resources by 2035.

“What the USA is currently doing is conflicting directly with Norway’s national interest. We have built up good cooperation with Russia through the Barents cooperation. This cooperation will grow even more important in the future”, he says.

“We need to initiate international cooperation, in particular in the Arctic, in the wake of Covid-19. Establishing safe and secure transport from Asia to Europe via the Northern Sea Route is in Norway’s best interest”.

Security politics in the Arctic

How do you assess the security policy aspect of all this?

“Assuming that it is dangerous for us to open up for cooperation with and investments from Russia and Asia is a fallacy. Opening up for this is in our national interest from a security policy perspective. It contributes to keeping tension low.

Russia is rearming and is currently militarizing the Arctic. What do you think about that?

“I have no illusions about Russia. We must try to initiate talks about disarmament on both sides. The USA is currently talking about resuming nuclear test bombing. This is not a good development.

“It is very important that Norway develops an independent policy towards NATO and does not listen to some of the voices from the USA. What Braithwaite says is destructive for Arctic cooperation and destructive for trade between Europe and Asia.”

Assuming that it is dangerous for us to open up for cooperation with and investments from Russia and Asia is a fallacy
Sør-Varanger Mayor Rune Rafaelsen

Should we view Chinese and Russian investments in the Arctic through a security policy lense?

“If we are to manage construct a North Norwegian railway all the way up to Kirkenes, having ways of transporting goods is vital. Large parts of this goods are to come from Asia. Thus, the realizing of a railway between Kirkenes and Rovaniemi is crucial. We should be happy about Chinese investments.”

“The problem is that Norwegian authorities do not see the opportunities that lie in an expansion of a massive international High North port in Kirkenes, combined with railway,” Rafaelsen says.

“Listening only to the Americans could be fatal. The rhetoric they currently use only contributes to reinforcing conflicts in the Arctic.”

The intelligence services argue that China and Russia constitute the greatest threat to Norway. What is your assessment?

“I believe that is totally wrong. There is no risk of Russian invasion of Norway. I also disagree that China poses a threat to Norway. We should not allow military clusters, be they in the East or in the West, dictate our politics. Norwegian foreign policy should be decided by Stortinget [the parliament] and the Norwegian government.”

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

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