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The Barents Sea

This week, NATO naval and air forces conducted training operations in the Barents Sea. Norwegian, British, and American ships sailed through Russia’s exclusive economic zone north of the Kola Peninsula. The drills are a landmark moment in the region’s remilitarization.

Norway’s NATO Participation on the Rise

British and American forces conducted similar exercises in May, without Norway and Denmark. The latter pair’s participation this week is a symbol of Norway’s post-Crimea position toward Russia. At one point, Norwegian ships made cordial visits to Russian military ports. Now, they play war games in Russia’s backyard. These exercises are doubly significant considering Russia regularly uses the Barents Sea for its own drills.

Norway’s participation comes just months after PM Erna Solberg highlighted Russia and China as possible threats. Additionally, her administration also pledged to increase military spending by $1.7 billion over the next eight years. If this shift becomes permanent policy, Norway may become a regular presence in NATO drills north of the Arctic Circle.

“These [China and Russia] are countries where the authorities do not see the value of neither democracy, rule of law, nor the fact that people have undisputed rights… Over the last years, these forces have become increasingly visible and gained more influence.”

Norwegian Prime minister Erna Solberg

The United Kingdom justified its participation using familiar rhetoric, with Defense Secretary Ben Wallace stating: “The UK is the closest neighbour to the Arctic states. In addition to preserving UK interests we have a responsibility to support our Arctic allies such as Norway to preserve the security and stability of the region”. Although Norway surely welcomes the support, Russia has legitimate objections to the UK’s near-Arctic presence. These objections would carry more weight if Russia did not invite its own near-Arctic partner, China, into the region.

The Arctic as a Proving Ground

As competition over the region’s valuable resources and thoroughfares intensifies, NATO and non-NATO tit-for-tat activity will increase. Near-Arctic powers like Britain, China, Japan and Korea will inevitably complicate things further. The Arctic’s remilitarization is inevitable.

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