Looking North: Western Responses to Russia’s Moves in the Arctic

Abstract

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As Russia is likely to continue to increase its military presence in the North Pole region, Western Arctic nations should consider coordinating their responses within NATO. Canada and the United States could maintain year-round operational maritime capabilities for search-and-rescue missions and environmental cleanup.

Those are among the recommendations of Wikistrat’s Arctic experts: Professor Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen, Danita Catherine Burke and Velina Tchakarova.

They argue that the likelihood of locally driven conflict in the Arctic is low. But there is the risk that the wider standoff between Russia and the West could spill over into the polar region.

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Strategic Takeaways

  • Russia is likely to continue to increase its presence in the Arctic in the coming years, as it considers the region to be of high strategic importance.
  • That said, the likelihood of locally driven conflict in the Arctic is low. Disputes over exclusive economic zones are confined to NATO allies Canada, Denmark and the United States, while the bulk of Russia’s energy and mineral resources are on land or in sea that is unquestionably Russian.
  • There is a chance that the Arctic becomes another theater in the wider standoff between Russia and the West, if only to demonstrate capabilities.
  • To offset Russia’s advantage, Western states should consider coordinating Arctic policy within NATO. Other platforms are unsuitable, because they either do not involve all Western allies or involve Russia.
  • Canada and the United States should consider maintaining joint year-round operational maritime capabilities in the Arctic for search-and-rescue missions and environmental cleanup.
  • Western governments must not neglect socioeconomic development of their Arctic communities.

A Look Inside


Authors

Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen

Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen
Wikistrat Senior Analyst
Barents Chair in Politics at the University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway

Danita Catherine Burke

Danita Catherine Burke
Wikistrat Contributing Analyst
International Relations and Arctic Politics Scholar in Aberystwyth University’s Department of International Politics

Velina Tchakarova

Velina Tchakarova
Wikistrat Contributing Analyst
Senior Research Fellow at the Austrian Institute for European Security Policy, Vienna


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