Remarks at the High North Dialogue 2019

State Secretary Audun Halvorsen's remarks at the High North Dialogue 2019 Conference.

Good afternoon and thank you for the invitation to visit Bodø again.

It is an honour to be in the panel with such a distinguished group of ambassadors.

The Arctic is the main strategic area of responsibility of the Norwegian government. Most of our maritime territory – which is seven times larger than our land territory – is above the Arctic circle. Ten percent of Norway’s population live north of the Arctic Circle. Some of our most important and most innovative industrial areas are located in the North, particularly here in Nordland.

The High North has been at the top of the agenda for consecutive Norwegian governments since the government of Kjell Magne Bondevik presented the first White Paper in 2005.

In 2020, the government will present a White paper on the Arctic to parliament. This will describe the government’s ambitions for Northern Norway, with the aim of continuing to develop the positive dynamics we have been seeing: High value creation, low unemployment, innovation and export oriented businesses. It will also acknowledge that we face demanding challenges when it comes to education, demographics, rural depopulation and urban concentration. Our future policies will build upon continuous dialogue with regional and local politicians, representatives of the Sami as well as the business and academic communities of the north. There is a strong will in this government to maintain the focus and momentum in our policies. Responsicle economic development and the sustainable use of natural resources through knowledge and innovation will remain key elements.

Norway is a relatively small country with an open economy and a geopolitically strategic position. A rules-based international order with strong multilateral institutions is in our fundamental interest. Not least in the North.

Our situational awareness with regard to broader geopolitical developments and our ability to analyse and adapt to those developments will be important not only for Norwegian security policy, but will have direct consequences for our regional and industrial policy. Decisions in Washington, Beijing and Brussels will shape the world economy in the coming years. They will also have a defining impact on Norwegian businesses, exports, and ultimately on the social development here in the North.

Even as the Arctic has remained an area of relative stability and predictability the strategic perspectives are coming more to the forefront – also here. Strong transatlantic unity is important both for the United States, Canada and for Europe. The foreign ministers of NATO are meeting in Washington D.C. today to celebrate NATO at 70 – The alliance is strong and as relevant as ever. On the bilateral side, the United States remains our most important ally. The US-Norwegian security and defence cooperation is probably closer than ever at any point in time. Both bilaterally and as NATO allies. Key examples are recent US participation in Trident Juncture 18, Norway’s substantial investments in strategic capabilities such as the F-35 fighter jets and the P-8 maritime patrol aircraft and cooperation in operations and training/exercises.

On the civilian side, trade is blooming. There is fruitful regional cooperation between Alaska and Northern Norway through the Alasknor-project, where also Nord University plays a leading role. I understand that there have been useful meetings here in Bodø on Tuesday this week on marine business development. There is growing cooperation with Canada on Blue economy and the oceans. The bonds across the sea remain strong.

These bonds are also strong enough for us to tolerate disagreement where it exists. Norway will continue to support a rules-based multilateral trade system and the role of the World Trade Organization as well as the importance of the Paris climate accord. Both are vital to developments in the Arctic.

When it comes to Norway’s relationship with Russia, our neighbour, we have a long tradition of cooperation in areas of common interest such as fisheries, the environment, nuclear safety, Coast Guard, border guard and search and rescue, and not least the people-to-people cooperation. In October, Norway will take over the Chair of the Barents Council, and we will continue to support practical cross-border cooperation with Russia and our Nordic neighbours in this framework. There is also substantive high-level contact and next week, on 9 April, both the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister will visit St Petersburg for the Territory of Dialogue-conference hosted by President Putin.

At the same time, we continue to stand together with allies and likeminded countries in response to Russia's violations of international law. Norway will also continue to keep a close eye on Russian military build-up and activities in the North, and some recent developments gives reason for concern (such as GPS-jamming and simulated air attacks on Norwegian targets, including Bodø).

I would also like to say a few words about Nordic cooperation, which is stronger and more concrete than ever. Cross-border thinking is part of the Nordic DNA, so to speak, and we are seeing this increasingly in the North as well, be it infrastructure, cross-border cooperation, people to people cooperation or joint efforts in EU programmes. In the defence and security domain, we have intensified our cooperation.

Let me conclude by touching upon China's increased involvement in the Arctic. Norway is positive to China’s constructive engagement within existing international law, structures and mechanisms. It is important that we maintain a clear, coherent and predictable Arctic policy towards China and all other countries. In doing so, it is important that the government in Oslo maintain close consultations with regional leaders and key institutions in Northern Norway.  We have stepped up our efforts in this regard.

Coming to the end, let me close by saying how much I appreciate the opportunity for dialogue provided here at the High North Dialogue, and the perspectives and analysis shared by the participants here. This is highly valuable for my ministry’s analysis and awareness of the Arctic. Thank you very much for your attention.