Historical archive

Challenges in the Northern Areas — A Norwegian Perspective

Historical archive

Published under: Bondevik's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Jan Petersen

Challenges in the Northern Areas – A Norwegian Perspective

Amerikanisch-Europäischer Freundschaftsclub e.V. Heidelberg, 24 October 2004

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Ladies and gentlemen
dear friends,

For Germans, the Northern Areas are by no means terra incognita. In 1671, the German physician Friderich Martens travelled to Svalbard and became a pioneer in the study of Arctic nature, wildlife and climate. His book, Spitzbergische oder Grönländische Reise Beschreibung, became a classic in the literature on Svalbard. Carl Koldewey was the leader of the first German North Pole Expedition, which explored the waters off Spitzbergen as far back as 1868. Since then many have followed in their footsteps – or rather: their sailing routes and ski tracks. Thousands of German tourists have today experienced the uniqueness of the archipelago.

In August 1991, the Alfred Wegener Institute opened its new Koldewey research station in Svalbard’s Ny-Ålesund, at 79 degrees North. It offers research facilities for scientists in the fields of biology, chemistry, geophysics and atmospheric physics. Svalbard is very well placed for Arctic research. It is accessible and the climate is relatively mild.

The Norwegian Government has therefore committed itself to further developing Svalbard as a platform for international research co-operation. Currently scientists from about 20 countries are doing research there.

Svalbard has a unique environment. Its 61 000 square kilometres – about twice the size of Belgium – are a considerable part of the last remaining wilderness in Europe.

The Norwegian Government’s aim is to ensure that future generations will have the same opportunities to enjoy this unspoilt wilderness as we have.

Against this background, ladies and gentlemen, I would like to share with you some observations on the challenges we are facing in this part of the world, which we call ‘the northern areas’, that is the Arctic, including the Barents region and the Barents Sea. I will also discuss with you some views on security and transatlantic policy issues – although briefly.


The northern areas [ - see map behind me - ] are now among the most peaceful corners of Europe, as I mentioned earlier. East-West confrontation has been replaced by co-operation and a common concern about other serious challenges we are faced with in the Arctic. One of these is how to utilise the rich resources and huge human and economic potential without damaging fragile habitats. Meeting these challenges in the modern world requires partnership and international co-operation.

The strategic importance of the area is no longer primarily military. It is instead related to the vast supply of renewable marine and non-renewable fossil energy resources. It is estimated to contain a quarter of the world’s undiscovered petroleum resources, and naturally has the potential to become an important source of energy, not least for Europe.

Norway’s policy on the northern areas therefore has a bearing on our policy towards Europe and European countries. In this regard, we wish to further develop our bilateral contacts with the major European countries on issues relating to the northern areas.

An important tool in this respect is regular bilateral consultations on these issues. Norway and Germany have already started up such consultations, reflecting Germany’s response to the issues at hand. I believe that we have many interests in common, and that we both will benefit from this dialogue that will broaden our knowledge of each other’s interests and positions. Later, we hope to establish similar contacts with the UK and France.

Needless to say, developing our co-operation with Russia in the north is no less important, and we are actively pursuing this bilaterally and within the framework of international organisations.

Norway and Russia share a 196 kilometre-long border, which was closed for many decades. It was one of the two national borders where NATO and Soviet forces directly faced each other. Today, on the other hand, there are more than 100 000 border crossings a year. During the last 10 years we have witnessed the development of a remarkably dynamic network across the border, between local authorities, business enterprises, schools and NGOs. These are grassroots contacts on a people-to-people basis.

Today’s flourishing contact between Norway and Russia in the north is remarkable compared with the Soviet era, although in fact it is similar to the situation before the Russian revolution in 1917.

Our bilateral relations with the Russian government have also greatly improved. It is my impression that it is a genuine wish on the Russian side to develop further our co-operation. This is illustrated by the fact that, on his first official bilateral visit in June this year, Foreign Minister Lavrov chose to come to Norway with a forward-looking agenda.

However, we are also reminded from time to time of views left over from the old days, and of the fact that the old Soviet rhetoric is not yet entirely forgotten. Our relations with Russia today can best be described as “two or three steps forward – one step back”.

Recent developments in Russia give cause for concern. Democratic and market reforms are under considerable pressure. The signs of growing pluralism that were seen a few years ago, have been replaced by signs of centralisation. The trend towards growing media diversity has been reversed and state control has increased. The situation in the Chechen Republic continues to be very bleak. Human rights are being violated daily by both federal forces and Chechen rebels. The humanitarian situation in the republic is appalling, and the conflict is producing extremism and terrorism.

As friends of Russia, we must speak our mind on Chechnya. We must speak our mind on the situation of the media in Russia, on repression and on infringements of civil liberties. Norway is speaking its mind. Our friendly relations with Russia allow constructive criticism to be made. We do not turn our back on Russia even when developments take a wrong turn.

Notwithstanding these disturbing trends, let us not forget the remarkable results of the reform process in the Russian Federation. Today, Russia is the fastest growing economy in the world, the Russian people enjoy freedom to an extent unprecedented in their history, foreigners can travel and trade in Russia, and the country is our partner in several international and regional fora.

- So the picture is not only black and white. There are opposing trends in Russian society; on the one hand democratisation and pluralism, on the other centralisation of power and control. The Russian leadership is caught between these trends. Our role is to support the developments that we believe to be right.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Developing co-operation and contacts across the borders in the north has been greatly helped by the regional co-operation structures in northern Europe, primarily the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. The Council consists of Russia, the five Nordic countries and the European Commission, and Germany is one of nine observer countries.

The Barents co-operation has now entered its second decade and is agreed to be a success. I believe there are two reasons for this. First, history has shown that close co-operation between the peoples of the North is natural – and necessary. Life would be poorer - and the economy weaker without it.

The second reason is that the regional level of co-operation has been given a distinct role. The local authorities of 13 counties in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia are represented in the Barents Regional Council, and have launched and implemented a large number of projects and initiatives over the years. Representatives of the indigenous peoples in the region also play an active role in the Council’s work.

Norway currently holds the chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. We are focusing on economic co-operation issues, education, justice and home affairs, search and rescue co-operation, and health. These are the areas with the most pressing problems – and the most promising opportunities.

Norway is also a committed partner in the Arctic Council. The Council brings together all the Arctic nations – the Nordic countries, Russia, Canada and the United States. This has made it an efficient tool for placing circumpolar issues high on the political agenda, both in our countries and in international fora. The Council also plays an important role in bringing climate change to the attention of governments.

One of the Arctic Council’s strengths is that it has fully integrated the indigenous peoples of the region. This is of great benefit to the participating governments and, I believe, also to the indigenous peoples themselves.

The European Union plays an important role in Arctic affairs, both as an active participant in the councils in the region and through the Northern Dimension. Norway has taken an active part in the development of the Northern Dimension Action Plans. Although it has been claimed that the Northern Dimension should provide more resources to projects and initiatives, I view it as an important instrument in our efforts to further develop co-operation in these regions.

We have actively advocated further development of NATO’s relations with Russia. Strengthened co-operation in the northern areas between Russia and its Western partners, and between Russia and NATO, is crucial.

Only through trust and close co-operation with Russia can we get to grips with the challenges. As one of Russia’s neighbours, Norway considers the NATO-Russia Council to be of fundamental importance in this connection.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today’s security policy reality is many-faceted. It is complex and changes rapidly. The threats we are facing are manifold. The challenges are new. Indeed, the security concept itself contains new dimensions – and it contains tragic dimensions. Today, threats against people – and indeed against states – take the shape of commuter trains carrying people to their death in Madrid, of children and teachers being killed on the first day of school in Beslan, of businessmen and women plummeting to their death in New York.

No democratic nation can evade its responsibility to help combat terror. And our message must be crystal clear: No goal can justify the use of terror. No cause can justify the loss of innocent lives. Terror must never prevail.

There is, however, no single recipe for combating terror. Terrorism is a global threat. Thus, only through resolute, concerted, co-ordinated international efforts can the fight against these very serious security challenges succeed. And we must employ a broad range of means. Humanitarian, diplomatic, political and military measures are all necessary.

Terrorism must be combated within the boundaries of international law. The fight against international terrorism must have the highest priority in the UN, in NATO, and in the European security policy co-operation. We must be fully aware of the challenges we are facing.

I have been of the opinion, and I still am, that Europe’s security is best safeguarded by close co-operation with the US. Less than two weeks now remain until the US presidential elections. The fundamental shared values and the broad co-operation we have enjoyed with the US through the entire post-war period are the basis of our close transatlantic ties. This is something we will continue to build on, no matter which administration is elected.

In Europe, a common foreign and security policy is taking shape. The new EU Constitutional Treaty is an indicator of the EU’s growing ambitions for close co-operation in this field. In my view, it is positive that the EU wishes to take greater responsibility for Europe’s security. We must not pit the EU against NATO unnecessarily. I believe there is scope both for a strong NATO and for more active European co-operation on foreign and security policy.

From Norway’s point of view the enlargements of both NATO and the EU are very welcome. But for Norway as a non-EU-member, it is vital to establish the following: NATO must remain the principal organisation for security co-operation between the USA and Europe.

Building up parallel structures and military capacities must be avoided as far as possible. There must also be complete openness and dialogue about the processes that are under way in the EU. The EU and NATO must never start competing with each other. Across the Atlantic there has been broad understanding of the need for, and significance of, close co-operation between NATO and the EU.

Close transatlantic ties are crucial if we are to be able to effectively address the security policy challenges we are facing. This applies not least to the threats of international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. [During the question time after my speech I may come back to these security policy issues, since I now will revert to the specific northern areas themes].

In the north, an immediate challenge pertaining both to non-proliferation and environmental concerns is the management of the large amounts of nuclear material in the Russian part of the Barents Region. The Kola Peninsula has the world’s largest concentration of nuclear installations. Not only do these represent a threat to the vulnerable environment of the High North, but there is also a real danger that nuclear material from these installations could fall into the hands of terrorists.

11 September made us realise that terrorists would not hesitate to use weapons and materials of mass destruction. Nuclear safety and security must therefore be an integral part of our common efforts to counter the new security threats.

There are good reasons why nuclear safety has been at the centre of Norwegian-Russian co-operation for the last 10 years.

In the Kola Peninsula there is an old nuclear power station; more than 50 nuclear submarines waiting to be dismantled; service ships with large quantities of spent nuclear fuel on board - some of it damaged and therefore difficult to handle; a run-down storage site with fuel from 100 reactors; and tons of solid and liquid nuclear waste.

In addition to all this, there are numerous lighthouses scattered along the northwestern Russian coast and powered by highly radioactive strontium batteries. Experts have pointed out that these batteries are suitable for making “dirty bombs”. During the past few years there have been thefts from such installations, although fortunately the thieves were not after the batteries but the precious metals protecting them.

The nuclear task facing us is therefore enormous – and it is urgent. Small countries can offer important contributions. Norway has taken a lead in assisting Russia with the safe removal of these radioactive batteries. Several countries – European as well as North American – have expressed a strong interest in this project. To promote co-operation and co-ordination Norway will host an expert seminar on this topic under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency early next year.

Last year Norway signed contracts on the dismantlement of two non-strategic nuclear submarines from Russia’s Northern Fleet, the first country to engage in the dismantlement of this type of submarine. In June this year we informed the Russians that - since our experience of this submarine project was so favourable - we were ready to undertake more of the same.

The Russians should also be commended on the job they are doing themselves. They understand very well that the ultimate responsibility for the situation – and for the cleanup – is theirs. And they are allocating huge resources to this task from their own budgets. But they still need our assistance. Thus, solving the problem requires broad and concerted international action. Action we are now about to take.

The lesson of September 11 has prompted the G8 countries to launch their Global Partnership against weapons and materials of mass destruction. Huge resources – 20 billion US dollars – will be made available for projects in the former Soviet Union.

The EU Northern Dimension Environmental Partnership has also mobilised substantial economic resources, and a number of countries are now actively involved in nuclear safety and security efforts in Russia on a bilateral basis. Germany is very active in this field.

This is a new and promising situation. But with more countries engaged and substantial resources being made available for concrete action, we need to be well co-ordinated. We must avoid bottlenecks and duplication of effort. Our contributions must be channelled to those projects that give the best value for money, and thorough environmental and risk assessments must be made for all projects.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Science has documented that the signs of climate change are more pronounced in the Arctic than in other regions of the world. Hence, global warming and climate change is now the most pressing item on the Arctic environmental agenda.

The ice of the Arctic is melting. Open sea has already been observed around the North Pole in the summer. The melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet broke all records in 2002. Current estimates indicate that the ice sheet will have disappeared by the end of this millennium.

The speed and consequences of this climate change are not yet fully clear. But we must be prepared for the fact that climate change and natural resource management in the Arctic will have an increasing impact on the entire planet. It may also have enormous economic consequences. Since Arctic pollution originates to a large extent in areas south of the Arctic, measures to protect its environment cannot be limited to the region. Hence, we must study the problems and work out the solutions together.

At the ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Alaska in 2000, the ministers commissioned a four-year scientific assessment of climate change in the Arctic – the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. A broad network of eminent scientists has been working on this study, and the report will be discussed at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Reykjavik in November. This will provide us – the governments – with the information we need to decide what concrete action to take.

At this point in time, 10 years after the entry into force of the Climate Change Convention, there has been some progress in international co-operation. In this respect Norway welcomes the latest developments in Russia. These are indeed positive. Yesterday, we all read the headlines in German and international press on the vote in the Russian Duma on the Kyoto Protocol. Russian ratification will cause the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol possibly some time in early 2005.

The Russian response to the Protocol has taken a long time to be finalised, and their internal process has not always been easy to understand from the outside. It is clear, however, that economic arguments have played a central part. As we all know, Russia’s commitment under the Protocol is so modest that the country will have a significant amount of emission reductions to put on the market. The major uncertainty will be the price level such emission permits.

The world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States, is still outside the Protocol. There is little prospect of the country changing its mind on Kyoto in the near future, whatever the outcome of the presidential election. The Senate has so far taken a negative view of the Protocol. However, even in the US, climate change is slowly making its way up the political agenda.

Some weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting a visit by a delegation of US senators to Spitzbergen, including John McCain and Hillary Clinton. They both stand for a more progressive climate change policy. Along with his Democratic colleague, Senator Lieberman, Senator McCain is the author of an interesting proposal for legislation on climate change action. Although it was rejected last year, it is still alive, and would - if passed - entail a significant change in US climate policy. This could be a significant step towards bringing the United States back to a more globally oriented climate policy. There are also positive developments at the state level and in parts of the private sector in the United States. What we are seeing here is, in fact, a kind of bottom-up push on climate change.

As I mentioned earlier, experts estimate that about a quarter of the world’s undiscovered petroleum resources are located in the Arctic. Large deposits have already been discovered, especially in the Russian Arctic. Norway’s petroleum activities are also moving north.

In our efforts to exploit petroleum resources in the region, we must take care to safeguard the rich and unpolluted nature of the Barents Sea. Our goal is to establish a framework that makes it possible to balance the need to protect the environment against commercial interests – fisheries, aquaculture, shipping and the petroleum industry.

The growing demand for imported energy from both the US and the EU will inevitably increase the level of oil and gas exploration and production in the north. Hence, more tankers will be sailing along the Norwegian coast on their way to Europe and North America. Protecting the highly vulnerable environment along the coast of northern Norway and in the Barents Sea from oil tanker accidents will be an enormous challenge in the coming years.

The first field in Norway’s part of the Barents Sea is now being developed – the liquid natural gas project called “Snøhvit”. This is the largest industrial project that has ever been undertaken in our northernmost county of Finmark. It will provide a major boost to employment and the economy of the region. For Germany, as the important buyer of Norwegian natural gas – as well as other resources from Norway’s marine environment, this development in the north is, of course, of great interest.

However, this positive development is hampered by the fact that the delimitation line between Norway and Russia in the Barents Sea is yet to be determined – after more than 30 years of negotiations. As Norway and other North Sea states have experienced, the clarity and predictability provided by maritime boundaries is a precondition for investment and high-cost exploration and exploitation. Banks, companies, governments and others need to know which rules apply in matters such as licences, workers’ safety, taxation and the environment.

Maritime boundaries are also an essential basis for agreeing on how to divide fields, how to co-operate on exploiting fields, and – no less importantly – how to establish practical and efficient transport systems for oil and gas.

The Arctic contains rich and valuable natural resources. At the same time, it has one of the most vulnerable environments in the world. Governance of the Arctic has an impact on global environmental challenges, global resource management and worldwide security, an impact that will only increase with time.

What we do today in these territories will affect them for years and years to come. The tasks we face are immense, and so are the consequences if we fail to carry them out. We all have an obligation to work together in order to manage Arctic resources in a sustainable way that will benefit present and future generations.

Arctic exploration in earlier times was perhaps more competitive than co-operative. Today, co-operation is the only answer to the challenges of the region. And it is also the most fruitful means of taking advantage of its opportunities.

Thank you for your attention.