Historical archive

The Norwegian High North Policy

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Conference of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region. The Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region. Stortinget, Oslo, 7 June 2010

"Interest in the Arctic region is growing fast, in Norway and internationally. This is a region where things are changing very fast. Only a few years ago, even the Arctic states tended to ignore the region”, Foreign Minister Støre said in his speech 7 June.

The Minister’s address was based on the following points.
(Check against delivery)


Illustration: Title slide.

Parliamentarians, delegates,

  • I would like to thank my colleague Lene Espersen, Chair of the Arctic Council. The common Nordic objectives for their chairmanships provide a framework for discussions on how to develop the political cooperation in the Arctic.


Illustration: “Upside-down map”.


  • There is nothing wrong with the map. Useful to look at the world from this perspective, with the Arctic in the centre. 
  • Interest in the Arctic region is growing fast, in Norway and internationally. This is a region where things are changing very fast.
  • Only a few years ago, even the Arctic states tended to ignore the region. Economic interests and political ambitions drew our attention elsewhere.
  • Now, the Arctic is receiving serious consideration, for ecological, economic and geopolitical reasons. We welcome this. Developments in the Arctic have global ramifications. Global actors have legitimate interests in the region and a valuable contribution to make.
  • I will focus on three main points:
    -          the drivers behind the increased interest in the region – climate change (opening up new sailing routes), natural resources, and our neighbour Russia;
    -          the fundamentals of the legal and political situation in the Arctic; and
    -          the main challenges and opportunities ahead of us, and the special responsibility of the coastal states.


Illustration: Climate change (ice melting).

Key driver (1): Climate change


  • Man-made climate change is the greatest challenge facing humanity today. (Bob Correll will be talking to you later today).

  • From Copenhagen to the next climate summit in Mexico later this year.

  • Most environmental threats in the Arctic originate outside the region: heavy metals and other pollutants in food chains; radioactive pollution, black carbon.

  • “Front row seats”. The Arctic is not necessarily where the impacts of climate change will be most severely felt, but it is where they are first being seen. The region is very important for climate change research. And: We need to act. Now is the time for firm action.

Illustration: New sailing routes (map).

  • The melting of the ice: opens up new opportunities for international shipping, a new situation for coming generations. Some of the main stakeholders are big economies like China, Japan and Korea, with high import/export volumes. 
  • Reflects the global character of the economic potential. The Arctic is and must remain an open region. Non-Arctic states have legitimate interests. 
  • An ice-free Arctic (but to what extent, and when/what parts of the year?) could shorten distances between the North Atlantic basin and East Asia by about 40% (may be equivalent to 18 days sailing).


Illustration: German and Russian ships (photo).


  • Last September, a German commercial freighter sailed along Russia’s northern coast, escorted by a Russian ice-breaker. This was a pioneering undertaking. 
  • A sharp increase in cruise tourism in the Svalbard area. Challenges: safety of navigation, search and rescue capacity.


Illustration: Energy resources in the Arctic (map)


Key driver (2): Potential for petroleum resources


  • First, we must protect traditional industries: natural, renewable resources, such as fish. 
  • Global interest in petroleum resources. A very important driver for change. The resources are vast. Undiscovered resources, in the Arctic, may amount to 30% gas and 13% oil (of total). In technical terms: these resources are becoming more accessible. Huge investment costs. 
  • No one can say for certain when, and on what scale, development of these resources will take off. Critical factors:
    • World demand, world gas prices
    • Discoveries in other petroleum provinces, future scale of shale gas extraction, and global LNG supply and capacity
    • The pace of development of alternative sources, renewables. 
  • Stockman: decision put off again, postponed until next year. 
  • But: we must not forget what has happened in the Gulf of Mexico.


Illustration: Moscow, Russia.

Key driver (3) for change: Russia


  • Russia – now finding its place on the global scene after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Relations Norway–Russia. The whole cooperation reshaped. Norway and Russia share a border along 192 km. People, politics, trade, science, students, health, NGOs, culture, sports, etc. In 1990 approximately 3 000 people crossed the border, now 110 000. One example: education, bilateral cooperation: Bodø. I also will return to Russia later.


Illustration: Ilulissat, Greenland, the participants.

Fundamentals – legal


  • Representatives of the five Arctic coastal states met at Ilulissat in 2008 and in Ottawa in March 2010. Sent an important signal to the world. 
  • All land in the Arctic belongs to established national states. And, remember, there are people living here in the north. Important role of the indigenous peoples. States have the same rights and responsibilities here as elsewhere, in accordance with international law. This is not a lawless situation.


Illustration: the Arctic is an ocean (map).


  • Between the states lies an ocean. The rights and responsibilities of the coastal states extend into the ocean in accordance with the principles that apply to all seas. 
  • The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. All states abide by its provisions, including the US, which has not yet ratified the convention. (The differences between the Arctic and the Antarctica.) 
  • Law and order. Another example: the recommendation of the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf with regard to Norway. 
  • Several countries have presented Arctic strategies (policy documents related to the Arctic), written in different national contexts. But they reveal a common approach:
    • the primacy of international law,
    • the need for adequate presence,
    • the right balance between conservation and development, and
    • the necessity of international cooperation.
  • Norway’s view: a good thing that other countries pay attention to the Arctic. Will engage in dialogue with others on the approaches we find in these policy documents. 
  • Example: preliminary signals from the European Parliament advocating a Treaty for the Arctic. Idea abandoned for the reasons I have mentioned. The Arctic is an ocean. 
  • Rights and responsibilities.


Illustration: Map, delimitation line.       

Norway – Russia. Barents Sea. Agreement


  • On 27 April 2010, a historic agreement was reached between Norway and Russia on maritime delimitation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean, after 40 years of negotiation. During President Medvedev’s visit to Oslo.
  • The agreement reached, including the course of the delimitation line, is in full accordance with international law. The disputed area of 175 000 square kilometres, has been divided into two parts of approximately the same size.
  • The negotiations have been completed, but some technical work remains to be done. The aim is to sign the agreement in the next few months. After this it must be approved by the Norwegian Storting, and the Russian Duma.
  • What we needed to reach an agreement/breakthrough: a) stability on both sides, governments, negotiators, people who knew each other, over time; b) economic and political incentives/potential; and c) trust.
  • The agreement: modern approach, detailed regulations and procedures, ensuring efficient and responsible management of hydrocarbon resources. Modern technology.
  • Possible hydrocarbon resources in the area were an issue in the negotiations. The negotiations have been based on the Law of the Sea and rules and principles for maritime delimitation.
  • According to the agreement, the close fisheries cooperation with Russia will continue. The agreement will not affect the allocation of fishing quotas. Fisheries issues will continue to be dealt with by the Joint Commission. (See also the agreement’s annexes.)
  • The Grey Zone Agreement – a provisional practical arrangement for fisheries control and enforcement in a defined area of the Barents Sea – will no longer apply when the delimitation agreement enters into force.
  • The agreement confirms that the Law of the Sea applies to the Arctic Ocean.

The fact that Norway and Russia reached agreement sends a strong message to other nations.


Illustration: Arctic Council’s logo. 

Fundamentals – political


  • Well established pattern of international cooperation in the Arctic: the Arctic Council (Lene Espersen’s address), the Barents Council, NEAFC (North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission) and good neighbourly bilateral relationships. 
  • Russia: a key actor. Major legitimate interests: “half of the Arctic”, more than half of the region’s resources (perhaps as much as 70%), scientific traditions. The Arctic an important arena for developing pragmatic cooperation and partnerships between Russia and other states. 
  • President Medvedev’s visit to Oslo: confirmed the positive dynamics in the Norwegian–Russian bilateral relationship, a “responsible” Russia, meeting international commitments.


Illustration: Map (and text), Arctic Council member countries.       

The Arctic Council and Norway’s views


  • As my Danish colleague described, it is the only truly circumpolar organisation. Increasing role. Has grown in strength over the past three years. Now the predominant organisation for cooperation in the Arctic. Secretariat in Tromsø. Policy shaping, not decision making. The question of observers.  
  • Increased international interest entails a need to strengthen the Council further. Important elements:
    • Senior Arctic officials tasked with conducting a process to develop a stronger decision-making role for the Council re: legally binding agreement on search and rescue.
    • Furthermore, we need to establish the Council as an international body with regular budgets and a permanent secretariat.
    • Need consensus on this – decisions at 2011 Ministerial Meeting. 
  • Main achievements so far: environment, shipping.
  • Regarding shipping, topical issue: development of a code for ships operating in polar areas – IMO. 
  • Agreement on search and rescue: first legally binding agreement to be negotiated in the scope of the Council. Hope to make progress at next meeting later in June in Oslo.


Illustration: The report “Melting snow and ice. A call for action”. (Gore and Støre).


  • Environment, climate change, melting ice: the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment commissioned by the Arctic Council (2004). Conclusions: the retreat of the sea ice is accelerating. Minimum summertime sea ice extent in the Arctic Ocean already reduced by 35%. The inland ice cap of Greenland is also shrinking. Presented in the report on melting ice and snow, by Al Gore and myself. Tromsø April 2009 – Copenhagen December 2009. Melting snow and ice. A call for action. I sent it to all my colleagues all over the world. 
  • Common interests of Arctic states – this does not imply exclusiveness. All the same, forces of international economic cooperation, globalisation, etc. apply here as elsewhere. 
  • Norway therefore welcomes new permanent observers, countries with real interests in the region, as well as the European Commission.  
  • We must give observers a greater role to make sure the Council maintains its relevance and political influence and to prevent the possible development of competing channels for cooperation. 
  • There must be a distinction between member states and observers. In Norway’s interests that the Arctic Council remains the relevant forum for cooperation (i.e. the international arena for global discussions on Arctic issues) not only for its eight member states, but also for other actors. 
  • Pay tribute to the parliamentarians (the Standing Committee of Parliamentarians of the Arctic Region, now meeting in Oslo), who are working actively to promote the work of the Council. Your initiatives to further Arctic cooperation are very valuable and important.


Successful cooperation based on concrete results


  • Our approach in the Arctic and Barents cooperation: deal with concrete questions. Address common challenges together. Focus on initiatives on the ground.
  • A good thing that different regional bodies and initiatives can meet. Different roles and tasks.



Illustration: Fishing vessel.

  • The sound management of living resources. A case in point is the joint Norwegian–Russian management of cod in the Barents Sea. Largest and best managed cod stock in the world. Sound resource management. Been successfully combating illegal fishing.
  • Establishing common health, environment and safety standards for future economic activity, not least in the energy sector.
  • The challenges of vast distances, sparse populations and a harsh climate.

Nuclear safety


  • Last but not least: nuclear safety, environment. The recently completed permanent storage facility for the reactor components of decommissioned submarines at Saida Bay outside Murmansk. Other issues: The lighthouse project, nuclear waste, etc.


Illustration: Overview Arctic ocean (blue-green map).


In conclusion – and looking ahead (and my favourite map):


  • Maintain low tension, a fundamental concern. High North – low tension. 
  • Increased interest in the region is not “threatening” or conducive to conflict. 
  • Natural and self-evident need to consistently and predictably exercise authority and sovereignty in this region as well.
  • This is important to help us avoid or reduce possible security tensions. Military presence and exercises are necessary at a relevant level. 
  • We need a sober, knowledge-based understanding of the situation to avoid security misunderstandings and misperceptions. The policies and mechanisms that prevail in the region will ensure that cooperation, not confrontation, continues to characterise the region. 
  • The Arctic is subject to international law in the same way as other regions.
  • There is no “race for the Arctic”. The fact that one state undertakes an activity does not prevent other states from doing the same, on the contrary. There is no “zero-sum game”.