Historical archive

The Arctic: Foreign Policy Perspectives from the North

Historical archive

Published under: Solberg's Government

Publisher: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksens Søreide's address at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, 15 March.

Dear friends, ladies and gentlemen,

The northernmost year-round inhabited town on Earth is at 78 degrees north:

Longyearbyen on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard.

Many Norwegians believe that the name Long-year-byen has something to do with the fact that it is so far north. And the days can certainly feel longer in Longyearbyen, as the summer days have 24 hours of sunlight, and the winter days have 24 long hours of darkness.

But the town is named after an American explorer and industrialist, John Munroe Longyear.

Longyear – who was the son of a congressman from Michigan – travelled to Svalbard several times, and established a small town in 1906, which in its first years was called Longyear City.

Longyearbyen tells us something about the Arctic.

  1. First, as the world's attention towards the Arctic is now increasing, it is worth remembering that we – Americans and Norwegians - have a long history of exploring the Arctic together.
  2. And second, Longyearbyen's location shows that at least for Norwegians, the Arctic is not some far-away, distant place.

The Arctic is a large part of our country, home to 10 percent of our population, and where people live and work, start families and start businesses, go to school and learn to ski.

The Arctic is where we live.

The Arctic is therefore not only an important part of Norway's history, the Arctic is also an important part of our future.


The Arctic is a top priority for Norway because here major political, economic, and strategic interests come together.

Ocean industries and tourism in the north are important for Norway's overall economy.

The Norwegian Arctic is Nato's northern flank.

New sea and trade routes are opening up in the Arctic.

Human activity and international interest in the region are both increasing.

We must continue to avoid that these changes – and the opportunities they bring - become sources of tension and conflict.

In the Arctic, countries from almost all corners of the world have found ways of working together based on common interests and respect for international law.

Questions of delimitation of maritime zones are settled in accordance with one of the pillars of international law – the Law of the Seas.

The Arctic Council has proven instrumental in finding common solutions to regional challenges.

A robust and effective Arctic Council – firmly supported by member states and observer countries - is a major contribution to continued stability in the Arctic.

The US Chairmanship of the Council was a success, and clearly showed that American leadership is important also in the North.


Today, we see two long-term trends in the Arctic:

  • First, climate change is happening faster here than elsewhere. This is mainly due to emissions and developments outside the Arctic. The melting ice in the Arctic is thus a global problem and therefore needs global solutions.
  • Second, business activity in the Arctic is increasing, including oil and gas exploration, fisheries, tourism and shipping.

Some people claim that due to the effects of climate change we must reduce or prevent business activity in the Arctic.

I disagree with this view.

I firmly believe that it is possible to strike a good balance between sustainable development of resources and the protection of the environment, between protection and production

The Norwegian Prime Minister has initiated - and will herself lead – a High Level Panel on Sustainable Ocean Economy.

Fisheries is a good example.

In 1989, the Arctic cod stock in the Barents Sea was at an all-time low.

Today, the cod stock is ten times larger.

This is thanks to the close and constructive cooperation between Norway and Russia on sustainable fisheries management.

The annualcatch value, shared between Norwegian and Russian fishermen, is now more than two billion dollars.

This clearly demonstrates that when we manage to balance commercial interest and resource exploitation with environmental concerns, the Arctic will reward us generously.

The Arctic holds considerable potential for future generations, but we must respect its environmental limits.


In the last few years, the security landscape in Europe has changed.

Great power politics and traditional geopolitics have returned, and new challenges are emerging.

But despite a more unpredictable international situation, there has been limited spill-over to the Arctic.

The Arctic remains mainly an area of peace, stability, and cooperation, and the overall goal for Norway's Arctic policy is to make sure it stays this way.

We need, though, to be realistic. And we need to address the world as it is, not as we want it to be.

Russia's Northern Fleet sits right on our border. And so does a significant part of Russian strategic forces.

It is evident that Russia's great power aspirations have grown in recent years.

We have seen the emergence of a more assertive Russia – also in our immediate neighbourhood. There has been an increase in Russia's military activity in the Barents Sea and the North Atlantic. We also see more frequent and complex flying patterns.

We face this challenge with a firm and predictable policy.

We combine military strength and deterrence with transparency and willingness to dialogue.

Our aim is to prevent misunderstandings and avoid any unintended escalation.


Napoleon is supposed to have once said "geography is destiny".

I do not suggest looking to Napoleon for clues on how to handle Russia, but Norway's proximity to Russia is one of the fundamental premises on which our foreign policy is built.

Geography is the one factor we cannot change.

We share a common border in the High North, both on land and at sea.

Nurturing a sense of neighbourliness is therefore an important element of our foreign policy.

It is our experience that it serves our interests to be consistent, firm and predictable.

Norway's policy towards Russia consists of two interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars.

The first pillar is our Nato membership and our close ties with Western allies and partners, most notably with the United States.

The second pillar is our practical cooperation with Russia.

Let me elaborate a little on each of them.


The first pillar consists of close ties with allies and partners in Europe and North America.

This provides the anchorage we need to offset the vast asymmetries between Norway and Russia.

It is important for Norway to stand together with allies and partners in our reaction to Russia's conduct internationally.

For example, we have condemned the illegal annexation of Crimea, the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine, and we have implemented the same restrictive measures against Russia as the European Union.

Norway constitutes Nato's northern flank, and our military presence in the north is therefore a significant contribution to the security of the Alliance.

We have a special responsibility both to ourselves and to the Alliance to promote stability in the High North. We are Nato in the north.

It is important for us that Nato maintains forces, strategies and structures relevant to challenges in the north.

Above all, the Alliance must maintain good situational awareness of the region.

Both our geographical location and our interaction with Russia enable us to provide valuable information needed to maintain sound situational awareness and understanding of the dynamics of the High North.


Defence and deterrence are essential to our security, but do not in themselves constitute a balanced Russia policy – thus the second pillar.

As neighbours, it is in both countries' interest to cooperate.

Our aim is to do so in a constructive manner, despite the more challenging times we are facing.

We believe that in order to secure Norwegian interests, we also need to engage Russia: – both to enhance our security in a broader sense and to promote our interests in a wide range of other fields.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, we have developed our bilateral cooperation in a broad range of areas.

An obvious example is the Arctic cod stock in the Barents Sea that I mentioned earlier.

Norway and Russia also cooperate on a number of other issues such as environmental protection, nuclear safety, search and rescue at sea, cross-border health issues and people-to-people contact.

Such cooperation goes beyond promoting our interests in these respective fields.

It also serves to enhance security, stability and predictability in our immediate neighbourhood.


It is through everyday cooperation that we build trust with our neighbour.

This helps us keep tension at the lowest possible level.

This will be all the more important in the time ahead as we expand our defensive capabilities.


The two pillars of our Russia policy – close ties with Western allies and partners, and practical cooperation with Russia – are not contradictory.

In fact, it is our experience that they are mutually reinforcing.

Thank you.