September 23, 2010 | Publications | Bruce Weinrod

The High North and Transatlantic Security

In recent years, the High North has become the focus of growing attention from states bordering the Arctic and other interested nations both nearby and at some distance. This development is primarily due to recent melting in the Arctic ice caps. Nations bordering the Arctic include the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark, and Russia. While not technically within this area Sweden, Finland, and Iceland are sufficiently close to the High North to have a direct interest in the area.

The Arctic Ocean has two principal sea passages: the Northern Sea Passage near Russia and the Northwest Passage near Canada. A continuation of melting of the Arctic ice caps could allow maritime travel through these two passages for much if not all of the year. In addition it is theoretically possible that new passages through other parts of the Arctic region could be developed as well. Thus, it may prove feasible and practical at some point, assuming also appropriate technological capabilities are developed, for nations to utilize this area in ways that until recently had not been thought possible.

For example, newly opened waterways have the potential to evolve into profitable shipping lanes given that navigation time and distance between Asia and Europe could be reduced significantly. In addition, the attraction of energy reserves located under receding ice could lead to a race for Arctic territory and carries the potential for future conflicts. For these reasons, significant High North issues are beginning to emerge with respect to such areas as shipping, trade, territorial rights, natural resources, and national security.

Indicative of the growing importance of the High North, is the fact that all five nations bordering the Arctic have in recent years promulgated major policy statements concerning the region. In addition, organizations such as the European Union (EU) have also become engaged on the issue. Very importantly, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the transatlantic military alliance, has also taken a strong recent interest in the High North.

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