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The High North and the Arctic: The Norwegian Perspective

As a point of departure, it should be noted that the High North has a special place in Norwegian hearts. The very name of our country is generally understood to mean “the way northwards”.

Norway and the High North

Our geography, history, economy and a whole range of artistic expression, including films and poetry, are keys to understanding our affinity for the High North. It was natural to refer to Rolf Jacobsen’s poem ‘Look north more often’ in The High North Strategy, and the award-winning film simply named ‘Nord’ (North) was one of Norway’s contributions to the Berlin Film Festival in February 2009. Our most illustrious national heroes, such as Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen, are renowned for their polar expeditions.

Norway’s tradition of looking to the north forms part of its identity, and shapes the self-image and mind-set of its people.

This perspective was given renewed impetus when my Government, in its inaugural address in 2005, presented the High North as Norway’s most important strategic priority area. The main priorities were set out in more detail in the subsequent policy platforms. The High North Strategy was launched in 2006, and was followed up with New Building Blocks in the North in 2009, which sets out the Government’s priorities for the next 10–15 years.

In the autumn of 2011, the policy achievements so far and the road ahead were outlined in the white paper The High North: Vision and strategies. This presents a coherent, long-term Norwegian policy for addressing the challenges and utilising the opportunities in the High North. Our overall aim remains to enhance knowledge in and about the north, increase our activity and presence in the region and lay the foundations for sustainable economic and social development in the years to come.

The wider Arctic context
Although commonly used, the term ‘High North’ has not been precisely defined, and it does not refer solely to Norwegian territory. The breadth of this concept is reflected in the Government’s strategy. Important Norwegian interests are linked to developments in the Arctic as a whole and the wider circumpolar area, and internationally the terms ‘High North’ and ‘Arctic’ are often interchangeable.

Norway’s strategic efforts in the north must be seen in a geopolitical context. Norway will continue its active dialogue on High North issues with its neighbours, partners and allies. Strengthened international cooperation in the north – both circumpolar cooperation and cooperation with Russia in particular – will in turn be beneficial for developments in Norway.

Thus, our High North strategy takes a comprehensive approach and a generational perspective. It has a dynamic character, also when it comes to its geographical scope. Ever since I became Foreign Minister in 2005, I have been struck by the way our European High North perspective has merged with the broader Arctic perspective.

Due to the changes taking place in the Arctic, the High North is moving from the outskirts to a new geopolitical centre of gravity. New developments pose new challenges and give rise to new opportunities. As a responsible coastal state, Norway strives to address these challenges and make use of the opportunities in a safe and environmentally sound way. We will work to ensure that the Arctic remains a peaceful region of cooperation and sustainable resource management.

Predictable frameworks for sustainable development
The Arctic is not a legal void or a political vacuum. The Law of the Sea forms the legal basis for all activities in the Arctic Ocean – as it does in all oceans and seas of the world. In Norway’s view, existing international law provides a predictable framework for addressing present and foreseeable challenges in the Arctic.

There are few unresolved issues of jurisdiction in the Arctic. In the Ilulissat Declaration (28 May 2008) the five coastal states bordering the Arctic Ocean – Norway, Russia, Canada, Denmark (Greenland) and the United States – confirmed their continued commitment to the legal framework in the Arctic Ocean and to the orderly settlement of possible overlapping claims.

The 2010 Treaty Concerning Maritime Delimitation and Cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean between Norway and the Russian Federation is a prime example of the practical application of the principles set out in the existing legal framework. This agreement was a true milestone because unresolved maritime boundaries can be particularly difficult for states to resolve. It was 40 years in the making, and entailed long-drawn-out and seemingly endless rounds of negotiations. But in the end, we agreed that the Law of the Sea provided a framework that enabled us to overcome the zero-sum logic of competition and replace it with a process focused on finding a win-win solution.

The establishment of the outer limits of the continental shelf outside 200 nautical miles is dealt with by the Commission on the Outer Limits of the Continental Shelf in New York. Norway was the first coastal state in the Arctic Ocean to complete the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in this respect, and Norway has worked in close cooperation with all its neighbouring states in the High North.

In Norway’s view, it is essential that shipping in the Arctic Ocean is subject to the highest safety and environmental standards. Therefore Norway strongly supports the development of a mandatory Polar Code under the International Maritime Organization. We invite other nations to join us in close cooperation on this matter. We believe that mandatory rules for shipping in polar waters are crucial for preventing accidents, loss of human life and oil spills.

The prospect of increased activity in the Arctic Ocean means that coastal states will need to maintain a strong presence in order to exercise their jurisdiction, sovereign rights and authority in a credible, consistent and predictable manner.

The Arctic Ocean is not Antarctica
Antarctica is a continent surrounded by oceans, whereas the Arctic Ocean is an ocean surrounded by land under national jurisdiction. Recognising that Antarctica is an uninhabited continent with no generally acknowledged claims to sovereignty, the Antarctic Treaty was adopted in 1959 to regulate human activity on the continent.

In contrast to the situation that prevailed in Antarctica before the adoption of the Antarctic Treaty, the Law of the Sea already provides the legal framework for regulating activities in the Arctic Ocean. Consequently, calls for a specific treaty to regulate activities in the Arctic are unjustified.

Circumpolar and regional cooperation
Various political arenas of cooperation address issues related to the Arctic. Circumpolar and regional cooperation is well developed and steadily increasing. The Arctic Council is the most important forum in this regard. The indigenous peoples of the High North have been given their rightful place as permanent participants. Indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge and skills are important, based as they are on a unique ability to live and work in the Arctic.

The work of the Arctic Council is producing tangible results. Its comprehensive reports and studies of climate change in the Arctic have been of major importance in highlighting the speed at which climate change is taking place and its implications. Furthermore, the Council has undertaken comprehensive environmental and scientific studies on shipping in the Arctic, on oil and gas activities and prospects, and on ocean management.

The agreement on search and rescue (SAR) cooperation in the Arctic, concluded in May 2011, is the first legally binding agreement negotiated between the members of the Arctic Council. It establishes a binding framework for search and rescue cooperation and enhances regional cooperation between the Arctic states. Building on the positive experience gained from negotiating the SAR agreement, the Arctic Council has established a task force to develop an international instrument on Arctic marine pollution preparedness and response.

The Arctic Council has also decided to strengthen its capacity to respond to the challenges and opportunities in the Arctic by establishing a permanent secretariat in Tromsø.

Norway supports the broadening of Arctic Council discussions through the inclusion of more observers.

Norway also welcomes the development of Arctic strategies by Arctic states and other interested parties, and looks forward to continued fruitful cooperation within bilateral, regional and multilateral contexts.

Another example of innovative regional cooperation is the Barents cooperation, which includes local authorities. It has played, and continues to play, an important role in building trust and mutual understanding. The Barents region has vast resources – both human and natural – and great potential for new economic developments.

As chair of the Barents Euro–Arctic Council, we intend to promote business development, protect the environment and maintain settlement patterns. We need to simultaneously address the challenges of ensuring economic growth, energy security, and the sustainable use of natural resources, while adapting to and mitigating the effects of climate change. These challenges must be met in concert, through mutually beneficial cooperation.

On 4 June 2013, the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, will invite his Barents colleagues to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Barents cooperation. This will be an occasion to look back and take stock, but first and foremost to look ahead at the challenges and opportunities that can be expected in the next 20 years. A new Kirkenes declaration will be called for – Kirkenes II – that sets out future strategic priorities for the Barents cooperation.

Integrated ocean management
Norway takes an ecosystem- and science-based approach to sustainable resource management. Integrated management plans for all relevant maritime areas are among our most important tools. Based on ambitious goals, these plans establish a holistic framework for all activities in the relevant maritime areas.

Our ultimate ambition is that all activities should be managed within a single context, facilitating long-term and responsible value creation based on the sustainable use of the resources in these maritime areas, while at the same time safeguarding the environment and preserving the structure, functioning and productivity of the ecosystems.

Responsible management of all living marine resources based on scientific knowledge is a key Norwegian objective. Regional cooperation is essential to achieve this. Large-scale commercial fisheries in the central Arctic Ocean are not envisaged in the foreseeable future, but adjacent waters, and the Barents Sea in particular, are home to some of the world’s most abundant fish resources, such as the northeast Arctic cod.

The fisheries in the Barents Sea are managed successfully by Norway and Russia in close bilateral cooperation, in which the Joint Norwegian–Russian Fisheries Commission plays a key role. The North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) and our bilateral cooperation with the EU, Iceland and the Faroe Islands are also important in this regard.

Petroleum activities on the Norwegian continental shelf are subject to the highest safety and environmental standards. We have taken measures to further strengthen and improve Norwegian rules and regulations.

However, in order to prevent accidents, closer international cooperation is essential. Norway is leading the work of the OSPAR Commission and the Arctic Council on prevention of oil pollution, and participates actively in offshore regulatory bodies such as the International Regulatory Forum and the North Sea Offshore Authorities Forum.

Norway’s vision for the Arctic region
In the Government’s white paper on the High North from November 2011, our vision for the Arctic is summed up as follows:

  1. Safeguarding peace and stability;
  2. Ensuring an integrated, ecosystem-based management regime and sustainable use of resources;
  3. Strengthening international cooperation;
  4. Strengthening the basis for value creation.

In other words, we want to make use of the opportunities that are opening up while at the same time managing the risks involved peacefully, sustainable and responsibly.

As a coastal state bordering the Arctic Ocean, Norway has responsibilities as well as rights. We take this seriously. We are predictable and consistent in our exercise of sovereignty, and we aim at being a catalyst for increased cooperation – bilaterally, regionally and globally.

As mentioned initially, the High North is moving from the outskirts to a new geopolitical centre of gravity. Interest from new actors – outside the Arctic region – is understandable, and legitimate. What happens in the Arctic has repercussions beyond the region itself. We do, however, have the legal framework and political institutions needed to deal with these developments. There is no need for new structures, but there is always room for strengthening cooperation within these structures.

In order to manage the opportunities and challenges emerging in the High North we need increased knowledge and we need good partners. I am confident that our cooperation with our neighbouring countries and with other nations – within as well as outside the Arctic region – has the potential to provide both.




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