The Arctic Security Forces Roundtable, a military-to-military forum established by the U.S. and Norway in 2010, originally consisted of twelve nations; the eight Arctic coastal states – Canada, Denmark (through Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S. (through Alaska) – and Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Russia has been excluded from the semi-annual meetings that constitute the group’s activities since 2014 after its reabsorption of Crimea.
Russia has the longest Arctic coastline, accounting for over half of all Arctic Ocean coastline and encompassing the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea and East Siberian Sea. The other eleven members are all either NATO members or NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partners (Finland and Sweden) which for all intents and purposes are members without flying the NATO flag in their capitals.
So when military officials of those nations met for two days last week for what U.S. European Command called strategic discussions (in a virtual format), Russian concerns were not addressed. They were not heard. They were not considered.
Instead the discussions were focused entirely on the role of three organizations: the Arctic Council, European Union and NATO. The first consists of the eight coastal nations mentioned above, those that have sovereignty rights in the Arctic. The second and third, interrelated in numerous ways and sharing most members in common (21 of 27 EU members are in NATO, hence 21 of 30 NATO members are in the EU), are transparently pitted against Russia in the Arctic as they are in Europe. And in fact globally.
The U.S. official most involved in this year’s iteration, U.S. European Command’s Army Major General Charles Miller, said: “The amount of focused attention and activity – commercially, militarily, environmentally – in the Arctic, along with the region’s continued strategic importance, makes this high-level military gathering an imperative for us.”
The other founding-nation representative involved, Commodore Solveig Krey, Defence Staff Norway’s Assistant Chief of Staff Operations, spoke in a similar vein: “The roundtable serves a critical role in ensuring that each participating senior military leader representing some 11 nations gains a clearer understanding of the Arctic,” and “work[…] in concert with the full range of bilateral and multilateral exercises and operations.”
The Pentagon has recently acquired access to four new Norwegian bases, two in the Arctic Circle, which has caused serious concerns for the Russian Foreign Ministry. And Admiral Alexander Moiseyev, the commander of Russia’s Northern Fleet, has recently expressed alarm over the increasing presence of U.S. and other NATO nations’ ships and submarines in the Barents Sea and Norwegian Sea, which he said is at the highest level since World War II. (Evidently meaning vessels from nations that later joined NATO.)
He also condemned larger and more frequent NATO military drills that are occurring closer to Russian borders and the recent prevalence of nuclear-capable strategic bombers near Russia’s northwest and Arctic borders. All of which, he warned, have caused “an increase of the conflict potential in the Arctic.”
The recent docking of the U.S. nuclear submarine USS New Mexico near Tromsø in northern Norway could not have reassured him.
The 21st century has seen the top of the world become a strategic battlefield in which NATO and Russia are facing off against each other.