The Future of the High North: Cooperation or Cold War
AIR WAR COLL MAXWELL AFB AL MAXWELL AFB United States
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The High North was characterized by high tensions during the Cold War, but following the collapse of the Soviet Union became less relevant. However, its resuming an increasingly prominent geopolitical role. Melting sea ice is unlocking the region for exploitation of natural resources and opening previously unnavigable waters, again becoming an arena where Western and Russian interests converge. Historically, conflicts have not been over the region as such, but over the use of Arctic space. Furthermore, when conflict has found its way to the High North, it has originated elsewhere. This will in likelihood continue. Russian and Norwegian interests are to a high degree overlapping, and historically, the bilateral relationship has been characterized by pragmatic cooperation, also likely to continue, albeit in parallel to occasional confrontational discourses between Oslo and Moscow. Regionally, there are few sources of conflict the five coastal states have primarily shared interests and are all strong guardians of UNCLOS, and there are strong regional multilateral institutions. Svalbard, and to a lesser degree the NSR, are potential exceptions and sources of conflict, though unlikely to go beyond bellicose rhetoric. Evaluating the region in isolation, the future is promising and will be characterized by stability and cooperation. However, there are threats to this cooperative climate. First, domestic developments in Russia may drive a change in Russian policies. Second, and most importantly, the region can never be seen in isolation from the broader international developments geopolitics never dissipates. So, conflicts are likely to originate elsewhere. Russian revisionist resurgence challenges the status quo, increasing tensions with the U.S. and the West. More worrisome, Russia has shown the will and ability to use military means to achieve political goals in Crimea and the Ukraine.