Gen. Peter Bartram (Danish Defense Force)
HELSINKI — Defense chiefs representing the world’s eight main Arctic nations will strengthen cooperation in marine surveillance and expand joint military exercises.
Moreover, defense commanders agreed to identify and appraise the military and civilian capabilities in each country that can be used to support civilian missions in the Arctic over the next 12 months.
The new strategy, following a two-day meeting of defense commanders in the coastal Greenland town of Ilulissat that ended June 12, will focus on how the eight Arctic nations can bolster defense and security cooperation in the Arctic and how military resources can be better deployed to support civilian needs across borders.
The Ilulissat meeting, hosted by the Danish defense chief, Gen. Peter Bartram, also may expand international cooperation on the exchange of information about shipping, the environment, climate change, and the anticipated strong growth in mineral exploration and economic activities in the vast region.
“The Arctic is becoming increasingly important as the ice melts and the region develops,” Bartram said. “Countries bordering the Arctic agree that we should, as much as possible, tackle challenges together.”
The primary focus, agreed during plenary sessions and side meetings, is to identify and align areas of shared interest to better appraise resources and national objectives, Bartram added.
“Much of the resources of countries in the Arctic are military,” he said. “It is therefore natural for us to want to coordinate and develop cooperation between the various countries’ military capabilities.”
Improving information exchange among militaries is one key initiative. Given the vastness of the Arctic and the lack of surveillance systems to monitor all areas, upgrading data exchange mechanisms is regarded as fundamental to sharpen rapid responses to situations such as natural or manmade disasters.
A consensus was reached by the military chiefs of Denmark, the US, Canada, Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland to work toward a common goal in which all countries adhere to the Maritime Safety & Security Information System (MSSIS), a near real-time data collection and distribution network operated by 60 countries that shares information sourced from the marine tracking Automatic Identification System, coastal radar units and other maritime-related monitoring systems.
MSSIS-based cooperation would mean the eight militaries could operate from a level playing field of knowledge and work with a common situational picture when collaborating on cross-border tasks in the Arctic.
The Ilulissat meeting will broaden the mutual understanding of each nation’s ability to support civilian authorities and perform Arctic search-and-rescue, mass casualty and marine oil pollution responses, said US Army Gen. Charles Jacoby, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command and US Northern Command.
“Enhancing partnerships now through productive engagements like the Northern Chiefs of Defense Meeting is essential to strengthening long-term Arctic security and cooperation,” Jacoby said.
The value of stronger multinational military cooperation in the Arctic is not new. The potential long-term advantage of cross-border collaboration was raised in the Stoltenberg Report, commissioned by Nordic governments and published in 2009.
The report was presented to all five governments by Thorvald Stoltenberg, a Norwegian defense and foreign minister in the 1980s and 1990s. It recommended the establishment of a Nordic civilian-based early warning system to monitor shipping, mineral exploration and the environment in the Arctic territories of Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Finland. The report also proposed forming a rapid-response military amphibious capability drawn from the specialized Arctic units within the Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish armed forces.
“The logic for interstate Nordic cooperation in the Arctic is obvious,” Stoltenberg said. “No one country can afford the cost of defense and security in the Arctic High North alone. The amphibious capability proposal is to form a unit that can develop its own Arctic expertise and which could contribute to international military operations and multinational response forces.”
The Ilulissat meeting took place amid heightened interest in the Arctic among Asian countries China, Japan, South Korea and India. All were granted observer status by the Arctic Council when it met in May in Kiruna, Sweden.
Nordic countries are forming closer Arctic relations with Asian countries. Iceland plans to establish a new assembly for international cooperation on Arctic issues that will give non-Arctic countries like China, Japan and India a forum for influence in the region. Icelandplans to host the inaugural meeting of the so-called Arctic Circle assembly in October in Reykjavik.
In April, Iceland became the first European country to sign a free trade pact with China. China also has tabled plans to invest more than $1 billion by 2020 to expand its ore mining and rare metals reach to Greenland.