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NATO’s cold response and the implications of militarization in the Arctic

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NATO’s cold response and the implications of militarization in the Arctic

A Dutch tank in the Cold Response 2016. Credit: Ministerie van Defensie/ Wikimedia Commons

On On April 1, NATO concluded its largest Norwegian-led cold response training exercise nowadays. Cold Response training is a long-standing military operation conducted by NATO member and partner nations, usually held every four years. But, it was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war and the prospect of a militarization of the Arctic loomed large as participants gathered.

This year’s two-week cold weather training included military personnel from 23 of the 30 NATO nations. Finland and Sweden, partner countries, also participated. It was conducted in several regions of Norway, including Bodø and Narvik, which are home to many glaciers such as Svartisen (the second largest glacier in Norway) and Frostisen.

Cold Response takes place in extremely harsh conditions, and this year four US Marines have died in a training accident. They were killed in a transport plane crash during the exercise, likely due to poor visibility in the Region. High winds combined with heavy snowfall and ice from the storm may also have contributed to the accident. The danger in this area is amplified by the risk of landslides, which inhibited the rescue operation. Many European nations, including non-NATO partners, rely on this training to maintain their standing military strength and expertise in brutal winter conditions.

35,000 soldiers took part and all partner and member countries, including Russia, were invited to observe the training. Russia, however, declined this year’s invitation. There were also 5,000 fewer soldiers in the cold response due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to Preben Aursand, spokesman for the Norwegian Armed Forces. Operational Headquarter. Russia’s refusal of the observers’ invitation and the deaths of the marines underscore the seriousness of the circumstances surrounding this year’s event.

Norwegian military forces came together for Cold Response 2009.

Norwegian military personnel in Cold Response 2009. Credit: Jaran Gjeland Stenstad/ Wikimedia Commons

Although Cold Response is a long-standing, non-combat practice, the exercise raises questions about how increasing militarization in the Arctic may affect regional cooperation and NATO members’ future relationship with Russia. . The Cold Response had been planned before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but there were initial concerns about whether going ahead with the already planned Cold Response would provoke a Russian response in the context of the new war. However, NATO members decided to go ahead thinking that this might deter Russia from to invade a larger strip of land. Prior to the start of the Cold Response, Russia conducted a military exercise in the Arctic, considered a “Warning to the West.” A week later, February 24Russia invades Ukraine.

Two NATO partners, Finland and Sweden, participated for the first time as a combined brigade in Cold Response and are now considering joining NATO in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. NATO had already been sharing intelligence on the Ukrainian invasion with the two countries since March and the two countries also joined NATO. meetings. In addition, NATO launched another military exercise with Finland and Sweden on June 5. US General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the United States and other countries must “show solidarity with Finland and Sweden in this exercise.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says Finland and Sweden could be added to NATO “fast enough,” although the path for this step is unclear. Another complication is that Turkish President Erdogan has expressed his intention to block Finland’s NATO candidacy, as the vote must be unanimous. The move stems from his concern over Scandinavian support for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which Western countries rely on to fight ISIS. President Erdogan considers the SDF a terrorist organization. Although US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg have said Turkey’s concerns could be attenuatedthis creates additional uncertainty for the admission of Finland and Sweden to NATO.

This enlargement of NATO is not without risks, however. Russia claimed that there would be “serious military and political consequences” if NATO admitted Finland and Sweden. In addition, Russia has raised a territorial dispute over the autonomous islands of Åland which lie between Finland and Sweden, due to Finland’s intention to join NATO. The Åland Islands have been self-governing since 1856, as a Crimean War concession. Finland and Sweden have officially submitted requests to NATO May 18but continued militarization will have significant consequences, not only for Russia’s increased militarization as a counter, but also for economic and environmental treaties in the Arctic.

Dutch tanks drive through Norway in Cold Response 2016.

Dutch military forces participating in Cold Response 2016. Credit: Ministerie van Defensie/ Wikimedia Commons

There is great potential for economic activity in the Arctic region, as the melting of the sea ice improves access to fossil fuels, mineral resources, facilitates transport and the retreat of glaciers. exposes new areas for military bases. With growing economic potential, countries rushed to claim newly exposed routes and territories for themselves. While Cold Response itself is unlikely to increase tensions as it is a long-standing practice with high transparency, increased militarization on either side has the potential to cause problems. geopolitics.

Russian militarization in the Arctic has already increased significantly in recent years and continued militarization by other countries increases the risk of disrupting long-standing cooperation and joint governance in the Arctic. Russia has conducted numerous military exercises in the Arctic, and since 2014 it has built more than 475 new military structures. Moreover, Rasmus Bertelsen, a political scientist at the University of the Arctic in Norway, explains in an old GlacierHub article that the receding sea ice is opening up the Arctic to NATO forces, so Russia is looking to use new lands as an opportunity to broaden the scope of action. of its military forces to increase the defense of its nuclear weapons and submarines.

If militarization continues to increase, tensions and secrecy could increase the risk of miscommunication that jeopardizes cooperation and results in a breakdown of Arctic Council governance, crucial environmental treaties and other essential standards. The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental assembly of the 8 countries with Arctic territory. The forum cooperates to establish rules in the region and to solve problems such as economic territory, environmental protection and other regional problems. There has already been a rush for Arctic resources, particularly minerals and fossil fuels, due to volatile energy prices dependent on the geopolitical climate. Existing conflicts over territory, shipping routes and mineral resource claims are already testing the limits of the dispersed governance of the Arctic.

The Arctic Council is limited in its power and it is becoming more and more difficult to manage these conflicts. The Arctic, governed by treaties and intergovernmental organizations, has very limited powers to enforce specific directives and cannot resolve large-scale conflicts, especially those that may arise due to increased militarization.

The tensions that have resulted from a routine exercise like Cold Response demonstrate that the threat of militarization and conflict in the Arctic is becoming increasingly dangerous and complex as climate change alters glaciers and sea ​​ice in this remote region.