At a ministerial summit in Oslo last month, Norway and Russia agreed to improve military relations and expand cooperation in their Arctic territories.
Both northern states are reorganizing their armed forces in recognition of the changing strategic landscape. Norway aims to convert one of its High North battalions into a dedicated Arctic brigade comprising naval and special forces units. Russia last year announced plans to create an armored Arctic brigade of its own on the Kola Peninsula.
As a result of climate change, the Arctic region is set to assume newfound importance for the world economy. The melting ice could shorten global supply chains and free up vast oil and natural gas reserves to exploration.
The Arctic is estimated to contain some 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and so much as 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas. Combined, these figures amount to 22 percent of the planet’s untapped but technically recoverable hydrocarbons. Over 80 percent of those Arctic resources lie offshore.
The rapprochement between Norway and Russia seems odd given that the former is a NATO member but it makes sense for both of them. The reason? A country that’s far removed from the Arctic but definitely interested in asserting a presence there — China.
Sino-Norwegian relations soured in 2010 when the Nobel Peace Prize committee decided to award Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo. Beijing wouldn’t let the activist travel to Oslo to collect his prize and suspended free-trade talks with Norway. China even barred the import of Norwegian salmon.
Recently, those moves have come back to haunt China. Even though Norway hardly sold any salmon to China to begin with, it blocked Chinese entry as an observer state to the Arctic Council, a deliberative body of the eight countries that have territory within the Arctic Circle.
Russia probably doesn’t care for Chinese membership either. The Arctic is the one region where its sheer size and military prowess are yet unmatched. Canada is catching up and emerging as a northern superpower though. Why should Moscow invite another competitor?