Take Five is The Arctic Institute’s news roundup that gives you everything you need to know about what’s happened in the Arctic this week. Short in length but big on insight, from politics and culture to the environment and security, we look beneath the headlines to see what’s really going on. Published each Friday, our quick and fun redux breaks down the five biggest circumpolar stories with fresh editorial analysis so you can get caught up on the region in under five minutes. Take Five means you’ll never miss a beat on what matters most.
US revises Arctic military strategy with an eye to climate change
Is the US stepping up its military game in the Arctic? A new update to the Department of Defense’s Arctic strategy released last week would seem to point in this direction. At 17 pages, while it’s no in-depth report, it does take realities in the Arctic, especially climate change, much more seriously than the even briefer 2013 strategy it’s replacing (ADN, Washington Examiner). With sea routes like the Northwest Passage looking likely to open up to more shipping traffic due to melting sea ice, the report also notes that a rise in activity could pose a defense issue if competition over more accessible natural resources leads to tension, especially from Russia (Maritime Executive, Climate Change News).
TAKE 1: While it’s not robust on details, this signal that the US is getting more serious about the Arctic from a defense perspective—and that climate change in particular is a factor—is a significant one. While it pragmatically addresses evolving issues in the region that stem from climate change, it’s at odds with the Trump administration’s position on the matter (VOA). And then there’s Russia: a rising source of pressure because it’s been ramping up its military in the Arctic.
Saami celebrate centennial of annual congress
Sápmi—the traditional home of the Saami, an Indigenous people of northern Europe—spans across four states: Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. And since 1917, Saami from across Sápmi, also known as Lapland, have been having an annual congress each February that coincides with Sámi álbmotbeaivvi, or national day, on the 6th. This year’s centennial event in Tråante, the Saami name for Trondheim, Norway, took place over a week and celebrated a century of progress for “one people in four countries” that includes having a Saami elected assembly in each state (TAJ, Yahoo News)*.
TAKE 2: While there’s been a lot of progress, however, there’s still much work that remains. Of particular concern to not just the Saami but most Indigenous peoples are dwindling numbers of people who can speak the language. For the Saami, less than half are fluent in a Saami dialect. And also similar to most other Indigenous peoples are issues over land use: in 1917, Saami came together to fight to be able to herd reindeer across state borders; now, they are up against logging and energy companies (TAJ)*.
Norway, looking nervously east, springs for new submarines…
Although it was planning on torpedoing its submarine fleet just a few years ago, in response to Russia’s military buildup along the border and an accompanying geopolitical skittishness, Norway has made an about-face and decided to get four more instead (TBO, IBT). It takes a long time to build submarines: the subs won’t be delivered until at least the mid-2020s. And although they will have to travel a bit to get to the Arctic, as Norway closed its Arctic base a few years ago, the Minister of Defense sees the decision as good for NATO, too (TBO).
TAKE 3: However, it’s important to keep in mind that deterrence is a two-way street: while NATO members view Russia’s military expansion as threatening, from the Russian point of view, it’s saber-rattling from NATO that’s troubling, especially with US deployments in Norway, Eastern Europe, and the Baltics (TASS).
…but at the same time, the Arctic continues to be a place of cooperation
In Brussels last week, a joint commission of the European Parliament passed by a large margin a draft of an Arctic strategy which will now go before the full Parliament next month for consideration (TAJ)*. The resolution, which is intended to address issues such as environmental protection and economic development, was anticipated to probably compromise a working relationship with Russia; instead, it hasn’t (TAJ)*. In fact, in many ways, Russia very much wants to work in cooperation with European countries: for example, in spite of the recent military tension, the Russian Ambassador to Norway recently stated that Russia is interested in “constructive cooperation” in Svalbard (HNN).
TAKE 4: For its part, the EU is looking to learn from Norway how it navigates a relationship with Russia that is both mutually rewarding and antagonistic (TAJ)*. While the situation may seem almost paradoxical, it is helpful to remember that Russia, Norway—indeed, all of the Arctic states—are doing what makes sense for them. And in terms of the Arctic, it makes the most sense to work together…for the most part.
Yukon Quest, “world’s toughest dogsled race,” kicks off
Clocking in at 1,600 km of remote, challenging terrain that sees extreme temperatures, the Yukon Quest, which runs between Fairbanks, Alaska, and Whitehorse, Yukon, is a mental and physical test like none other that draws an international crowd, not to mention excited, happy dogs. This year’s race is seeing 21 teams from Canada, the US, Japan, and Europe compete on a trail that, similar to the Iditarod, has a history behind it, having originally come into use during the Gold Rush (G&M, CBC).
TAKE 5: Events like the Yukon Quest show that history isn’t always something that is stuck in the past, but can also be lived out in the present. Whether it’s in Yukon, Alaska, or anywhere else, the Arctic is full of rich local histories.
* The Arctic Journal (TAJ) went offline in June 2017.