On the ten-year anniversary of Norway’s High North Strategy, Jonas Gahr Støre – Norway’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs and current Labour Party leader – returned to Tromsø to present his views on Norway’s Arctic endeavours over the last decade and into the future. While the discourses of stewardship are familiar, the nature of Norway’s leadership has changed from ‘green’ petroleum extraction to the ‘harvest’ of knowledge and renewable resources from the ocean, developing a ‘blue economy’.
Ten years ago, then Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre launched Norway’s High North Strategy1)Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2006) “The Norwegian Government’s High North Strategy”. Retrieved from: www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/upload/UD/Vedlegg/strategien.pdf at the University of Tromsø.2)Støre, J. G. (2005) “Et hav av muligheter”, speech at the University of Tromsø 10 November 2005. Retrieved from: www.regjeringen.no/no/aktuelt/et-hav-av-muligheter—en-ansvarlig-poli/id273194/ On the day of the anniversary, he returned to the re-branded ‘UiT – Norway’s Arctic University’ as the new leader of the Labour Party, the government’s main opposition party. If the Labour Party maintains its present level of success from this year’s local elections until the next parliamentary election in two years, Støre is expected to be Norway’s next Prime Minster.3)Torset, N. S. and Valvik, M. E. (2015) “Slik stemte Norge”, Aftenposten, 15 September 2015. Retrieved from: www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/politikk/Slik-stemte-Norge-8165228.html Looking back on the past decade and reflecting on the present and future, he offered his new vision for Arctic Norway – one marked not by petroleum prospects beneath the ocean’s floor but rather the riches in and of the ocean itself.
It is not just oil prices that have changed over the last decade. Back in 2005, no Russian flags had been planted on the Polar sea-floor, no Ilulissat Declaration had been signed to emphasise the application of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and no record-low sea ice had become a media sensation. When Støre stood in front of students, staff, and the generally interested public on 10 November 2005, the Arctic was only starting to enter popular geopolitical discourse. Needless to say, things look very different today.
As opposition leader, Støre is not in a position to launch a new policy or white paper. He is, however, perfectly situated to review the success and failures of Norway’s Arctic endeavours, and to suggest new potential and opportunities that the Conservative government has not (yet) seized. As the so-called father of Norway’s High North policy, he is in a good position to rally the ‘high expectations’ he repeatedly praised in this year’s talk. Although he acknowledged that not all expectations of North Norwegian development and prosperity had been met since 2005, he emphasised achievements such as low unemployment and economic growth, and perhaps most importantly, new ambitions in the North. It was in large part thanks to the 2005 policy and the subsequent white papers and reports [4; 5; 6] that North Norway re-gained its confidence as a ‘region of opportunities’. At the time, this was largely based on undiscovered petroleum resources; in Støre’s words then: “the High North is Europe’s new energy region”.4)Støre, J. G. (2005) “Et hav av muligheter”, speech at the University of Tromsø 10 November 2005. Retrieved from: www.regjeringen.no/no/aktuelt/et-hav-av-muligheter—en-ansvarlig-poli/id273194/ As oil prices have subsequently dropped dramatically, there is a need to move ambition elsewhere without losing said expectations for growth. This, Støre argues, can be achieved by focusing on the ocean’s renewable riches, such as fish and renewable energy from wind and wave power.
Relationship with Russia
One thing that has not changed in the last decade, let alone last millennium, is the geographical truth that in the north, Norway borders its largest neighbor: Russia. Inevitably, this has come to define much of Norway’s Arctic engagement with the larger aim of peace and stability in mind for the Arctic region. Indeed, the High North Strategy was introduced with the assurance that: “We will continue to build on our good neighborly relations with Russia, which were resumed at the end of the Cold War”.5)Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2006) “The Norwegian Government’s High North Strategy”. Retrieved from: www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/upload/UD/Vedlegg/strategien.pdf In the years and white papers that have followed, the emphasis has remained on maintaining a positive relationship as neighbors.
As Støre also now pointed out, one of the major achievements since 2005 was the border delimitation between Norway and Russia in the Barents Sea in 2010. The historical agreement was facilitated by other political relations of the time, in particular the recognition by both parties that the world was increasingly interested in the Arctic and its potentials,6)Henriksen, T., Ulfstein, G., 2011. Maritime Delimitation in the Arctic: The Barents Sea Treaty. Ocean Development & International Law 42, 1–21. doi:10.1080/00908320.2011.542389. as well as increasing cooperation between the two – such as on the management of fish stocks in the region.7)Lajus, J. (2013). Linking people through fish: science and Barents Sea fish resources in the context of Russian–Scandinavian relations. In: Sörlin, S. (Ed.). Science, geopolitics and culture in the polar region: Norden beyond borders. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing. Furthermore, it is an achievement that has been important not just in Norwegian affairs but for Arctic affairs at large. It demonstrated the successful application of the UNCLOS, where scientific data provided the foundation for a submission on the drawing of a maritime boundary that, finally, was aided by bilateral negotiations. Linking this back to the promise of a ‘blue economy’, Støre highlighted the joint Russian-Norwegian management of the Barents cod stocks and efforts to counteract illegal fishing in the areas as examples of Norwegian oceanic expertise for other states to follow.
For Norway, the relatively well-functioning bilateral relationship with Russia carries an element of pride. However, the warming of relations since the end of the Cold War has, in more recent years, experienced a Crimea-induced re-cooling,8)Østhagen, A. (2014) “Ukraine Crisis and the Arctic: Penalties or Reconciliation?”, The Arctic Institute. Retrieved from www.thearcticinstitute.org/impact-of-ukraine-crisis-on-arctic/ with EU-led sanctions and fewer people crossing the Norwegian-Russian border in either direction. That is not to say that any new conflict is brewing, but as Støre reiterated, there is today an even stronger impetus to not just maintain but also actively work for the Norwegian mantra “High North – Low tension”. Thus, the long-standing relationship between Norway and Russia in terms of ‘blue economy’ activities, like joint fish management in the Barents Sea, provide a good pretext for keeping contacts up and tensions low.
Strikingly absent from Støre’s talk was any mention of defense or strategic aspects of Arctic politics. Pre-empting potential media hyperbole, any scramble or competition was, as usual, dismissed.9)Exner-Pirot, H. (2015) “Northern expert proposes new rule – Put up or shut up with your Arctic Conflict Theory”, Eye on the Arctic. Retrieved from: www.rcinet.ca/eye-on-the-arctic/2015/10/20/northern-expert-proposes-new-rule-put-up-or-shut-up-with-your-arctic-conflict-theory/ Mentioning the unique position that Norway holds as a NATO member state with a border to Russia, and acknowledging that due to events elsewhere a politically “colder climate is blowing across the north”, the primary concern in this regard is not Arctic re-armament or conflict per se. Rather, the border has come to symbolize a new political situation in need of a wholly new response: the refugee crisis.
The “drama” unfolding on Europe’s northernmost borders that Støre referred to is something both national and international media has picked up on,10)Kingsley, P. (2015) “Syrians fleeing war find new route to Europe – via the Arctic Circle”, The Guardian. Retrieved from: www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/29/syrian-refugees-europe-arctic-circle-russia-norway making it an issue difficult to avoid in any discussion on current Arctic affairs. Indeed, a former military camp close to Kirkenes in Eastern Finnmark has been re-purposed for hundreds of people in need of shelter;11)Nilsen, T. (2015) “Former military camp turned into Arctic migrant center”, The Independent Barents Observer. Retrieved from: thebarentsobserver.com/2015/11/former-military-camp-turned-arctic-migrants-center human security has thus come to dominate the debate. If anyone still held onto the belief that the Arctic could be kept sheltered from global developments, the Nepalese, Syrian, Iraqi, Afghani, and many other men and women crossing the Storskog border checkpoint have proven otherwise. As such, Støre emphasised that the experience of successful cooperation between the two neighbours Russia and Norway, e.g. on matters in the Barents Sea, must now be transferred to the joint responsibility for events taking place on the border.
Developments elsewhere have also forced a re-orientation of what has arguably been one of the key drivers behind the Norwegian government’s Arctic eagerness in 2005, namely natural resource extraction. With a continuing low oil price and the sobering realization that the costs of extraction have been grossly underestimated, Norway’s Arctic enthusiasm can no longer run on fossil fuels alone. Although no presentation on Norway’s High North could fully omit the topic, the mention of oil was limited to only three times in Støre’s November speech12)Kristoffersen, B. (2015) “Havet er navet”, Dag og Tid, 13 November 2015. – a stark contrast to the oil industry’s dominant presence in Norway’s Arctic debate in the past decade.
Utilising the very same rhetorical tools as previously applied to the ocean floor, Støre emphasised Norway’s “leadership” and role as “front-runner” in the stewardship and harvest of the ocean itself. By this, he was referring to fishery related industries, aquaculture, biotechnology, renewable energy, and sub-sea minerals – echoing the EU’s initiative for ‘Blue Growth’.13)European Commission, ec.europa.eu/maritimeaffairs/policy/blue_growth/ Most importantly, however, he stressed Norway’s role as a pioneer in oceanic knowledge. Norway’s historically anchored national identity as living off the sea was thereby re-framed as demonstrative of the country’s natural role as leader in the field.
Norway’s current Minister of Foreign Affairs, Børge Brende, employed a similar argument when he in the very same room during January’s Arctic Frontiers conference stated that: “As a nation of seafarers and fishermen, Norwegians have always lived off the sea. Polar exploration is an integral part of our national identity”.14)Brende, B. (2015). Speech at Arctic Frontiers 2015, 19 January 2015. Retrieved from: www.regjeringen.no/en/aktuelt/arctic_speech/id2362601/ While Brende’s speech alluded to export revenues of particular relevance to the many representatives from the petroleum industry in the conference audience, Støre bypassed talk of ‘black gold’, and instead hailed cod as the “Rolls Royce” among fish. In other words, the natural resources to be harvested from the ocean may have looked different for Brende in January than for Støre in November, but their views on Norway’s given role in the Arctic were both firmly rooted in a history of coastal lives and livelihoods shaped by the sea.
Speaking at an event organized primarily by students, Støre’s audience in Tromsø was perhaps also more conducive than Brende’s towards a discursive shift away from a ‘drilling oil for the environment’ type of logic15)Jensen, L. C. (2011) “Norsk oljeboring for å hjelpe miljøet: Diskurskooptering som nytt analytisk begrep” [‘Norwegian Oil Drilling to Help the Environment: Introducing “Discourse Cooptation” as a New Analytical Term’]. Norsk Statsvitenskapelig Tidsskrift, 26( 3), pp. 185-203. Available from: www.idunn.no/nst/2010/03 – that is, the argument that if Norway does not extract hydrocarbons in the north, Russia will do so in a much less ‘sustainable’ manner – framing fossil fuel extraction as a highly paradoxical environmental responsibility. Instead, Støre turned towards a discourse of research and science, and repeatedly spoke of environmental concerns related to the ocean: “The ocean is sick”. Indeed, from the oceanic treasure chest outside the nation’s coast, the key resource to be harvested is knowledge, according to Støre. In other words, Norway’s status as a ‘big fish’ in Arctic matters will be upheld by the foremost, most excellent, most pioneering, and ambitious research, science, and knowledge.16)Medby, I.A. (2015) “Big Fish in a Small (Arctic) Pond: Regime Adherence as Status and Arctic State Identity in Norway “, Arctic Yearbook 2015, pp.313-326. Retrieved from: www.arcticyearbook.com/images/Articles_2015/17.Big-FIsh-in-a-Small-Pond.pdf As a timely example, the Norwegian coal mines on Svalbard are on the verge of closing – to many people’s dismay (and a topic not mentioned by Støre)17)Karijord, C. (2015) “Svalbard ligger for langt nord for nordområdesatsingen”, High North News. Retrieved from: www.highnorthnews.com/svalbard-ligger-for-langt-nord-for-nordomradesatsingen/ – and thus the Norwegian strategic presence on the Archipelago is increasingly left to scientists at The University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS).
Scientific knowledge is a valuable currency in Arctic politics and diplomacy, and it is by these means Norway seeks to ensure its affluence and influence as an Arctic state. Just like UNCLOS submissions are judged by their scientific rigour, legitimacy in Arctic political fora is also contingent on the demonstration of scientific contribution and interest. Indeed, at the 2013 Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council, when six additional non-Arctic states applied for observer status, their arguments for inclusion tended to emphasise their research.18)Steinberg, P. E., Bruun, J.M and Medby, I.A. (2014) “Covering Kiruna: A natural experiment in Arctic awareness”, Polar Geography 37(4), pp. 273-297. As a mutually beneficial endeavour for both Arctic and non-Arctic stakeholders, science builds bridges through cooperative efforts and useful knowledge production, while also serving as a “soft” tool of political diplomacy.
The increasing international interest in the Arctic that was so clearly demonstrated at the 2013 Ministerial Meeting was welcomed by Støre. However, commending the Icelandic President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson for his initiative on the Arctic Circle Assembly, Støre provocatively asked why this, “the largest gathering for discussing the Arctic”, did not take place in Norway?19)Johnsen, N. A. (2015) “Ikke vær sur på Reykjavik, Jonas Gahr Støre“. Retrieved from: nilsajohnsen.com/2015/11/11/ikke-vaer-sur-pa-reykjavik-jonas-gahr-store/ From his perspective, Norway ought to harness this global interest and maintain “idea-initiative and idea-leadership” in order to set the agenda for Arctic knowledge and discussion.
Jonas Gahr Støre was not in Tromsø to argue for partisan politics but to reflect on Norway’s Arctic role through the years. Nevertheless, the Labour Party leader made one thing clear: When the High North Strategy was launched in 2005, and in the subsequent years under Prime Minister Stoltenberg, the High North was named Norway’s “most important strategic priority”. Today, under Prime Minister Solberg, it has become the country’s “most important foreign policy area”. A seemingly minor linguistic difference that, according to Støre, reflects a governmental downscaling of ambition, bringing Arctic politics back into the strictly foreign domain of politics. In other words, the national dimension of Arctic statehood and identity is presently missing in Norway’s Arctic policy.
Released last year, the current government’s report on Norway’s Arctic policy added little new to previous policy documents,20)Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2014) “Norway’s Arctic Policy for 2014 and beyond – a Summary”. Retrieved from: www.regjeringen.no/en/dokumenter/report_summary/id2076191/ though Støre commended their efforts towards strengthening Norwegian marine sciences. For Støre, acknowledging Norway as first and foremost a coastal state, inherently tied to the ocean, reveals not just Norway’s role in the Arctic, but also the potential for global connections and leadership in the field.
In the end, the packed auditorium and the countless live-streaming listeners were left with an Arctic enthusiasm not dissimilar from that conveyed a decade earlier, though the resource to be harvested has changed. The discursive move away from the ‘black gold’ is welcomed not just among students and academics, but favourable to most in a time when the Norwegian currency’s descent is prompting a re-assessment of the national economic dependence on a singular industry sector. While Støre’s emphasis – and role – has changed, the rhetoric is familiar: Norway holds a unique position, a unique expertise, and no less than a responsibility to act as a leader and steward in the Arctic.
With two years to go until the next parliamentary election, it is too early to say whether Støre’s visions will ever become prime ministerial visions. Nonetheless, he arguably still has significant influence on the Arctic discourse in Norway. Thus, when Støre re-paints the image of the national Arctic future from black to blue, from oil to ocean, it is worth paying attention.
References [ + ]
|1, 5.||↑||Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2006) “The Norwegian Government’s High North Strategy”. Retrieved from: www.regjeringen.no/globalassets/upload/UD/Vedlegg/strategien.pdf|
|2, 4.||↑||Støre, J. G. (2005) “Et hav av muligheter”, speech at the University of Tromsø 10 November 2005. Retrieved from: www.regjeringen.no/no/aktuelt/et-hav-av-muligheter—en-ansvarlig-poli/id273194/|
|3.||↑||Torset, N. S. and Valvik, M. E. (2015) “Slik stemte Norge”, Aftenposten, 15 September 2015. Retrieved from: www.aftenposten.no/nyheter/iriks/politikk/Slik-stemte-Norge-8165228.html|
|6.||↑||Henriksen, T., Ulfstein, G., 2011. Maritime Delimitation in the Arctic: The Barents Sea Treaty. Ocean Development & International Law 42, 1–21. doi:10.1080/00908320.2011.542389.|
|7.||↑||Lajus, J. (2013). Linking people through fish: science and Barents Sea fish resources in the context of Russian–Scandinavian relations. In: Sörlin, S. (Ed.). Science, geopolitics and culture in the polar region: Norden beyond borders. Farnham: Ashgate Publishing.|
|8.||↑||Østhagen, A. (2014) “Ukraine Crisis and the Arctic: Penalties or Reconciliation?”, The Arctic Institute. Retrieved from www.thearcticinstitute.org/impact-of-ukraine-crisis-on-arctic/|
|9.||↑||Exner-Pirot, H. (2015) “Northern expert proposes new rule – Put up or shut up with your Arctic Conflict Theory”, Eye on the Arctic. Retrieved from: www.rcinet.ca/eye-on-the-arctic/2015/10/20/northern-expert-proposes-new-rule-put-up-or-shut-up-with-your-arctic-conflict-theory/|
|10.||↑||Kingsley, P. (2015) “Syrians fleeing war find new route to Europe – via the Arctic Circle”, The Guardian. Retrieved from: www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/29/syrian-refugees-europe-arctic-circle-russia-norway|
|11.||↑||Nilsen, T. (2015) “Former military camp turned into Arctic migrant center”, The Independent Barents Observer. Retrieved from: thebarentsobserver.com/2015/11/former-military-camp-turned-arctic-migrants-center|
|12.||↑||Kristoffersen, B. (2015) “Havet er navet”, Dag og Tid, 13 November 2015.|
|13.||↑||European Commission, ec.europa.eu/maritimeaffairs/policy/blue_growth/|
|14.||↑||Brende, B. (2015). Speech at Arctic Frontiers 2015, 19 January 2015. Retrieved from: www.regjeringen.no/en/aktuelt/arctic_speech/id2362601/|
|15.||↑||Jensen, L. C. (2011) “Norsk oljeboring for å hjelpe miljøet: Diskurskooptering som nytt analytisk begrep” [‘Norwegian Oil Drilling to Help the Environment: Introducing “Discourse Cooptation” as a New Analytical Term’]. Norsk Statsvitenskapelig Tidsskrift, 26( 3), pp. 185-203. Available from: www.idunn.no/nst/2010/03|
|16.||↑||Medby, I.A. (2015) “Big Fish in a Small (Arctic) Pond: Regime Adherence as Status and Arctic State Identity in Norway “, Arctic Yearbook 2015, pp.313-326. Retrieved from: www.arcticyearbook.com/images/Articles_2015/17.Big-FIsh-in-a-Small-Pond.pdf|
|17.||↑||Karijord, C. (2015) “Svalbard ligger for langt nord for nordområdesatsingen”, High North News. Retrieved from: www.highnorthnews.com/svalbard-ligger-for-langt-nord-for-nordomradesatsingen/|
|18.||↑||Steinberg, P. E., Bruun, J.M and Medby, I.A. (2014) “Covering Kiruna: A natural experiment in Arctic awareness”, Polar Geography 37(4), pp. 273-297.|
|19.||↑||Johnsen, N. A. (2015) “Ikke vær sur på Reykjavik, Jonas Gahr Støre“. Retrieved from: nilsajohnsen.com/2015/11/11/ikke-vaer-sur-pa-reykjavik-jonas-gahr-store/|
|20.||↑||Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2014) “Norway’s Arctic Policy for 2014 and beyond – a Summary”. Retrieved from: www.regjeringen.no/en/dokumenter/report_summary/id2076191/|