The security situation in the Arctic was on the agenda when FNI senior researcher Andreas Østhagen was invited to address the Canadian Senate recently.
The Senate seldom receives foreign guest speakers, but Østhagen was called upon as an expert to a parliamentary hearing on the topic.
‘It was indeed an honour to be invited to address the Canadian Senate, especially since I am not a Canadian citizen. To be able to have a positive impact on Canadian policy-making concerning the Arctic is an important aspect of my research work’, Østhagen explains.
The Arctic in a changing security situation
The focus of the hearing was how Canada can best respond to the changing security situation in the Arctic, in view of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. Although Canada does not share a land border or maritime boundary with Russia in the North, the distance across the North Pole is short.
‘Over the last decades, various Canadian Prime Ministers have argued that Canada must invest more in its Arctic capabilities, so as to be able to protect and monitor its northern regions better. Greater cooperation with the USA through the NORAD defence arrangement has been seen as the primary way to do this’, Østhagen continues.
Norway and Canada with different challenges
At the hearing, Østhagen argued ‘it is important to recognize that, although we used to say that the chance of a conflict emerging or erupting in the Arctic was fairly low, this matter is also open for reinterpretation now.’
Østhagen emphasized that Norway and Canada face rather different challenges when it comes to the Arctic, also regarding security: ‘There are issues in the Arctic that might not lead to outright war or inter-state hostilities, but that still might develop into a dispute that could erupt into something more – especially now, given the security situation with Russia. However, the European Arctic is in a much more vulnerable situation than the North American Arctic.’
Not a stranger
Although not a citizen, Andreas is no stranger to Canada. He obtained his PhD from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver in 2019, working with Professor Michael Byers. Andreas is, as the only Norwegian, also part of the North American and Arctic Defence Security Network (NAADSN) which consists of over 100 experts across Canada and the USA.
Andreas Østhagen and Clive Schofield
The Arctic Yearbook, 2021, pp. 5-22.
Andreas Østhagen and Clive H. Schofield
The Polar Journal, published online 24.09.2021, 25 p. DOI: 10.1080/2154896X.2021.1978234