Andreas Østhagen, a senior researcher at FNI, was recently interviewed on BBC Weekend about the United States' defense strategy in response to a growing Russian presence in the Arctic.
The White House released a 10-year Arctic strategy last October, and the Pentagon will soon outline its priorities for the region, with a focus on defense. The Arctic's mineral resources, which are located near the borders of Russia, Europe, and the US, make it a potential flashpoint for military conflict.
Østhagen believes that Russia's capabilities in the Arctic are a cause for concern.
"Russia has been developing capabilities in the Arctic for almost two decades now, he says."
He notes that Russia's Northern Fleet, which accounts for approximately 60% of Russia's nuclear capacity, is located in the European parts of the Arctic, close to Norway.
Listen to the BBC clip here (32 min)
"The whole point of the Northern Fleet is to be a deterrent against an attack on Russia", Østhagen explains.
In addition, China and Russia are increasingly operating together in the Bering Sea and the North Pacific, which is close to Alaska and causing US security concerns. The US is now investing in Arctic capabilities, including icebreakers, due to the region's growing importance.
Climate change has contributed to the region's accessibility for shipping, resource opportunities, and new distribution patterns in fisheries, but it is not a primary driver of geopolitical tensions in the Arctic.
NATO countries have increased the number of vessels sailing close to the Russian Northern Fleet, which Russia views as a threat.
Norway plays a role in Arctic security as NATO's northern flank and is hoping to play a moderating role. "We tried to establish good neighbourly relations even after Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, Østhagen says."
The Norwegian government's slogan is "high north, low tension," but Østhagen considers that it is currently more of an aspiration than a description of reality.
On Sunday April 16, 2023, Andreas Østhagen attended the BBC again, this time on their World Service Weekend broadcast. In the course of the more than two hours long program, he participates with comments relating to issues such as the current controversies related to the apology by the Norwegian government to the indigenous Sami minority group for the construction of wind turbines on reindeer pastures and other issues (26:37 min), The Arctic Council and it's political significance (9:57 min) and on Geopolitical changes in the Arctic (29:00 min).