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Five years of research on geopolitics in the High North has concluded

The large-scale project GeoPolitics in the High North, Norwegian Interests (GEOPOLITIKK-NORD) was recently concluded. The results of five years of research were summarised at this year’s Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø recently.

Some 40 researchers from 10 Norwegian and international institutions have been affiliated with the project, which has been headed by the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. Rolf Tamnes has served as the project manager and Kristine Offerdal as the research coordinator.

The GEOPOLITIKK-NORD project has been funded by the Research Council of Norway with allocations from the Government’s Barents 2020 initiative. The total budget has been approximately NOK 25 million.

Offerdal Kristine Offerdal served as the research coordinator for the large-scale project GeoPolitics in the High North, Norwegian Interests (GEOPOLITIKK-NORD) Changes occurring, slowly but surely

“Geopolitics in the Arctic is a little bit like climate change. Changes are taking place, it’s getting warmer, but it’s not happening quickly,” says Paal S. Hilde of the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, who has played a key role in the GEOPOLITIKK-NORD project.

Today the term “geopolitics” is used broadly to refer to the influence of geography on international power relations. In recent years the question of whether geography is still relevant in a globalised world has been hotly debated. Dr Hilde thinks it is important to discuss whether a geopolitics specific to the Arctic actually exists.

“During the Cold War the Arctic was strategically important because the area separated the two superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union,” explains Dr Hilde. “In the 1990s there was a quiet interlude, which has given way to renewed interest in the 2000s. Climate change is one reason for this, but the potential to utilise energy and other resources is even more crucial. The possibility of new sea routes is important as well.”

Furthermore, the Arctic has taken on new significance from a military strategic perspective in recent years. “We see a certain amount of military build-up in the Arctic, but for the most part this militarisation is not linked to conditions in the region itself, which is comprised of strong, stable countries,” continues Dr Hilde.

Important for Norway – significant internationally

At the conference in Tromsø, Dr Hilde asked the central question: How crucial are the resources in the Arctic to the world outside of Norway? His own answer was that while the region is not currently a global hot spot, it undoubtedly carries a certain degree of significance. He believes that events may take place in the future that will change the region’s international status.

Hilde Paal S. Hilde of the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies has played a key role in the GEOPOLITIKK-NORD project. The situation regarding resources is complex: The Arctic contains about 13 per cent of the world’s undiscovered oil resources and 30 per cent of its gas resources. By the same token, gas from this region is more costly to extract and more difficult to access than, for example, shale gas from the US. We also know that a relatively small portion of rare minerals is found in the Arctic,” says Dr Hilde.

With regard to shipping, he explains that the Arctic route has had very little prominence so far, but it could become more interesting in the future.

Dr Hilde believes that the geopolitical challenges are much greater in other parts of the world compared with the Arctic, citing the region of the South China Sea with its much more serious, unresolved border issues as one example.

Knowledge that informs Norway’s High North policy

The overall objective of the GEOPOLITIKK-NORD project has been to generate new knowledge about foreign policy issues of special significance for the High North and to strengthen the fragmented Norwegian research community in this area.

The Norwegian authorities are the most essential user of this knowledge. Insights from the project will be used primarily as a basis for formulating future Norwegian policy on the High North, but are at the same time relevant for trade and industry and for various research communities involved in issues related to the High North.

Read more about research activity under the GEOPOLITIKK-NORD project.

Written by:
Kristen Ulstein/Else Lie. Translation: Connie Stultz/Carol B. Eckmann
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