NATO and the North Atlantic: Revitalizing Collective Defense and the Maritime Domai

By Søreide, Ine Eriksen | Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations, July 2016 | Go to article overview

NATO and the North Atlantic: Revitalizing Collective Defense and the Maritime Domai


Søreide, Ine Eriksen, Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations


The military-strategic environment in the North Atlantic is changing. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) safeguards a region of stability, cooperation, and respect for international law, but it needs to address Russia's new strategic capabilities and increased military activity in the maritime domain. This article examines current defense and security challenges in the North Atlantic with emphasis on what NATO should do to secure the transatlantic sea lines of communication.

The North Atlantic is Norway's key strategic area. Fisheries, maritime transport, tourism, and the extraction of oil, natural gas, and minerals are all important economic drivers for prioritizing this region. Our long coastline creates an enormous expanse of territorial waters and economic zones, and more than 80 percent of the ocean areas over which we have jurisdiction are located north of the Arctic Circle. Thus, Norwegian territorial rights cover parts of the North Atlantic, the Barents Sea, and the Arctic Ocean. Norway, with a population of just five million people, has jurisdiction over more than 2.2 million square kilometers of sea, an area which is seven times larger than our mainland territory. With great resources comes great responsibility.

Compared to most quarters of the world, the Arctic is a region of stability, respect for international law, and well-functioning multilateral institutions. It is most often associated with environmental concerns and commercial endeavors. Climatic changes are causing reductions in ice coverage and ice volumes, and large areas are becoming more accessible. At times, expectations have been high for the economic potential, be it shipping, exploitation of oil and gas reserves, fishing, or tourism. Such activities add to the inherent strategic importance of the region. However, although there is a potential for increased economic activity, development is slow, especially in today's oil and gas market as prices do not cover the required investment costs. Additionally, climate conditions are also tough, with extreme cold and much wind and fog.

One might ask why I draw the reader's attention to the North at a time when other regions make international headlines. Indeed, we are experiencing an unprecedented complexity in the European security environment. New and old hybrid, conventional, and asymmetric threats are combined and interwoven, presenting us with an unpredictable and multifaceted security landscape. The Ukraine crisis demonstrated that conflict in Europe is not a phenomenon of the past. Once again, conflict has been waged with overt and covert military means on European soil. Terrorism has struck the heart of Europe several times in recent years, and geographic distance to areas of conflict is no security guarantee. We are seeing unbelievable human suffering, disregard of human rights, disrespect of international law, climate hazards, economic constraints, and social despair. Europe is facing new realities in the east and in the south. Our commitment to universal values is being tested; we must work hard to uphold Western unity and cooperation.

There are also challenges from within. European politics are not in good shape. The combination of migration, economic turmoil, and social difficulties is a fundamental challenge, and we are witnessing radicalization and extremism, combined with the use of violence, to try to achieve the objectives of certain actors. The legitimacy and role of international political institutions, such as the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), and NATO, are being questioned and spurring disagreements in and between countries. Radical movements-from both the political left and right-are gaining a foothold, with anti-establishment and anti-modernity sentiments a common feature. At the same time, the refugee crisis is testing the functioning of our cooperative mechanisms. Political polarization within and between countries is a challenge to our ability to make good decisions, including within the realm of security policy. …

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