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Speech by the Swedish Minister for Defence Peter Hultqvist at the Munich Security Conference 2017 on “Arctic Security”

Published

Munich, February 18th 2017

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Thank you for the invitation to provide some perspectives on Arctic security.

The increasing importance of the Arctic is due to two factors: climate change that opens up the area for the exploration of natural resources, and the general Russian military build-up, some of which takes place in the Arctic region

The combination of Cold War tendencies and the willingness to use military solutions to push for political goals – read Georgia, Ukraine and Syria – leads me to conclude that the wider implications of the Russian military build-up in the Arctic is indeed worrisome

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Scholars and policy makers have diverging views of Russia's military developments in the Arctic. Some argue that the increasing military presence is primarily aimed at complementing civil authorities in surveillance and search and rescue. Others argue that Russia is protecting its national interests and in strengthening the defence in the North Western direction. Others detect a more offensive edge.

When we look at the facts we clearly see that Russia's increasing military presence in the Arctic is consistent with how Russia has boosted its capabilities in the Baltic Sea and elsewhere.

Since 2008, both Russian civilian and military investments and capabilities have increased notably in the Arctic. A special command, the North Unified Strategic Command, with the Northern Fleet as the main striking force, was recently established to bolster the command and control capacity in the region.

Modernization and reinforcement of the air defence is prioritized. New surveillance radars and fighter units are added to the region. Last year, an advanced coastal missile system was deployed to the Kola Peninsula.

To support military operations and to prepare for future increased maritime transports, development and construction of military infrastructure along Russians northern coastline is ongoing. Mainly, former Soviet bases are reopened and modernized but also new maritime support bases are established along the northern coastline including on some of the islands as for example the Wrangel Island, the New Siberian Islands, and the Frantz Josef Land. The infrastructure compromises aerodromes, radar stations, air-control systems and more.

The opening up of the Northeast Passage is of clear economic interest for Russia. The Arctic Ocean shipping route connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific oceans will potentially become commercially viable. Russia's and other nation's exploitation of gas and natural resources will pose future challenges. It will spur Russian ambitions to add military capability in the region. In late 2013, the Russian Northern Fleet opened the airfield at the island Kotelny, with the tasks to protect offshore oil and gas resources. In March 2014, 350 paratroopers were dropped on the island to demonstrate Russian capacity to operate in Arctic condition. We have seen numerous examples of other military activities, exercises and operations in the region and we expect this to continue.

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What I have described is a reality we must take seriously.

To some extent there is a necessity for Arctic nations to co-operate on a military level to discuss the strategic situation and, in addition, to cooperate with coast guards and civilian maritime agencies in search and rescue operations.

This can be done on a bilateral level or in multilateral formats.

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The good news is that the Arctic region is covered by cooperative policies and practices on the political level. There are forums established where there is a will to nurture that cooperation.

Nordic states have a long history of cooperation in the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO). In the Nordic, we conduct the biannual air exercise "Arctic Challenge Exercise", together with twelve nations. We are looking to making this into a Flag Exercise. "Cross Border Training" is another example in which the Nordic countries Air Forces engage together practically every other week of the year. We also have the Arctic Coast Guard Forum and have seen the multinational exercise "Barents Rescue", covering this specific form of cooperation between coast guard and other civilian agencies.

The latest "Arctic Security Forces Roundtable", which is a forum consisting of military and civilian agencies, held in Sweden last month, focused on the need for practical coordination in the area of maritime domain awareness for our armed forces, coast guards and maritime administration.

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Finally, on climate security: the average temperature in the Arctic is rising faster than anyone anticipated. Besides the many existing environmental challenges, the warming of the Arctic increases the risk of security implications with regard to sovereignty and territorial issues. This is a global challenge that we really have to take seriously from a security perspective as well.

Thank you for listening.