'Increase focus on High North': NATO looks to boost Arctic presence

'Increase focus on High North': NATO looks to boost Arctic presence
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau. Credit: NATO

NATO, together with Canada and the United States, is seeking to strengthen its presence at the North Pole in light of the Russian war with Ukraine and China's expanding reach.

During a visit by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to the Canadian Arctic, he confirmed that the High North is strategically important for Euro-Atlantic security and that Russia’s increased military activity in the region is a strategic challenge for all members of NATO.

"The shortest path to North America for Russian missiles and bombers would be over the North Pole. This makes the role of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) vital for North America, and therefore also for NATO," he said in a press statement. "Our response is a strong and predictable Allied presence in the region."

Aside from the challenges posed by Russia, he also hinted at the fact that China is expanding its reach. The country recently declared itself a “near Arctic” state, plans to build the world’s largest icebreaker and is investing tens of billions of dollars in energy, infrastructure, and research projects in the High North," according to Stoltenberg.

He added that Beijing and Moscow pledged to intensify their practical cooperation in the region. "This forms part of a deepening strategic partnership that challenges our values and interests." These challenges are further exacerbated by climate change, which requires the organisation to transform its approach to security and defence.

Making moves

A new NATO command for the Atlantic has already been established, while member countries, including Canada, are investing in new capabilities, and stepping up their presence in the High North. Regular exercises are also being carried out here.

On Friday, the US State Department also announced that the country would, for the first time, appoint a special envoy to the Arctic to promote "US interests and cooperation with allies and partners". The plan still needs to be approved by the Senate.

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The Arctic comprises territories of several countries. In addition to the US and Russia, these include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. When Finland and Sweden join NATO, seven out of eight Arctic nations will be NATO members.

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