NATO & the Arctic
Maarten de Sitter
In the light of its already full plate of responsibilities it was not surprising that the Alliance did not
react collectively to the territorial Arctic claims Russia deposited in August 2015. Faced i.a. with Putin’s
ongoing illegal action on the Alliance’s eastern flank, the deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan
and threats to its southern member Turkey, finding a consensus in any way vis-à-vis High North issues
is clearly not on NATO’s forefront.
This taciturnity however sends a bad signal, both to Vladimir Putin as well as to the Arctic nations, as
it could be interpreted as a lack of interest. Bad PR, so to speak.
Alliance silence on the matter unfortunately reflects a more engrained problem. Notwithstanding
persistent efforts in the last decade, for instance by Norway, to get and keep the issue of High North
security on the radar in Brussels, a collective decision to address the changing strategic situation
remains elusive. Even Putin does not now trigger a NATO High North position. Individual nations
have taken measures – e.g. the creation of a Danish Arctic Command – but a collective response is
Leaving the legal merits of the ambitious Russian territorial claim to the experts, politically the
announcement clearly fits in the aggressive expansionism that is Putin’s hallmark. A collective Allied
reaction to Moscow’s attempted Polar territory grab requires the initiative by one or by a group of
Maarten de Sitter is a retired NATO international civilian and an independent political adviser.