They need to talk

Foreground | Militarisation in the Arctic is a reality. Conflict does not need to be

Forces are afoot to make sure their training goes to waste (Photo: Nato)

Kevin McGwin

When the first Arctic Security Roundtable, a series of occasional meetings organised by the Munich Security Conference, was held in Washington in 2017, the motivation was a growing consensus that it was high time to begin taking the potential for conflict in the region seriously.

The main argument is that militarisation has become a reality. Moscow’s revamping of its Northern front gets most of the attention in this respect, but Nato and its allies do not hold back from their own shows of strength, of staging exercises that cast Russia as the unstated adversary.

While any potential for conflict seems to be kept in check by an equal and opposite willingness amongst the countries of the region to collaborate on other matters, hawkish minds warn that the addition of non-Arctic states, most prominently China, into the mix, could tip the balance.

Likewise, while few security experts foresee conflict emerging over the region, the question of whether conflicts elsewhere could spread took on increasing relevance in 2014, when western powers slapped Russia with sanctions after it annexed Crimea and appeared to be meddling in eastern Ukraine.

SEE RELATED: Reconsidering security

This week, the Arctic Security Roundtable will continue discussions when it holds its fifth meeting, during the 2019 Munich Security Conference.

First held in 1963, with the Second World War fresh in mind, the conference seeks to prevent military conflicts by providing world leaders with a forum for exchanging ideas.

During the previous Arctic Security Roundtable meeting, in Stavanger, Norway, in August, participants discussed the need for a similar means for Arctic states to discuss security issues. Such matters may not be taken up by the Arctic Council, but avoiding them entirely makes it possible for misunderstandings to flourish or, worse, to escalate into conflict.

On a practical level, promoters say, security-oriented discussions could be used to address issues such as managing accidents or pooling resources. An example of the type of confidence-building measure these talks cold produced, is an ‘Uber for icebreakers’, an idea floated during the 2017 meeting that has begun making the rounds again.

Sceptics, mostly those intent on keeping military discussions separate from other Arctic business, will note that such conversations do take place, and that conflict is still only a theoretical possibility. As for the former, the landscape in which these discussions is somewhat fractured and may complicate the close co-ordination some envision. As far as the latter goes, discussions to make sure that remains the case are a reality: the series will continue in May, in Rovaniemi, Finland, concurrent with the Arctic Council’s big biennial meeting.

When: 15-17 Feb
Where: Munich, Germany
WWW: Munich Security Conference (official site)

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