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07. júní 2023 Utanríkisráðuneytið

Ávarp á The Changing Arctic, málþingi um breytt öryggisumhverfi norðurslóða

Ladies and gentlemen, dear guests

Let me start by thanking the North American Arctic Defence and Security network, the Institute of International Affairs and Varðberg for organising today’s seminar and facilitating these important discussions on the future of the Arctic. This event underlines the growing ties between Canada and Iceland, including academic collaboration, which we very much welcome.

We are often inclined to picture the Arctic as an isolated and static place, somehow cut out from the rest of the world. But we should not be fooled by the myth of Arctic exceptionalism. The history of the Arctic and its economic and political development has always been linked to broader geopolitical trends.

My generation has only witnessed growing cooperation and peace in the Arctic, but the region is evolving, and the key question remains - are we going in the right direction?

We have been watching Russia, a key Arctic state, under Putin’s leadership gradually taking on a more revisionist and selective approach to international law and the rule-based order. This is culminating in Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine, causing senseless suffering for the people of Ukraine and significantly undermining Euro-Atlantic security with broader global implications.

Despite Putin’s strategic blunders and military losses in Ukraine, Russia seems not likely to change its course in the coming years. Therefore, the strategic importance of the North Atlantic and the Arctic has been on the rise in the past decades. This is due to several factors, including Russia’s military build-up in the Arctic and subsequent military capabilities and activities, that are of growing concern.

Our part of the world is not immune from these turbulent times, Iceland’s national Arctic and Security policies remain firm and crystal clear, underlining our steadfast commitment to maintaining peace and low tension in the Arctic. But that does not translate into looking aside or taking a selective approach to the principles of international law and sovereignty.

If there is one guiding star for Icelandic foreign policy, it is the values and principles reflected in the UN charter and international law. Iceland does not stand a chance in a world where might makes right or in the world order currently being promoted by the Russian regime and other non-democratic states. In fact, the same can be said of most other nations, many times bigger than Iceland. In a world where military might is the ultimate decider in world affairs, the fate of most nations is left to the whims of the strong.

But how can we safeguard stability, peace, and development in the Arctic?

For me, it is obvious that we are not going to cooperate politically with the Russian regime anytime soon unless we are willing to undermine the very pillars of Arctic cooperation, that are our principles and common values.

Let me share with you few key points I believe are of a particular importance as we try to adapt our cooperation and policy to this new security environment.

First, we must safeguard and promote international law and respect for sovereignty to avoid disputes and crises. In my view, this also sets clear limitations to any cooperation with Russia, their actions speak louder than words and we should not be tempted by the lure of Arctic exceptionalism. International law is international law also in the Arctic. We also need to be clear eyed about the strategic interests of third parties that might seek to get foothold region.

Second, the seven Arctic states need to continue to show leadership in shaping policy and discussions about Arctic security, in line with their role and responsibilities, but they should also cooperate and work closely with the international community and key stakeholders. We need to foster and safeguard the structures and the international instruments, that we have developed, to ensure long-term sustainable development and security in the Arctic region.

Thirdly, with Finland as a member of NATO and Sweden joining our Alliance soon, we need to ensure that the Alliance maintains situational awareness, capabilities, and presence in the region to avoid any possible military or hybrid brinkmanship from Russia. Despite Russia’s military blunders, they still maintain significant capabilities in the North and in the North-Atlantic, that are of serious concern for Euro-Atlantic security.

Key regional partners, including the seven Arctic states, the Nordic Countries and the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force have been stepping up their cooperation, exchanging information and conducting exercises, strengthening our ability to effectively respond in the event of a crisis. Our NATO membership and the bilateral defence agreement with the USA continue to be the key pillars of our security and defence.

We are committed to do more ourselves nationally, including increasing defence-related expenditures, strengthening resilience, and stepping up our contribution to NATO’s activities. This includes increased host nation support for NATO and allies' operating in the North-Atlantic, not least those focusing on Anti-submarine warfare.

Finally, although today’s discussions are overshadowed by concerns related to security, we must remain mindful when balancing our focus on short-term and long-term issues, that the Arctic will remain a delicate area that requires extensive international cooperation long after Putin's war has ended. Climate change continues to be an existential threat, resulting in melting glaciers, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, thawing permafrost, forest fires, threats to biodiversity and the list goes on. In an ideal world we would plan for a fully circumpolar cooperation, but this depends on the whether all Arctic states opt to play by the rules and rebuild trust - a vision that now seems out of reach.

Coming back to the key question of today's seminar, will the Arctic see great military engagement or continued cooperation? I believe we might see both. There will growing interest, engagement, and cooperation among the Arctic seven, like-minded states and other stakeholders that share the commitment to international law, peace, and stability in the Arctic. This will be driven both security concerns that call for increased situational awareness and vigilance but also the urgent need to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

At last, let me thank the organisers for this interesting seminar which I hope will lay the foundation for further academic cooperation between Canada and Iceland on security and defence.

Thank you.

Ávarpið var flutt á The Changing Arctic, málþingi um breytt öryggisumhverfi norðurslóða sem haldið var í Reykjavík 7. júní 2023, skipulagt af Alþjóðamálastofnun Háskóla Íslands, Varðbergi, North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network og utanríkisráðuneytinu. 




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