Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Getting into Cold Water

I have been an Arctic skeptic since moving to Canada not because I think the Arctic does not exist but because I think that the threats there are fairly low and Canada's ability to deal with any threats there are even lower.  However, as things melt, and as my own interests in Canadian defence require me to look inward-ish/upward (since Afghanistan is over for Canada and there will be no new big missions anytime soon), I am taking the Arctic more seriously.

So, when I got an invite to go to a breakfast at the Norwegian Ambassador's residence to chat about such stuff with a visiting three star general, Lt. Gen Morten Haga Lunde, head of their equivalent of CJOC--the operational command headquarters--I said yes.  I figured I would learn a lot in a short period of time without having to do a heap of literature review, and I was right.

I cannot speak to who said what specifically since it was held under Chatham House rules, but I can report some of the things I learned along the way.
  • In the intra-NATO debate about how seriously to take the Russian threat in the aftermath of Crimea, count on Norway to be on the very serious end of the spectrum.  Proximity breeds concern but not contempt as the Norwegians reported that the Russians take NATO capability seriously, such as the accuracy of the Libyan air campaign by non-US countries.  So, the Norwegians want NATO to look at ye olde plans and come up with some new ones since the old ones were overcome by events in 1989-1991.
  • That the Norwegians are sensitive to Canada's Harper's concerns about NATO-izing the Arctic.  The Norwegians would like to see more NATO activity up in the high north--more training, more doctrine, more exercises and the like--since it is a difficult "battlespace" and because the Russians take NATO seriously, but they seem to get that Harper prefers bilateralism way up there.  So, the Norwegians are developing both bilateral and multilateral networks.
  • Once again, I learned that the thing that really scares the navies operating in the high north ... is tourism.  That cruise ships are sailing the near Arctic at a very high frequency, and that if anything goes wrong, real help will be far, far away.  Rescue ships simply cannot move that fast, and there are limits both to the number of helicopters and to the capabilities of helicopters to deal with ships with hundreds, if not thousands, of tourists.
  • China is surprisingly chummy with ... Iceland.  The Norwegians had a series of examples of very tight ties between Iceland and China in the aftermath of Iceland's financial crisis.  This would, of course, alarm anyone who read Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising since Iceland was pivotal to command of the North Atlantic.  We should be less alarmed since China is a long way from having any kind of fleet that could do much in the Atlantic, but it does demonstrate that China has a long term game and takes advantage of any opportunity that presents itself.
  • That herring and cavier are actually pretty good.  I avoided most of this stuff in my one trip to Oslo nearly ten years ago, but when in the Ambassador's residence, one embraces the food no matter how early it is. 
  • A note on gender: I went to a meeting of Women in International Security-Canada  last night, so I could not help but notice how the Scandanavians do this stuff far better.  Not only is the Norwegian Ambassador, Her Excellency Mona Elisabeth Brøther, an incredible sharp woman, but the J-5 (head of strategic planning) for the Operational Commander was the first woman to command a submarine.  Not the first Norwegian woman to command a sub, but the first woman to command any sub.  At least, that is what we were told. 
I moved to Ottawa in part to be more engaged in the world via the Canadian foreign affairs and defence folk--the Canadians working in and near government.  It has also meant multiple opportunities to interact with those who are based in or visit Ottawa--the Norwegians, the Dutch, and so on.  As an International Relations scholar with a deep curiosity about the world, I find these interactions to be very, very interesting.  I have also found that the non-Great Powers in Ottawa have great teams of diplomats and military officers who do a terrific job not just representing their countries but engaging the broader Ottawa IR community.  To use the hackneyed phrase that everyone used in Afghanistan (except the Americans and the Germans for different reasons), these folks know how to punch above their weight.

1 comment:

Bonhomme Richard said...

Dr. Saideman,

As an Arctic watcher it's refreshing to get your take on this. It's worth noting that while Norway is amenable to a NATO presence in the Arctic they only want it if they are allowed to be the lead nation on the issue (i.e. "You can plug into our existing structures but can't bring your own").