Irrespective of all the conflicts with Russia, the West stuck to its goal of keeping as many areas as possible open to civil cooperation. These include outer space and the Arctic.
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It is once again evident that the consequences of his attack on Ukraine go far beyond first appearances. Finland and Sweden prided themselves on their neutrality. Their accession to NATO changed the situation in the Baltic Sea and in the Arctic Circle.
In the Baltic Sea region, the defensive ring closes around the previously highly vulnerable Baltic States. So far, they only bordered the Alliance in the south. With Finland and Sweden, they are also gaining direct access to NATO territory in the north.
With the exception of the relatively small stretches of coast around Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg, the Baltic Sea will become a NATO internal sea. Finland and Sweden bring powerful armed forces with them, so they are “net providers” of shared security and not “net consumers” like some of the new members of recent years.
The security policy constellation is also changing in the Arctic Circle. So far, Russia has had to deal with five NATO countries there – Norway, Iceland, Denmark (because of Greenland), Canada and the USA – as well as two neutrals, Finland and Sweden.
In the future there will be seven NATO countries. The mediating role of the neutrals, who pushed for confidence-building, nature conservation, environmentally friendly use of natural resources and rejected militarization, will be missing.
Military use of the Arctic Circle has long been a priority for Russia. It uses the geographical conditions for its bastion concept. It controls a good half of the Arctic coastline, wants to, first, withdraw western access and, second, use the space as a base to expand its dominance there to parts of the North Atlantic.
The Russian Northern Fleet with ballistic nuclear missiles is stationed on the Kola Peninsula. She will be modernized with new fourth generation nuclear submarines, the Borei class. In the Russian perception of the Arctic, the mystical exaggeration of their own identity also plays a role.
Russia subjectively perceives the loss of sea ice as a loss of security. This reinforces siege thinking. If sea routes that were previously blocked by ice open up for international merchant shipping, but also for opposing navies, the bastion concept is threatened.
In addition, China’s hunger for gas and oil for its economic growth is increasing the already existing competition for the rich mineral resources of the Arctic. China is not one of the countries bordering the Arctic. But Russia’s economic and financial strategy is based on selling its energy sources, much of it to China.
At first glance, the Alliance’s northern expansion is strengthening its influence in the Arctic Circle. At the same time, however, it increases the risk of a confrontation there, as Russia’s new naval doctrine shows.
This double consequence presents the alliance with a dilemma: Does the concept of conflict prevention in the Arctic through dialogue and cooperation still have a future after Finland and Sweden have joined NATO? Or does the alliance now also have to rely on a stronger military presence there?