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Nordic Arctic strategies

The iron-mines of Swedish Lapland and the nickel deposits in today's Northwest-Russia, were of the utmost importance to the Germans during World War II. All this came to mind when I attended, in April, a seminar arranged in Stockholm by the Swedish section of the Nordic Council. Sweden will chair the Arctic Council during the period 2011-2013 and they will use the occasion to promote - for the first time ever - a national Swedish strategy for the Arctic.

Among the speakers at the seminar is Lars-Erik Aaro, the general director of LKAB, the large Swedish state-owned mining-company. This is the company that more than any other secured steel-supplies for the German war-industry in WW II. In a new era and in a rather different context, the question can nevertheless be posed; can the company once again attain such a strategic role? The answer seems to be yes. Mr. Aaro also strongly underlines the fact that 90% of Europe's production of iron-ore still takes place in the Arctic and to a large extent in "his" mines in Northern Sweden.

Another speaker, Professor Peter Sköld from the Centre of Sami Research at Umeå University, also focuses on the issue of natural deposits in the Arctic. Discussing EU policy, he promotes his view that for Great Britain, France and Germany the Arctic region is primarily of interest as a store of future natural resources.

Ingrid Inga, the chairperson of the Swedish Sami Parliament, however raises a 'thorny' issue in this context: - What about the interests of the indigenous people versus those of the large companies? Managing the interests of both groups will definitely be a challenge. We think that the indigenous people must have a leading role in all Arctic affairs, she says and asks all states to cooperate with the indigenous people in order for them to achieve such positions.

Ambassador Gustaf Lind represents the Swedish Government. He will be in charge of Sweden´s chairmanship of the Arctic Council, in the period to come. Interestingly, he answers to a question from the floor, that he sees the debate on mineral resources in the North of Sweden more as an internal regional Swedish question than as an Arctic issue.

What does Sweden want to do with its chairmanship of the Arctic Council? Initially, at least, there does not seem here to be very specific ambitions. More research, more economic development, secure the human dimension and of course climate and environment – they are all included. The most concrete issue mentioned seems to be the desire to contribute to the improvement of security in relation to the expected increase in sea transport across the region.

This is an initiative that already has a long history and one that has, for example, featured consistently in the many 'Arctic Frontiers' conferences in Tromsø. One year, the presentation was given by a high-ranking Norwegian Military Officer – in uniform! In particular, he underlined the constructive cooperation between Russian and Norwegian Naval Forces in planning for major accidents at sea. Indeed, in spring 2011 the two nations conducted joint military exercises to improve their readiness in respect of possible rescue and security scenarios.

Also in Denmark there is a new Arctic debate. One significant element here is increased military presence to maintain "sovereignty". This initiative is directly expressed in the new Government document "Strategi for Arktis 2011-2020". Upgrading the US military base at Thule for Danish navy is one suggestion here.

Sweden has no direct access to the sea or sea-bed in the Arctic Ocean. Denmark and Greenland, however, have ample access. In June this year Denmark will present her claims in respect of the UN International Law of the Sea and the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Two Arctic States, Norway and Russia, have already done this and Denmark and Canada must make similar representations before 2014.

According to reports published by the Danish newspaper Information on the 16th of May, Denmark will, together with Greenland, claim rights to the seabed stretching to the North Pole itself. Whether this will be accepted however depends on how the UN Commission decides to address the issue of the status of the underwater connection between Greenland and the Pole, namely the geographical feature known as the Lomonosov Ridge.

The new Danish initiative has been likened in some circles to the Russian 'media event' which saw them plant their flag on the seabed of the Pole in 2007. It is also interesting to note that Mr. Kuupik Kleist, Head of Greenland's Government (Naalakkersuisut) has privately suggested that the Pole-region should be the property of all mankind. Mr. Kleist's proposal is not however referenced in the new Danish Arctic Strategy.

Finally, the Board of Directors of Nordregio has sadly decided to end the publication of the Journal of Nordregio in its present form. My job as the editor and the responsible person for the production of the Journal's content is over. I will therefore use this occasion to say goodbye and to say once again "thank you" to all of our readers and contributors for their support over the years.

By Odd Iglebaek, Editor