Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there have been increased security concerns in the Arctic. In light of the increased military presence of Russia, but also of the US, how should European countries respond to their need for security, whilst trying to maintain a peaceful Arctic?
Committee on Foreign Affairs II
Chaired by Erik Koeken (NL). Covered by Julia Waligóra (PL)
Executive summary
The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the world, opening up new trade routes and possibilities for the extraction of natural resources. For the 8 Arctic States, this creates challenges for their peaceful cooperation. For years, working with the Arctic Council and negotiating bilateral agreements proved to be relatively successful in settling disputes peacefully.

With the Arctic melting, however, new disputes over the maritime territories have come up. The Arctic states are all trying to claim ownership over important fossil resources, while often claiming the right for free travel in the territory of the other states.

Moreover, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, international relations in the Arctic have reached a new low. States who long thought that they would be safe from a Russian invasion are now reconsidering their position, leading to the enlargement of NATO and a new focus on military strength in the region. This could potentially threaten the existing Arctic peace, as Russia may soon find itself encircled by 7 NATO members. As the Arctic is home to a wide variety of culture, unique ecosystems, and a sizable population, ensuring a peaceful Arctic is a top priority but also a mighty challenge to the EU and its allies. The EU will have to adapt to the region’s increasing militarisation without forgetting its traditional role as a facilitator of international cooperation.
the US, Canada, Greenland/Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Russia
Listen to the audio Topic Overview
The Arctic has long been one of the planet’s rare areas where the US, Russia and several European countries cooperate peacefully. Rather than focusing on their differences, the people of the Arctic have managed to work together to overcome their biggest challenge: the uninhabitable cold. However, as the area is warming up1, the relationship between Arctic states is cooling down.

On the one hand, the region is becoming increasingly valuable. With its ice melting, the extraction of fossil fuels becomes cheaper and key northern trade routes are opening up.2 This leads to disputes, as the Arctic states are trying to claim different resource-rich areas and open access to trade routes.

On the other hand, the Arctic is a place where world-wide tensions can easily spoil over. The US, Russia and the European NATO members all share borders in the Arctic. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has once again highlighted the potential for conflict and how fast carefully built international relations can deteriorate. Considering Russia’s increasingly aggressive stance, China posturing as a ‘near-Arctic state’, the US military’s rise in the Arctic, and the existing disputes on the region’s fossil fuels, the situation is becoming increasingly tense.

Nature (2022). The Arctic has warmed nearly four times faster than the globe since 1979. Link
Hanacek, Kroeger, Scheidel, Rojes and Martinez-Alier (2022). On thin ice- The Arctic commodity extraction frontier and environmental conflicts. Link
Nature (2022). The Arctic has warmed nearly four times faster than the globe since 1979. Link
Hanacek, Kroeger, Scheidel, Rojes and Martinez-Alier (2022). On thin ice- The Arctic commodity extraction frontier and environmental conflicts. Link
Annual mean temperature anomalies in the Arctic (66.5∘–90∘N) (dark colours) and globally (light colours) during 1950–2021 derived from the various observational datasets. Temperature anomalies have been calculated relative to the standard 30-year period of 1981–2010. Shown are also the linear temperature trends for 1979–2021.
Antarctic Treaty System
Interestingly, the region of Antarctica used this treaty as a blueprint to demilitarise the entire South Pole after WWII and to foster scientific cooperation and nature protection through the Antarctic Treaty System. The Treaty System bans military activity and establishes the continent as a scientific preserve. The Arctic, on the other hand, never managed to create Arctic-specific treaties which reflect the special nature of the area. Instead, Arctic nations have relied on bilateral relations between the different Arctic States and general international law, which are further explained below.
In the beginning of 1920, there was a promising agreement made to demilitarise a remote island in the Arctic and to foster open international cooperation through the Svalbard Treaty.
Svalbard Treaty
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an internationally recognised rule book on the governing of the sea, based on century-old sailing customs. UNCLOS essentially divides the sea up in different areas, over which states have varying degrees of jurisdiction and legal rights.
Measures in place
The Arctic in general does not have many measures in place, and this is even less so the case for security and military matters.
Svalbard is an archipelago north of Norway. The Svalbard Treaty recognises Svalbard as Norwegian territory, but gives other countries the right to use the archipelago to do research, to mine for resources and to become a resident of Svalbard. Critically, the Treaty states that no naval bases and military fortifications can be built on Svalbard.
Key Stakeholders
As mentioned above, international and bilateral relations are the main form of governance in the Arctic, rather than an extensive web of measures in place.
NATO is both a political and military alliance, formed after WWII. The NATO has an agreement between its Member States that they will collectively defend each other when one Member gets attacked. NATO currently has 30 Members.
The Northern Dimension is a common policy of the EU, Russia, Norway and Iceland. It brought together politicians, businesses and experts to form policies in cooperation.
Soft power refers to influencing the preferences of others. For instance, by promoting human rights worldwide, the EU wants other actors to start acknowledging human rights. The opposite of soft power is coercion, where a party dictates what another party does through sheer force, e.g. by using military force.
EU Special Envoys are people who promote the EU's policies in specific regions, similar to an ambassador. The Special Envoy for Arctic Matters is currently Michael Mann.
Arctic Council (2023). About the Arctic Council Link
U.S. Department of State (March 3, 2022). Joint Statement on Arctic Council Cooperation following Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine. Link
European Union External Action (2022). Northern Dimension Policy: Joint Statement by the European Union, Iceland and Norway on suspending activities with Russia and Belarus’ Link
 Matthieu Boulègue (2022). The militarization of Russian polar politics. Link
Matthieu Boulègue (2022). The militarization of Russian polar politics. Link
 Paul de Grauwe (2018) Why Russia is economically weak and politically strong Link 
 United States Army (2021). Regaining Arctic dominance. Link
New York Times (2022). With Eyes on Russia, the U.S. Military prepares for an Arctic Future. Link
New York Times (2020). ‘Are We Getting Invaded?’ U.S. Boats Faced Russian Aggression Near Alaska Link
Government of Canada (2019). Canada’s Arctic and Northern Policy Framework Link
Government of Iceland (2021). Iceland’s Policy on Matters Concerning the Arctic Region. Link
Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs The Norwegian Government’s Arctic Policy Link
 Foreign Policy Research (2022). Institute No more Niinistö Nice Guy: Has Finland Security Calculus Changed? Link
The Arctic Institute (2022). Arctic Aspects in Denmark’s New Foreign and Security Policy Strategy Link
Fundamental conflicts
At the moment, there are three major conflicts that could threaten the peace in the Arctic: disputes over natural resources, access to the sea trade routes, and general claims to power.

Natural resources below the seabed are allocated within the aforementioned UNCLOS, particularly the concept of the Continental Shelf. Coastal states can claim that their landmass is an extension of a larger, submerged, landmass. If this is proven to be correct, those Coastal states can claim the resources below the seabed in that area. In the Arctic, however, this has led to disputes, due to two reasons. Firstly, it is difficult to research the extent of the Continental Shelf because the frozen sea makes it difficult to analyse the seabed. Secondly, the presumed presence of fossil fuels in the ground gives the Arctic states a good reason to claim a larger area than they would be entitled to, even if there is not sufficient evidence to back-up that claim.19 As a result, Denmark, Russia, and Canada have all made claims that the large Lomonosov Ridge (in the centre of the Arctic Sea) is an extension of their continental shelf.20 Other territorial disputes are over the Hans Islands and the Beaufort Sea, but these disputes are in the process of being resolved bilaterally between Denmark and Canada, as well as Canada and the US, respectively. The dispute on the Lomonosov ridge is waiting for a recommendation from the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which could take up to 20 years.21
Bennet (2015). Blog: the Continental Shelf - Geological, legal or geopolitical Link Blog: The Continental Shelf – Geological, legal or geopolitical? – Eye on the Arctic (
 Durham University (2008). Maritime jurisdiction and boundaries in the Arctic region Link
Antsygina and Overfield (2022). The Problems of Overlapping governance on the Arctic Continental Shelves Pending Delineation and Delimitation Link
For the sea trade routes, it is clear that the US strongly values having free access to sea routes, including the North-West Passage and the North-East Passage. The North-East Passage is currently mostly used as a national trade route for Russia and the US has thus far refrained from demanding free access to that trade route.22

Lastly, there is a fear that the Arctic will become a place where a world-wide power struggle between the US, China and Russia can lead to conflict. With the US, Russia and China all investing in military presence in and around the Arctic, the region is becoming increasingly militarised. This could indicate that these countries want to project more hard power in the region and secure their interests through military force.

For the EU, these challenges threaten their traditional approach of influencing the rest of the world through the use of soft power. That soft power is based on international cooperation, such as through signing international treaties and using multilateral organisations. The US and Russia have lately moved away from that cooperation, opting instead to prioritise their own interests. While Biden has reverted some of that change it is clear that he puts the American interests first. As a result, the EU is in internal conflict: should it stick to its strength and remain focused on projecting soft power, or should it adopt and act as a block with credible military power?
 Lawson W. Brigham (2022) Arctic Shipping Routes: Russia’s Challenges and Uncertainties Link
With the world becoming increasingly unpredictable and nations focusing increasingly on militarising the Arctic, the peace in the Arctic is threatened. The big geopolitical players of the world are all looking at the Arctic for its resources and trade routes, and they are willing to securitize their interests in the area. While an increasing military presence can deter conflict, it can also lead to military conflicts as other states can feel threatened and this can negatively impact international cooperation. This, in turn, impacts the other policy areas in the Arctic, where the EU traditionally wants to work together with all Arctic states to combat issues such as climate change and environmental protection.

As Russia remains an unpredictable actor in the Arctic, how should the EU ensure that the Arctic remains a peaceful place for its inhabitants? And how should the EU deal with its partners’ diverging interests in NATO and beyond?
The U.S. Embassy Oslo is delighted to be invited to provide forewords for the Committee of Foreign Affairs II. The Arctic region extends beyond the responsibility of any single region or government agency. That is why the United States will deepen our cooperation with Arctic Allies and NATO Allies: Canada, Kingdom of Denmark (including Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden to uphold international law, rules, norms, and standards in the region. In the past year, the security situation in Europe has deteriorated sharply with the ongoing war in Ukraine, along with the energy crisis and heavy inflation. In light of these events, we want to deeper relationship, built on a mutual commitment to global security, economic cooperation, shared democratic values, and cultural exchange with our Allies in the Arctic region. Earlier this year we celebrated 50 years of U.S.-Norwegian Reciprocal Troop Exchange where Chief of the U.S. National Guard Bureau, Army General Daniel Hokanson said, “Given the challenges we might face from adversaries in a contested Arctic region, it is imperative we be able to not only survive but also operate and thrive in this environment.” We cannot address our common challenge alone, and we have to coordinate shared approaches to security with allies and partners and mitigating risks of unintended escalation.

In a military context, deterrence refers to signaling that any attack will be met with great consequences. The idea is that other actors will refrain from attacking if the fear of reprisals is big enough. Many countries use the treat nuclear weapons as their deterrence.
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Motion for a resolution
Submitted by:
Sebastian Bailey (IT), Tabea Barzen (DE), Piotr Dryja (PL), Gabriel Gombík (CZ), Sara Krpan (HR), Faith Mbelle (SE), Afonso Mendes (PT), Sofia Paiu (RO), Tiril Sofie Røstad (NO), Anna Maria Sargsyan (AM), Riad Shahbazov (AZ), Ye- lyzaveta Shevchenko (UA), Paraschos (Paris) Stathis (GR), Emeliina Vilo (FI), Erik Koeken (Chairperson, NL)
The European Youth Parliament aims to ensure security and peace in the Arctic and counteract Russia’s increased militarisation through strengthening the military presence of the EU Member States and NATO in the Arctic. Measures should keep in mind the benefits of cooperation between Arctic States and the whole European community and align with the lifestyle of Indigenous Arctic people and the ecosystem of the Arctic,

A. Aware that the EU does not have the exclusive competence on military matters, this competence is held by the Member States and at times delegated to the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO),

B. Taking into account that EU Member States that are also NATO members do not have the military capabilities needed to deal with significant threats themselves,

C. Noting with regret that 9 out of 30 NATO members do not spend the required 2% of their GDP on their military spending,

D. Concerned that not all NATO members possess sufficient military equipment and training required for the subpolar climate,

E. Taking into account Finland and Sweden’s pending application to NATO making them temporarily more vulnerable for foreign interference,

F. Alarmed by Russia’s use of energy as a strategic leverage in times of war,

G. Realising that increasing militarisation of the Arctic can be seen as a provocation by Russia,

H. Concerned about the lack of non-Russian icebreakers in the Arctic,

I. Fully alarmed that Russia is violating the integrity of the other Arctic countries’ by deploying military and surveillance vessels in their respective waters and airspace,

J. Aware that further militarisation of the Arctic can have negative consequences on the reindeer herding of the Indigenous population and the local ecosystems,

K. Acknowledging the importance of keeping open communication channels with Russia to cooperate in other policy areas;

1. Strongly encourages the EU Member States to increase their military spending to keep up the increased need for security in the Arctic;

2. Urges Sweden and Finland to amplify their military readiness and military cooperation with the European Commission and NATO;

3. Recommends NATO and the Arctic states to increase its ability to intervene by increasing:
a. monitoring and the sharing of surveillance data between countries,
b. documentation control of vessels and planes in the Arctic seas and skies;

4. Encourages NATO to create battle groups1 in the Arctic in cooperation with the EU and with input from the United Kingdom Joint Expeditionary Force2 (JEF);

5. Requests the European Commission and NATO to create a joint fleet initiative, inviting non-Arctic fleets to patrol Arctic waters;

6. Calls upon the European Commission to finance military equipment for the Member States suited for Arctic conditions;

7. Invites the Directorate General for Climate Policy (DG-CLIMA) to amend the Innovation Fund3 to increase investment in the domestic production and development of icebreaker technology and energy solutions;

8. Requests the EU Member States to construct new and expand on existing military facilities in strategically important areas the Arctic;

9. Urges the European Commission to cooperate with NATO to create a domestic surveillance task force that monitors naval technology and positioning using AIS or SAT-AIS satellites;

10. Urges Member States building new military bases or planning military exercises, to:
a. preserve the local permafrost,
b. respect Indigenous peoples’ customs,
c. accommodate for animal migration patterns;

11. Urges EU Member States to join the Arctic Council Observers pool.
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NATO battle groups are multinational battalion battles, intended to have explicit involvement of fellow NATO members in strategic European territories. The battle groups are currently stationed in the Baltics and Central Europe.
The UK Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) is a United Kingdom-led military force which consists of Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Norway. The force can be deployed on short notice abroad.
The Innovation Fund is a EU fund operated by DG CLIMA and CINEA for low-carbon, innovative technologies. In the new ETS Directive, maritime projects can also be funded through the Innovation Fund.
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