Increasing military presence in the Arctic ‘is a trend’
RT:Arctic Council members are meeting right now, so why can’t people just talk about this, why is there a feeling that there is a threat of militarization?
Simeon Wezeman: Well there is clearly an increasing trend among the five Arctic countries to increase their military presence in the Arctic. It’s not a very strong threat because there are clear forums among the five countries that claim territory and resources in the waters there. But there is always a chance that if there are more weapons around with unclear guidelines and unclear rules of engagement…when you meet each other in waters that are claimed by several countries, things go wrong, accidents happen, guns get pointed…and people do things they shouldn’t do. It’s not the beginning of a war, but it could be a very nasty incident, that could have very strong diplomatic repercussions.
RT:At the same time, we are seeing the Arctic Council members cooperating - so why would they need a military build-up?
SW: Well, they talk about the demarcation of their territorial claims. They talk about their behavior, and they actually cooperate in types of rescue (operations) and those sorts of things. But it’s still that you have areas that are claimed by two or more countries where (the countries) are patrolling, sending ships or aircraft and when they meet each other it’s always a little bit tricky: What are you going to do? How much are you going to take from the other side? Something can actually go wrong there, and it doesn’t mean that something will go wrong between Russia and Canada, for example. Things have gone wrong between Canada and Denmark, for example.
RT:Who’s got the upper hand in the battle for the Arctic, then?
SW: Well right now all five claimants are interested in strengthening their military presence and it’s mainly patrol ships and patrol forces in the Arctic. The Canadians and the Russians are quite strong of course, they have very long coast lines there in the Arctic; the Norwegians are there; the Danes, because of Greenland, have always been rather strong in patrolling. The US is a little behind, even if they have a large military machine, very little of which is being used in the Arctic itself. There’s a pressure in the US and the other countries to increase their military presence or the paramilitary presence in the Arctic.
RT:And what’s the best way to avoid a build-up of tension in this region?
SW: One way is to go on with the forum that exists and talk about things and one very specific one is to talk about how do you behave when you meet each other at sea in areas that claimed by several claimants. What are the rules; what are the lines of communication; where do you call when things seem to go wrong? You don’t want to spend hours trying to reach your commander, who then tries to reach the commander on the other side. Very clear, very straightforward and very fast communications between the potential adversaries.
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