On 29 January 2009, NATO and the Government of Iceland jointly organized a seminar in
Reykjavik to discuss the challenges facing the Allies in the High North. The participants
agreed that the confrontation of the Cold War belongs to the past and nations now face a
completely new security environment. They underscored that it remains a priority to preserve
the current stability in the High North as a region of low tension by managing the ongoing
limited increase in military activities in a transparent, deliberate and measured way.
The participants recognized that global climate change and ice melting, growing accessibility
to significant energy and marine resources and the potential opening of new trans-arctic
shipping routes, create new challenges and opportunities and increases the strategic
importance of the High North. Non-traditional threats such as risks to the environment caused
by potential pollution and large-scale accidents due to increased shipping and other economic
activities, as well as the need to preserve economic and energy security, merit close attention,
while respecting the sovereignty and initiatives of all Arctic states.
The participants agreed that the rule of law in international relations is a prerequisite for
peaceful regional development. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
provides the essential legal framework for activities and cooperation in maritime areas.
The participants pointed to the importance of further strengthening the cooperation between
all relevant actors in the High North. This includes the eight Arctic states: the United States,
Russia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden; institutions like NATO, the
EU and the IMO; regional organizations like the Arctic Council, with its non-Arctic observer
states, and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council; and the Nordic countries through their increasing
security co-operation. The participants acknowledged and welcomed the interest in High
North issues from other European countries and countries beyond the region, including Japan,
South Korea and China. Attention should be given to involving them, as appropriate, in
further work with High North issues.
The participants agreed that the High North is of enduring strategic importance for NATO
where NATO continues to have legitimate security interests. Ensuring regional security is an
integral part of NATO and transatlantic cooperation. Thus, risks and threats in the High North
affect the security of NATO Allies and its partners. Participants also emphasised the
indivisibility of security for all Allies and concurred that regionalisation within the Alliance
should be avoided.
At the same time the participants recognised that not all security risks and threats are best
addressed by NATO. Close cooperation with other key stakeholders – a comprehensive
approach - is needed to address the complex and nonlinear set of existing and emerging
security challenges. To achieve this, dialogue with key stakeholders is crucial. NATO, and
other organisations, will therefore need to emphasise confidence-building, transparency and
partnership in its approach to the High North. The participants agreed that strengthened
cooperation between NATO and the Allies and Russia, within the existing frameworks,
including the NATO-Russia Council when appropriate, is particularly important.
The participants agreed that a renewed NATO situational awareness in the High North should
concentrate on where NATO can provide added value to regional security and maintain low
tension in the region. Developing a relevant response to some of the High North challenges
should be part of the ongoing transformation of the Alliance.
The participants underscored that security in the region requires practical, cross-border cooperation
on surveillance and response capabilities such as search-and-rescue at sea and
disaster relief operations. In that regard, NATO could have an important role to play. NATO
air surveillance and maritime situational awareness in the High North is important and already
contributes to regional security in the widest sense. The aim should be to create concrete
synergies with other actors, and pool civil and military resources for the benefit of common
Finally, the participants agreed that security prospects in the High North warranted further
analysis and discussions, within relevant NATO bodies and committees, and welcomed
Norway’s intention to arrange a follow-up seminar in Norway in 2010.