“High North Security: Developments in the Shadow of COVID-19”

A map with the wording High North Security, Developments in the Shadow of COVID-19, A Virtual Seminar, September 3, 2020

“High North Security: Developments in the Shadow of COVID-19”

On 3 September 2020, the Marshall Center conducted its first Virtual Online Seminar (VOS) on security in the High North. The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated global public life in 2020, but there has been relatively little discussion of its specific impact on the security of NATO’s northern flank. The High North has traditionally been characterized as an area of low tension. However, military activity by the Russian Federation and NATO states in both the Arctic and Baltic region and most recently the upheaval in Belarus are posing potential security challenges at a time when efforts to combat the pandemic dominate national policy-makers’ concerns in the region and elsewhere.

The aims of the VOS were to examine recent security developments in the region, share ideas, generate insights, and engage with selected alumni from the Center’s European Security Studies-North (ESS-N) program. The VOS focused on three main topics:

  • The impact of the COVID 19 pandemic on security issues in the region.
  • The impact of increased military activity in recent months in both the Arctic and the Baltic Sea.
  • The potential for existing and future institutions and mechanisms to reduce growing tension in the High North.

The VOS was moderated by Marshall Center Professor James K. Wither, academic adviser to ESS-N. He directed questions on the above topics to the three regional specialists who formed the VOS panel:

  • Ms. Anna Wieslander – Director for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council and Secretary General of the Swedish Defense Association.
  • LCDR Rachell Gosnell -  Special Assistant to the Commander, Allied Joint Forces Command Naples, specialist on U.S. Arctic strategy and policy, and longstanding member of the ESS-N Team.
  • Dr. Pal Dunay – Marshall Center Professor of NATO and European Security Issues.

A thirty-five-minute audio recording of the panel discussion is available via the link below.

The panel discussion was followed by comments and questions by ESS-N alumni from Canada, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and the United States. Participants were also invited to forward ideas about future Marshall Center virtual events addressing security challenges in the High North.

Marshall Center Professor of National Security Studies and Area Studies Chair, Dr. Matthew Rhodes, acted as rapporteur for the proceedings. A summary of his conclusions is provided below:

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend towards great power competition in the High North has accelerated, most notably in terms of Russian and NATO military activity and Chinese critical infrastructure investment. Current military activity combined with the relative lack of diplomatic efforts to prevent misperceptions represent a potential regional “security dilemma.” 
  • Decreased communication, mistrust, misunderstandings, and potential technical mishaps combined with the potential spillover from the Alexander Navalny poisoning and upheaval in Belarus could escalate already growing tensions in the region.
  • There is a clear need for additional avenues for high-level discussion on security in the High North. The challenge is how best to address this without “legitimizing” or “rewarding” Russia’s actions or compromising remaining, essential cooperation in non-military spheres.

The content of this event is based upon the research and analysis of the participants. The views expressed are not necessarily the official policy of the United States, Germany, or any other governments.

Event Details

September 03, 2020