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Under the ice of the world...

The High North: why it matters...

NATO Review looks into why the High North is suddenly a high priority: how changes there are affecting the search for oil and gas, the emergence of major new shipping lanes, the impact on fishing and the environment. And it analyses what the political impact could be. This video features interviews with leading politicians, scientists and NATO's top military personnel.

Video length: 15 mins

 Subtitles: On / Off

PAUL KING (Editor, NATO Review): The High North.

A place like no other on earth.

Here, climate change is taking place at least twice as fast as elsewhere in the world.

As carbon emissions increase, the ice melts.

As the ice melts less of the sun's heat is reflected,

warming up the Earth even further.

The High North is one of the best indicators of what is happening to planet Earth,

and the changes taking place there will have a dramatic impact.

ADMIRAL GIAMPAOLO DI PAOLA (Chairman of the NATO Military Committee): In a sense,

it's a revolutionary change, that can potentially take place in the High North.

SØREN GADE (Danish Minister of Defence): The High North is on the agenda today,

but you know, in a few years time it will be even more on the agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED: Special forces troops are setting up observation posts and machine gun positions.

KING: At the moment few people would make a connection

between what's happening in the High North and news stories such as this one.

UNIDENTIFIED: But no one knows if or when the pirates will try to strike.

UNIDENTIFIED: These men are members of the Dutch version of the SAS.

They are trained for anti-terrorism operations.

Now they're getting ready for Somali pirates.

KING: But melting ice is opening up more new Arctic sea routes for ships.

Meaning they will be able to avoid pirate-infested waters.

UNIDENTIFIED: ...on the frigate De Ruyter off Somalia.

UNIDENTIFIED: Over 80 percent of Russia's gas exports to...

KING: Similarly few would see a direct connection with this news story.

UNIDENTIFIED: And on this coldest day of winter three of those have basically been shut down.

So Bosnia's supplies have been cut by 25 percent; Romania has a 75 percent reduction;

and over here Austria is 90 percent down.

KING: But several countries believe that there are huge oil and gas deposits

beneath the Arctic's melting ice

If this is correct, Europe's energy landscape could change radically.

Dr. Arni Snorasson is the head of Iceland's Meteorological Office.

He has seen the effects of climate change firsthand.

DR. ARNI SNORASSON (Head of Icelandic Meteorological Office): There are many areas

where we see changes.

I think the most permanent ones are on the glacier systems here.

The largest glacier in Europe is in Iceland, almost 10,000 square kilometres

and we see very strong evidence that it's being reduced very rapidly in the past ten years.

Many of the Arctic glaciers are retreating at several hundred metres within the past few years.

And the mass is probably decreasing of the order of five to ten percent.

KING: One of the key issues that needs to be determined in the High North is the Sea.

At present there's a huge mass of ice around the North Pole, but that's quickly melting.

Once that becomes sea, navigable sea, the question remains who owns that?

At the moment the key piece of legislation on this is the United Nations Law of the Sea.

That determines that 200 kilometres from a country's coastline is in its jurisdiction.

But what to do with the rest of the sea remains the question.

Understandably much of the new interest in the High North

centres on the potential oil and gas deposits.

Situated beneath previously impenetrable ice,

potential deposits have seen interest flocking to the region.

SØREN GADE (Danish Minister of Defence): Due to the fact that

there might be a lot of oil in this area, it is very high on the agenda in all nations,

because actually you can be pretty rich if there is a lot of oil

and it belongs to you and you want to explore it

Maybe not today when the oil barrel is $40, but at $140 it could make a difference.

KING: But these deposits remain only estimates. Even if they do exist,

improved technologies and methods will be needed to access and exploit them.

SNORASSON: Yeah, that will be a major technological problem,

but of course, all receding ice will improve the possibilities.

KING: A lot of the discussion about the energy situation here in the High North

focused on the possible deposits under the ice that is now melting.

These deposits of oil and gas could be up to 20 percent of the world's undiscovered deposits.

Even Iceland recently has started to explore its northern coast for oil.

However, the situation in energy is far more complicated than that.

With increased melting of the ice cap there's increased water

which can be used for hydroelectric power.

With the changing migratory habits of fish there's increased biomass possibilities.

And fishing is another area undergoing the effects of climate change,

something which could also lead to economic and political consequences.

JÓHANN SIGURJÓNSSON (Director General, Icelandic Marine Research Institute):

We see that pelagic stocks there migrate between zones as conditions ... sea conditions change

Pelagic stocks demonstrate so well really what can happen when climatic changes occur.

And a fish stock that is available for Iceland in the current year may be less available

for Iceland in the coming years due to migratory behaviour of the fish stocks.

KING: Some people may consider that disputes over fishing rights are a minor issue

compared to the other areas being discussed in the High North. But it's not.

Disputes over fishing rights have led to major conflicts in the past,

and smaller ones remain ongoing today.

And those disputes have even been between friendly nations.

The problem with deciding on fishing rights centres on the method used.

Some countries favour zonal demarcation.

This indicates that an area is allocated to them for fishing.

The problem there is that with increased climate change the migratory habits of fish

has changed and so there's no guarantee that those fish will be in that zone the following year.

Other countries, however, favour historical catches.

This is to say they caught a certain amount in the past,

and so they should be guaranteed that amount in the future.

The problem with this method is that some countries area rushing

to catch as many fish as possible, and they are leading to overfishing,

and in fact, may lead to the extinction of a stock.

Another challenge and potential opportunity arriving in the region

is how best to take advantage of the new shorter shipping lanes opening up there.

GENERAL JOHN CRADDOCK (NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe):

The advantage gained through these reduced routes, the reduced mileage from these routes,

will call shipping lines, will call merchant capacity from all over the world,

so it will be in far greater interest than just a NATO Alliance and Russia,

so I see a global impact here with global contact and global outreach.

KING: More melting ice means more shipping lanes and these new shipping lanes

could be crucial for commercial companies.

They could cut some of their routes by half, if not more.

But this raises some questions. Which ships are allowed in which lanes?

Who pays dues to who? And who takes care of any potential accidents?

This kind of development provides a perfect illustration of how the military and civilian sides

will have to work together to tackle emerging issues in the High North.

JONAS GAHR STØRE (Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs): None of these challenges

are only military. They are civil/military.

So we have to look at our capabilities,

both from the civilian side and the military side.

For example, in terms of surveillance,

which is needed to manage these large ocean areas which are now opening up,

we cannot only count on military surveillance, we also have to include civilian surveillance,

meteorological surveillance, for example, bring that together.

CRADDOCK: I think there's two pieces of cooperation.

One is internal cooperation, internal to the Alliance,

cooperation among nations on a military perspective.

The other piece of that is a bigger piece,

and that's the cooperation between the civil side of maritime activities and the military side,

and I think that's where there's great opportunity for the future.

KING: Probably the most important cooperation will be in science.

ADMIRAL GIAMPAOLO DI PAOLA (Chairman of the NATO Military Committee):

Science can help really to put in the right frame the nature of the change.

If really happen what somebody says will happen that is really a tremendous physical,

and therefore political revolution.

STØRE: Science is key, so I think both in the way we determine energy exploration,

do we have the knowledge, do we have the knowledge of security to engage in new waters?

So I think we are into a region where there is a lot we don't know.

KING: But scientific cooperation will not be enough on its own. Further investment in research

and understanding of developments in the High North is still needed.

SNORASSON: I have been leading a project, for example, on the hydrology of the Arctic

and monitoring of the hydrology of the Arctic.

And it's clear that the operational systems, the observational systems are not sufficient.

Not nearly sufficient for the issues at hand.

And I think that applies for many of the scientific observations.

They are not substantial enough for real assessment

of the changes that have recently taken place.

KING: But to obtain better understanding

the obstacle of national interests will have to be overcome.

SNORASSON: It's always difficult to get information,

especially on resources or resources-related issues from the national authorities.

KING: And national interests are not just limited to science.

They can stretch into the military arena too.

CRADDOCK: We have to take an inventory and then determine what it is we might need to do,

what is it we might be called to do and then go back and see,

are those inventories adequate that will be made available to NATO?

Because if Nation X has ten and commits five, that means they have some national interest

that they will want to withhold before they would commit those to the Alliance.

KING: What happens in the High North doesn't stay in the High North.

The impact of changes there will be felt across the planet.

Many commentators point out that the issues in the High North are not just Arctic issues

or issues for the five countries who border the region. They're global issues.

You can see this in the interest that's been shown in what happens here.

That's come from countries like China and Japan and even India.

Some of the technology that's being used in the Arctic now

is coming from countries like South Korea

Iceland's an excellent example of illustrating how this is a global area.

It's where the tectonic plates of North America and Europe meet.

So that means that I'm currently standing in Europe - and now I'm standing in North America.

Do you feel that the High North is a global issue?

STØRE: Good point. I mean, the Arctic Council has the Arctic coastal states,

plus Finland, Sweden and Iceland.

The issues at stake, however, in the Arctic are global, as you said.

That's the fascinating part of it.

You know, here in NATO we talk about indivisibility of security

That is largely a geographical notion, that we are all linked in the same security pot together

But I think we are now seeing indivisibility of security also from a thematic perspective.

Global warming is all about interdependence, no matter where you are on the globe.

DI PAOLA: On one side it is right for NATO to reflect what is its role in this global problem.

But on the other side if we focus too much on NATO then we inevitably run the risk

to make a NATO-Russia issue and therefore a sort of a military threat, security threat.

So let's bring in...... let's enlarge the issue, because if you bring in not only Russia,

but if you bring in China, if you bring in Japan, if you bring in Korea,

if you bring in India, you really realize immediately that

it is not a military NATO-Russia confrontation in the North as it has been in other areas.

KING: Despite some headlines, cooperation between Russia

and NATO countries has been relatively good in the High North.

In July 2008, for example, Norwegian and Russian sailors

carried out a joint submarine rescue exercise in the North Sea.

STØRE: What we have to do now is to acknowledge that we live in different times,

where most of these risks we have to manage

are not owned by one state alone, not owned by the military alone.

They are civil military pluristate challenges, and from a Norwegian perspective,

Russia is part of the solution to most of them rather than part of the problem.

CRADDOCK: Across the entire spectrum, mil-to-mil cooperation

between NATO and Russia is important. This is one facet of that.

Obviously they have tremendous experience over the years,

and when we receive the political wherewithal to continue to do the mil-to-mil engagement,

particularly in this area, we would look forward to doing that.

KING: But it is difficult to ignore the backdrop to Russia's involvement in the High North.

It has already planted its flag on the North Pole seabed,

and clearly has its own interests in the region

DI PAOLA: What are the interests of Russia?

Well the interests of Russia are the same interests of the others.

It's the way they want to deal with the interests, but the interests are exactly the same.

STØRE: They have a large capability in the North. They always had it. Strategic capability.

They are now modernizing their fleet. Modernizing their planes, resuming their activity.

We don't see this primarily as something directed towards

a single group of countries or a single country

But it is a way for Russia to bring back their presence.

We have to follow that very carefully and we have to respond I think accordingly.

But not by kind of spiralling up potential for military confrontation

because there are no military solutions to the challenges we are facing,

and I profoundly believe that most of what Russia wishes to achieve

in its part of the Arctic will largely profit from cooperation and low tension.

CRADDOCK: There is room for arrangements and agreements here so that we don't have

any black holes if you will, in the Arctic region and that there is a situational awareness.

That's the key. As I said earlier, we don't need to be everywhere,

but we would like to know what's going on everywhere.

KING: Some of the positions, some of the facts and figures remain misty here in the High North,

but it seems that everybody agrees on at least one thing.

They hope for a solution that's a bit like the Blue Lagoon here,

both natural and in everybody's interest.

DI PAOLA: The thing we have to avoid is military posturing in the Arctic.

That's what we have to avoid. And we have to avoid oh, to say look,

but somebody's building up so we have to build up myself,

which eventually provocate a reaction, a counter build-up and then before you realize

you are really in a gunship kind of confrontation. It's not needed.

STØRE: The challenge, coming back to all of this,

is that it is high time we discussed the High North with low tensions.

PAUL KING (Editor, NATO Review): The High North.

A place like no other on earth.

Here, climate change is taking place at least twice as fast as elsewhere in the world.

As carbon emissions increase, the ice melts.

As the ice melts less of the sun's heat is reflected,

warming up the Earth even further.

The High North is one of the best indicators of what is happening to planet Earth,

and the changes taking place there will have a dramatic impact.

ADMIRAL GIAMPAOLO DI PAOLA (Chairman of the NATO Military Committee): In a sense,

it's a revolutionary change, that can potentially take place in the High North.

SØREN GADE (Danish Minister of Defence): The High North is on the agenda today,

but you know, in a few years time it will be even more on the agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED: Special forces troops are setting up observation posts and machine gun positions.

KING: At the moment few people would make a connection

between what's happening in the High North and news stories such as this one.

UNIDENTIFIED: But no one knows if or when the pirates will try to strike.

UNIDENTIFIED: These men are members of the Dutch version of the SAS.

They are trained for anti-terrorism operations.

Now they're getting ready for Somali pirates.

KING: But melting ice is opening up more new Arctic sea routes for ships.

Meaning they will be able to avoid pirate-infested waters.

UNIDENTIFIED: ...on the frigate De Ruyter off Somalia.

UNIDENTIFIED: Over 80 percent of Russia's gas exports to...

KING: Similarly few would see a direct connection with this news story.

UNIDENTIFIED: And on this coldest day of winter three of those have basically been shut down.

So Bosnia's supplies have been cut by 25 percent; Romania has a 75 percent reduction;

and over here Austria is 90 percent down.

KING: But several countries believe that there are huge oil and gas deposits

beneath the Arctic's melting ice

If this is correct, Europe's energy landscape could change radically.

Dr. Arni Snorasson is the head of Iceland's Meteorological Office.

He has seen the effects of climate change firsthand.

DR. ARNI SNORASSON (Head of Icelandic Meteorological Office): There are many areas

where we see changes.

I think the most permanent ones are on the glacier systems here.

The largest glacier in Europe is in Iceland, almost 10,000 square kilometres

and we see very strong evidence that it's being reduced very rapidly in the past ten years.

Many of the Arctic glaciers are retreating at several hundred metres within the past few years.

And the mass is probably decreasing of the order of five to ten percent.

KING: One of the key issues that needs to be determined in the High North is the Sea.

At present there's a huge mass of ice around the North Pole, but that's quickly melting.

Once that becomes sea, navigable sea, the question remains who owns that?

At the moment the key piece of legislation on this is the United Nations Law of the Sea.

That determines that 200 kilometres from a country's coastline is in its jurisdiction.

But what to do with the rest of the sea remains the question.

Understandably much of the new interest in the High North

centres on the potential oil and gas deposits.

Situated beneath previously impenetrable ice,

potential deposits have seen interest flocking to the region.

SØREN GADE (Danish Minister of Defence): Due to the fact that

there might be a lot of oil in this area, it is very high on the agenda in all nations,

because actually you can be pretty rich if there is a lot of oil

and it belongs to you and you want to explore it

Maybe not today when the oil barrel is $40, but at $140 it could make a difference.

KING: But these deposits remain only estimates. Even if they do exist,

improved technologies and methods will be needed to access and exploit them.

SNORASSON: Yeah, that will be a major technological problem,

but of course, all receding ice will improve the possibilities.

KING: A lot of the discussion about the energy situation here in the High North

focused on the possible deposits under the ice that is now melting.

These deposits of oil and gas could be up to 20 percent of the world's undiscovered deposits.

Even Iceland recently has started to explore its northern coast for oil.

However, the situation in energy is far more complicated than that.

With increased melting of the ice cap there's increased water

which can be used for hydroelectric power.

With the changing migratory habits of fish there's increased biomass possibilities.

And fishing is another area undergoing the effects of climate change,

something which could also lead to economic and political consequences.

JÓHANN SIGURJÓNSSON (Director General, Icelandic Marine Research Institute):

We see that pelagic stocks there migrate between zones as conditions ... sea conditions change

Pelagic stocks demonstrate so well really what can happen when climatic changes occur.

And a fish stock that is available for Iceland in the current year may be less available

for Iceland in the coming years due to migratory behaviour of the fish stocks.

KING: Some people may consider that disputes over fishing rights are a minor issue

compared to the other areas being discussed in the High North. But it's not.

Disputes over fishing rights have led to major conflicts in the past,

and smaller ones remain ongoing today.

And those disputes have even been between friendly nations.

The problem with deciding on fishing rights centres on the method used.

Some countries favour zonal demarcation.

This indicates that an area is allocated to them for fishing.

The problem there is that with increased climate change the migratory habits of fish

has changed and so there's no guarantee that those fish will be in that zone the following year.

Other countries, however, favour historical catches.

This is to say they caught a certain amount in the past,

and so they should be guaranteed that amount in the future.

The problem with this method is that some countries area rushing

to catch as many fish as possible, and they are leading to overfishing,

and in fact, may lead to the extinction of a stock.

Another challenge and potential opportunity arriving in the region

is how best to take advantage of the new shorter shipping lanes opening up there.

GENERAL JOHN CRADDOCK (NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe):

The advantage gained through these reduced routes, the reduced mileage from these routes,

will call shipping lines, will call merchant capacity from all over the world,

so it will be in far greater interest than just a NATO Alliance and Russia,

so I see a global impact here with global contact and global outreach.

KING: More melting ice means more shipping lanes and these new shipping lanes

could be crucial for commercial companies.

They could cut some of their routes by half, if not more.

But this raises some questions. Which ships are allowed in which lanes?

Who pays dues to who? And who takes care of any potential accidents?

This kind of development provides a perfect illustration of how the military and civilian sides

will have to work together to tackle emerging issues in the High North.

JONAS GAHR STØRE (Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs): None of these challenges

are only military. They are civil/military.

So we have to look at our capabilities,

both from the civilian side and the military side.

For example, in terms of surveillance,

which is needed to manage these large ocean areas which are now opening up,

we cannot only count on military surveillance, we also have to include civilian surveillance,

meteorological surveillance, for example, bring that together.

CRADDOCK: I think there's two pieces of cooperation.

One is internal cooperation, internal to the Alliance,

cooperation among nations on a military perspective.

The other piece of that is a bigger piece,

and that's the cooperation between the civil side of maritime activities and the military side,

and I think that's where there's great opportunity for the future.

KING: Probably the most important cooperation will be in science.

ADMIRAL GIAMPAOLO DI PAOLA (Chairman of the NATO Military Committee):

Science can help really to put in the right frame the nature of the change.

If really happen what somebody says will happen that is really a tremendous physical,

and therefore political revolution.

STØRE: Science is key, so I think both in the way we determine energy exploration,

do we have the knowledge, do we have the knowledge of security to engage in new waters?

So I think we are into a region where there is a lot we don't know.

KING: But scientific cooperation will not be enough on its own. Further investment in research

and understanding of developments in the High North is still needed.

SNORASSON: I have been leading a project, for example, on the hydrology of the Arctic

and monitoring of the hydrology of the Arctic.

And it's clear that the operational systems, the observational systems are not sufficient.

Not nearly sufficient for the issues at hand.

And I think that applies for many of the scientific observations.

They are not substantial enough for real assessment

of the changes that have recently taken place.

KING: But to obtain better understanding

the obstacle of national interests will have to be overcome.

SNORASSON: It's always difficult to get information,

especially on resources or resources-related issues from the national authorities.

KING: And national interests are not just limited to science.

They can stretch into the military arena too.

CRADDOCK: We have to take an inventory and then determine what it is we might need to do,

what is it we might be called to do and then go back and see,

are those inventories adequate that will be made available to NATO?

Because if Nation X has ten and commits five, that means they have some national interest

that they will want to withhold before they would commit those to the Alliance.

KING: What happens in the High North doesn't stay in the High North.

The impact of changes there will be felt across the planet.

Many commentators point out that the issues in the High North are not just Arctic issues

or issues for the five countries who border the region. They're global issues.

You can see this in the interest that's been shown in what happens here.

That's come from countries like China and Japan and even India.

Some of the technology that's being used in the Arctic now

is coming from countries like South Korea

Iceland's an excellent example of illustrating how this is a global area.

It's where the tectonic plates of North America and Europe meet.

So that means that I'm currently standing in Europe - and now I'm standing in North America.

Do you feel that the High North is a global issue?

STØRE: Good point. I mean, the Arctic Council has the Arctic coastal states,

plus Finland, Sweden and Iceland.

The issues at stake, however, in the Arctic are global, as you said.

That's the fascinating part of it.

You know, here in NATO we talk about indivisibility of security

That is largely a geographical notion, that we are all linked in the same security pot together

But I think we are now seeing indivisibility of security also from a thematic perspective.

Global warming is all about interdependence, no matter where you are on the globe.

DI PAOLA: On one side it is right for NATO to reflect what is its role in this global problem.

But on the other side if we focus too much on NATO then we inevitably run the risk

to make a NATO-Russia issue and therefore a sort of a military threat, security threat.

So let's bring in...... let's enlarge the issue, because if you bring in not only Russia,

but if you bring in China, if you bring in Japan, if you bring in Korea,

if you bring in India, you really realize immediately that

it is not a military NATO-Russia confrontation in the North as it has been in other areas.

KING: Despite some headlines, cooperation between Russia

and NATO countries has been relatively good in the High North.

In July 2008, for example, Norwegian and Russian sailors

carried out a joint submarine rescue exercise in the North Sea.

STØRE: What we have to do now is to acknowledge that we live in different times,

where most of these risks we have to manage

are not owned by one state alone, not owned by the military alone.

They are civil military pluristate challenges, and from a Norwegian perspective,

Russia is part of the solution to most of them rather than part of the problem.

CRADDOCK: Across the entire spectrum, mil-to-mil cooperation

between NATO and Russia is important. This is one facet of that.

Obviously they have tremendous experience over the years,

and when we receive the political wherewithal to continue to do the mil-to-mil engagement,

particularly in this area, we would look forward to doing that.

KING: But it is difficult to ignore the backdrop to Russia's involvement in the High North.

It has already planted its flag on the North Pole seabed,

and clearly has its own interests in the region

DI PAOLA: What are the interests of Russia?

Well the interests of Russia are the same interests of the others.

It's the way they want to deal with the interests, but the interests are exactly the same.

STØRE: They have a large capability in the North. They always had it. Strategic capability.

They are now modernizing their fleet. Modernizing their planes, resuming their activity.

We don't see this primarily as something directed towards

a single group of countries or a single country

But it is a way for Russia to bring back their presence.

We have to follow that very carefully and we have to respond I think accordingly.

But not by kind of spiralling up potential for military confrontation

because there are no military solutions to the challenges we are facing,

and I profoundly believe that most of what Russia wishes to achieve

in its part of the Arctic will largely profit from cooperation and low tension.

CRADDOCK: There is room for arrangements and agreements here so that we don't have

any black holes if you will, in the Arctic region and that there is a situational awareness.

That's the key. As I said earlier, we don't need to be everywhere,

but we would like to know what's going on everywhere.

KING: Some of the positions, some of the facts and figures remain misty here in the High North,

but it seems that everybody agrees on at least one thing.

They hope for a solution that's a bit like the Blue Lagoon here,

both natural and in everybody's interest.

DI PAOLA: The thing we have to avoid is military posturing in the Arctic.

That's what we have to avoid. And we have to avoid oh, to say look,

but somebody's building up so we have to build up myself,

which eventually provocate a reaction, a counter build-up and then before you realize

you are really in a gunship kind of confrontation. It's not needed.

STØRE: The challenge, coming back to all of this,

is that it is high time we discussed the High North with low tensions.

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