NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has visited the Canadian High Arctic amidst security concerns caused by global warming and the threat from Russia and China.

In a statement, Stoltenberg said: “Canada contributes to our security in many ways, not least in the Arctic. The Canadian Rangers, Canada’s ‘eyes and ears’ in the region, teach vital survival skills to other NATO forces. Canada will also host a NATO Centre of Excellence on Climate Change and Security as part of our increased efforts to tackle climate change, including in this vital region.

“Much of the High North (Arctic territory and waters), has traditionally been an area of low tensions. But unfortunately, this is changing due to the rapidly warming climate and rising global competition. Increasing parts of the Arctic will be ice-free in summer. This is unlocking opportunities for shipping routes, natural resources and economic development. But it also raises the risk of tensions. Authoritarian regimes are clearly willing to use military intimidation or aggression to achieve their aims. At the same time, they are stepping up their activities and interest in the Arctic.”

Stoltenberg highlighted that Russian activity had increased in recent years, and that China was actively looking to open up the Arctic.

He advised that Russia had set up a new Arctic Command, “opening hundreds of new and former Soviet-era Arctic military sites, including airfields and deep-water ports, and using the region as test-bed for novel weapon systems.

“Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a new naval strategy pledging to protect Arctic waters ‘by all means,’ including increased activity around the non-militarized Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and hypersonic Zircon missile systems for its Northern Fleet. Just last week, Russia unveiled plans for a new strategic missile-carrying submarine cruiser for Arctic operations. Russia’s ability to disrupt Allied reinforcements across the North Atlantic is a strategic challenge to the Alliance.”

And Stoltenberg warned: “China is also expanding its reach, declaring itself a ‘near-Arctic state’ and planning a ‘Polar Silk Road’ linking China to Europe via the Arctic. It is rapidly strengthening its navy, with plans to build the world’s biggest icebreaker vessel. China is also investing tens of billions of dollars in energy, infrastructure and research projects in the region. Earlier this year, Beijing and Moscow pledged to intensify practical co-operation in the Arctic, as part of a deepening strategic partnership that challenges our values and interests.”

He concluded: “NATO has a clear interest in preserving security, stability and co-operation in the High North. The Arctic is the gateway to the North Atlantic, hosting vital trade, transport and communication links between North America and Europe. Ensuring freedom of navigation and unfettered access is essential to keep our economies strong and our people safe. Once Finland and Sweden join the Alliance, seven out of the eight Arctic states will be members of NATO. Finland and Sweden’s membership will significantly enhance our posture in the High North and our ability to reinforce our Baltic Allies.”