The cornerstones of Norwegian politics in the North Sea were laid in the 1960s. We are still reaping the benefits of that effort. After a further development of international law (the law of the sea) in the 1970s, the coastal states were able to establish a 200-mile economic zone. Hardly any country has earned as much from that establishment as Norway, given the fishing and petroleum resources off our long coast. We are now formulating a policy for another area – the High North.
- Why are the High North so important?
- What is Norwegian politics in the north about?
In the spring of 2005, the government presented a report to the Storting – Opportunities and challenges in the north – which the Storting considered before the summer holidays. One important background for the message is that approx. 25 percent of the world’s undiscovered petroleum reserves are believed to be in the Arctic.
The global oil discovery rate was at its highest in the 1960s. Since then, it has dropped dramatically. Consequently, we will soon experience a decline in oil production. Production on the Norwegian continental shelf peaked (culminated) in 2001. At the same time, international demand is increasing. In anticipation of more and cleaner alternative energy sources, we can therefore expect high oil and gas prices. This makes it profitable to extract oil and gas even in inhospitable areas where production and transport costs are high – such as in the Arctic. The pressure on resources in the north is already great. The pace of exploration and recovery is nevertheless uncertain, primarily because the Russian dispositions are unclear.
2: Intense pursuit of energy
The United States, China, India and EU countries are hunting for energy sources worldwide. Among the largest countries in the world, only Russia has enough oil and gas. In our time, geopolitics has primarily become a matter of energy supplies and energy security . Japan and China are competing for pipelines from Russia. India wants a pipeline from Iran through Pakistan. Germany and Russia are in talks about a gas pipeline from Western Siberia through the Baltic Sea, while the United States will have gas from Western Siberia and the Barents Sea over to it. The Barents region is becoming a geopolitical hub . Norway is part of this region.
3: Unresolved boundaries and sovereignty issues
Norway claims sovereignty over approx. 30 percent of Europe’s total land and sea area. The Norwegian sea area is six times larger than the land territory, and most is in the north. For some of the sovereignty requirements, however, we have little support. Apart from the unresolved demarcation with Russia in the Barents Sea (cf. the “Gray Zone”), this applies to the continental shelf requirement and the zone around Svalbard. Norway claims that the Svalbard Treaty only applies to the archipelago and the territorial waters around it, while the entire shallow sea area from mainland Norway past Svalbard (see map) is a continuous Norwegian shelf. Others disagree with this. Still others have not expressed a position. It is therefore a matter of course that we seek international support for our demands. But where can we get it from? Russia is a counterpart. The United States has not ratified (finally approved) the Convention on the Law of the Sea. The major EU countries have made reservations. For them, Russia is also more important than Norway, especially as long as Norway is not a member of the EU.
We currently have no intergovernmental organization – multilateral framework – to deal with these issues within. NATO is almost empty of political content, and no one knows if or when we will join the EU. The government is therefore developing bilateral (bilateral) talks on the High North with the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and the EU. The close relationship between Germany and Russia makes the Norwegian-German dialogue particularly interesting to us. Who can import gas from the Shtokman field north of the Barents Sea, a field that is 30 times larger than the Norwegian Snøhvit field?
President Putin recently said that there are good prospects for oil and gas cooperation between Norway and Russia, and Prime Minister Bondevik says he assumes that Norwegian companies will be allowed to participate in the extraction on the Shtokman field. Both Statoil and Hydro can get a bite. The further east you get on Russian territory, the larger the deposits seem to be: Who joins there? In 2003, all Russian gas exports and 88 percent of oil exports went to European buyers: Will more go to Asia and the United States in the future?
Until now, the Norwegian interpretation of the Svalbard Treaty has been respected, even though it is not recognized. All countries have benefited from the fisheries protection zone around the archipelago. But what will happen if oil and gas are found in this area? The most friction-free utilization of natural resources depends on the border and sovereignty conditions being clarified.
4: Poor Norwegian coordination
According to areacodesexplorer.com, Norway is struggling with a traditional sectoral division of foreign policy. Other countries are better at connecting different subject areas to achieve synergy effects – the greatest possible overall effect. Germany is building a large warehouse for submarine reactors near the Nerpa shipyard north of Murmansk. The location is well chosen for the operation and maintenance of the Shtokman field. Maybe it is not only environmental awareness, but also German energy strategy that is behind this?
Norway has long since established itself as an important player in the work of improving nuclear safety and will continue this work, e.g. within the framework of the G8 (group of eight major industrialized countries). Russia will hold the presidency there in 2006. But we have not managed to put this activity in context with other Norwegian interests. We need support to develop a comprehensive and coherent policy for the High North.
The energy sector is central to both the Norwegian and Russian economies. Cooperation in this field, where Norwegian companies focus on technology and expertise that is in demand on the Russian side, can have ripple effects far beyond the oil and gas sector. It has the potential to become the economic locomotive that the Norwegian-Russian connections in the north have missed so far. Barents co-operation – also called Euro-Arctic co-operation, because the EU participates – which was established on Norwegian initiative in 1993, opened up for contact and co-operation between the peoples of the north. In this way, the collaboration has been successful. But the cross-border business has largely disappeared – until now. Through an active business policy, we can reduce the risk of conflicts of interest in areas where Norway and Russia are players in the same market.