Cooperation at forefront of Germany’s Arctic agenda


The changing status quo in the Arctic due to climate change alters the relationship all states maintain to this vast region. As the ice caps recede, the availability of raw material deposits and the increasing navigability of Arctic sea routes become potential sources of non-cooperative behaviour that results from overlapping interests, unresolved territorial disputes and resource conflicts. This is occurring in conjunction with varying threat perceptions among the Arctic states as well as observing nations. Germany’s security and defense policy aims to preserve the Arctic as a largely conflict-free region, promote cooperation and safeguard its peaceful usage.

Early detection and prevention, and the containment of potential misunderstandings, of crises and conflicts in the Arctic are a priority of the German course of action. German and European security interests are not isolated from the region’s fate. The area’s enormity and the expansion of trade routes mean that more actors are affected by its security policies than just the Arctic states. This puts cooperation at the forefront of any Arctic agenda. Non-cooperative behavior in the Arctic would endanger the continuity of economic, environmental and security policies. A decisive factor for relations in the Arctic will be the extent to which overlapping sovereignty claims are militarily safeguarded and the nature of agreements reached on the rights to exploit the seabed. The status, legislation and regulations on the use of the Northwest and Northeast Passages are defining features. Regional governance requires transparency and cooperation to prosper. Therefore, the German Federal Government is firmly committed to its Alliance obligations, which stems from its membership in the European Union (EU) and the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

German Soldiers train in Norway for extreme conditions in 2018 during exercise Ice Crystal. MARIO BÄHR/BUNDESWEHR

Preventing avoidable militarization

The Arctic is no longer to be seen as secluded from other geopolitical trends. An arms race is increasingly gaining momentum. States are safeguarding their interests in response to the altered strategic picture as well as overspill of tensions from other regions. The buildup of dual-use and hybrid capabilities, technological progress and strategies for external interference also is increasing in the Arctic. This blurs the boundaries between offensive and defensive courses of action, as well as between civilian and military structures. Therefore, the German Federal Government advocates retaining a clearly defensive character of any military measures to counteract an intensified militarization and an escalatory trajectory of the Arctic.

It is vital to continue to integrate the Arctic into a system of multilateral stability to preserve its demilitarized status. Nevertheless, the Arctic must not be seen to be sheltered from the invasion of Ukraine by Russia this year, an event that will cause a changed geostrategic position of the country with the largest Arctic coastline and the relationship of this country to all the other Arctic players. As trusted allies and partners, we must incorporate this reality when adjusting our individual and collective policies. The involvement of China, which has illustrated a willingness in the South China Sea to elude maritime law to build up its presence, must be closely followed. Regional bodies of deliberation and information sharing are essential components in this regard. Germany is dedicated to the protection of freedom of navigation in waters in the Arctic in accordance with the regulations of UNCLOS. Germany considers the EU Maritime Security Strategy to be essential in strengthening the resilience against external interference. Furthermore, expanding capabilities to improve the recognized air and maritime picture, as well as combined space situational awareness, in and above the Arctic are necessary future steps. (Pictured: A German military helicopter prepares to lift cargo during Arctic exercises in Sweden in 2020.

A German Eurofighter in 2015 during exercise Arctic Challenge in Norway. TONI DAHMEN

Shaping our common future

The environmental perspective is central for the German understanding of the Arctic as a region in increasing turmoil. The change of the Arctic temperature profile, which has required forces to be expertly trained and acquire special equipment, has been replaced by a more volatile environment where flexibility is prized. From the perspective of military operations, the waning firmness of the thawing tundra raises questions about the reliability of strategic infrastructure, and the frequency of fogs and icebergs impairs the reliability of navigation. This shrouds our ability to create a clear operational picture, utilize sea lines of communication and conduct exercises. Given the unique tactical picture, Germany fully supports the hosting and participation in combined exercises of the Bundeswehr with partners and allies. The German Federal Government seeks to draw on its capabilities in mediation and nongovernmental scientific research in a preventive and confidence-building manner.

It is the firm German belief that this new Arctic order must be responded to with a process that exhibits an openness to new perspectives, a willingness to share information and the sober realization that we must face an uncertain future together.

For more information on Germany’s Arctic Policy Guidelines: