NATO's Strategic Warfare Development Command

The Future of the High North

May 12, 2023


The Arctic region carries significant strategic interest: maritime routes, resource access, climate conservation, and territorial claims, the High North is an important priority for NATO. As an enduring component of Cold War history, the High North also carries new opportunities for cooperation, as NATO continues to ensure the collective security of its members, and preserve the safety and stability of Arctic region.

Until the end of the Cold War, the Arctic region deemed as the “High North” was a frequent theatre for military forces. In recent decades, the High North presented as a region generally free of geopolitical tensions. “High North, Low Tension,” was a Norwegian slogan that was popularized, promoting a form of soft cooperation between the eight arctic nations: those nations are Canada, Greenland (Denmark), Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, and the United States. In 1996, these nations formed the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental body that focuses on environmental protection and cooperation.

However, seven of the eight members have paused their work with Russia due to the Russia’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine – recently, on May 11th, 2023, Norway took over the Arctic Council’s rotating chairmanship from Russia. Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt shared her statements, addressing the importance of “…the Core issues the Council deals with, including impacts of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to enhance the well-being of people living in the region. Together with other member states, we will now explore how this can be achieved in practice.” This comes at a critical time, as there are increasing economic and military activities throughout the Arctic region.

A combination of military interests, technological advancements and climate changes point to an increasingly contested High North, the changing security environment will require careful navigation. NATO Allied Command Transformation continues to prepare the Alliance for the challenges of today and tomorrow to develop and maintain NATO’s decisive military advantage, including those in the Arctic region. These efforts include a NATO Model Event focused on the High North, the NATO Innovation Challenge addressing Arctic communications, and several Centres of Excellence focusing on the Arctic: these events and capabilities enable the Alliance to better understand the High North and anticipate, adapt, and proactively address challenges of the future.