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The Arctic Heats Up

Recent geopolitical events – above all, the war in Ukraine – have seemingly solidified the Arctic region’s transformation into a major theater of global geopolitical competition. To prevent escalation, the West must strike the right balance between diplomacy and assertiveness.

MADRID – Less than a month after Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, NATO launched its largest exercise in the Arctic in three decades, with as many as 30,000 troops from 27 countries participating in land, sea, and air drills. Operation Cold Response 2022, hosted by Norway, highlights just how tense things have become in a region that has long been largely immune to geopolitical volatility.

Of course, the Arctic’s strategic importance is nothing new. During the Cold War, the region offered the shortest flight path for intercontinental ballistic missiles between the United States and the Soviet Union, as well as plenty of cover for submarines, thanks to deep ice and inhospitable conditions for ships.

But the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union ushered in an era of declining militarization and increasing cooperation, especially on environmental protection. This shift was supported by the Arctic Council – an intergovernmental forum established in 1996 – which declares in its founding document (albeit in a footnote) that it should not “deal with matters of military security.”