The rapid pace of climate change is driving geostrategic developments in the Arctic. Increased shipping, oil and gas exploration, mineral extraction, overlapping territorial claims and other globalisation trends can lead to heightened geostrategic tensions. These developments in the Arctic affect Sweden too. The Swedish Declaration of Solidarity from 2009, which embraces the EU member states as well as Iceland and Norway, states that Sweden shall be prepared to give or receive military support in the event of a crisis or conflict. This points to a need to examine Sweden’s options in such situations.
“FOI’s project spans a range of different research areas and brings together a whole spectrum of expertise at FOI – so we are able to offer a truly comprehensive approach to the Arctic region. In our new report “The Changing Arctic” we present different aspects of how this changing Arctic can affect Swedish interests and activities seen from a number of different perspectives. Several of the conclusions are applicable to other actors, both state-owned and private. Current developments suggest that the Arctic region needs to become a more regular feature of Sweden’s broader business environment analysis,” says Niklas Granholm, an FOI scientist studying Arctic questions.
The report discusses two scenarios for the coming five to ten years. One in which developments are positive, relations between countries are good and natural resources are harvested in a responsible way. The second scenario is based on a situation in which there is more friction and disputes between states together with extensive exploitation of natural resources with little regard being paid to the natural environment and indigenous peoples.
Irrespective of which of the two scenarios represents the most realistic picture of the Arctic, space-related aspects are likely to be a decisive factor in allowing operations, whether civil or military, to be conducted safely and effectively in the region. The challenges facing the Swedish Armed Forces would be considerable if an operation had to be mounted in the Arctic, whether it be a minor rescue operation or something more substantial under the auspices of the Declaration of Solidarity.
A general increase in the level of economic activity coupled with increased human activity in the Arctic contributes to a greater risk of environmental disasters that may call for complex rescue and clean-up operations of different kinds. Oceanographically the Arctic region involves phenomena that do not exist in the Baltic. As a consequence of the increase in the volume of shipping there is a need for more research in this area. FOI, within its existing remit, already conducts advanced research in the field of underwater phenomena and earlier this year carried out sample measurements in the Gulf of Bothnia to study the functioning of underwater sonars and underwater communications in an environment similar to that of the Arctic with thick pack ice. This was a pioneering project new within this field of research (see picture). Increased activity in the Arctic also calls for improved radio and satellite communication systems which currently have some shortcomings. Satellite navigation is degraded by space weather and, as described in the report, more robust equipment is needed.