On 20 and 21 October 2023, the Chair of the NATO Military Committee, Admiral Bauer attended the 10th edition of the Arctic Circle Assembly. While in Iceland, he also met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Bjarni Benediktsson, the Chief of Defence, Mr Jonas Allansson and former President of Iceland Mr Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, current Chairman of the Arctic Circle Assembly.
In his keynote speech for the Arctic Circle Assembly, Admiral Bauer started by sharing NATO’s view on the current security environment in the Arctic. “The increased competition and militarisation in the Arctic region, especially by Russia and China, is concerning. The melting ice in the Arctic is creating new sea routes that would facilitate the movement of large vessels and shorten navigation times. We cannot be naïve and ignore the potentially nefarious intentions of some actors in the region. We must remain vigilant and prepare for the unexpected”, he noted.
He then proceeded to explain the implications of the new Regional Plan North, highlighting that “this plan specifically sees to the Atlantic and European Arctic, and falls under the command of our newest Allied Joint Force Command in Norfolk”. “JFC Norfolk sees to it that NATO’s force posture supports Arctic operations and provides greater Arctic defence coherence. This ensures that forces and equipment can flow between the continents in conflict and peace and protects our freedom of navigation”, the Chair also noted in his remarks.
In his meeting with the Icelandic Chief of Defence, Mr Jonas Allansson, Admiral Bauer commended Iceland for its support and contributions to NATO. “Iceland is a smaller nation with a smaller population, but you still contribute meaningfully to our Alliance. Amongst other things, you host strategic NATO and Allied assets, you have personnel deployed on our Eastern Flank and you increase our situational awareness in the North Atlantic. In addition, you show true leadership on the Women, Peace and Security agenda. And you support key partners, including Ukraine”, he highlighted.
Sitting down with Mr Bjarni Benediktsson, the Icelandic Minister of Foreign Affairs, Admiral Bauer reiterated the key role Iceland plays in the region, as a NATO Ally but also as a member of the Arctic Council. “When Sweden joins, following in the footsteps of Finland, seven of the eight members of the Arctic Council will be NATO Allies. We are grateful to our Nordic Allies for their enhanced cooperation, investment and vigilance in the region. The Arctic has always had a strategic importance to NATO, and we must ensure it remains free and navigable”, he added. Admiral Bauer and Minister Benediktsson also exchanged views on security issues outside of the Arctic region, especially those related to the war in Ukraine and the volatile situation in the Middle East.
Meeting with the Chairman of the Arctic Circle Assembly, Mr Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, Admiral Bauer praised the quality and value of the Arctic Circle Assembly, as a platform officials, regional actors and industry to come together and discuss key issues relating to the Arctic. “In the last decade, the growing importance of the Arctic has been undeniable, especially due to its natural resources, maritime potential and strategic location. However, it is also a fragile ecosystem on the planet and has been suffering from the effects of climate change. Bringing experts from a variety of fields together to share ideas, studies and discuss the varying interests in the region, hopefully, helps leaders make better choices and builds understanding”, underscored the Admiral.