NATO’s Threats and Russia’s Balancing Policy in the Arctic

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Assistant Professor, Depertment of International Relations, Faculty of Law and Political Science, University of Mazandaran, Babolsar, Iran

2 A Ph.D. Candidate, International Relations, Faculty of Law and Political Science, University of Mazandaran, Babolsar, Iran



Introduction: Due to environmental changes and global warming, the competition between regional powers especially NATO countries and Russia has intensified to gain geo-strategic and geo-economic advantages in the Arctic region. The Arctic holds approximately 13% of the world's oil reserves and Russia holds the largest share of the region's oil and gas resources. The Arctic also make a significant contribution to Russia's economy, accounting for one-fifth of its GDP and 30% of government revenues. Six out of eight Arctic countries are NATO members, including the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and Finland. Sweden is interested in joining this organization because of its close cooperation with NATO. The existence of common interests has increased the diplomatic and military relations among NATO member states in the Arctic and has made NATO and Russia the main players in the region. Nevertheless, Russia-Ukraine War and the subsequent increase in NATO's active presence in the region have intensified concerns for Russia in this competition. In addition, Finland's recent membership in NATO has expanded the organization's border areas with Russia and any actions by NATO member states poses a threat to Russia's interests and national security in the Arctic.
Research question: Considering the above factors, the main question is what is Russia’s strategy to deal with NATO's threats in the Arctic region?
Research hypothesis: The study shows that Russia has adopted a balance-of-power strategy to counter NATO's threats by strengthening the military balance in the region.
Methodology and theoretical framework: This study uses a qualitative and descriptive approach to analyze the content of selected data together with subject matter analysis. The theoretical approach of the research is based on the components of Kenneth Waltz's balance of power theory, which emphasizes that governments create balance by increasing their capabilities against the dominant power in the region and international system.
Results and discussions: By adopting a multifaceted policy in the Arctic region, NATO seeks to limit Russia and its interests and national security. First, NATO has expanded its military activities in the region by increasing its bases, conducting military exercises, and establishing a submarine defense line. Second, NATO has suspended cooperation with Russia in regional Arctic organizations; on March 9, 2022, members of the European Arctic Barents Council announced the suspension of cooperation with the Russian Federation.
It was most striking when the seven members of the Arctic Council issued a joint statement and refused to participate in all meetings under Russia's chairmanship on March 3, 2022. Third, sanctions have been imposed and investment companies have left the Arctic region. Fourth, NATO worked for regional integration, Finland's membership and encouraging other countries such as Sweden to apply for permanent membership. And fifth, the internationalization of the North Sea route is another NATO threat to Russia in the Arctic. The North Sea route is one of Moscow's main interests in the region which is reflected in Russia's foreign policy documents. These actions are reminiscent of the military build-up of allies and Axis powers during World War II and the cold war as demonstrated by NATO's recent collective defense scenario. They provoked negative reactions from Russia and responded by the adopting a balancing policy against NATO threats. To overcome these concerns, Russia has strengthened its military capabilities in the region by building radar stations and missile defense systems, increasing military forces, strengthening, and equipping the naval force known as the Northern Fleet, modernizing naval bases and conducting various military exercises. 
Conclusion: Having vast territory and largest hydrocarbon resources, Russia considers the Arctic a strategic deterrent base against NATO's activities, especially those of the United States. However, since the start of the Russia-Ukraine war, Moscow has increased its emphasis on expanding military bases and strengthening military capabilities in the Arctic, Finland's membership in NATO and Sweden's potential membership have doubled Russia's border threats while tying the countries to a proxy war. NATO members know that Russia is alone in the Arctic and that its strategic allies do not have the abilities to have a military presence in the region. On the contrary, NATO member states have tried to increase the number of non-Arctic states in the region in the form of military exercises. But Russia has increased its attention to defense and security issues in the Arctic. Therefore, measures are being taken to strengthen the power of Russian armed forces in the region. Russia also has a policy of multilateralism on its agenda in the Arctic. As long as the war between Russia and Ukraine continues on the international stage, tensions will continue in the Arctic and Ukraine's efforts to get NATO and the United States more involved in confronting Russia will escalate tensions in the Arctic.


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