Challenges of the Arctic
By: Dave Webb
Presented in Rovaniemi, Finland
From May 22 to June 2, the Air Forces of Finland, Norway and Sweden will be hosting the third multinational Arctic Challenge Exercise 2017 (ACE 17). More than one hundred aircraft and thousands of personnel from 11 nations will be participating in the air exercise carried out over the northern areas of the host countries.
The Arctic Challenge Exercises have been conducted every second year since 2013 and this year it is the turn of the Finnish Air Force to plan and direct the wide range of aircraft and forces of warfare from the 11 participating nations - Finland, Norway, Sweden, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United States - from 3 host country bases at Bodø in Norway, Luleå in Sweden, and Rovaniemi, and there will also be support and participation from the US, UK and Netherlands.
In addition, there will be a range of associated military intelligence and space related activities – but these will not be quite so obvious.
So the High North will become a hive of military activity not only at the host bases but also the training areas of Setermoen, Vidsel and Rovajärvi.
And, at the same time as ACE 17, a Finnish Defence Forces Army North 17 exercise will be taking place at Rovajärvi and aircraft will be operating in the Lohtaja training area where the Finnish Defence Forces Air Defence Exercise 1/17 will be going on.
There will also be a number of space centres, downloading data from a range of space components and surveillance systems, including the Kiruna and Esrange satellite stations in Sweden, the SvalSat satellite station in Svalbard, Norway and the Arctic Space Centre at Sodnakylä in Finland.
In addition, I am sure that the powerful missile defence radar at Vardø in Northern Norway will be watching, and intelligence gathering centres in the host countries and beyond will be listening to assess any response from Russia.
Scandinavia and the Arctic region have seen much military activity in recent years. The Arctic Challenge Exercises are part of the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) between Finland, Norway and Sweden and Cross Border Training (CBT) exercises are carried out almost weekly.
There are also a number of other large scale NATO exercises held on a regular basis, such as Operation Cold Response (held in Northern Norway), and Operation Joint Warrior (held twice a year off the coast of northern Scotland). The 3-week long Aurora exercise to be held in September will be the largest military exercise in Sweden in 20 years.
These exercises and the increasing number and size of US and NATO military exercises in Europe - such as the huge ‘Operation Atlantic Resolve’ held at the beginning of the year, in which thousands of troops and assorted equipment from the US and NATO countries (including tanks) moved through Germany to fan out through Poland and Romania, along the Russian border – are threatening and increasing unrest.
The US and NATO missile defense bases established in Turkey, Poland and Romania, are other examples of the aggressive stance being taken against Russia - forming a choke hold along its western borders.
When Agneta Norberg invited us to the conference ‘The North – A Zone of Peace’ in Stockholm in February we heard from Kersten Tuomala how, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Finland has slowly abandoned former understandings of peace and co-operation with Russia. Where once there was agreement not to threaten or attack, or allow a third part to do so through Finnish territory, we now see increasing levels and frequency of military action which can only intimidate and annoy.
There has been a noticeable increase in US military exercises and NATO activities in Europe and Scandinavia in recent years. The above figure shows the NATO activity near Russia from May 2014 until December 2015 – 14 exercises or deployments in just 18 months.
Of course, Norway,Denmark and Iceland were among the founding members of NATO in 1949, but Sweden and Finland, with their long traditions of neutrality and preference for diplomacy, had distanced themselves from the main military centres of Europe until 1994 when both countries joined NATO’s ’Partnership for Peace’ and have participated in NATO operations and war exercises ever since.
The ‘P for P’ Program connects 22 NATO and other states in Europe and the former Soviet Union. It was proposed in 1993 and launched in January 1994 at the NATO summit in Brussels. The figure on the left shows in green the countries that initially joined the program and then went on to join NATO.
In September 2014 Finland entered into a ‘Host Country Agreement ‘with NATO without any discussion or vote in parliament and Sweden followed 2 years later. This agreement enables NATO to store military equipment and transport military forces through Finland and Sweden in times of crisis. The agreement does not mention nuclear weapons but as NATO is a nuclear power and neither confirms nor denies if its forces carry nuclear weapons, there are no real guarantees that nuclear weapons will not be brought to or through ’Host Countries’.
In July 2015 Finland agreed to become part of the NATO StratCom Centre of Excellence (COE) in Riga, Latvia, which Sweden also joined in 2016. Riga is just one of the many StratCom COEs established throughout Europe and parts of Scandinavia.
Another NATO COE for ’Cold Weather Operations’ operates from Bodø, one of the host bases for ACE 17.
A Cyberwarfare Arms Race
The US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) is situated at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. It is, among many other things, the Pentagon’s centre for information warfare.
Cyberwarfare techniques are being developed not only to attack technical installations but also to plant false information to be used as propaganda by governments, the media and corporate interests and NATO and Russia have accused each other, probably justifiably, of spreading ‘false news’ to win over public opinion.
Sweden is directly involved in at least one major US cyberwar project and one of its operations known as WINTERLIGHT, which is a joint project of the FRA (the National Defence Radio Establishment of Sweden), the NSA (the National Security Agency of the US) and GCHQ (the Government Communications Head Quarters of the UK). These Communications Intelligence (COMINT) Agencies are involved in hacking targeted computer systems and with the subsequent data interception, diversion and tampering.
Sweden has become a key partner of the US and Britain in COMINT and has a third party agreement in surveillance with ‘Five Eyes’, the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada intelligence gathering and sharing agreement formed in 1949.
The figure above shows some of the SIGNINT and COMINT activities at listening and interception bases around the world. Sweden has electronic listening posts at Lerkil, south of Gothenburg and on the island of Lovön, near Stockholm.
Above is a photograph from our visit to Lovön just before the Stockholm conference earlier this year. Electronic communications can also be intercepted from a ship operated by the Swedish Navy and two Gulfstream IV aircraft operated by the Swedish Air Force.
In 2008 the FRA were given expansive powers to intercept all communications travelling over fibre optic networks into and out of Sweden—including e-mails, text messages, and telephone calls. A large percentage of Russian communications travel through Sweden and surveillance data has been shared with the NSA since 2011. In 2013, documents provided by Edward Snowden revealed that Sweden had provided the NSA with a "unique collection on high-priority Russian targets such as leadership, internal politics, and energy."
It is worth noting perhaps that in 2009 the US rejected Russian proposals to address the ‘emerging battleground’ of cyberspace with a treaty to ban cyberwar, similar to treaties negotiated to ban chemical and biological weapons. The US is treaty-averse, and prefers informal agreements as enforcement measures. From the Russian perspective, the absence of a treaty is permitting a kind of arms race with potentially dangerous consequences.
The Norwegian Intelligence Service (NIS) has also been working closely with the NSA. In December 2013, the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported that Norway was providing the NSA with tens of millions of communications every month – focussing on Russian politicians, military and energy targets in particular.
Last year the Finnish government also began discussing its own surveillance legislation - aimed in part at gaining access to its new undersea cable system called Sea Lion, which routes Internet traffic directly to Germany. Russian communications may be able to bypass Sweden through this route.
Thus the Baltic Sea is seen by many a major theatre in a new cyber warfare arms race.
As a post script - just a few days ago the WanaCryptOr ransom attack hit cyberspace, locking up tens of thousands of computers running Windows XP in 74 countries and hitting hospitals, businesses, and even a Russian Ministry. About 60,000 computers in total are infected and early indications are that it was malware hacked from a store of cyber attack tools being stored by the NSA. It is also a sobering thought that Britain's Trident nuclear submarines run on Windows XP (the operating system that was affected).
It must be time to work for common security – not machines that could destroy the world!
SSA means the monitoring and evaluation of all space based activities - from space debris to satellites and possible weapons systems.
At the Stockholm Conference, Regina Hagen pointed to the growing militarization of the EU and the ESA and how in 2016, the European Commission (EC) confirmed a prominent role of space for defence and so a space alliance is being formed by the US to share data and operations – making members reliant on what is predominantly US space technology.
Kiruna station in northern Sweden is extensively used by the ESA and routine operations are fully automated and controlled from the ESTRACK Control Centre (ECC) at the ESA European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany.
The GPS Tracking and the Data Analysis Facility from the Galileo Experimental Sensor Station (GESS) at Kiruna Station, both deliver continuous measurements to ESOC’s Navigation Facility. Many of these operations, supported or provided by Swedish companies and the Swedish government, help to support the hegemonic interests of the US and NATO.
In 2014 the Global Network held its annual conference in Kiruna and while there we visited the Esrange Space Centre, part of the North European Aerospace Test Range (NEAT) which also includes the Vidsel Test Range and is Europe's largest overland test range for aerospace systems. Drones and missiles are regularly tested in the 216 mile long testing area.
During our visit we heard how staff members were unaware of who the final users of the data that they were downloading might be.
Finland too has a satellite receiving station at Sodnakylä which acts as a downlink station for the Sentinel satellites of the Copernicus programme run by the EC and ESA. Each Sentinel mission is based on a constellation of two satellites to provide robust datasets for Copernicus Services.
These missions carry a range of technologies, such as radar and multi-spectral imaging instruments for land, ocean and atmospheric monitoring of the Earth.
Regina Hagen emphasized the importance of dual use satellites –used for both military and civilian purposes – and that Copernicus is just such a dual use system. It is the world's largest single earth observation programme and aims to achieve a global and continuous Earth observation capacity, providing accurate and easily accessible information to, among other things, improve the management of the environment, understand and mitigate the effects of climate change, and ensure ‘civil security’.
It is interesting that, originally, Copernicus was named the ‘Global Monitoring for Environmental Security’ (GMES) but in 1999 the name was changed to the ‘Global Monitoring for Environment and Security’ (my emphasis) – showing clearly that there are security implications.
These security implications include border surveillance, EU external actions and maritime surveillance. In the area of border surveillance, one of the main objectives is to reduce the number of illegal immigrants entering the European Union. In November 2015, the EC entrusted the European Border and Coast Guard Agency FRONTEX with the border surveillance component of Copernicus. FRONTEX (headquartered in Warsaw, Poland) supports the European Border Surveillance System (Eurosur), a surveillance system of the EU that uses drones, reconnaissance aircraft, offshore sensors and satellite remote sensing to track illegal immigration into its member states.
The Copernicus support for ’EU External Actions’ is operated by the EU Satellite Centre in Torrejón de Ardoz, close to Madrid (Spain). It provides the EU with satellite and aerial imagery for the monitoring of events or activities outside Europe in support of, in particular, the Common Security and Defence Policy.
NATO plans also include around €800m for computer systems that help command air and missile defences. A further €71m will go to protecting NATO's 32 main locations from cyber attacks and another €180m to provide more secure mobile communications for alliance soldiers in the field.
The Use of Drones
Robonic Ltd also operates a dedicated unmanned air vehicle flight test centre in Lapland at Kemijarvi and there may be increased activity there in the run up to or during ACE 17.
Why the Arctic at this time?
Up to the beginning of the 21st century, the circumpolar North, or the Arctic, was a stable and peaceful region without wars and armed conflicts. Politically it includes eight unified states - the so-called Arctic Eight consisting of Canada, Denmark (Greenland and the Faroes), Finland, Iceland, Norway (including Svalbard), the Russian Federation, Sweden and the USA (Alaska) - two autonomous regions and an archipelago under the auspices of an international agreement.
The Arctic has seen a significant growth in its geostrategic importance for military and security-political reasons. The sparsely-populated region has become strategically and politically important for the military and for activities such as the patrolling of strategic nuclear submarines; the deployment of radar systems in Greenland and Norway as a part of the US surveillance and National Missile Defence system; and military exercises and weapons testing in Canada, Lakselv in Norway and Rovajärvi in Finland. There have also been developments in military space activity with important space centres in for example, Norway’s SvalSat, Sweden’s Esrange and Kiruna, and Finland’s Sodnakylä.
This elevated level of importance for the Arctic is associated with the existence of rich untapped stocks of natural resources such as fish, metallic minerals and in particular oil and natural gas.
Most of the gross production of the region has come from Russia (67%), as Russia's rich oil and natural gas resources are generally located in her northern regions. As of 2013, 11% of Russia’s GNP, 93% of its natural gas, and 75% of its oil came from the Russian Arctic.
The impacts of climate change such as global warming and the melting of sea ice and glaciers has introduced new security dimensions. Important new sea transportation routes are opening up, including a northern sea route that would be the shortest between W Europe and Asia-Pacific. It could also enable US Aegis Combat Ships to be deployed in the Arctic. The US and Russian Navies have been deploying underwater drones beneath the Arctic ice to assess how quickly the ice is melting and understand how soon they will be competing for new strategic waterways in the region.
The rapid melting of the ice, glaciers and permafrost is also enabling access to resources and new oil and gas fields. There is the possibility of a new ‘Gold Rush’ to secure these resources. The circumpolar North has therefore become a target area for the growing economic, political and military interests of regional states and actors from outside the region.
Finland’s former Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen said that “both Finland and Sweden should consider joining NATO when the time is right.” This unfortunate change in strategic thinking must be at least partly due to US and NATO propaganda about Russian intentions – not an analysis of its military potential. If Sweden and Finland were to join NATO it would allow the Alliance to treat the entire Arctic-Nordic-Baltic region as one integrated military-strategic area for defence planning and logistical purposes.
In addition, Norway would no longer be an ‘isolated’ NATO member and the control of the Baltic Sea would have finally been achieved and maintained by the US. Therefore, in the stand against NATO aggression, growing cooperation between Nordic countries to resist militarism is vital. Unfortunately this seems unlikely, the ‘Nordic Defence Cooperation’ initiative, including Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, already includes NATO and EU countries, and increased participation of Finland and Sweden with NATO makes integration that much easier.
One key point maybe public opinion on joining NATO - at the moment Swedish and Finnish public support for joining NATO seems to be limited, with about 50-60% against joining. However, polls suggest this is falling slowly and we will have to work hard together and help focus the opposition to NATO - to stand against the use of military threats and encourage diplomacy and understanding.
We are told we must fear the military aspirations of Russia but we need to consider the facts. Currently the US spends 34% of the world total of military spending. If we add in the NATO members to the US total we get over 50%. Russia spends just 4% of the global total. No contest. Why on Earth would Russia invade or declare war on NATO?
The weapons corporations and politicians with vested interests are making a lot of money from just practicing wars, never mind starting them. At the same time ‘austerity cuts’ are biting deep into the education, health and social welfare systems of our countries and people are suffering – dying – as a consequence.
We will need to gather together in huge numbers around the world to protest at the way things are going.
Protest actions are being planned in and around Gothenburg, Sweden against the Aurora
exercise to be held there in September. Among the activities are Peace Marches on May 14 (
On May 24th and 25th - NATO leaders were in Brussels for the NATO summit and the inauguration of their new headquarters. President Trump had announced an increase of $600 billion on US military spending and is urging Europe to spend more too. They were met in Brussels by 12,000 demonstrators in protest actions organised by te Belgian Peace Movement and the International group “No to War, No to NATO” (http://www.no-to-nato.org/actions-around-nato-summits/actions-nato-summit-2017-brussels/) and a counter conference & workshops was held on May 25 (www.stopnato2017.org).
Please join and support these and other actions - do whatever you can whenever you can and wherever you can!
We don’t want more money for war! We want investments in education, health, job creation and solidarity!