On October 20, President Barack Obama and Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg met at the White House in Washington, D.C. They discussed issues such as Norway’s involvement in the campaigns in Libya and Afghanistan, and the domestic terrorist attacks in July. One other issue they also discussed was the High North.
In their joint remarks in the Oval Office after their 45-minute meeting, Stoltenberg said:
“I appreciate also very much that we had the opportunity to focus on the High North. The High North is a area where we are seeing new possibilities, new challenges, but also new dangers.
“And the ice is melting. Actually, in the High North we see the consequences of global warming. But at the same time, that opens up new possibilities for energy developments, but also for sea routes, and it increases the need for cooperation between the countries bordering the Arctic area, and the U.S. and Norway are among them.”
For those who can understand Norwegian, you can watch a video of Stoltenberg’s remarks to the press outside the White House, here (though not much is said about the Arctic).
Obama did not comment on the Arctic during his remarks. However, he was reportedly particularly interested in learning more about how Norway and Russia were able to agree on the delineation of the maritime boundary between them in the Barents Sea. He also sought to discuss how the U.S. and Norway could cooperate more in the area of search and rescue.
A fact sheet distributed by the White House states that the U.S. and Norway renewed their commitments together in the following areas, including the Arctic. It says,
“The Arctic: In the Arctic Council, the United States and Norway co-chair a task force examining the role of certain greenhouse gases (such as methane and hydrofluorocarbons) and aerosols (such as black carbon), known collectively as “short-lived climate forcers,” in causing global climate change. Together with Russia, the United States and Norway also co-chair a task force to develop an international instrument on Arctic marine oil pollution preparedness and response. The United States welcomes that Norway will host a new permanent secretariat for the Council in Tromso.”
As you can see, much of the cooperation between Norway and the U.S. in the Arctic concerns scientific research. The U.S. also performs a lot of research on Svalbard, and as of 2000, the National Science Foundation had funded over 31 projects on the island. Though somewhat outdated, this report from the Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S. sheds light on many of the areas in which the two countries could collaborate more. One suggestion is for the U.S. to build a dedicated research station on Ny-Ålesund, which is where the UK’s National Environment Research Council (NERC) has a station. More than ten years later, the suggestion has not become reality. Poland and China also have research stations in the Svalbard archipelago. It is less pressing for the U.S. to invest in new research facilities in Norway since it already has its own region in the Arctic, Alaska, from where it can conduct research.
Programs which have been successful, however, are those such as the U.S. Fulbright Arctic Chair Grant, which sends American professors to Norway and Norwegian professors to the States. This year, a professor from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo has been named the U.S. Fulbright Arctic Chair. Professor Mark Moline is using autonomous underwater vehicles to study changes in the food web for Arctic bird species – a topic that, while probably not at the top of the list of items for discussion for Stoltenberg and Obama, is still important. The food web in the Arctic is extremely sensitive. It is affected not only by the number of animals of each species, but also by the amount of sea ice. Certain bird species, like the glaucous gull and fulmar, are also often near the top of the Arctic food chain, since they have no predators.
Obama was not the only U.S. official with whom Stoltenberg met. Before his meeting with the president, he met with Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Aftenposten reported that Kerry was “very interested” in the recent oil discoveries on Norway’s continental shelf. In October, Statoil discovered that the Aldous Major South reserves in the North Sea, off the southern tip of Norway, could hold 900 million to 1.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent. This is almost more than twice the previous estimates.
Statoil’s discovery, one of the biggest ever in Norway’s history, could extend the country’s oil reserves for another thirty years. Norway is only the nineteenth biggest exporter of oil to the U.S. (source: U.S. Energy Information Administration), so it is not a terribly key supplier. However, Norway’s reliability as a trade partner is certainly something to be valued.