On the backdrop of an increasingly tense security situation, Head of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters Yngve Odlo pays visit to the far northern and demilitarised archipelago.
“It is very far from the Norwegian mainland to Svalbard [and] there are some critical vulnerabilities that we need to have in mind and discuss,” the high-ranking Norwegian military representative underlined as he on the 21st September arrived in Longyearbyen, the main town on the archipelago.
Yngve Odlo heads the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, the operational commando-center of the Norwegian Armed Forces, and he arrived to Svalbard together with Coast Guard vessel KV Svalbard.
The Norwegian archipelago is governed on the basis of the Svalbard Treaty of 2020, which bans the establishment of naval bases and fortifications, as well as the use of the area for war-like purposes.
Nevertheless, a Norwegian coast guard vessel has over several years made annual visits to Svalbard and cooperation between civilian local authorities and the Norwegian Military is gradually strengthened.
According to Lieutenant General Odlo, climate change is making the region more accessible and traffic is on the increase. Consequently, the archipelago of Svalbard gets growing strategic importance.
“It is important to be aware of critical vulnerabilities and take the necessary measures,” he underlines in a comment. “Like in the rest of our national defense system, civilian and military components must be able to smoothly interact, in peace, crisis and war,” he explains.
Challenging east-west relations
The visit comes as east-west relations are on a historical low. Also in the Arctic, Norway’s national security is increasingly challenged by a nearby assertive Russia.
“We are experiencing challenging times and it is important that civilian and military resources interact to protect our values,” Odlo says. “Svalbard has some characteristics that makes joint situational understanding essential,” he adds.
The Lieutenant General was at Svalbard also in 2022. Since then, progress has been made to enhance cooperation.
“I am very content with our progress, […] We have discussed what needs to be done and the ways the Norwegian Armed Forces can assist within the frames of their authorities,” says Lars Fause, Governor of Svalbard. “We are for example completely dependent on the Coast Guard with regard to inspection, control and preparedness. And we can get military assistance through a civilian relief authority granted to local police,” he adds.
There is an uncertain time in Europe and it is increasingly important that the Norwegian state shows a strong presence at Svalbard, the Governor argues.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada: Canadian and Norwegian PMs talk Arctic on sidelines of Montreal summitt, CBC News
Finland: With northern focus, Finland applies EU funding to improve military mobility, The Independent Barents Observer
Norway: Norwegians fear radiation as Russia prolongs test-window for Burevestnik missiles, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Moscow fires cruise missiles in sea drills between Russia and Alaska, Reuters
Sweden: Sweden wants to rebuild its “total defence” system, Radio Sweden
United States: US Navy brings massive fire power to Tromsø, The Independent Barents Observer