A majority of the people living in the Arctic wants to continue cooperation with Russia despite the conflict in Ukraine. Norwegians are most in favor of diplomatic and cooperative approaches, a new survey shows.
One of three in the survey believes the threat of a military conflict in the Arctic has increased in the past year.
The Canadian research program Munk-Gordon Arctic Security Program ahead of this week’s Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Iqaluit in Canada published the results of an Arctic public opinion survey where 10,000 people in eight Arctic nations were asked about their opinion on issues like cooperation with Russia, the threat of military conflict in the north, and the role of the Arctic Council.
People in the Arctic acknowledge the reality of rising geopolitical tensions and their implications for the Arctic. While they include a strengthened military as one response, the favored option is diplomatic and cooperative approaches. This is evident in a specific question in the survey on how best to deal with Russia and in general, support for the “softer” approaches of negotiation and co-operation are endorsed particularly in the Nordic countries.
Despite concern about security tensions in the Arctic, support for a “firm line” when dealing with dispute resolution is only endorsed by a minority of respondents in all countries and that support for the harder approach has gone down – not up – over the past five years. Even in Russia where 43% support a firm line, 28% support negotiations. In all other countries surveyed there was more support for negotiation than pursuing a firm line.
Only 5 percent of Russians believe that their country should withdraw from international cooperation in the Arctic. This view is supported in most of the Arctic Council nations where only minorities are supportive of excluding Russia from co-operative Arctic forums. Sweden and Iceland (44% and 43%, respectively) were most likely to agree that Russia should “withdraw from international cooperation arrangements like the Arctic Council in light of recent developments in Ukraine.” Norwegians are least in favor of excluding Russia, with only 19 percent answering “yes” to this question.
The survey was made before Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin visited Svalbard and created a bit of a diplomatic crisis between Norway and Russia last weekend.
Majorities in Russia, Iceland and Finland believe the threat of military conflict in the Arctic has increased in the past year, a view shared by significant proportions of citizens of other countries with Arctic territory. Respondents in the survey were largely in favor of expanding the mandate of the Arctic Council to also include military security.
Except in Alaska, large majorities of people say the U.S. and Russia should remove their nuclear weapons from the Arctic and that the Arctic should be a nuclear weapons-free zone like Antarctica. The number of people wanting the Arctic to be nuclear weapons-free has gone up in all countries since the last similar survey in 2010.
The survey was conducted in the United States, Canada, Russia, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark.