View Full Version : The Barents Cooperation: A Vision for a Better Europe.

Tuesday, November 9th, 2004, 10:23 PM
Minister of Foreign Affairs Bjørn
Tore Godal

In Nansen's footsteps. The
Barents cooperation: A
vision for a better Europe.

Royal Geographical Society
London, 5 October 1995

Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to have this opportunity to address the Royal Geographical Society, which has been a focal point for British geographers and explorers for more than a century. Thus, it is also a most appropriate venue for a memorial lecture on the explorer and scientist Fridtjof Nansen.

The most urgent issues and challenges have always included a geographical element. This is perhaps even more true today than it was in the past, before environmental degradation, the population explosion, climate change and nature conservation made their appearance on the global agenda - indeed, until recently, there was no such thing as a global agenda. Nevertheless, geography has always played a crucial role in peace and cooperation. It is therefore not surprising that some of its practitioners have also made significant contributions to peace and international cooperation.

Fridtjof Nansen is one of those scientists who will also be remembered as a diplomat, a humanitarian, a writer and an artist. He served as our first minister to the United Kingdom from 1906 to 1908 and worked hard to achieve international recognition for the newly independent Norway after the dissolution of the union with Sweden in 1905. Fridtjof Nansen's efforts to assist the population in famine-stricken Russia, Armenia and Ukraine in the 1920s, in the wake of World War I and the civil war in the Soviet Union have earned him a place in the annals of history. Nor must we forget the great task he carried out for the League of Nations in repatriating almost half a million prisoners of war.

Tonight, however, I will focus on Nansen the explorer. His association with the High North gives an interesting historical angle to the regional cooperation that has been established in this area since the end of the Cold War. What we have chosen to call the Barents Region includes the northern parts of the Nordic countries as well as Northwestern Russia. For centuries, the Arctic has represented, for people further south, a symbol of adventure, dreams and the endeavour to utilize natural resources. The ice-cold, dark polar nights, the endless sunshine of the summer months, the vast tundra and the untouched wilderness have always attracted explorers and adventurers. In this forum, I venture to claim that the best among them were either British or Norwegian - although Mr. Barents himself was a Dutchman.

This year we can commemorate the 100th anniversary of what is generally regarded as one of the most daring polar expeditions ever made. From the ship "Fram", which had been frozen in the ice in the Barents Sea for almost two years, Nansen and his companion Johansen (by the way, from my native town of Skien in Telemark) set out in March 1895 to reach the North Pole using skis and dog sledges. They reached 86* 14' before having to turn back, and their achievement will never be forgotten.

Eighteen years later, in 1913, Nansen sailed into the Arctic Ocean and up the Siberian river Yenisey to the town of Krasnoyarsk. The Norwegian businessman who had invited Nansen to take part in the journey had a scheme to open up Siberia to the whole world through his Siberian Steamship, Manufacturing and Trading Company Ltd. In Krasnoyarsk the Norwegian businessman met a young Georgian prisoner, later known as Josef Stalin, and offered him assistance to escape and a job as a woodcutter. Stalin declined, apparently because he had fallen in love with a woman in the camp. Who could think of a better reason?

As a matter of curiosity, I would also like to mention that one of Fridtjof Nansen's ancestors, Hans Nansen, who was to become Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, sailed to the Kola Peninsula with his uncle in 1614. In 1619, at the age of 21, he led an expedition to the White Sea and Northern Russia. For 18 years thereafter he sailed northwards every summer to buy skins, furs and walrus tusks. He became a wealthy man. This shows both that a taste for adventure in the High North was in Fridtjof Nansen's blood, and that there is a long tradition of contact between the Nordic countries and Northwestern Russia.

During the Soviet era, the Northeast Passage, or Northern Sea Route, was closed for political reasons. Today, the route is open, and a comprehensive study of all aspects of its future use is being carried out by the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo. This is another testimony to the fundamental change in the international political climate and its impact on the European scene.

Since the death of Fridtjof Nansen 65 years ago, Europe has experienced dramatic change, terror and war, deep division and military confrontation. At the same time, we have witnessed advances in democracy, growing respect for human rights and an increase in prosperity on a scale hardly foreseeable in the early decades of the century. Ours is a time of dramatic economic and political change, and of hope for a better future for the peoples of Europe, but also of fear for what the future might bring. New economic and political ties are being forged between countries, regions and individuals on both sides of the former East-West divide. Nevertheless, there is still a danger that the gap in living standards between East and West will endure and even widen. And once again war is being fought on our continent.

In this situation the main challenge facing us is to create a new European architecture that will bring greater security to all of us. The end of the Cold War gave us a historic chance to unite Europe in a pattern of mutual cooperation and trust. Norway is one of the countries that has emphasized most strongly that Russia must be given an equal place in European cooperation. We have actively sought to promote a course of development that will include Russia, because we believe this to be in the interests of our own security and of stability in Europe.

Norway's most important contribution to the integration of Russia into international cooperation structures followed an initiative taken by my predecessor Thorvald Stoltenberg in 1992. He proposed a conference on cross-border regional cooperation in the north, to include both Russian and Scandinavian territory. The Barents Region was established in January 1993 when foreign ministers and representatives of the Nordic countries, the European Union and Russia signed a declaration on expanded cooperation in the Barents Region in the small Norwegian town of Kirkenes, close to the Norwegian-Russian border.

The Barents region itself covers the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland and Northwestern Russia, including the counties of Murmansk and Archangel as well as the Republic of Karelia. Right from the beginning, the Barents Cooperation has had two main strategic goals, which are closely related. The first is to establish normal neighbourly relations across the former East-West divide in the north. This can be done through a network of cooperation which will have a stabilizing effect on the area as a whole. In this way, we will also be involving Russia more closely in European cooperation. The second goal is to promote economic and social development in the Barents Region itself.

The overriding objective of the Norwegian Government's initiative concerning the Barents Region was, and is still related to security policy in the broadest sense of the word. Regional cooperation in the north can contribute to confidence-building, create interdependence and thus enhance security.

My predecessor Johan Jørgen Holst once stated that we intend "... to create a meeting place, a forum for dialogue and a framework that can be used as a basis for establishing new and lasting networks across national borders ... The Barents Cooperation is mainly concerned with building bridges across the gap created by three-quarters of a century of closed borders, broken ties and mutual distrust."

The Iron Curtain which separated continental Europe also split this region in two. Despite the fact that NATO's northern flank and one of the most important strategic areas of the Soviet Union met here, Norway's policy of low tension contributed to keeping this region free from open military confrontation throughout the Cold War. Nevertheless, the border between Norway and Russia was for all practical purposes closed and contact between people across the border was almost non-existent.

With the establishment of the Barents Region, we are now seeing an explosive increase in border crossings and flourishing contact between private persons, companies, organizations and local government representatives across the borders. This gives a new dimension to the everyday life of people in the region and contributes to the building of mutual trust.

In our view, it is of the utmost importance to involve local people from all walks of life in this process. And we are already seeing results. A large number of people in positions of authority at both local and central level have established contact to discuss their respective problems, objectives and priorities. We are also seeing broader public involvement, not least in cultural activities.

It is particularly important to involve young people and the intellectual community, since they are influential groups in the development of Russian society. The close contact between the universities of Tromsø and Archangel is a good example of this approach. This type of networking has great potential. Not only is it an asset in attaining the political goals of the Barents Cooperation, but it is also often a necessity for achieving results in specific projects. In many ways, mutual understanding and cooperation in cultural terms pave the way for other forms of cooperation.

Our second overriding goal, to promote development in the Barents Region itself, has been one of Norway's main priorities from the very beginning. As a regional arrangement, the Barents Cooperation should primarily serve the interests of those who live in the region. The main challenge facing the region now is to rid itself of the legacy of the Cold War. We must create stability and promote progress in political, social, economic and environmental affairs in Northwestern Russia, while at the same time safeguarding local cultural traditions.

We should bear in mind that the history of the Barents Region is not solely one of division and isolation. Before the Russian revolution of 1917, close links had existed for centuries between Northwestern Russia and the northern parts of the Nordic countries. In particular, trade flourished as Pomors - or farmers - from around the Russian White Sea visited Northern Norway to sell flour in exchange for fish. They provided vital food supplies to the coastal population of Northern Norway at a time when the communication lines to the south were not always reliable. During the Napoleonic Wars, the British blockaded ports in Southern Norway preventing the shipment of flour from Denmark. Even if the British Navy "ruled the waves", it did not control Northern Norwegian waters, and could not prevent the population there from buying flour from Russia. Consequently, to show their displeasure, the British dispatched two brigs in 1809, which bombarded Hammerfest, the world's most northerly town, causing widespread damage.

Throughout most of history, the borders between the countries of the High North have been of little importance to the peoples of the area. National capitals seemed very far away. Trade and other forms of contact meant that people were constantly travelling back and forth across the borders. We might say that a regional identity emerged, a sense of common destiny among peoples sharing the experience of trying to make a living in harsh surroundings.

The Barents Region is home to many different ethnic groups: in addition to Swedes, Finns, Russians and Norwegians, there are several indigenous peoples. These include the Sami, who live in all four countries, and the Nenets and the Komi of Northwestern Russia. In the Karelian Republic, there are several Finno-Ugric minorities. A total of at least nine different languages are spoken by the inhabitants of the region. Adding to the complexity, national minorities live in all four countries. Among them are Finnish-speaking populations in Norway and Sweden and people from various parts of the former Soviet Union living in Northwestern Russia.

The Norwegian Government considers it important to ensure that the indigenous peoples are given an independent status and role in the Barents Cooperation. The Barents Cooperation has already created a new framework and given impetus to cross-border cooperation between indigenous peoples in the north. It has become a meeting place for Nordic and Russian Sami, Komi and Nenets. The Barents Cooperation has opened up new opportunities for the Sami people. Once again it is possible for the Sami on the Kola Peninsula to rejoin the rest of the Sami community and to reestablish links with other indigenous minorities in the region.

The utilization of natural resources in the Barents Region is a matter of vital interest to the indigenous peoples. The President of the Norwegian Sami Assembly acknowledges that the Barents Cooperation has given indigenous peoples an opportunity to be involved in safeguarding their own interests during a process of economic development which might otherwise have left them with a sense of powerlessness. We share their interest in ensuring that political considerations are taken into account in the further development of the region.

Another goal of the Barents Cooperation is to establish business relations, personal contacts and encourage friendship between people from different cultures and historical backgrounds living in the same region. It is part of our vision for a better Europe for all Europeans. Stability, good relations and common trust and understanding among neighbours are elements of a vision that can only be fulfilled through the often exhausting, practical, day-to-day cooperation in fora such as the Barents Cooperation.

In this way we can help to build bridges between people who live close to each other, but who have nevertheless been kept apart for decades. It would clearly be in Fridtjof Nansen's spirit to view regional cooperation in such a perspective. Or, as Nansen himself said when he received the Nobel Peace Price in 1922: "The world needs no more programmes, no more paper, no more words. Work is needed, persistent and laborious work which must start from below to build the world up again".

We have created a political instrument designed to normalize relations across the former East-West divide in the north. This should be used to ensure better political control of developments in the region, particularly as regards the balance between the utilization of natural resources and environmental considerations. We would thereby provide the necessary conditions for renewed growth, thus strengthening the commercial base and also promoting economic development in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland.

However, it is no easy task to normalize our relations and establish practical cooperation with Russia. Much remains to be done in Russia before conditions for private foreign investment reach a satisfactory level. There are major deficiencies in the legal system. The same applies to law enforcement and business legislation. These problems hinder Western investments in Russia and have hampered the development of the Russian economy and the improvement of living standards. The relative instability of the political situation is another problem which influences the level of foreign investments.

It is perhaps unrealistic at this stage to believe that substantially better conditions can be established for economic cooperation in the Barents Region than for cooperation with Russia in general. Nonetheless, the fact that local and regional authorities have responded so wholeheartedly to the cooperation is significant. This also inspires the local Russian authorities to take up specific obstacles to cooperation with the central authorities in Russia. The Barents Cooperation can thus become a workshop for the development of cooperation between the countries of Western Europe and Russia.

The Barents Cooperation is not the only regional initiative involving Russia and its neighbours. Others include the Baltic and the Black Sea Cooperation, which are also elements in a "Europe of Regions". I do not claim that the Barents Cooperation is more important than the others. However, some of the experience already gained in this forum may be of more general interest.

One example is the success of the two-tier organization of the Barents Region: a Barents Council of Ministers and a Regional Council. The establishment of a Regional Council consisting of political leaders of the counties within the region as well as a representative of the indigenous peoples means that much of the initiative and the responsibility for the cooperation rests with the regional representatives themselves. The Regional Council and its working groups have adopted a very practical and result-oriented approach. The needs and hopes of the region itself dominate their work. The Regional Council is a driving force behind the Barents Cooperation. This means that important decisions are made by people who are familiar with the problems of the region and aware of its potential.

At first glance, it may seem strange for national governments to delegate some of its foreign policy decision-making to local government level. In my view, experience has shown that it was right to give the Regional Council an independent status and not subordinate it to the Barents Council. The relationship between the Barents Council and the Regional Council is based on close cooperation between central and local authorities in each country. Provided that channels of communication between the national and the regional levels are open, this is an advantage, not a threat to the exercise of a nation's foreign policy.

In many countries relations between periphery and centre are strained. In the case of Russia, this issue has been the subject of much discussion. We must, of course, expect a certain conflict of interest. Nevertheless, I think that if regional cooperation is organized as it has been in the Barents Region, it may in turn help to improve relations between the capital and outlying districts in individual countries.

For a regional cooperation project to succeed, good will and good intentions are not enough. The institutions involved must be given the means to deal with practical tasks. This implies that resources must be channelled to the regional level as well, and that concrete cooperation projects must be implemented. To a certain extent, this has already been done in the Barents Region. The Regional Council administers a regional programme comprising a broad variety of joint projects.

The Regional Council considers that its resources are too limited. This is understandable, and I have myself often emphasized the need to provide increased resources to the regional level. After almost three years of existence, the Barents Cooperation has reached a level of maturity where substantial, tangible results can be expected. We have been through an initial phase of dismantling old divides, establishing contacts and finding ways of organizing cooperation. Now we have to see to it that we start up projects that will produce clear results.

I have in mind projects that entail substantial investments in industry, infrastructure and the environment. Some suitable projects are at the design stage, some have just been launched and a few are now well underway. I am confident that in a few years' time we shall see substantial results in these areas. Funding is of course a key issue. In particular, environmental clean-up operations and safety measures for nuclear reactors and nuclear waste will require resources far beyond the capacity of Russia and its Nordic neighbours.

I would like to stress that the development of Northwestern Russia is of great interest to the whole Barents Region, notwithstanding the presence of an element of a donor-recipient relationship due to the differences between the western and the eastern part of the region. For the northern parts of the Nordic countries, there is a large potential market in Northwestern Russia. A stable pattern of development will increase security for people living in this border area between NATO and the former Soviet Union. We intend to develop cooperation arrangements between equal partners to their mutual benefit. We envisage that regional cooperation will contribute to this end.

There is a European dimension to the Barents Cooperation. This is underlined by the fact that the European Commission is a full member of the Barents Council. Indeed, the Barents Cooperation provides a forum for relations between the EU and Russia. Two new members of the EU, Sweden and Finland, are active participants in their own right, along with Norway and Russia. In addition, several European countries, including the United Kingdom and Germany, as well as Japan, the USA and Canada have observer status in the Barents Council.

The vast natural resources of the Barents Region are also of great interest to outsiders. The region stretches from the remote Arctic islands of Franz Josef Land lying above 80 degrees North, where Nansen and Johansen survived the winter of 1895-1896, to the tundra of the Nenets Autonomous Area in the far north east, through the deep taiga of Archangel, Karelia, Finnish Lapland and Sweden's Norrbotten province, to the Atlantic coast of Northern Norway. The region covers more than 1.2 million square kilometres - about five times the area of the United Kingdom - but has a population of barely 4.5 million inhabitants. The region is rich in minerals, forests, gas and oil, and there is a wealth of marine resources in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea off its northern and western shores.

The prospects for economic growth and prosperity in the region as a whole are quite good. At the same time, the region covers some of the last wilderness areas in Europe, large areas of almost untouched nature in a climatic zone which is highly vulnerable to pollution and other adverse effects of industrial activity. There are examples of serious environmental degradation in the region. Old-style Soviet industry has had some appalling results, and we are now facing the daunting challenge of finding the necessary resources to deal with the situation.

From the Norwegian point of view, environmental protection is a primary task to be dealt with in the Barents Region. The Kola Peninsula suffers from serious industrial pollution. Moreover, it is the site of one of the largest concentrations of military installations in the world. The extensive nuclear activities in the area constitute one of the most serious environmental threats to our part of the world. In many of the industrial parts of this area, the price of economic growth may become so high in terms of degradation of the natural and human environment that it both limits further development and necessitates restructuring.

We are now beginning to acquire a reasonably good overview of the magnitude and extent of the environmental problems facing us. It is essential that we deal not only with the acute, short-term problems, but also with the long-term threats. Russia itself is making efforts to solve the problems related to the management and storage of nuclear waste. But the country's economic situation and the magnitude of the task make international participation indispensable. In our view, the entire international community has a responsibility for finding solutions to the formidable environmental problems in the north. Norway attaches great importance to involving our traditional partners in cooperation on nuclear issues in the north, and progress has already been made in this respect. For instance, the USA and Norway are now implementing a joint project with Russia concerning an effluent treatment facility for low-level radioactive waste in Murmansk.

There is an urgent need to raise safety standards at nuclear facilities in both the civilian and the military sectors and provide for the safe handling and storage of radioactive waste from civilian and military sources. The dimensions of these tasks far exceed what Russia and the Nordic countries can deal with on their own. A nuclear accident in the region could have an impact on areas far beyond the countries closest to the Kola Peninsula. For instance, the most important fishing grounds and protein resource of Europe is to be found precisely in this area. I am therefore pleased to say that various nuclear safety projects are being supported by the European Union and the United States and several international institutions such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the UN Development Programme. Nevertheless, the governments of the region would welcome an even greater involvement by countries and institutions outside the region itself.

My Russian colleague will take over the chairmanship of the Barents Council at the foreign ministers' meeting in Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland next Tuesday. We look forward to the Russian chairmanship and we are confident that given Mr. Kozyrev's personal interest in Northwestern Russia and in the Barents Cooperation, the Russian chairmanship will be beneficial to this cooperation and to relations between Russia and the Nordic countries.

We are now facing a Russia that is clearly seeking to reassert its position as a major power. This is reflected in the latter's scepticism regarding NATO enlargement and its protests against the bombing of Bosnian-Serbian positions. Russia is in the process of defining its position and role, but a great many pieces have yet to fall into place. The need of Russian politicians to formulate and promote their national interests must be viewed in this context. Although this is a natural development in many ways, the tendency has recently been reinforced by certain nationalistic currents in Russian politics - currents that are bound to grow stronger with the approach of the country's important parliamentary elections in December.

As a great power on the European continent, Russia must have a central role in the security architecture now being designed. We must acknowledge that the Russians have a legitimate right to define and pursue their national interests. Although Russia does not constitute a military threat to Norway, we cannot just ignore the fact that sizeable military forces are still stationed near our borders. The Northern areas continue to be of strategic importance to Russia, with the Northern Fleet as one of the main elements of the country's nuclear arsenal.

It is interesting to note that Fridtjof Nansen, in spite of the terrible situation he encountered in Russia in the twenties, firmly believed that Russia would play an important role in the world in years to come. Even though he was totally opposed to the programmes of the Bolshevik government, he warned western powers not to isolate Russia or turn to military intervention. In the preface to his book Russia and Peace from 1923 he wrote: "There can hardly be any doubt that the Russian people have a great future, and will have a great mission to fulfil in Europe and the world in the future". He also wrote that all governments are intermediate, but that the People will always be there. These thoughts, though more than 70 years old, are still relevant. The inclusion of Russia in cooperation structures and the efforts to promote peace in international organizations are goals that we share.

It is in our own interests to integrate Russia into European cooperation structures and to promote its economic development. We will all benefit if the political and economic transition process in Russia is successful. Norway's main aim is to continue to pursue our good bilateral relations and active dialogue with Russia, while at the same time drawing Russia more closely into regional, European and broader international cooperation.

In addition to regional arrangements such as the Barents Cooperation, both the European Union and NATO are establishing broad-based cooperation with Russia based on the common view that it should become a partner in European developments. The signing of the Interim Agreement to the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between Russia and the EU in July was a significant step in the right direction. Cooperation between NATO and Russia is equally important. It is essential that the process of enlargement of the Alliance be characterized by openness and predictability. Enlargement of NATO and the European Union will not be targeted at any one country. The respective enlargement processes must be conducted in such a way that they contribute towards stability in Europe.

The peoples of the former Eastern bloc countries had great hopes for freedom and prosperity when democratic forces came to power five or six years ago. Today, there is a danger that disappointment and resignation will take over. The governments of Russia and the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe have a great responsibility to pursue policies that yield results and fulfil the hopes of their people. As Russia's neighbours we also have a vested interest in supporting this process in every possible ways.

The challenges and human tragedies confronting Fridtjof Nansen in Russia in the twenties were the results of World War I, the Russian revolution, civil war and xenophobia. His efforts to help fellow human beings in dire need were an example of true humanitarianism. Nansen never forgot the horrors of post-war Russia, and he constantly returned to what was to become one of the main themes of his speeches and articles later: how the international community should be organized in order to avoid such disasters in the future.

Despite being involved in politics and diplomacy himself, Fridtjof Nansen did not have much respect for politicians or diplomats. Instead of prescribing more politics, programmes and diplomacy he felt that peace should be built by means of "persistent and laborious work". As a politician and head of the Norwegian diplomatic service, I have grave reservations here. Politics and diplomacy are "persistent and laborious work" , when practiced properly.

The vision of a new Europe should not be confined to words and speeches. The new Europe will also require hard work, concrete projects of cooperation and financial resources to establish patterns of cooperation that bind us together. Norway feels a particular responsibility for ensuring that the Barents Cooperation continues to make a valuable contribution to the construction of the new Europe. It is my firm conviction that such regional cooperation projects are true examples of peace-building in the spirit of Fridtjof Nansen.

Lagt inn 13 oktober 1995 av Statens forvaltningstjeneste, ODIN-redaksjonen


Tuesday, November 9th, 2004, 10:24 PM
Fridtjof Nansen