President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson with Múte Egede, PM of Greenland.

Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer, NATO’s Millitary Committee chairman: “Why does China not condemn Russia?“

The 2022 Arctic Circle Assembly was held in Reykjavík in midOctober with 2,000 participants from 70 countries attending more than 200 sessions. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson,President of Iceland [1996-2016] welcomed Crown Prins Haakon of Norway. Other dignitaries were Katrín Jakobsdóttir, PM of Iceland, Múte Egede, PM of Greenland, Alar Karis,President of Estonia and Mary Simon,Governor of Canada. Prins Haakon showed a map of the Arctic saying to the audience: “This particular map is of great importance, not just to the four million people who inhabit this area. It is important to all of us. The Arctic is, in a way, the thermometer of the world. Here,the consequences of climate change are evident. And this map is a compelling image of our interconnectedness as a global community. Both east-west and north-south. Because – when ice melts in the north, the sea level rises in the tropical south.”
Múte Egede, prime minister of Greenland said: “We want growth in Greenland. We want green and sustainable development. This must be on our terms—and you are welcome if you respect and listen to us. When the focus is on Greenland, it is we who are the decision makers. We are the ones who show which direction to go … Nothing about us, without us. Qujanaq”, meaning goodbye.
“The task is massive,” prime minister Katrín Jakosdóttir said. “Everything is changing! – We see more extreme weather around the globe. Only in the last two weeks, we saw hundreds of trees here in Iceland being ripped up by their roots because of extreme storms in the eastern part of the country. We see glaciers receding, permafrost melting,heat records being set and forests burning. All this is happening much faster in the Arctic, where the ecosystem is sensitive and the resources are great.” She said that Iceland will ban all oil drilling at its Dragon-area south of Jan Mayen by law.
Mary Simon, Governor of Canada,said that as an indigenous person, she calls the Arctic her home. “While the future of the circumpolar region remains bright, we also face many challenges. It will take all of us to make sure we remain on the right path for the benefit of Northern indigenous peoples and everyone else who calls the Arctic their home.”

Shaking hands: He Rulong and Bauer after the Ambassador said that the Admiral’s remarks were “…filled with arrogance and also paranoia.”

NATO’s Admiral and China’s Ambassador
One of the most intriguing events was NATO’s Millitary Committee chairman’s interaction with the Chinese Ambassador. Dutch Admiral Rob Bauer said, “NATO will not ramp up activity in the Arctic after Sweden and Finland’s accession — unless Russia makes offensive moves in the region. We will focus first and foremost on properly integrating Finland and Sweden into NATO.” He added that NATO would respond if Russia made the first move. NATO Allies are increasing their focus and capabilities in case of potential escalation in the North. “If the Russian actions basically force us to protect ourselves in a way that is different from what we do now,then that is the reason why we would be more present in the Arctic.”
Bauer said that NATO sees Russia as “…the most significant and direct threat to our security. We are seeing a disturbing pattern of increasingly aggressive behaviour… Russia seeks to destabilize countries through conventional, cyber,and hybrid means — including its recent invasion of Ukraine, which is causing an …unprecedented level of destruction,violence, and displacement, reminiscent of Europe’s darkest days of the last century, when the rule of force eclipsed the rule of law.” Russia is NATO’s top threat at the moment, but Bauer also pointed to China’s increased presence in the region, including immense investments in energy, infrastructure and research. An Arctic with less ice means naval formations could move more quickly from the Pacific to the Atlantic, and submarines could … shelter in the Arctic everywhere,” Bauer said.

Crown Prins Haakon of Norway: “When ice melts in the north, the sea level rises in the tropical south.”

Bauer: Why does China not condemn Russia
In a question-and-answer session after Bauer’s speech, The Chinese Ambassador to Iceland objected to his characterization, He Rulong said that the admiral’s remarks were “…filled with arrogance and also paranoia.” He argued that China’s activities in the Arctic should not be viewed with suspicion or singled out. Bauer replied: “I have a question for you, because you underline the principle of sovereignty and the importance of the internationally recognized borders in the world,” drawing applause. “I am correct,isn’t that true? Yes. So why is it possible then that China still is not condemning Russia’s attack in Ukraine?” Rulong replied that China’s view of the Ukraine crisis included a historic perspective and the world needs to “understand the root cause,” prompting scattered laughter when he called China “…the peacemaker in the world.”
Bauer said that the two Nordic countries’ close proximity to Russia — especially Finland’s long border with Russia — brought “…centuries’ worth of valuable knowledge and intelligence…” to the alliance, and the nations’ frequent joint military exercises over two decades means the Finnish and Swedish Armed Forces are already highly compatible with NATO. “Soon, with seven out of eight Arctic states being part of this great alliance, we will do everything we can to make sure the Arctic remains free and open.”
The Admiral received a warm reception from the crowd, the Ambassador, scepticism and laughter. However, they shook hands afterwards and exchanged business cards. “It’s good to speak out and talk when you have different ideas”, the Ambassador tweeted afterwards. Their debate was covered in news media all over the world,
not least USA and China. “I know of no other platform where discussions like these between representatives of NATO and China take place, with almost two thousand people present,” President Grímsson said to local newspaper Morgunbladid. “It was a special moment of high tension. All of the sudden, there was lively debate, truth to tell, quite extraordinary. You could hear a needle drop in Harpa’s huge assembly hall. Everyone present knew that this was a historical moment.”

President Grímsson presented The Arctic Circle Prize 2022 to Wegener Institute and MOSAiCExpedition.

Icelandair becomes partner of Arctic Circle
Icelandair and the Arctic Circle Assembly signed an agreement of cooperation with Icelandair becoming official partner of the Assembly. Icelandair will carbon offset all Icelandair flights concerning the Assembly. Icelandair CEO Bogi Nils Bogason said that its domestic flights would become sustainable through electrical powering. Iceland has a great chance of becoming an electrical hub for flights across the Atlantic. “I’m of the opinion that it is advisable for Iceland to produce more green energy. We would help the world towards reaching its climate goals. Our partnership with the Arctic Circle Assembly is a part of Icelandair’s growing emphasis on sustainability and provides us with an important platform to participate in an active dialogue with key stakeholders,sharing our knowledge and learning from others. Our vision is to bring the spirit of Iceland to the world” CEO Bogason said.

Arctic Circle Prize 2022
The Arctic Circle Prize 2022 was presented by President Grímsson to the Alfred Wegener Institute and MOSAiC Expedition for their contributions to securing a sustainable and prosperous future in the Arctic and enhancing understanding of the pace of climate change in the world. The Frederik Paulsen Arctic Academic Action Award was awarded at the Arctic Circle Assembly for the second year in row. The Winners of the 2022 Award were Professor Hanne H. Christiansen and Associate Professor Marius O. Jonassen. Their winning project aims to develop an advanced permafrost and meteorological climate change response system in Arctic communities.
– Hallur Hallsson