CIMEX 2021 only a week away!

The announcement of the CIOR Summer Congress also signals the coming of the annual CIMIC (Civil-Military Cooperation) exercise, CIMEX. This year’s theme should be particularly interesting and highly relevant, so hurry and sign up, says CIMIC Chair, Major Zoe Stewart (R), UK Army.

By: Roy Thorvaldsen, Lt. Col (R), Norwegian Army/ CIOR Public Affairs.

-On behalf of CIOR’s CIMIC Committee, I would like to warmly welcome you to this year’s exercise, says Major Stewart.

CIOR CIMIC Chair, Major Zoe Stewart (R), UK Army.

Major Stewart is new to the role as CIMIC Chair, and full of energy and drive – eager to drum up support for the exercise, which takes place in less than a week from today: Saturday July 31st and Sunday August 1st.

”How do CIMIC reservists support resilience in the fight against a pandemic and associated resilience challenges?” is the fitting theme for this year’s CIMEX, as the cover photo of the programme indicates.

No prior knowledge required

No specific preparation is required to attend the CIMEX, nor any prior knowledge of CIMIC. You do not even have to be a CIMIC officer to participate. It has been designed as a self-contained learning experience.

Free of charge

The organisers hope the digital format this year – and hence no face-to-face interaction and socialising – won’t stop would-be parttakers from signing up. By the way: Participation in the event is completely free of charge.


– This year we have chosen a theme that aligns with the overall theme of the CIOR Presidency: “Resilience of our Reservists”. Hence, we will be exploring the role of CIMIC reserve officers in supporting governments in civil preparedness, the preparation for a crisis.

– More specifically, this exercise will be built around how a CIMIC reserve officer can support during a pandemic – and build resilience, Stewart says.

– This is very pertinent when we consider the number and variety of crises currently happening around the world – like Covid-19, significant heat waves, horrendous fires and flooding.

From the CIMIC exercise (CIMEX) that took place in Tallinn, Estonia, in 2019.

– Due to the Covid-19 restrictions, this year’s CIMEX will be online, but despite this, we have a varied and diverse programme that we hope participants will find engaging and valuable, says Major Stewart.

CIMIC explained

From CIMEX 2019, in Tallinn, Estonia.

A high-level explanation of CIMIC and Civil Preparedness has been provided in the context of the exercise with the intent of helping participants to understand what they will be learning and participating in during the two-day event.

Therefore, the exercise should be a valuable pedagogic introduction to this particular military discipline, where operators have one foot in the military world and the other foot in the civilian world.

Each year, the CIOR CIMIC Committee delivers a CIMEX on behalf of CIOR; it is a recognised NATO exercise.

The overall purpose of CIMEX:

  1. To provide an opportunity for reserve officers from the different nations that constitute CIOR, to meet and form relationships.
  2. To provide the opportunity to learn and share experience as CIMIC reserve officers.
From the CIMEX that took place in Tallinn, Estonia in 2020.

– Note that by participating you will gain some value in attending and on completion have a basis to start preparing for attendance at the next CIMEX planned for 2022. That will be an on-site, physical exercise either in Greece or in Belgium, major Stewart points out.

So, by participating this year, you will be ahead of the game for next year’s CIMEX, which will be held during a traditional, physical Summer Congress – probably in Athens, Greece.

Click here for the detailed programme of this year’s exercise and instructions on how to sign up!

Summer Congress 2021 to be held Virtually

Due to the implications of the global COVID-19 pandemic and after extensive discussions, the summer congress for 2021 will be a solely virtual event. The summer congress will be running for two days from the 7th of August to the 8th of August 2021. Further details about the summer congress are to be discussed and announcements will be released once more details have been decided. If you have any questions please contact us at or use our Contact page.

IBM in Cyberspace

The CIOR Council, the organisation’s executive body, and its committee leads, last weekend met in cyberspace for the spring version of the twice-annual In-Between-Meeting (IBM). The chairman of NATO’s National Reserve Forces Committee (NRFC) also participated.

By: Roy Thorvaldsen, Lt. Col (R), Norwegian Army/ CIOR Public Affairs.

The VIBM (Virtual IBM), led by CIOR’s President Jan Hörmann, Captain of the German Navy (R), focused on keeping the organisation afloat during the still-ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Special emphasis was on continued committee work, finances, future presidencies – which change every other year – and the next summer congresses.

Near half of the roughly 60 participants at the CIOR IBM at the end of May. The meeting was entirely digital. President Jan Hörmann can be seen in the upper left corner. Screenshot: Roy Thorvaldsen.

Estonia will take over the Presidency from Germany in just over a year, with either The Netherlands or the USA to follow suit in 2024 – and then perhaps Denmark, supported by the other Nordic countries.

Representatives of the next, Estonian CIOR Presidency listening carefully at IBM deliberations from their office in Tallinn. Screenshot: Roy Thorvaldsen.

The plan for future Summer Congresses includes Athens, Greece in 2022, Finland in 2023 and Estonia in 2024.

Anniversary Planning

Next year is also the 75th Anniversary of CIOR, and plans are well under way to celebrate in style. This includes design of an anniversary edition of CIOR’s medal of merit, a commemorative coin and a coffee table book – displaying highlights of the reserve confederation’s existence.

Promotion of all member nations’ reserve officer models on CIOR’s website was also discussed.

NRFC seeks cooperation

The chairman of the NRFC, Rear Admiral Michael H. Busse of the German Navy, briefed the IBM participants on the status of current program of work, and elaborated on plans ahead – with special emphasis on Cyber, where a cooperation with CIOR is desired, he said.

Greek head of delegation, Major (R), Dr. Philippos Kostaras, informing IBM participants of plans for next year’s summer congress in Athens. Screenshot: Roy Thorvaldsen.

The Republic of North Macedonia has applied for full membership of

CIOR, and is likely to be taken on board at the Summer Congress (SC), also fully digital this year. The dates for the ’cyber SC’ are August 7th and 8th.

The next IBM is scheduled to take place in Berlin at the end of Oct

ober – as the first physical meeting in one year and nine months. That is something a lot of people in the organisation is longing for.

Socialising and cultivating friendship and camaraderie in a military context, is a lot of what CIOR is about for most participants.

First decentralised patrol skill competition held in Finland

The Finnish Reserve Sports Association’s (Reserviläisurheiluliitto RESUL) winter patrol skill competition was planned for the spring of last year. The Corona pandemic restrictions that were introduced in March canceled “Pirkkajotos” only a day before the event began.

By 1st Lt. Susanna Takamaa, Finnish Reserve Officer Federation/ CIOR Public Affairs

The faith in the realisation of the competition did not wane, and the idea that the event could take place in a year’s time prevailed.

However, Corona did not grant the opportunity to organise the competition with the original plan this spring either. A couple of weeks before the start of Pirkkajotos, the pandemic situation escalated to the point that the organisers were faced with the choice of canceling completely, or to arrange the event in such a way that there would be no danger of Corona spreading amongst competitors.

The organisers decided to consider Pirkkajotos a decentralised patrol skill competition.

-Pirkkajotos was carried out in such a way that the competing patrols planned their own route anywhere in Finland, says Pekka Sillanpää, the competition director.

Theoretical and functional tasks

-In addition to route planning, the patrols were given tasks at different times on the project’s website. They could be theoretical or functional tasks, Sillanpää said about the nature of the competition.

In the decentralised Pirkkajotos, help was provided in the completion of tasks by, among other things, everyday communication tools. The hand grenade task was done by makeshift means, such as stones.

In the first aid task and the detention task, the patrols video-recorded the completion with the help of a cell phone camera. In the second task, the solutions were sent to the organisers as a photograph. The competition had two series, a series of trekking and a reserve series.

-There was no shooting in the trekking series, but in the reserve series shooting was arranged in two different locations.

Forced to think differently

For a year now, the Corona virus has forced the organisers to figure out how different events could be executed despite the pandemic restrictions. Although there have been positive experiences with many events, such as the Varusteleka’s Long Distance Military March and RESUL’s Four Day March, having the patrol skill competition carried out as a decentralised event caused concern among the organisers.

-To the surprise of everyone, however, in the end the same number of patrols registered for the decentralised competition as for the original Pirkkajotos, Sillanpää said.

-We believed that with a strong will we would achieve this, Sillanpää said.

-The strong groundwork that Antti Laalahti, the competition director for the previous two years, had built with the leaders of different areas of responsibility, helped a lot.

The two-day competition gathered a total of 21 patrols, completing 22 tasks in addition to the shooting. More than 730 different task files were sent to the organisers. More than 60 field nights were spent between the patrols, sleeping outdoors, and more than 3 000 kilometers were traveled all together.

A demanding task

After six challenging days at the site of a terrible landslide in the small Norwegian village of Gjerdrum, which left ten people dead, reservists from the UTR-squadron at the Norwegian Home Guard’s district 2 could return home.

By: Ole Kristian Haagenrud/Norwegian Reserve Officer Association (NROF)

– Arriving at the scene and seeing it all… It was a punch to the guts. It was much larger then I’d pictured from the TV newscast. Seeing crushed houses several hundred meters from where they once stood was horrible. Knowing the site still contained missing people added to the horror, Petter Olafsson explained the day after being relieved.

Captain Olafsson told of a challenging mission for him and his soldiers.

Their main task was to guard the site and the evacuated area. This was necessary to prevent people entering the area affected by the landslide, putting themselves in danger, and to allow the rescue workers a calm work environment in the then ongoing rescue-operation.


Soldiers from the Norwegian Home Guard District 2 overlooking the massive destruction caused by the landslide at Gjerdrum. Photo: Madeleine Skogstad/Norwegian Armed Forces.

The squadron also assisted the Red Cross in their work of entering houses left in a hurry, to rescue pets that had been left behind in the chaos.

– We sent two volunteers. One of them came back and said he took very light steps when he left the vehicle in the evacuated area. Also, seeing homes obviously left in panic must have been challenging, Olafsson said.

The six days were demanding for the soldiers. Plenty of rest was planned between shifts, as the mental pressure was so strong that risking physical fatigue was unwanted.

Captain Olafsson said that the support available for him and his men was very good. A dedicated team of medics and psychiatrists were present for mental debriefs and support.

– Those are resources still available to us. In addition, we have provided the soldiers with the opportunity of meeting up on digital platforms for debriefs.

– Talking about one’s experiences with wives and friends is one thing, but talking with those who actually were there with you, is another story. We had good routines on small debriefs after each shift, said Olafsson.

Impressed by locals

The Norwegian media coverage showed a great sense of hospitality and willingness to help among the locals. Volunteers helped out wherever they could, gathering clothes, food and other items for those evacuated.

The Home Guard squadron got a first-hand experience of the local

Captain Olafsson – here next to the Chief of Defence of Norway, general Eirik Kristoffersen – is served cake by the locals, showing gratitude for the home guard assistance. Photo: Torbjørn Kjosvold/Norwegian Armed Forces.

attitude. They were able to use a private villa as command centre and resting area, and locals provided a steady stream of cakes and coffee to the soldiers.

– That really says something about the people living there… It was them that had experienced a natural disaster, and several of those providing us with coffee or cakes on their own initiative, knew at least one of those missing. That really made an impression on us, and says a lot of the people of Gjerdrum, said Olafsson.


The efforts of Norway’s rescue-services were the centre of national attention in the days after December 30th, when Norway woke up to the news about the landslide. Captain Olafsson learned that he and his men would relieve another unit a few days later this day, and was told to get ready.

– The Chief of Defence and the Minister of Defence both visited us during the mission, which is something I greatly appreciated, said Olafsson.

The disaster brought the whole of Norway’s ‘total defence’ together, as both civilian, military and volunteers came together to resolve a crisis. According to captain Olafsson, the police did a great job of leading the rescue operation.

While the total defence concept worked flawlessly, there is no doubt about this being a demanding assignment for the soldiers and others doing their job in a area where ten people sadly died.

K9 Police units with SAR personnel in the disaster area at Gjerdrum. Photo: Torbjørn Kjosvold/Norwegian Armed Forces.

Reserve Airmen mobilized to assist national pandemic effort

On March 27 last year, the US President signed an Executive Order authorizing mobilization of the Reserve Component in response to COVID-19 operations – a task unlike any in the last hundred years.

By: 1st Lieutenant Christi Judd, USA Air Force/CIOR Public Affairs.

Hundreds of Air Force Reserve members have volunteered to support the fight against the pandemic in the last 11 months. Reservists from across the nation were mobilized to places like New York City to assist with much-needed medical care.

While deployed, Captain Andrea Morgan, a nurse practitioner, and Major Katherine Trout, a registered nurse, from the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, were assigned to the Lincoln Medical Center in the Bronx. Major Jimmy Jones, a nurse practitioner, worked at the Javits Center in Manhattan, which was converted to an alternate care facility in preparation for any overflow of patients from NYC-area hospitals.

“We certainly didn’t know what to expect when we first arrived, as there were so many unknowns, but our military and medical training has taught us to roll with the punches, take in information and adapt, and that’s what we did,” Morgan said.

“Our military and medical training has taught us to roll with the punches, take in information and adapt, and that’s what we did”

The deployment was part of a larger Air Force Reserve mobilization package consisting of hundreds of doctors, nurses, and respiratory technicians who were sent to NYC to care for Americans at New York hospitals and the Javits Center.

“The Air Force Reserve stands ready to surge in support of COVID-19 response,” said Lieutenant General Richard Scobee, chief of the Air Force Reserve and commander of the Air Force Reserve Command. “This is an unprecedented mission and COVID-19 is a destructive adversary – we must do all we can to take care of Americans.”

In addition, command and control elements, logistics personnel and other career fields may also be asked to volunteer and potentially mobilize as future taskings for specific skill sets, capabilities and requirements are received through the Force Generation Center.

“It was a life-changing experience to be able to see people in New York come together to care for the sick,” Morgan added. “Everyone there made sacrifices – the community, first responders, doctors and nurses all came together as a community.”

For now, medical personnel are at the top of the list to assist in operations to contain the spread of COVID-19 and care for Americans affected. Not since the 1918 Spanish Flu has the world seen this kind of global outbreak. The military worked alongside civilian doctors, nurses, and medical professionals then as they do now.

“I know our Reserve Citizen Airmen will answer our nation’s call during this challenging time with professionalism, patriotism and the required expertise to take care of Americans. It is my responsibility to care for our Citizen Airmen and families while we execute this ultimate mission,” General Scobee said.

The team of Reserve medics from Utah’s reserve wing cared for hundreds of COVID-19 patients while in New York and each said they were honored to provide care on the home front while serving in uniform.

Major Katherine Trout and Major Jimmy Jones, reservists in the 419th Medical Squadron, are part of a small group of Airmen who left from the Salt Lake City airport for the New York City area to help with COVID-19 response. They joined hundreds of other reservists who had volunteered and left after one day of notice. The deployment was part of a larger Air Force Reserve mobilization package consisting of hundreds of doctors, nurses, and respiratory technicians who were sent to NYC care for Americans at New York hospitals and the Javits Center. Photo: Tech. Sgt. Diana Ferree, 911th Airlift Wing.
Captain Andrea Morgan is treating COVID-19 patients at the Lincoln Medical Center in New York City today. She and several other 419th medical personnel were mobilized to NYC April 5, where they joined 120 @usafreserve medics to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Morgan is a part-time medic with the 419th FW and a fulltime nurse practitioner in Northern Utah. Courtesy photo.
A nurse checking on a patient at the Walter Reed Hospital Flu Ward during the influenza pandemic, circa 1918. Photo: US Air Force.





Visible contribution: Reservists a key part of society’s resilience

Reservists throughout the NATO alliance have been providing a significant and valued contribution to national efforts to deal with the COVID 19 pandemic. Each country has its own story on how reservists have been used. Here are a few examples.

By: Sqn Ldr (R) Michael Cairns, Royal Air Force/ CIOR Public Affairs

In some, medical reservists have been assisting in uniform while in others, medical reservists have been told to stay working in their vital civilian front line roles. However across the area, which CIOR represents, reserve officers and other ranks have been involved in testing programme delivery, logistics assistance to the civilian authorities and in some countries with security and decontamination functions.

In Germany many Army reservists joined the fight against Covid-19, and alongside regulars delivered some 38,000 surgical masks and almost 50,000 respirator masks around the country. Reservists are also volunteering to take care of shopping for vulnerable members of the community.

In the United States nearly 28,400 National Guard service members continue to fight the coronavirus in the country in a variety of domains. They have been disinfecting public spaces, handing out food, and providing transportation and logistics support.

UK reservists receive training prior to being used as COVID virus testers.

In the UK more than 2,000 reservists from all three services were mobilised in response to the virus outbreak. In addition, a number of other reservists have contributed in ways short of mobilisation, undertaking short periods of related duty.

RAF reservist Geetha Ramesh working at a mobile testing unit.

They have been undertaking a range of tasks. For example, reservists have been involved in helping to transport vital Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) supplies to hospitals and care homes. They have been helping with logistics planning to ensure that equipment is moved efficiently from one location to another, and they helped to set up Nightingale Hospitals (overflow specialist intensive care facilities) around the country.

Many UK Reservists undertook training to test members of the public for the virus at specially established sites in car parks, leisure centres and sport stadia around the country. At these mobile testing centres, reservists from the Royal Air Force and British Army ran and delivered the testing programmes, providing a key picture of how the virus was spreading – and assisting the public with early diagnosis.

In Norway, Home Guard personnel have on request helped the police guard the border and to

control travellers. With limited, temporary police authority they have also turned people away from entering the country.

Other Norwegian reservists have contributed with their competence through their regular civilian functions, most notably medics of all facets.

Norwegian reservists in the Home Guard in service at the border, as requested by the police. Photo: Krister Sørbø/Forsvarets Forum.








NATO’s Reserve Officers discuss Threats in the Arctic with international Experts

Is the far north really turning into a new area of conflict as the political rhetoric of recent years suggests? Are the melting ice caps revealing new threats to our security? Last week, NATO’s reserve officers met online to discuss this question with high-ranking international experts and drew some interesting conclusions.

By: Mr. Paul C. Strobel, Officer Cadet (R), Bundeswehr

With former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling out Russian and Chinese aggression in the Arctic, US Marines and strategic bombers deploying to Norway, Russia testing nuclear propelled cruise missiles just miles off the North Cape, and China supposedly infiltrating Arctic harbours, some say that the Arctic’s peaceful days are over.

Instead of hearing the buzz of an anticipating audience, the 2021 CIOR Seminar kicked off on Monday, February 22nd with a crackle of the participants’ laptop loudspeakers. Lieutenant Colonel (R) Hans Garrels, Chair of the CIOR Seminar Committee, welcomed the 64 participants from 19 different nations from his home office in the Netherlands.

Due to the coronavirus and its restrictions, this year’s CIOR Seminar had to take place online. This did not stop the attending reserve officers from immersing themselves in an area that very few had ever been exposed to: The Arctic.

Setting the stage

Former ambassador and long-time CIOR friend Philippe Welti from Switzerland introduced this year’s topic to the seminar participants and reminded them of the special nature of the region: “The Arctic consists mainly of water, some of it frozen.”

In fact, the Arctic is the smallest ocean in the world, and an area that, historically speaking, has not produced much conflict potential in recent history – despite seeing high levels of militarisation during the Cold War. But it is an area that has recently re-entered the focus of security and military strategists around the world, and has over the last few years been subject to a political rhetoric that suggests the area’s peaceful days are over.

This change in perception is rooted in a significant change, which might upset what some call the strategic balance in the north: climate change. With the ice caps melting, previously unreachable natural resources have become accessible and new routes for shipping are slowly opening up – possibly changing the region’s strategic equation.

Natural resources as a “matter of survival”

The seminar thus started with a surprise. The expert speakers agreed that the supposed hype about near unlimited natural resources in the Arctic is largely exaggerated – at least when it comes to oil.

As Nikos Tsafos, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) pointed out: “The big plans for oil exploitation in the Arctic were foiled by the changing oil market with falling prices”.

Oil extraction in the Arctic simply isn’t profitable. In Russia’s case the imposed sanctions after the invasion of Crimea, added to this stress.

This is not necessarily the case with natural gas, however. With the ice caps melting and new gas fields becoming more accessible, Russia has embarked on a huge new development effort for gas extraction in the area. A project that relies on the shipping of LNG (liquefied natural gas) from ports in the Arctic and pipeline transport to Europe.

Russia’s natural gas exploration in the Arctic is more a matter of survival than of economic ambition, experts say. Photo: Alexander Cheban.

Mr. Tsafos pointed out the strategic significance of this to the seminar participants: “All the projects we get fussed about, like Nord Stream, Nord Stream 2, pipelines through Ukraine, all of that is gas from the Arctic.” But interestingly, Russia’s drive north is less a matter of economic ambition, but one of necessity.

“The geological decline of the older gas fields in the region is so stark, that they have to go to the Arctic just to keep production steady. The move north is a matter of survival for Gazprom and the state.”, Mr. Tsafos said.

The Arctic superpower and the military perspective

The above is an interesting insight in a country that historically sees itself as the Arctic superpower – and with some justification, as expert Dr. Baev, Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO) and Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institute, pointed out to the seminar participants: “In the rest of the world Russia may not be able to keep up, but as far as the Arctic is concerned, they are the regional superpower, and they are very proud of that position.”

Dr. Baev sees two main tracks of Arctic policy in Russia: Firstly, its extensive economic development plans in the area – and secondly, a military build-up. With respect to the military aspects, Dr. Baev pointed to two main issues in the region: The nuclear super-concentration on the Kola Peninsula, just next to NATO member Norway and EU member Finland – and that Russia feels more comfortable in a confrontational stance, with a willingness to take certain risks.

“Collaboration hasn’t sown very great rewards for Russia in the past, but military strength has. In this sense, Russia sees risk-taking as a strategic advantage vis-à-vis a reluctant west.”

Dr. Baev raised concerns about a Crimea-style occupation of the Norwegian territory of Svalbard as a possible example of such a willingness to take risks, and called into question NATO’s ability to protect or retake the islands if necessary.

Dr. Christoph Humrich from the University of Groningen also warned participants: “If you create the impression in Russia that you’re encroaching on the Arctic, the alarm bells go off in the Kremlin.”

Expert in security policy Dr. Michael Paul, Senior Fellow at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Berlin, illustrated the security paradox in the area.

While Russia first re-started its long-range air patrols in the arctic after the 2008 war in Georgia and started patrolling the Arctic Sea with its Northern Fleet, they respond drastically to NATO activity in the area.

When the US deployed strategic bombers to Norway for the first time, Russia responded by creating an impact zone for its strategic missile tests right in the strategically important Bear Gap, between the North Cape and Svalbard. “The Arctic region is in flux. It is no longer immune to great power competition”, Dr. Paul concluded.

All experts agreed that in order to reduce the conflict potential of Russia in the area, an honest and cooperative dialogue with the Arctic superpower is needed. The Arctic, they stated, is an area rich in opportunities for low-cost cooperation and confidence building. Dr. Humrich cited the Nord Stream pipeline projects as an example, which especially the US sees as a threat to European security.

The pipelines would work both ways in ensuring cooperation between Russia and Europe: “Often we look at Nord Stream and think we will be dependent on Russia, and it’s easy to forget that they too would depend on us, as customers.” Dr. Paul said.

The spillover

When thinking about potential conflict in the Arctic, one envisages a scenario where military forces clash there first, and the conflict then spilling over into other theatres. In reality however, the experts agreed, the opposite scenario is far more likely.

Dr. Humrich pointed out: “Conflict in other areas is likely to spill over into the Arctic.” This was supported by Dr. Duncan Depledge, Senior Lecturer in Geopolitics and Security at Loughborough University, who linked this potential field of conflict to one area that is currently very high on NATO’s agenda. He stated: “A crisis in the Baltics will undoubtedly have consequences for the Arctic as one major supply line.”

Free passage

It is exactly this supply line that makes the Arctic increasingly important for NATO, due to its role as a potential transit route for forces traveling from the US to their European allies. Dr. Depledge hinted not only at the military importance of free passage through the Arctic Ocean, but also at its economic significance: “The Arctic increasingly links the US to the rest of the world, so they look at this space as one they want to secure passage through.”

For Russia too, securing passage through the icy waters is a key interest. “From a military perspective”, Dr. Depledge pointed out, “what they don’t want is a) encirclement and b) a fight in the Russian Arctic. So, what they try to do is to project force into the Atlantic.” However, military passage is not Russia’s main concern.

As Mr. Tsafos had pointed out, the Russian gas projects in the Arctic – and particularly its development of LNG capacities – relies on shipping. For this purpose, the Russian government not only made available significant tax brakes for gas companies, most notably Gazprom, but also supplies ice breakers to the companies, some of them nuclear powered.

China in the Arctic

The focus on shipping in the Arctic Ocean brought to attention another key player in global politics: China. Expert Nikos Tsafos pointed out: “The LNG development in the far north was largely financed by Chinese money.”

The hope of the Chinese is that, by 2027 the northern route to China will offer year-round passage for ships accompanied by ice-breakers. This route would reduce by half the time needed for export by ship from Russia to China.

China’s role in the Arctic is contested, but the country has repeatedly reiterated its interest in the far north. Dr. Depledge pointed out that there isn’t much evidence of China buying its way into the Arctic, and that we don’t see a military effort either.

What China foremost wants is a seat at the table, experts assess. The Chinese delegation with other observers at the Arctic Council meeting in Finland in 2017. Photo: Linnea Nordström/Arctic Council Secretariat.

“What China does do, however, is trying to expand its reach by diplomatic and scientific means”, Dr. Depledge explained and summarised: “What China ultimately wants, is geopolitical influence. So if and when the Arctic becomes more important, China wants to be in a position to have a say in matters. They don’t want to be excluded.” Science and some economic investment in the area, most notably the Russian LNG project, are their way to make sure they have a seat at the table.

Dr. Paul of SWP, however, urged the seminar participants to look further into the future. “China has established its interests in the region and sea routes have a huge impact on the economy and development of China.”

While they look at the Arctic Ocean as a passage with much less risk attached than the southern route through the Straights of Malacca and the Suez Canal, Dr. Paul pointed at the modernisation of China’s naval forces to secure its shipping lanes: “The Chinese Navy will likely promote arctic equipment by the year 2030. They could potentially play a huge role in the Arctic in the future.”

– A case of rhetoric irresponsibility

Overall, various limitations to the conflict potential in the area became obvious. With the potential for natural resources being limited by the global markets and no significant territorial disputes in the area, it seems that the Arctic is not the most likely area for conflict to arise.

However, the seminar participants noted the stark difference between the regional strategies and the political language surrounding the Arctic.

Ambassador Philippe Welti called this “a case of rhetoric irresponsibility” and warned: “Conflict will erupt if you speak often enough about it.” With world tension steadily increasing, China taking a deeper interest in the Arctic and Russia being prone to spouts of adventurism, the Arctic may still find itself embroiled in conflict – even if it first starts elsewhere.

“Conflict will erupt if you speak often enough about it.” With world tension increasing steadily, China taking a deeper interest in the Arctic and Russia being prone to spouts of adventurism, the Arctic may still find itself embroiled in conflict – even if it first starts elsewhere.” – Ambassador Welti

– It’s in our hands

Ambassador Welti closed the three day long 2021 CIOR Seminar by reminding participants that, unlike regions like the South China Sea and Taiwan, the Arctic’s conflict potential is very much “in our own hands”. “We can control the rhetoric and lean on the Arctic Council and the existing security framework and start a dialogue with Russia,” he said.

CIOR Seminar Chair, Lieutenant Colonel (R) Hans Garrels, reiterated this point and called on all participants to share their new-found knowledge: “It is on us as reserve officers to carry this knowledge to our respective governments and institutions.”

With these inspiring words, the CIOR Seminar 2021 ended with a simple click on a button, leaving participants hoping that next year they can see each other face–to-face again, and shake hands to say farewell.

– Rhetoric and perception often exaggerate the reality on the ground

The third and final day of the 2021 CIOR Seminar promised to keep the excitement of the first two days. Two guest speakers shared their views on the Arctic and whether the area is at risk for future conflict or not.

By: Mr. Paul Strobel, Officer Cadet, Bundeswehr

The speakers were Dr. Christoph Humrich, Assistant Professor in International Relations and Security Studies and Associate Researcher at the Arctic Centre of the University of Groningen, and Dr. Michael Paul, security policy expert and Senior Fellow at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Berlin.

Dr. Humrich first tried to capture the state of the region by distinguishing between warm peace, normal peace, cold peace, cold war and actual military engagement (“hot war”).

“Warm peace, normal peace, cold peace, cold war and actual military engagement (hot war)” – Dr. Humrich

Taking a historical perspective, he reminded participants that the area has been no stranger to change: Having seen a lot of combat activity during World War 2, this era of a ‘hot war’ was followed by the cold war in which military engagement was always looming.

From Gorbachev’s Murmansk speech in 1987 towards the founding of the Arctic Council one could speak of an era of ‘cold peace’, followed by normal peace in the region when cooperation between the regional states intensified (1996-2014), and military action seemed very unlikely. The Russian invasion of Crimea also left its traces in the high north, with tensions between Russia and the west so high that the normal peace again gave way to cold peace, meaning the military action in the area seemed possible again.

“Today we see new rising tensions, and we need to be careful not to end up back in a cold war situation” – Dr. Humrich

“Today we see new rising tensions, and we need to be careful not to end up back in a cold war situation”, Dr. Humrich said.

Importantly, though, Dr. Humrich pointed out one key fact: In Arctic scenarios, regional conflicts escalate and then spill over into other areas of the world. During the post-cold war period this was however not a very likely scenario – for various reasons. Yet, as Dr. Humrich explained: “Today we look at the exact opposite scenario. Conflict in other areas is said to spill over into the Arctic.”

He expanded on this by showing that rhetoric and perceptions of the region often have exaggerated the reality on the ground. One reason is an information bias, rooted in our media systems, where “bad news make headlines”. Also the military might have a bias as it is its task to focus on threats, sometimes leading to “institutionalised paranoia.”

Threat inflation can also be used for institutional reasons, Dr. Humrich explained: “For the Canadian, Danish and Norwegian military, to name some examples, the security situation in the Arctic has provided legitimization to ask for additional resources in the face of chronic underfunding.”

“Rhetoric and perceptions of the (Arctic) region have often exaggerated the reality on the ground” – Dr. Humrich

Dr. Humrich also reminded participants of the complexity of geopolitics and the Arctic, especially by pointing out that we often wrongly assume that geopolitical change in a region is also caused in the region. Instead, we must on the one hand take a look at factors beyond the Arctic. On the other hand, we need to understand that domestic changes within the Arctic countries, by contrast to their relations with each other, might influence their Arctic foreign and security policies, he said.

Government agencies and non-state actors within a country can have different goals and motivations. Their competition and strategies for resource access and attention can – like shifts of public opinion or different parties in power – influence the respective perception of the Arctic, the following rhetoric, and direction of policies.

This, Dr. Humrich illustrated with an example: “From 2018 the US Coast Guard and Navy used a much inflated security rhetoric regarding the Arctic to bolster their demand for new ice breakers, which was on the table already for two decades. They renamed the ice breakers ‘Polar Security Cutters’ and explicitly explained this with the traction of security to get more funding from congress”.

This was before the Trump administration had ventured the idea to repurpose money that the navy and coast guard secured in this way for the plans to build a wall on the Mexico border.

The example neatly highlighted Dr. Humrich’s remarks about internal and global factors influencing the Arctic. “We need to avoid regionalism and statism bias. Arctic security is more complicated and more contingent on global and domestic factors than many observers suggest”, he said.

“Arctic security is more complicated and more contingent on global and domestic factors than many observers suggest” – Dr. Humrich

Dr. Humrich closed his talk by warning participants to pay attention to rhetoric and perception: “NATO does not need an Arctic strategy, it’s rather the North Atlantic (e.g. Greenland-Iceland-UK gap) they need to be worried about.”

If you force the impression in Russia, that you’re encroaching on the Arctic, the alarm bells go off in the Kremlin,” he said, suggesting that the Western states and the EU should seek cooperation with Russia in the Arctic. He pointed out that there are plenty of low-cost opportunities for confidence building.

After a lively discussion with Dr. Humrich in the Q&A session, it was the turn of Dr. Michael Paul, security policy expert and Senior Fellow at the Stiftung Sicherheit und Politik (SWP), who introduced his paper “Arctic Security Environment in Flux: Mitigating Geopolitical Competition through a Military-Security Dialogue” to the participants (Link to Article).

The Murmansk Initiative and The Arctic Council

Also Dr. Paul started with the historical perspective, and reminded participants that during the cold war too, the Arctic was heavily militarised. This changed with the Murmansk Initiative of 1987, which aimed to scale down military activity in the area and sparked a de-securitisation of the high north.

Following this period the eight Arctic states saw a high potential for cooperation in the area, a spirit which ultimately lead to the creation of the Arctic Council. This body focused on sustainable development and cooperation and the signing of the Search and Rescue Agreement was an example of interstate cooperation.

The Arctic Council from the beginning focused on sustainable development and cooperation. Photo: U.S. Department of State.

But, Dr. Paul points out, as the war against Georgia started in 2008, Russia re-started its long-range air patrols into the Arctic, and patrolled Arctic waters with parts of its northern fleet.

The security dilemma

In this way, Russia reopened the militarisation in the region, which leads to a security dilemma. Dr. Paul illustrated this by pointing out two strategically important points from NATO’s perspective, called Bear Gap around ‘Bear Island’ between northern Norway and Svalbard, and the GIUK Gap between Greenland, Iceland and the UK. Near the Bear Gap Russia announced an impact area for its strategic missile tests in response to the US deployment of strategic bombers to Norway.

As far as China’s role in the region is concerned, Dr. Paul pointed out that the country is being drawn into the Arctic by the tensions between Russia and the US.

“China has established its interests in the region”, he said and continued, “Sea routes have a huge impact on the economy and development of China, and the Arctic Ocean has much less risk than the southern route through the Malacca Straight and the Suez Canal.”

Dr. Paul explained that China’s modernisation of its naval forces could play a role in Arctic security, as China is modernising its navy mainly to secure shipping lanes: “The Chinese Navy will likely promote arctic equipment by the year 2030. The Chinese Navy could potentially play a huge role in the Arctic of the future.”

“The Chinese Navy could potentially play a huge role in the Arctic of the future” – Dr. Paul

Dr. Paul ended his talk by pointing out that the Arctic is no longer insusceptible to tensions from around the world. “The Arctic Region is in flux”, he said, “It is no longer immune to great power competition.”

Dr. Paul advocated for an open dialogue and furthering cooperation with Russia to reduce tensions in the area and suggested reinviting Russia to the Arctic Security Council as a crucial step to rebuild trust and cooperation for the future.

After a discussion of this talk it fell to former ambassador Philippe Welti, who had opened the 2021 CIOR Seminar two days ago, to deliver the closing remarks.

He summed up the experts’ views of the last couple of days by stating: “We started with the question weather the Arctic is a new area of conflict and I hinted at the possibility that the answer to that question might not be so dramatic.”

German and Russian scientists working together in the Siberian Laptev Sea. Photo: Dr. Heidemarie Kassens/GEOMAR.

There are a lot of factors that speak against a conflict erupting in the far north – but, ambassador Welti pointed out, “We know that Russia has a tendency to engage in high risk and adventurism.” Mr. Welti also reiterated that there is a stark difference between the reality on the ground, political rhetoric and public perception: “If repeated often enough rhetoric can create conflict”, he warned.

Ambassador Welti finally reminded the seminar participants that the Arctic’s conflict potential, unlike in the South China Sea and in Taiwan, is very much in our hands. “We can control the rhetoric and lean on the Arctic Council as a first line of defence. The second line of defence is the existing security framework in Europe and the third is a dialogue with Russia.”

“We can control the rhetoric and lean on the Arctic Council as a first line of defence” -Philippe Welti, moderator

Lieutenant Colonel (R) Hans Garrels, the Seminar Chairman, called on all participants to share their new-found knowledge: “It is on us as reserve officers to carry this knowledge to our respective governments and institutions. We have the privilege to look beyond a purely military perspective, and we should share this view with those who need to hear it,” he said.

With these words he concluded the 2021 CIOR Seminar. While the informal get-together usually associated with the Seminar is dearly missed this year, the event organizers are hoping for in-person attendance at next year’s iteration in Bonn.

The Arctic – a geopolitical Hotspot

After a successful first day, anticipation for day two of the 2021 CIOR Seminar ran high. Two exciting talks waited for the participants. Dr. Duncan Depledge, Lecturer in Geopolitics and Security from Loughborough University introduced the CIOR Seminar participants to the geopolitical situation in the far north, and Dr. Pavel K. Baev, Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO) and Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institute, took a deeper look at Russia’s security posture in the Arctic.

By: Mr. Paul Strobel, Officer Cadet, Bundeswehr

Dr. Depledge set the scene by reminding participants that the Arctic is not in fact the vast cold emptiness so many of us imagine when we hear about the region. Despite that the area is dominated by water and ice, it has been inhabited for thousands of years.

The population usually is part of one of the sovereign states surrounding the Arctic. The US, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia comprise the Arctic Council, which aims to further cooperation in the area and also offers a seat for representatives of the indigenous people living in the high north.

The Arctic Council works on consensus and excludes military and security matters because they are considered to be too divisive.

The US – no more “a reluctant Arctic state”

Dr. Depledge reminded the seminar participants of the statement of former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who called out Russia’s and China’s aggressive behaviour in the region and shifted the US status from a “reluctant arctic state” to one who is heavily involved in the area.

With the Arctic now firmly on the US radar, Dr. Depledge highlighted three main interests for the US in the far north.

Firstly, there is homeland defence, mainly aimed against the missile threat from northern Russia. The second US concern is Chinese commercial and scientific infiltration, which they fear might be an excuse for a long-term military build-up in the area. Thirdly, Dr. Depledge stated: “The Arctic increasingly links the US to the rest of the world.”

“They [the US]don’t necessarily look at this space as one to conquer and hold, but as one they want to secure passage through.” …and linking this potential field of conflict to one area that is very high on NATO’s agenda, Dr. Depedge continued: “A crisis in the Baltics will undoubtedly have consequences for the Arctic as one major supply line.”

Speaking about Russia’s strategy for the region, Dr. Depledge stated three main goals for the federation: Extraction of natural resources, keeping NATO away from their territory and projecting naval forces globally. From a military perspective, Dr. Depledge explained: “What Russia doesn’t want is a) encirclement and b) a fight in the Russian arctic. So what they do is (to) project force in the Atlantic.”

Russian Special Forces in the 200th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade of the Northern Fleet training with reindeer sleds. Photo: Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation.

As far as China’s role in the Arctic is concerned, Dr. Depledge called for caution. “We often hear that China is trying to buy its way into the high north. But we don’t see much evidence of that. We also don’t see a military effort there.”

What China does do however is trying to expand its reach by diplomatic and mostly scientific means. Dr. Depledge explained: “What China ultimately wants is geopolitical influence. So if and when the Artic becomes more important, China wants to be in a position where they have a say in matters. They don’t want to be excluded.” Science and some economic investment in the area are their way to make sure they have a seat at the table, he explained.

A detailed look at Russia’s role

After a lively discussion, the Seminar reconvened for the second talk of the day – with Dr. Pavel K. Baev of PRIO, who took a more detailed look at Russia’s role in the region.

Right from the beginning Dr. Baev emphasised: “Russia is the arctic superpower. In the rest of the world it may not be able to keep up, but as far as the arctic is concerned they are a superpower and they are very proud of that position.” This, Dr. Baev showed, is emphasised by the attention the far north gets from Putin personally and the strong public feelings about the Arctic in Russia.

Dr. Baev detailed two tracks of Russia’s arctic policy: Firstly, collaboration based on politics and economic development in the area, and secondly, a strong military build-up.

“On the military track, confrontation feels good for Russia. The more NATO activity in the north, the more Russia emphasises the need for a military build-up there”

Concerningly, Dr. Baev pointed out, the collaborative spirit hasn’t shown any major rewards for Russia recently, while the military aspects have. “On the military track, confrontation feels good for Russia. The more NATO activity in the north, the more Russia emphasises the need for a military build-up there”, Dr. Baev explained on the security paradox in the region.

Particularly the nuclear super-concentration on the Kola Peninsula is a great concern in this regard. A high concentration of ballistic missiles and nuclear submarines in the area are not only dangerous in a direct military sense, but have proven accident prone in the past with catastrophic consequences often only narrowly avoided. But, as Dr. Baev explained, “Russia sees risk taking as a strategic advantage vis-à-vis a reluctant west.”

Svalbard at risk

One risk Russia might be tempted to take, in Dr. Baevs opinion, would be a Crimea-style invasion of the Norwegian territory of Svalbard, which would guarantee Russian access to the western seas. With the island being demilitarised, Dr. Baev raised concerns about its security and NATO’s ability to protect and retake it, should conflict arise.

But Dr. Baev also pointed out that Russia is currently distracted and preoccupied in other strategic theatres, which are a lot more pressing. His hope is that Russia’s presidency in the Arctic Council this year will further the collaborative spirit of Russia’s engagement in the Arctic.

Dr. Baev pointed out that Russia’s position in the Asia-Pacific sphere is extremely weak and although China isn’t currently pressing at these weaknesses, we don’t know how this situation will develop over time.

– China wants access, trade and economic value

With regard to China’s activity in the arctic itself, Dr. Baev pointed out: “China is not interested at all in the Russian military build-up in the Arctic. What they want is access, trade and economic value.”

Like the first day, the second day also ended with a very lively discussion among seminar participants, with participants linking together the two lectures and furthering their understanding of the Arctic and its strategic ramifications.