The High North

The High North is of immense importance to Norway both for security and economic reasons.

Interest in the High North has intensified recently due to the rapidly receding ice cap, the potential for substantial reserves of oil and gas and other resources, new shipping routes and occasionally aggressive political rhetoric. 

As lead partner in the major international research programme Geopolitics in the High North, the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies has continued its studies of the region, building in the process a unique national and international network of experts. 

Although the programme is due to end in 2013, the Institute’s commitment to studies in this field of research will continue under the aegis of its Russian studies and the research programme Asia in the Arctic.


Rese​arch projects

The strategic role of the High North during the Second Cold War 
From the mid-1970s until the end of the Cold War – what is often referred to as the Second Cold War – the High North grew in importance due to the build-up of the Soviet Northern Fleet and enhanced tension between the two superpowers and the blocs. In the same period, we saw a revolution in the law of the sea, which led to frictions in the north concerning the extension of the continental shelves and the zones and of the delimitation lines between the states in the region. 

The purpose of the project, which is based on archival sources from Norway and other Western countries, is to study the pattern of conflict and cooperation in the High North, permeated by military build-up and the subsequent erosion of the Soviet empire and the end of bipolar rivalry.
Contact: Rolf Tamnes


Maritime Preparedness and International Partnership in the High North (MARPART)
IFS participates in the MARPART project, which is led by the University of Nordland. The MARPART project aims to improve our understanding of joint tasks in the High North and to shed light on the potential for international cooperation in different preparedness areas in the region.

MARPART is organised into three work packages:

  1. Future maritime activity level and risk patterns in the High North.
  2. Institutional framework, governance, resources and institutional strategies within different sea regions.
  3. Organisations and operational management structures linking cooperating institutions in joint maritime operations.

The MARPART project had a 3-year time frame (2014–2016) and is funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the ‘Barents 2020’ programme, Nordland County and the University of Nordland.

IFS contributes with a study on Russian maritime preparedness in the High North and implications for international cooperation. The study will be finalised in April 2018.

Contact: Kristine Offerdal and Ingvill Moe Elgsaas

Closed research projects


Maritime security: rights and interests in the Arctic
This study examines current and potential future factors determining the Arctic maritime security environment. It devotes special attention to developments in the regional maritime economy and their implications for regional intrastate relations, security of the sea and sovereignty rights at sea of the coastal states, in particular of the United States, Russia and Norway. It assesses risks to maritime security in an ice-diminished Arctic and implications of the expected growing activity for political stability in the region and beyond. The study is a part of the project International Order at Sea.
Contact: Katarzyna Zysk


​Arctic Coast Guards as an Arena for Defence Collaboration 
Coast guards tasks is a potential arena for defence collaboration, as Arctic coastal states are experiencing budget restrictions and increased maritime activity in their northern waters. The project’s main focus is the North-Atlantic states Norway, Denmark (incl. Greenland) and Canada. How is the maritime situation in the Arctic changing? How do the different coastal states organise their coast guard tasks? What drives and challenges collaboration between coast guards, compared to traditional defence collaboration? And what are the potential forms such collaboration could take on?

The project also examines the establishment of a coast guard forum for the Arctic (Arctic Coast Guard Forum) and if it potentially leads to increased collaboration.

Funding is provided by the Norwegian Ministry of Defence through the research programme Security and Defence in Northern Europe
Contact: Andreas Østhagen 


Published 24 September 2014 09:09.. Last updated 01 June 2017 15:47.