Comment This is a comment, written by an editorial staff member. The commentary expresses the writer’s views.
The Defense Commission’s report shows, in full, how the security situation for Norway has greatly intensified, and how it may also deteriorate considerably over the next few years.
The interest is great. The Commission’s own explanatory podcast is among the most listened to in the country in recent weeks.
The Defense Commission not only reveals the need for massive investment in a country where its defense capabilities have weakened. The defense lacks most of it; personnel, vehicles, ammunition, and apparently operated without a clear direction and strategy.
Security and preparedness occupy a far more central position in the public discourse than just a year and a half ago. And worst of all; it is overwhelmingly likely that a despotic Russia with imperialist ambitions will not disappear in the foreseeable future.
Norway’s security situation is by far self-explanatory. This is something that can be read by looking at the map, defined by Northern Norway and Svalbard’s geographical location near Russia’s large nuclear arsenals.
And in the middle of this field of tension, with Norway as a small state entirely dependent on alliances with a long coastline, the Arctic capital Tromsø is located as a population center of gravity.
Over the past 50 years, the city has built up a broad knowledge of people and society in Northern Norway. In one area, however, it looks meager. As an institution, UiT has not succeeded in fulfilling its responsibility to deliver systematic knowledge about defense and security in the northern regions.
Today, the relevant Norwegian professional environments in this field are located in and around Oslo, with some smaller environments in Bergen, Trondheim and Bodø, but not in Tromsø.
Several researchers at UiT nevertheless, individually, have a high level of expertise in, and research on, various aspects of security and conflict. But they are few, and with the exception of the historian community (just think of the recent multi-volume work on the war in Northern Norway), there is no clear and profiled professional community with a focus on geopolitics and state security.
The work that takes place at the Peace Center is to a small extent relevant. This shows, among other things, the latest announcement of a vacant position, which focuses on security studies related to “media aesthetics and conflict”, whatever that may be.
The centre’s reputation is also affected by a case in which a Russian agent was exposed by the Police’s security service, after being recruited as a participant in various types of research work at UiT.
It is true that UiT is trying to distinguish itself in the field of security policy, among other things through a fine series of articles that were published in North Norway Debate last winter and spring. But these deserve a stronger professional platform.
Are there any signs that strategic measures are taken to correct this at UiT, the most important national institution in Northern Norway?
There are several reasons why we should hope so. The country needs UiT as a spearhead for this knowledge. The Norwegian public will benefit from strong scientific environments that can interpret the complexity of security policy with a northern perspective.
It should happen at a broad university that has access to large financial resources, with a budget of NOK 3.8 billion, but where the question is whether the money is used and prioritized correctly, and in a way that is sufficiently grounded in our own dramatic times.
UiT has for several decades cultivated the belief in cooperation with Russia through large and small research projects. One can think a lot about that. But there is no point in continuing to discuss whether it has been naive or not.
The most important thing is that this time is now over. The question is whether UiT has the ability to readjust its own expertise, and look at Russia with new eyes, in light of a situation that has permanently changed.
One of the members of the Defense Commission, Christian Chramer, is also a board member at UiT. He should bring all his knowledge to the next board meeting, and all the other board meetings in the near future.
What have we learned?
In a few days The Truth and Reconciliation Commission presents its report. Everything indicates that UiT is gearing up to listen and learn from this commission.
In the same way, one must also be able to expect that at UiT you listen to the Defense Commission’s disturbing analyses, that you are then able to understand that it has to do with the social mission, and take the findings into UiT’s strategic path choice.
Skjalg Fjellheim is political editor at Nordlys
Tags: UiT Norways Arctic University Defense Commission-