Center for Strategic Decision Research


The Challenges to Stability for NATO’s Northwestern Region

Lieutenant General Odd Vincent Skjøstad
Chief of Staff, Allied Forces Northwestern Europe

I feel both privileged and honored to have this opportunity to address the 16th NATO Workshop on behalf of my commander-in-chief, Sir John Cheshire. This is a grand venue, and seldom have I encountered such an impressive audience of politico-military competence. Previous speakers presented and discussed a number of crucial ACE-wide challenges to stability. I would like to focus on three particular challenges that cause some concern for us in the Northwestern Region.


The first challenge stems from the fact that, geopolitically, Russia is the largest nation in our Area of Interest (AOI)—you are well aware of the common border between Norway and Russia. From a Central or Southern European perspective, and with the current sharp focus on the Balkans, we are all keeping our attention on that 196-km common border in Finnmark Northern Norway. This border remains a major factor in the instability assessment made by my colleagues in Norway. For the same reasons, all our Partner nations in the Baltic are very sensitive to the importance that their individual and collective relationships with Russia have in the context of regional stability/instability.


The second concern our region has is how much NATO in general, and my region in particular, can actually do to positively influence regional stability. Four possibilities that we believe might actually trigger instability in our AOI are:

  • Bilateral border disputes
  • Disturbances over minority rights
  • Internal political instability
  • Disputes over offshore resources.

Potential triggers of this sort cause us the greatest concern because we have little influence over them and because they could trigger regional instability rapidly. Such instability, in turn, might result in a request by a long-standing Partner nation for NATO military assistance. In short, we might be unable to prevent a fuse from being lit, but we might be invited to help contain the ensuing explosion.

The Northwestern Region’s Relationship with Russia

Because I am SACEUR’s custodian of the defense guarantee in the Northwestern Region, I want to make three specific points about our relationship with the Russian military.

  • First and foremost, Russia poses no military threat to the Northwestern Region.
  • We go to great lengths to ensure that the Russian military is fully aware of all PFP activities in our Region, why we are carrying these activities out, and who is involved. In early June, for instance, the “in the spirit of PFP” exercise “Barents Peace” was successfully completed in Finnmark. The Russians participated in the planning of this event.
  • The inescapable fact remains that Russia retains sufficient military hardware in the LMD to make life very uncomfortable for any nation in the Northwestern Region.

We like to think that our activities are regarded as transparent, militarily sensible, and in the best interests of regional stability. We have little doubt that we would be firmly told by the other party if they felt that the situation was otherwise. One recent example of a concrete confidence-building measure is the establishment of a direct “hotline” between Commander Armed Forces North Norway Vice Admiral Siorgen and Admiral Popov, who commands the Northern Fleet in Murmansk.


The third and last challenge to stability that I would like to highlight is connected with the substantial number of Tactical Nuclear Weapons that Russia still retains in the Leningrad Military District. Although we are not at all concerned that Russia would contemplate using these weapons against the nations in our region, we do fear the consequences if one or more of these assets is stolen. In the hands of rogue extremists, the potential for triggering instability exists, and this is something we must be prepared to handle.


These, then, are some of the issues that could trigger instability in the Northwestern Region. However, let me emphasize that none of them is a threat in the traditional definition of that term, but all of them could occur, and would do so almost certainly with little or no warning. The political and military consequences of NATO involvement in the aftermath of any such occurrences should not be underestimated.








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