NorSec 2018


The 8th to 9th of April 2018 the annual Nordic Security Conference took place in Oslo.

NorSec is YATA Norway´s flagship event, which could not be arranged without hours of volunteer work from both the executive board and members of YATAs local chapters, support from the Norwegian Atlantic Committee, financial support from the Norwegian Ministry of Defense and co-sponsoring by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Our aim for the conference is to gather national and international experts, students and young professionals to learn and share perspectives on current issues within foreign, security and defense politics. This years theme was «China´s emergence as a superpower and implications for Europe».

Why China? China is one of the greatest countries in the East, both in terms of economy, geography and demography. Through history they have seen the rise and fall of many dynasties, and from the 1970s it has slowly entered the global scene as an actor to take into account. The rise of a possible superpower in the East will have implications for the rest of the world, by gathering experts to speak on the security challenges, trade and cooperation we took a dive into which implications China´s rise could have for Europe.

In addition to our Norwegian participants, we invited international participants to our conference. The international participants came from Georgia, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Germany, Romania, Belgium, Russia, Italy, Croatia amongst others. Our broad spectrum of participants made a good foundation for discussion during breaks, lunch, break out sessions and workshops which we in YATA Norway and, hopefully, they enjoyed.

Photo: NorSec 2018

The event was promoted through YATA Norway´s webpage, Facebook-page and Twitter, both before and during the conference. All posts are to be found under #NorSec2018 and relevant posts are in addition marked #WeAreNATO. The sessions were live-streamed trough our Facebook-page. Pictures and videos are available in our social media channels.

The following section tries to capture the main arguments given by our eminent speakers, and summarize the conference.

Session I. European Security Challenges

Secretary General at the Norwegian Atlantic Committee, Kate Hansen Bundt gave her opening remarks and words of welcome. She highlighted the importance of dialogue, creating links and understanding across boarders in the turbulent security environment we are surrounded. On the topic the highlights was trade war, constitutional changes, power structures and the rapidness of Chinese technology, economical and industrial development, being able to achieve this transformation in one single generation.

Former Norwegian Ambassador to China Svein Ole Sæther, followed up. Giving his remarks and reflections about Norwegian-Chinese and European-Chinese relations, from his service as Ambassador in China for ten years. His general observations were colored by a perspective that China cannot been seen in black and white, being a huge and complex country. Either way they have som impressive achievements following the last decades, especiacally their economical growth, lifting large amounts of the population out of poverty. That aside, they still struggle with internal differences economically and  socially. Sæther also focused on the argument that China has history on their side, development wise. Even if this development is coupled with environmental challenges that has to be addressed.

In addition to their economical growth, their progress in information technology and digitalization puts them on the spot as a competitor to the West. China is becoming world leading in big data an artificial intelligence. China also have entered the Great Power politics, calling for a great power relationship with the US with some kind of mutual respect, stability and power sharing. On the other side they want to push the US out of the South China Sea, using their new Blue Navy Strategy. They are becoming self-confident in their own development.

Further the recent events in the National Peoples Congress (NPC) in March was commented.  The most important landmark in the constitutional history of modern China, where the dismantling the norm of the term limit prohibition for president and vice president. Making Xi Jinping the strongest leader since Mao.

Mette Halskov Hansen, Professor at the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages at the University in Oslo, gave a presentation on «China’s past and its ambition for our global future». Her two most important questions were; What do we mean by Chinese, and; What makes China, China? It is necessary to think more critically about this.

The quote «The past is inscribed in Chinas mental terrain with a caligraphy so powerful, that it determines most of its approaches to the presence» from  Restless Empire (2015) by Odd Arne Westad, capture some of the Chinese mentality through history. It is a tendency today to assume that  only now Chinas global impact is considerable, before China was inwards thinking an closed, not expanding. Hansen claims that this is a myth, if one enlarge in a longer perspective one can see that Chinas idea of centrality and expansion is deeply embedded. Not only expansion of boarders and areas, but also cultural expansion.

Three points can be highlighted in Chinese developmen; Centrality, viewing China as the Middle Kingdom; Justice, with homogenous relationships within families, state systems and between states were one should act proper, wise and god; and at last Rules of order, following them to avoid chaos, trust and require the ruler to keep order. These are inherent in Confucianism, and are relevant today. Seeming simple, but if you look at history these are in play.

Following decades of national humiliation following the opiat wars,  invasion by Japan and confrontation with bigger powers at the time, Western concessions and poverty they are now rebuilding. They have built an exceptional pride and self assuranse, with a renewed strong sense of justice, rules of order and centrality. To understand the present we need to properly understand the past.

Øystein Tunsjø, from the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies. Followed the historical introduction with his remarks on «A new bipolar system and a changing world order». Running through some publications he has made in recent years, especially his recent book Return of Bipolarity in World Politics: China, the United States and Geostructural Realism.

The global power shift, why does polarity matter? The gap between China and the US has narrowed significantly. Looking at different figures, China is growing, becoming the largest export economy and becoming a great economical player. Economic growth translates into military spending, keeping in mind that china has not spent more than 2% of GDP the last years. China spend little, and can spend more, but thy have catched up with the US due to the economical growth. Rivalry being at sea and ships in fleet. Even though there are differenced in and on the ship. The Chinese is fleet is bigger than the US in terms of ships, even though there is a major qualitative and quantitative difference between those ships. Matters because one ship can only be one place at one time. China has a lot, and is building more every day.

Chinas economy is now ten times bigger that the Russian economy, compared to 1990. We are moving into a new world order, as a consequence of the global power shift, with a bipolar world. The US us still on another level, but China is catching up. In a multipolar world the balance is achieved through different alliances equalizing each other, in a bipolar world the balance is achieved by each parts investments, defense spendings, economical growth and industrial base. The only historical example we have on bipolarity was during the Cold War, some claims that a bipolar world is more stable than a multipolar one.

The implications for transatlantic relations following this development are mainly that the oceans are the central arena for competition. This is due to the fact that there are no land boarders between NATO allied and China, the boarders are at sea.  In 2016 China commissioned new naval vessels equivalent to half of the British Navy, measured in tonnage. This also have significance for third parties that have to choose sides between China, the US and the West, or keep their distance, with the risk of being drawn into a proxy. As of now the US and NATO is superior at sea, but the chance of accidents and faults are rising in an indistinct and moving ocean area.

Paal Sigurd Hilde, at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies followed Tunsjø with a deeper introduction to Implications for NATO. Starting with the argument that the rise of China is not that important to NATO, because NATO is not a global security organization, but rather a transatlantic security organization. But not writing of that China is worth keeping an eye on.

After a historical introduction of NATOs three phases in the post Cold War era. Moving form optimism, cooperation and disarmament, unipolarity and a changing concept of security (1990-2001). In 2001 international terrorism became a dominant factor following 9/11, fighting terrorism in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria. In 2007 the third period can be said to kick in. Theres a new threat, with the rise of China. The US Navy is a new driving factor. During the Obama period the US started rebalancing towards the Asian Pacific and the US policy of leading form behind. This puts pressure on the European allies to take on more responsibility, with US support, but Europe must take charge. Following this NATO is again looking for a relevant role, what can they do in a changing international picture? All of them have contributed to international operations as ISAF. NATO started thinking about taking on responsibility in the Indian Ocean, as they were already there supporting humanitarian aid fighting piracy at the Horn of Africa. In 2014 they were planning their CMX exercise, with the Indian Ocean as a case. But then Ukraine and ISIS took precedence.

NATO is returning to basics. Following Georgia crisis in 2008 visible assurance became important to the alliance, with frequent presence, training and exercises. Following Ukraine and the Wales Summit in 2014 this evolved to assurance measures with rotational presence, exercises and training. In Warsaw 2016 enhancement of deterrence measures with permanent presence through the Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic countries. The US reaction to this development was leaving the leading form behind policy from Libya. They had sanctions, leading the Europeans to follow them. In addition to military response moving forces to the Baltic. In addition they adopted European Reassurance Initiative and European Deterrence Initiative and keeping up their economical commitments towards their alliances.

The US is a global power. Has always been, and will always be present
everywhere, multiple places at once. Their attention and commitments will be where the crisis is. But they will continue their commitments to Europe, as evident in defense budgets and troop
movements and exercise activity in Europe after the intervention in Crimea.

Session II. Trade & Cooperation

Arne Elias Corneliussen,  CEO of NRCI held his introduction «An Overland Expedition along the New Silk Road from Shanghai to Istanbul: Geopolitical Dynamics, Infrastructure Developments and Logistics Clusters». Taking the participants through his fieldwork on the New Silk Road from Shanghai to Istanbul. By showing pictures and sharing his experiences from meeting with different people along his travels, he gave first hand information from the ground highlighting some of the issues and implications of Chinas renewed strategy toward the West in terms of trade, infrastructure and logistics.

Iselin Stensdal, from the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, took us through Cooperation and challenges in the Arctic. China is an actor in the Arctic both in terms of science, technology and economical opportunities. There are a lot of scepticism towards China as an actor in the region, but if we look at the bigger picture, China is just a part of a bigger international interest in the region. In 2013 China, India, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Italy were granted permanent observer status in the Arctic Council.

The Arctic is governed by the Arctic Countries, the Arctic Council, UNCLOS and different regional mechanisms. There is no single Treaty as in the Antarctic. During the Kiruna Meeting in 2013 the Nordic countries were positive accepting the Asian states, it is better to engage and invite them in rather then exclude them. Russia and Canada were negative, thinking that the Arctic Council are for the eight Arctic states. In the end they invited them anyway.

China are becoming more involved in defining rules and setting the agenda over the last 10 years, so there should not be a surprise that they want a seat at the table in the Arctic as well. That is not to say that China is claiming the Arctic. On January 26th 2018 China finally released an official policy on the Arctic, in sum it is concerned about understanding the Arctic through science and research, protection of the environment, flora, fauna and indigenous populations, developing through shipping routes and economy, focusing on bilateral agreements and international law. But they respect the Arctic states sovereignty. In terms of shipping they want to work on the Polar Silk Road, through the North West and North East Passage.

After both Sessions all speakers, apart from Halskov Hansen, joined us in a good panel debate. This can be seen on our Facebook-page, as well as all introductions apart from Mr. Corneliussen´s.

Following the debate the participants broke out in two groups discussing questions related to economy and trade or security and military. The first group were hosted by Arne Elias Corneliussen discussing: What are the possible consequences of further escalation of the trade tension between The US and China?  How will the “One belt, one road”- initiative influence trade and other cooperation between Europe and China? The second group were hosted by Øystein Tunsjø discussing: What are the stabilizing and destabilizing factors in the relationship between China and the US? How should Europe respond to a possible conflict between China and the US? Both groups had vivid discussions drawing upon previous knowledge in addition to their learning outcomes of the introductions and panel debate.

The conference came to an end with closing remarks. YATA Norway were so happy to see all our participants and grateful for the speakers interesting and enjoyable introduction and debate.

The international participants were lucky to continue the conference in the evening with a tour at Akershus Festning and a banquet dinner with some of the speakers and organizers. On Sunday the international participants partook in a Crisis simulation hosted by People and Defense before joining in workshops on economy, military and security issues connected to this years theme. Both the crisis simulations and workshops were fruitful with engaged and interested participant putting in a great effort.

YATA Norway hope the participants, both Norwegian and international , and our speakers enjoyed the conference as much as we did. We would like to thank all our volunteers form our national chapters for their great efforts and help to make the conference run smoothly. Once again we would like to thank the Norwegian Atlantic Committee for assistance throughout the process, the  Norwegian Ministry of Defense for financial support and the co-sponsoring by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Om oss

Vi er et nettverk for unge med interesse for utenriks- og sikkerhetspolitikk. Lokallag i Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger og Tromsø.


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