The world powers United States, Russia and China are showing interest in the Arctic archipelago, and Denmark is rebuilding a radar station there
At the summit of Mount Sornfelli, towering over the capital of the Faroe Islands, Torshavn, round, golf-ball-like structures are still visible. But after the end of the Cold War, when the Danish military unit serving this radar was disbanded, Russian planes and submarines roam unnoticed along this strategic sea route leading to the Arctic Ocean.
Then a sharp rivalry began for influence in the Arctic. Now the situation in the Faroe Islands could change dramatically.
Last month, Danish political parties agreed to allocate £ 170 million to rebuild the radar complex. These premises are now used as the archipelago’s only prison. They also agreed to purchase new drones to explore Greenland.
For this reason, the Foreign Minister of the Faroe Islands, Jenis av Rana, expects to speak with Anthony Blinken in the coming weeks. This will be his second meeting with the US Secretary of State in less than a year.
“Climate change in the Arctic is putting the Faroe Islands at the center of events. That means that other countries such as the United States, China and Russia are paying more attention to us.”
“This is a good opportunity and we will use it. We have a small, very small country, but we want to be part of the big world. “
The Faroe Islands are the smallest of the three counties in the Danish kingdom. This windswept archipelago of high basalt cliffs and low snow-capped mountains lies in the middle of the Atlantic. 350 kilometers northwest of Scotland. It is located right in the middle of the Faroe-Icelandic border between Greenland and Britain. The Pentagon has declared it “a strategic corridor for naval operations between the Arctic and the North Atlantic.”
Natural resources and strategic position
President Trump, in response to the growing strategic importance of the region, inquired about the opportunity to buy Greenland. Blinken’s predecessor Mike Pompeo in 2019 stunned the participants in the Arctic Council meeting, pompously proclaiming “a new era of strategic engagement in the Arctic, when new threats to the Arctic interests and wealth of this region “.
He pointed to the fact that in connection with the melting of the ice deposits of oil, gas, rare earth minerals and gold are becoming available. He also condemned China for its attempts to show up in the Arctic and Russia for its “aggressive” behavior in the region.
In November, the Americans signed a partnership agreement with these islands.
“The fact that the US secretary of state is spending time on such negotiations says a lot about what is happening,” said Mikkel Runge Olesen, an Arctic security expert at the Danish Institute of International Relations. – The Faroe Islands are back on the map. The value of the Faroe Islands is growing in geopolitical terms. “
Olesen explains this by the growing tension between Russia and NATO in general and the strengthening of Russian activity in the Arctic in particular. This increase has been happening since 2014. Then Moscow created a new Arctic strategic command based on the Northern Fleet.
Over the past five years, Russia has kept up with the Cold War in terms of activity in the North Atlantic. Its long-range nuclear submarines and long-range aircraft are constantly checking NATO detection equipment.
Gap in NATO radar coverage
British Navy intends to regularly be present in the Arctic. It is due to the fact that against the background of climate change and melting ice, Russia and China can use the new strategic sea routes emerging there.
When the radar system in the Faroe Islands is rebuilt and operational again, it will close the gap in the radar coverage that appeared after Britain reopened the radar station on Anst Island in the northern Shetland Islands in 2018.
“If we look at the radar coverage of NATO countries in the North Atlantic and the Arctic and plot it on a map, we will see large gaps over Greenland and the Faroe Islands,” explains Olesen.
According to him, the United States also “wondered if they could use the Faroe Islands as a kind of naval base.”
Washington isn’t alone in trying to influence this tiny country of 18 islands. In 2019, the Faroes opened a representative office in Beijing,. It began to deal with large-scale fish shipments for China. China declared itself a “near-Arctic state” and intended to pave the “Polar Silk Road” using new shipping routes.
At the same time, the Chinese began to put pressure on the Faroe Islands, urging them to agree to the construction of a 5G network by Huawei. The authorities of the islands are still dragging out a decision.
Memorandum of understanding with the Eurasian Economic Union
In 2018, the Faroe Islands signed a memorandum of understanding with the Eurasian Economic Union, which is headed by Moscow. The Faroese economy is completely dependent on fishing and salmon farming. Russia is the islands’ largest market. But the Faroe Islands do not want to get involved in the rivalry between the great powers.
“We don’t think it will be primarily a military facility,” says Dr. av Rana of the radar complex. “It’s a natural way for us to protect the Faroe Islands, and we need it. There were cases when foreign planes flew in the Faroes area, but radars in the surrounding countries did not detect them. “
He is against further steps to militarize the islands. “We do not need military activity in the Faroe Islands. The people of the Faroes will not allow this. We are talking about the creation of a sea transit hub. It will be intended for civilian ships. We have no intention of inviting warships. “