On Thin Ice: UK Defence in the Arctic Contents

4The new security environment

33.The weight of evidence the Committee has received supports the view that the Arctic has seen an increase in military activity in recent years, and that this continues to be reflected in the defence policies of the Arctic States. In this chapter we examine these trends in relation to the Arctic States and NATO.


34.The Arctic is a place of great significance to Russia, for a broad range of historical, cultural and economic reasons, as well as for its security.73 Dr Dimitriy Tulupov, Senior Lecturer at the School of International Relations, St Petersburg State University, told us in oral evidence that:

Since 1930s the Arctic has been the area of strategic significance both in the system of domestic and foreign policy of Russia. For Moscow, it has always been vitally important to provide sufficient military presence in the Arctic as a necessary condition and a guarantee of its regional interests’ implementation.74

Dr Igor Sutyagin, Senior Research Fellow in Russia Studies at RUSI, argued:

The Arctic is terribly important for Russia, because it is responsible for … between 12% to 15% of Russian GDP and 80% of Russian gas. If there were a serious sabotage act there, it would be a very serious blow to the Russian economy and so Russian national security in general, not only defence and military security. That is why they want the ability to react to that and to defend it if necessary.75

35.Protecting national interests in the Arctic region appeared as a core task in the 2015 revision of the Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation.76 The 2015 revision of the Maritime Doctrine of the Russian Federation placed a greater emphasis on reducing the level of threats and increasing military capability compared to the previous 2001 edition.77 In presenting the 2015 Maritime Doctrine to President Putin, the Russian Deputy Prime Minister said that the two areas of main focus were the Arctic and the Atlantic, due, amongst other reasons, to the growing proximity of NATO to Russia’s borders.78 A 2017 document laying out the Russian policy on naval operations to 2030 identifies first on its list of existing and emerging threats:

the aspiration of a range of states, primarily the United States of America and its allies, to dominate on the World Ocean, including the Arctic, and to achieve overwhelming superiority of their naval forces.79

36.In 2014 Russia reorganised its regional military command structure, creating a dedicated Joint Strategic Command (North) for the Arctic region. As well as the Northern Fleet, this headquarters is responsible for all military assets in a large area of Northern Russia adjacent to the Barents and Kara Seas, as well as the Russian islands in the Arctic Ocean.80 The Northern Fleet itself, although a shadow of its former strength as part of the Soviet Navy, has benefitted from a major period of Russian naval recapitalisation through successive State Armament Programmes. Despite lengthy delays which have stretched programmes over decades, Russia’s newest classes of nuclear submarines are entering service to replace late-Cold War era platforms.81 Russia’s latest generation of strategic ballistic missile submarines, the Borei class variants, are being deployed in the Northern and Pacific fleets.82 The newest class of multi-role nuclear powered submarines, the Yasen class, combines the capabilities of an attack submarine with powerful guided missile systems. Crucially, these new platforms use the latest quieting technology to make them as undetectable as possible.83 The Northern Fleet also possesses a number of major surface combatants, although the numbers of these units available for front line service is disputed. The surface order of battle nonetheless appears to be growing, with the Russian Navy’s newest amphibious assault ship reportedly joining the Northern Fleet.84

37.The level of Russian naval activity has grown significantly. The Secretary of State for Defence told us in February that there has been a tenfold increase in Russian submarine activity in the North Atlantic.85 Russian submarine activity up to the GIUK Gap has been reported as being “currently equalling or surpassing Cold War levels”.86 A former deputy commander of NATO Maritime Forces Europe has described the situation as the ‘Fourth Battle of the Atlantic’.87 A paper published by RUSI in March 2017 says:

Russia has re-established the bastion strategy, reaching a stable level of activity from 2008 … The bastion defence concept remains essentially the same as during the Cold War. Defensive and offensive operations are intertwined and indistinguishable. In a conflict, Russia will seek to protect its strategic forces, which would involve establishing sea-control in its immediate vicinity and sea-denial further west and south, down to the GIUK Gap. Some attack submarines will most likely also operate further west in the Atlantic. Such operations would weaken NATO’s ability to project forces in Europe.88

The tempo of exercises and training events has also remained high. In 2017 the Northern Fleet conducted 4,700 training events and 213 missile firing drills. In May 2018, the Borei class submarine Yuri Dolgoruky conducted a test firing of a ‘volley’ of four ballistic missiles in the White Sea. A few weeks later in June 2018 the Northern Fleet conducted an unannounced exercise that was its largest in ten years.89

38.The first military icebreaker built for the Russian Navy in 40 years entered service with the Northern Fleet in 2017.90 A further class of military icebreakers is planned, with reports suggesting that these ships may be armed with cruise missiles.91 The first of a new Arktika class of nuclear powered icebreakers, the largest yet constructed, was launched in 2016 and is due to be commissioned in 2019.92 A second in class was launched in 2017 and a third is planned.93

39.The presence of Russian land forces has also grown substantially, with particular attention being drawn to the re-activation or new establishment of permanent bases in the Arctic. James Gray MP described how several bases have been established along the length of Russia’s Arctic coastline.94 The ‘trefoil’ bases that have been built on the Russian Arctic islands to act as permanent garrisons for troops, are some of the largest manmade structures that have been built in the higher Arctic.95 These garrisons have been accompanied by a series of airfields, deepwater ports and other infrastructure.96 In January 2017 the Russian Defence Ministry announced its intention to build over 100 facilities in the Arctic by the end of that year.97

40.Dr Sutyagin described the build-up of ground forces in the region. Under the Russian Joint Strategic Command (North), two motorised infantry brigades headquartered near the Norwegian and Finnish borders respectively have been receiving special training for Arctic warfare. Unlike many of the light infantry forces deployed by the nations bordering Russia, these are fully equipped combined arms formations equipped with main battle tanks, armoured vehicles, self-propelled artillery, air defence systems and air assault capability.98 There is the possibility that they may be reinforced to division-level formations in the future. A number of other formations in neighbouring military districts have been given responsibility for the defence of the Arctic coastline.99

41.In 2007 Russia resumed long range strategic bomber patrols over the Arctic up to the airspaces of a number of neighbouring states.100 Shortly before the formation of Joint Strategic Command (North), it was announced that Russia intended to build 13 airfields and 10 radar guidance stations in the Arctic region.101 In December 2015 the Command was given its own dedicated air force and air defence formation in the shape of the 45th Air Force and Air Defence Army.102 In 2018 it was announced that Arctic air patrols would be substantially expanded in number and geographical scope.103 This has been accompanied by the progressive installation of sophisticated radar and air defence capabilities.104

42.There is considerable disagreement in the evidence we have received on the reasons behind Russia’s military build-up. Witnesses such as Dr Tulupov argued that there was no aggressive intent behind this activity, that the primary aim was maintenance of Russian sovereignty and that the Russian military needed to regenerate its capability to take account of the increased human activity in the region.105 Others, such as Professor Kennedy-Pipe, have taken a different view:

I think there is a tendency to wish away some of the tensions that I think we have seen beginning—not least the disquiet over what is seen as the remilitarisation of some of the historic Soviet bases. I think that that has to be put against—if you look at the reaction of some Russian spokespeople after, for example, manoeuvres in Norway, there have been threats, openly uttered, about what will happen should Norway behave in an increasingly militaristic manner … The official line in the Russian press is it is about surveillance, it is about search and rescue, it is about preparing for sea passages, but one can also read it a very different way, and I’m afraid I take a much bleaker view that the kind of investment that is being made has or portends great power ambitions in the Arctic.106

Professor Dodds argued that Russia’s continuing willingness to be a co-operative partner through the Arctic Council, UNCLOS and other multilateral fora should not be taken for granted:

I would also say some of that co-operation that has been talked about could be quickly retracted. I think when [other states] talk fairly positively about Russia as this largely benevolent or constructive player working through the Arctic Council, I do not share that confidence.107

Similarly, it has been argued that the sense of exceptionalism which is discussed above at paragraph 9 has led to miscalculation of Russia’s objectives; as Dr Andrew Foxall argues:

There is a prevailing belief in Western capitals that the Arctic is somewhat exempt from rising geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West. Such a belief is dangerous and misleading. While the fact that Russia outmanoeuvred the West in Ukraine and Syria does not necessarily mean that Russia poses a threat to its neighbours in the Arctic, the Kremlin’s actions and rhetoric over the recent years suggest that it is both capable and willing to take its standoff with the West to the Arctic.108


43.Norway’s centrality to the defence of the Northern Flank has been discussed in the previous chapter. In its London Embassy’s written evidence it was underlined that the Arctic continues to be a region characterised by peace, stability and international co-operation, and it was the strategic goal of Norway’s to make sure this general positive state of affairs continues in the future.109 The evidence also emphasised that:

The most significant change in Norway’s security environment over the last decade is Russia’s growing military capability, more assertive foreign policy and its use of force. Russia has modernised its weapons, strengthened the Northern Fleet and revitalized the bastion concept to protect its nuclear submarines located at the Kola Peninsula. NATO, and Norway as the guardian of the Alliance’s northern flank, must address Russia’s new strategic capabilities and increased military activity in the maritime domain. Norway is especially concerned about the freedom of manoeuvre in the Norwegian Sea, North Sea and the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap in the event of a crisis.110

44.In oral evidence Colonel John Andreas Olsen, the Norwegian Defence Attaché to London, briefly outlined the history of his country’s relations with its Russian neighbour, explaining that Norway’s policy has been to take a dual approach, continuing bilateral co-operation while at the same time maintaining a policy of strong defence111 Although Norway does not consider Russia to be a direct threat, it has observed what it sees as the ‘new normal’ in the Arctic and the High North.112 In its annual assessment of current security threats the Norwegian Intelligence Service has said that growing Russian presence in the Arctic and High North has been an important part of its modernisation programme and it expects this presence to grow. Norway can expect an increased level of military presence on and around its borders and a heightened level of activity including snap exercises.113

45.Norway has reacted to this situation by steadily increasing its defence capability. Since 2015 Norway has increased its defence spending by 25% in real terms. Norway will be acquiring 52 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, five P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, a new class of conventional submarines, modern long-range air defence systems and enhanced strategic intelligence capabilities.114 In 2017 a further lift in the defence budget was announced, along with a major reorganisation of forces in the far north of the country to increase numbers of personnel, response times and exercise activity.115 It has also long been the site of regional training and exercising for NATO allies. Alongside the annual training it hosts for UK and Dutch personnel, Norway began hosting rotational detachments from the United States Marine Corps in January 2017. In June 2018 it was announced that this arrangement is being extended and increased to up to double the number of current personnel for a period of up to five years.116 This decision provoked a strong reaction from the Russian Government which said it “will not remain free of consequence”.117 Norway will host Exercise TRIDENT JUNCTURE in the autumn of 2018, which is due to involve 35,000 personnel from 30 NATO members and partners.118


46.The Danish Ambassador to London, H.E. Mr Claus Grube explained that the priority of Denmark’s defence and security policy in the region has been to maintain its status as an area of low tension and international co-operation.119 The executive summary of a Danish Ministry of Defence analysis of Arctic policy in 2016 says:

Developments in the Arctic do not occur in isolation. The full report details a number of risks that may entail greater political and military tension in the Arctic security environment. However, the overall conclusion of the report is that in general in all likelihood the future of the Arctic will be shaped by cooperation and competition in the Arctic rather than confrontation and conflict.120

Mr Grube indicated that although Denmark recognised an increased level of military activity in the Arctic, it was not seen as a leading security priority, particularly in light of more pressing threats in other theatres such as the Baltic.121

47.In December 2016, a political agreement was reached which stipulated that “emphasis should be put on optimizing and streamlining existing Arctic capabilities rather than acquiring new major capability enlargements, such as additional ships and aircraft”.122 The most recent Danish defence policy review for the period 2018–23 recognises both the increasing geopolitical importance of the region and the increased military activity in the area, while reaffirming the priority of maintaining the Arctic as a low-tension region.123 However, a recent report from Danish defence intelligence which identifies Russian military expansion in as “primarily defensive in nature” goes on to say:

it involves elements that could be used for offensive purposes, not least the ongoing preparations for deploying tactical combat aircraft to the forward bases. At the same time, the initiatives contain elements that are politically aggressive, as Russia is using them to flag its strategic intentions.124


48.Iceland has no standing military forces, but its geographic location in relation to the North Atlantic gives it a great strategic significance. The United States operated a major base, Naval Air Station Keflavik, throughout the Cold War. In March 2006, the US unilaterally announced that it would be withdrawing standing forces and closing the Naval Air Station.125 From 2016, however, a US presence has been re-established at Keflavik with the US Navy operating P-8 maritime patrol aircraft on a rotational basis.126

49.Where there had previously been a degree of political resistance in Iceland to the development of defence and security policy, the combination of the American withdrawal and the new risks and opportunities arising from the changing environment of the Arctic led to a re-evaluation of national security policy.127 The Icelandic Ambassador H.E. Mr Thórdur Aegir Óskarsson identified “certain developments in the Russian military that might be of concern to us in the future. For a long period, there has been quite a big residual capability there on the Russian side.” He added subsequently:

Although we hope for peaceful co-operation and no militarisation of the region, there is always the risk that events outside the area will affect the co-operation and stability that we want to see there.128

50.An additional development following the American withdrawal in 2006 was the institution of Icelandic Air Policing by NATO in 2008 to provide Iceland with an air defence capability in the absence of its own air force. In June 2018 it was announced that the Royal Air Force would be participating in Icelandic Air Policing for the first time in the 2019 rotation.129

Sweden and Finland

51.The Swedish Ambassador, H.E. Mr Torbjörn Sohlström, told us:

The Swedish Arctic is a limited part of the Swedish territory. We are more a Baltic Sea nation than an Arctic nation, I think it is fair to say. The Arctic has always been a significant part of our national defence because of the way that it relates to the bigger picture. We have changed the trend; we have started again, from a moderate level, to upgrade our national defence.130

52.Sweden’s Arctic policy is based on its Arctic strategy of 2011, which stated that “The current security policy challenges in the Arctic are not of a military nature”, although it was recognised that as security co-operation between the Nordic nations deepened, new responsibilities and a higher expectation for action might arise.131 The Ambassador observed that there were two perspectives to current security developments in the Arctic. The first is to see Russia in the broader perspective as modernising and building up its military forces, and to consider that it has shown to have used military forces to further political objectives. This should be a matter of concern that is rightly taken into account in defence policy. The second is to look at the Arctic in a regional perspective and see an area of stability characterised by international co-operation, which includes Russia:

So there are two perspectives. One is a source of concern and has to do with general Russian behaviour and military posture, and the other is perhaps a source of some encouragement, which is the fact that if you see it in a strict regional way, the Arctic is a region of relative stability.132

Asked whether the Arctic was being militarised, Mr Sohlström said:

Clearly, there is a general Russian focus on building up, modernising and upgrading its military forces in all directions, and the Arctic is part of that for a number of reasons, because that is what they do all over their territory. Because they want to secure the north-east passage, a new transport route is the reason why they are deploying some new forces up there. Obviously, the whole area around the Arctic, in particular the Kola Peninsula, is of strategic importance to Russia and they have a serious military presence there. We see all of that: is that reason to call it militarisation of the Arctic? I am not sure.133

53.Sweden has nonetheless responded to the more general threat from Russia, especially, as the Ambassador mentions above, in relation to the Baltic. In September 2016, the Swedish Armed Forces announced a permanent and immediate deployment of troops to the island of Gotland in the Baltic. At the height of the Cold War around 25,000 troops had been stationed on the strategically important island, but the last forces were withdrawn in 2004. The sudden 2016 deployment came about as a result of what was reported as “a new and highly classified intelligence assessment pointing to an increased threat from Russia”.134 In 2017 Gotland was the focus of Exercise AURORA 17, Sweden’s largest military exercise in decades involving 19,000 personnel from eight nations.135 Also in 2017 the decision was taken to re-introduce military conscription because of growing concerns about Russian military activity.136

54.A 2016 report on Finnish foreign and defence policy from the Office of the Prime Minster of Finland stated:

In recent years Russia has also increased its military footprint and activity in the Arctic, where the situation, so far, has remained relatively stable. Russia uses a wide range of military and non-military instruments in advancing its interests. The security policy environment of Finland, a member of the western community, has transformed. A more tense security situation in Europe and the Baltic Sea region will directly impact Finland. The use or threat of military force against Finland cannot be excluded.137

The paper goes on to emphasise the importance of co-operation through bilateral and multilateral engagement.138 In 2017 a separate report on defence policy was issued which repeats the observations on Russia’s increased Arctic footprint and goes into detail about the nature of the Russian military’s new and developing capabilities.139

55.Although Sweden and Finland are not members of NATO, they are two of NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Partners who play a substantial role in Alliance exercises and information sharing.140 The Swedish Ambassador indicated that it was not the current policy of the Swedish Government to seek NATO membership “but the evolution is certainly towards an increasingly close relationship with NATO”.141 Written evidence has suggested that any decision by Sweden or Finland to seek membership might be interpreted as an aggressive move towards Russia’s Arctic border.142 Russia has deployed some notably aggressive rhetoric in the past warning of consequences if either state took the decision to join.143 In 2017 Sweden and Finland joined the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) which, as discussed below in paragraph 67, has a potential role in the region.144

United States

56.Arctic security has generally played a minor role in US defence policy and Arctic issues have often had little resonance outside of Alaska.145 The most recent high-level American defence policy documents make little reference to the Arctic. The National Security Strategy of December 2017146 makes a single mention of the Arctic in a section referring to the USA’s role in international institutions, and the 2018 summary of the National Defense Strategy does not mention the Arctic at all.147 But documents which have looked into the region in more detail have noted the developing security environment. The Obama Administration’s Arctic Strategy of 2013 identified the advancement of US security interests in the region as a priority.148 The Pentagon released an Arctic Strategy later that year149 and the US Navy updated its own Arctic Roadmap in 2014.150 An updated Pentagon strategy of 2016 was more direct about the source of threat, noting Russia’s commitment to build capability to defeat the US and its allies. The strategy included a commitment to continue exercises and training in the Arctic as well as in the GIUK gap and its approaches.151 Although, as elsewhere, divergent views exist in the US on whether tension is growing in the Arctic and Russian regeneration represents a genuine threat, a recent Congressional Research Service briefing observes:

US military forces (and US intelligence agencies) are paying renewed attention to the Arctic. This is particularly true in the case of the Navy and Coast Guard, for whom diminishment of Arctic sea ice is opening up potential new operating areas for their surface ships. The U.S. Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps, too, are beginning to focus more on Arctic operations.152

57.The majority of US land forces stationed in the Arctic are part of US Army Alaska. Army units have increased their tempo of Arctic exercises in small detachments. In February 2014 troops from the Alaskan-based airborne brigade made the brigade’s first landing north of the Arctic Circle153 and exercises have continued to increase in size since then.154 The United States Marine Corps has increased its rotational deployments in Norway in 2018.155 The Arctic region is important for US and Canadian air and missile defences and surveillance radars part of the North Warning System are positioned in Alaska, Canada and Greenland.156 The United States Air Force base in Thule, Greenland has recently been upgraded to improve its early warning capabilities.157

58.As in the Royal Navy, US Navy submarines have a long tradition of Arctic operations. This capability is sustained through the Ice Exercise (ICEX) programme of biennial exercises which stretch back to the early Cold War. These exercises have been gradually growing in scope with ICEX 2018 including units from the Royal Navy, the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force.158 The Commandant of the United States Coast Guard has indicated that the USCG will seek authorisation to build six heavy icebreakers to increase its presence in the Arctic region.159 In May 2018 the US Navy announced that it would be reactivating the US Second Fleet, which was previously the leading American striking fleet in the North Atlantic, at the core of the Maritime Strategy of the 1980s. The US Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations identified the re-emergence of great power competition and the consequent need to reconsider the possibility of “high-end warfighting in the Atlantic” as the motivation for this decision.160


59.Canada’s approach to military security in the Arctic has been a cautious one, with a strong commitment to multilateralism and environmental security.161 Nonetheless, the changes in the natural environment have brought wider issues of security to the fore and a number of initiatives introduced from the late 2000s sought to strengthen Canadian Arctic sovereignty. Canada’s 2008 defence White Paper placed an emphasis on Canadian Forces being able to exercise control over Canada’s Arctic territories.162

60.Canada’s 2017 defence policy paper recognises the heightened international interest in the Arctic and acknowledges that an increasingly accessible Arctic will also bring new security challenges. The strategy also identifies Russia’s ability to protect force from the Arctic into the North Atlantic, and the potential challenge that this poses to Canada and its NATO allies.163 A particular emphasis has been place on improved monitoring and surveillance to increase domain awareness in the Arctic, including the acquisition of new unmanned air systems and space-based surveillance assets.164 Canada now operates 47 radar sites in the Arctic and has extended its Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) to cover the entirety of its Arctic territory.165 Proposals to replace Canada’s icebreaker fleet and to build a new class of offshore patrols for the Arctic have met with budgetary difficulties and other delays, although production of the latter, the Harry DeWolf class, is proceeding and the first vessel is due to be delivered in 2018.166

61.Canada’s main land forces in the Arctic are the Canadian Rangers, a lightly armed, self-sufficiently mobile force reserve force comprising First Nations and Inuit soldiers speaking 26 different languages and dialects and based in over 200 communities across northern Canada. In the late 2000s the Canadian Armed Forces formed four Arctic Response Company Groups and a new Arctic Training Centre was opened in 2013.167 The 2017 White Paper also includes a commitment to “Acquire all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles and larger tracked semi-amphibious utility vehicles optimized for use in the Arctic environment”.168


62.The significance of the Arctic and High North in NATO strategy (see paragraphs 20 to 27 above) was reduced as the threat in Europe receded. Successive NATO command structure reforms led to the abolition of AFNORTH in 1994 and SACLANT in 2003 as NATO moved away from a structure based on regional commands.169 As military activity in the region has grown, there has been a wide range of views on what NATO’s role should be in the region, and indeed whether it should have any role at all. At a seminar in security prospects in the High North in Reykjavik in January 2009, the then NATO Secretary General, Jaap De Hoop Schaffer said:

The changes caused by the progressive melting of the ice cap are of concern to many countries beyond those of the Arctic Council and NATO. Indeed, the whole of the international community stands to be affected by many of the changes that are already taking place. In this situation, NATO needs to identify where the Alliance, with its unique competencies, can add value.170

Reflecting this renewed interest, work began to include a substantive paragraph on the Arctic in NATO’s 2009 Summit declaration, but the paragraph was deleted, reportedly at the behest of the Canadian representative, limiting the 2009 declaration to a brief reference welcoming the initiative of Iceland in hosting the January 2009 seminar. Further proposed references to the Arctic in NATO documents have encountered political difficulties, leading to there being no reference to the Arctic in the 2010 Strategic Concept, or in successive Summit declarations.171

63.This continuing divergence on whether NATO should play a greater role in the Arctic and High North has been borne out in the evidence we have received. Written evidence from the Danish Government says “Presently, Denmark sees no need for an increased military engagement or enhanced operative role for NATO in the Arctic”. In contrast, when we asked the Icelandic Ambassador whether the Arctic and High North should be given greater strategic priority by the Alliance he responded:

I can be blunt. My simple answer is yes, we have considered that the High North should be higher on the agenda at NATO. We were disappointed when the last strategy concept was developed that there was no focus on the northern region. As I said at the outset, we think NATO should have a very proper and strong situational awareness of this region. During the years when NATO was occupied with out-of-area missions, we feel that this focus was lost.172

The written evidence from the Norwegian Embassy said:

NATO and member states such as the United Kingdom should focus more on deterrence and collective defence in the North Atlantic and the European High North.173

On this issue Professor Dodds told us:

Iceland and Norway are very much the cheerleaders when it comes to NATO involvement in the Arctic. Canada is very ambivalent and sometimes openly hostile. Countries like Sweden and Finland are somewhere in between, but are usually worried that nothing is done to aggravate their relationship with Russia.174

64.In 2013, a report from the Political Committee of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly recognised that “there is no consensus among Arctic NATO member states over whether the Alliance should become more engaged in the High North”.175 More recent reports from the Assembly suggest that this position may change in the future. A 2016 report from the Assembly’s Defence and Security Committee on the future role of naval power said:

Though the Alliance continues to lack a clear policy on the Arctic, which does lie within the treaty area, there is a growing potential role for NATO in the Arctic as it continues to open to year-round use as an area of transit and exploitation, and as Russia continues to militarise the region.176

A Political Committee report from 2017 on NATO and security in the Arctic said:

As the strategic relevance of the High North increases in the future, the Arctic littoral states of the Alliance, and indeed all Allies, can ill afford to postpone an evaluation of NATO’s approach to the region indefinitely. Russia is already expanding its military footprint in the High North by establishing infrastructure along the Northern Sea Route and non-littoral countries like [China] are becoming more engaged.177

65.While a common NATO position on the Arctic and the High North is yet to be agreed, the Alliance has been much stronger on increasing the role of NATO in the security of the North Atlantic. Reports emerged in early 2017 that NATO was considering the establishment of a new Atlantic Command to counter the proliferation of Russian submarine activity in the Arctic and to safeguard the lines of communication and reinforcement across the North Atlantic.178 These plans were agreed in principle in November 2017, and it was agreed at the Defence Ministerial Meeting in June 2018 that the new Joint Force Command for the Atlantic would be established in the United States.179 We asked Nick Gurr, the Director of International Security Policy at the Ministry of Defence, whether this new structure would resemble SACLANT:

The command would be similar to SACLANT inasmuch as it would be responsible for the north Atlantic area and the provision of reinforcement, but we feel—and NATO allies feel—that the world has changed so much since the days of SACLANT. It is not just not about managing a conventional Russian threat; there are all the other things that we would have to deal with. We should not be pulling SACLANT out of the cupboard and saying, “That’s the answer”. We need an answer that is fit for purpose today.180

Colonel Olsen has also taken the view that it was unlikely that the new structure would resemble SACLANT as it existed in the Cold War:

It is very different from those days, and we are not necessarily arguing that [SACLANT] is the way to go in terms of scale and scope. What is important for us is that there is the transatlantic link. We have to be strong in Europe and we have to do more and we have to do it together, but we have to have the transatlantic link. NATO cannot do it without the United States and the United States cannot do it without NATO. It is a relationship that we have to strengthen, and that goes for the command structure as well.181

66.A presence has been sustained in the region through NATO and other multinational exercises. Although they are smaller the size and ambition of the exercises which took place in the Cold War,182 these exercises sustain an increasing tempo of activity in the region and are central to environmental training and enhancing interoperability. The biennial COLD RESPONSE exercises have grown in scope and participation since their initiation in 2006. Major General Charles Stickland OBE RM, the Commandant General Royal Marines, told us the important part that these exercises play in the UK’s cold weather training cycle.183 This year Norway will be hosting the larger Exercise TRIDENT JUNCTURE 2018, mentioned in paragraph 45 above. Exercise DYNAMIC MONGOOSE, an anti-submarine warfare exercise, was also hosted by Norway in 2018, although it is disappointing to see that there was no participation from the UK.184 Both Professor Grove and Colonel Olsen spoke at length about the significance of exercises, with the Colonel highlighting four factors that require further improvement: the importance of exercising command and control, the need to connect national exercises to larger NATO exercises, the need to exercise at the high-end of intensity and mass, and the importance of exercises being closely linked to contingency plans.185

Other international security partnerships

67.With military security specifically excluded from the agenda of the Arctic Council and the lack of a common position within NATO on its role in the Arctic, there is a potential role for other multilateral defence and security partnerships to act as a platform for military co-operation. Two organisations with particular relevance are the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) and the Northern Group. The JEF is a UK-led expeditionary force of nine nations, created to establish a pool of high readiness, adaptable forces that are designed to enhance the ability of the UK and allies to respond rapidly, anywhere in the world. A Memorandum of Understanding between the original seven partner nations was signed in 2015 and the JEF reached full operational capability in 2018186 The Northern Group, which was an initiative credited to Rt Hon Liam Fox MP during his time as Defence Secretary, centres on regular meetings of Defence Ministers of the eleven participant nations.187 Mr Gurr told us how Arctic and High North issues are regular subjects of discussion at meetings of the JEF and the Northern Group. The Minister characterised the JEF as being “about like-minded partners that have an interest in the Arctic and potentially could be used in that context, but not exclusively so.”188 A third body is the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable, an initiative of US European Command in co-operation with the Norwegian Ministry of Defence, consisting of high-ranking military officers from the eight members of the Arctic Council, plus France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the UK.189 Mr Gurr described the ASFR as “an opportunity for the defence establishments from a number of countries in the High North and the Arctic to meet to exchange information, de-conflict activities and talk about the challenges we respectively face.”190

68.There is little doubt that the Arctic and the High North are seeing an increasing level of military activity. There is much greater divergence in the evidence we have taken on what the reasons behind this are, particularly in relation to Russia. One view is that there is no offensive intent behind Russia’s military build-up and that it is simply trying to regenerate military capacity in order to reassert sovereignty. The opposite view is that this is just one more part of Russia’s aggressive reassertion of great power competition. We have received a range of views in between.

69.Our view is that the UK and its allies should be extremely wary of Russia’s intentions in the region. It is difficult to credit that the scale and range of military capabilities being deployed by Russia in the Arctic fulfil solely defensive purposes. Russia has shown itself to be ready to exploit regional military advantage for political gain. While the Arctic remains a region of low tension, this could change quickly, particularly given Russia’s increasingly revisionist attitude to the rules-based international order.

70.NATO’s renewed focus on the North Atlantic is welcome and the Government should be congratulated on the leadership the UK has shown on this issue. We encourage the Government to show similar leadership in bringing NATO to a common position on its role in the Arctic and the High North. We further encourage the Government to lay out its strategy on the future role of defence partnerships outside of NATO in the region.

73 University of Hull (DIA0010)

74 Dr Dimitriy Tulupov (DIA0018)

75 Oral evidence taken on 15 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q43

77 Maritime Doctrine of Russian Federation, July 2001, p 11; Maritime Doctrine of the Russian Federation, July 2015, p 22. See Dr Andrew Foxall (DIA0005); Human Security Centre (DIA0006); Heather A. Conley and Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen (DIA0011); Dr Dimitriy Tulupov (DIA0018)

78Russian Federation Marine Doctrine’, Website of the President of Russia, 26 July 2015

80 A map of Russian military districts is available from the US Defence Intelligence Agency publication Russia Military Power 2017, 28 June 2017, p 14. See Human Security Centre (DIA0006); Bruce Jones (DIA0026); Dr Igor Sutyagin (DIA0028); Dr Sascha Dov Bachmann and Mr Andres B. Munoz Mosquera (DIA0029); Oxford Research Group (DTA0001); ‘Russia’s Defense Ministry establishes Arctic Strategic Command’, TASS, 1 December 2014

81 Dr Pavel Baev (DIA0014); Professor Alexander Sergunin (DIA0021); Dr Adam Lajeunesse (DIA0024); Russia’s Rearmament Programme, House of Commons Library Briefing Paper CBP-7877, 24 January 2017; ‘Russia modernises its Northern Fleet’, Jane’s Intelligence Review, 4 July 2016

82 Professor Alexander Sergunin (DIA0021)

83 Oral evidence taken on 15 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q76; Professor James Kraska and Professor Sean Fahey (DIA0015); Professor Alexander Sergunin (DIA0021). For a detailed analysis of the growing problems of submarine detection as quieting technology improves and the ambient noise of the ocean grows louder, see NATO Joint Air Power Competence Centre, Alliance Airborne Anti-Submarine Warfare: A Forecast for Maritime Air ASW in the Future Operational Environment, June 2016, Appendix B.

86 ‘NATO looks to Poseidon to plug GIUK gap against Russian submarines’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 10 February 2016

87 Foggo, J G (Vice Admiral USN), ‘The Fourth Battle of the Atlantic’, US Naval Institute Proceedings – June 2016, Vol 142/6/1360,

88 Tamnes, R, ‘The Significance of the North Atlantic and the Norwegian Contribution’ from Olsen, J A (ed.) NATO and the North Atlantic: Revitalising Collective Defence, RUSI Whitehall Paper 87, March 2017, pp 21–22

89Alarm-drill: 36 Russian warships sail out to Barents Sea’, The Barents Observer, 13 June 2018; ‘Northern Fleet stages largest naval exercise in a decade’, Jane’s Navy International, 15 June 2018

94 Oral evidence taken on 15 November 2017, HC 388 [2017–19], Q7; Dr Igor Sutyagin (DIA0028)

95Russia unveils its giant new Arctic baseThe Times, 18 April 2017; ‘Fire and ice: Russia arms itself for the Arctic’, Jane’s International Defence Review, 27 June 2018

96 Professor James Kraska and Professor Sean Fahey (DIA0015)

98 ‘Fire and ice: Russia arms itself for the Arctic’, Jane’s International Defence Review, 27 June 2018

99 Human Security Centre (DIA0006); Dr Igor Sutyagin (DIA0028); Royal Norwegian Embassy, London (DIA0047); ‘Russia ramps up its military in the Arctic’, BBC News, 27 April 2017

100 Dr Brooke Smith-Windsor (DIA0008); Dr Rob Huebert (DIA0013); ‘Russia restarts Cold War patrols’, BBC News, 17 August 2007

102 Human Security Centre (DIA0006); Dr Igor Sutyagin (DIA0028)

103Russian Navy announces it will significantly expand Arctic air patrols’, The Barents Observer, 2 January 2018

104 Dr Andrew Foxall (DIA0005); Human Security Centre (DIA0006); Dr Dimitriy Tulupov (DIA0018); Professor Alexander Sergunin (DIA0021); Bruce Jones (DIA0026); Oxford Research Group (DTA0001); ‘Russia to flood the Arctic with state-of the-art radar systems to guard against sneak nuclear attack from the West’, The Sun, 10 February 2017.

105 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q25.

106 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q30

107 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q30

108 Dr Andrew Foxall (DIA0005)

109 Royal Norwegian Embassy, London (DIA0047)

110 Royal Norwegian Embassy, London (DIA0047)

111 Oral evidence taken on 24 January 2018, HC 388 [2017–19], Q23

112 Oral evidence taken on 24 January 2018, HC 388 [2017–19], Q29

113 Norwegian Intelligence Service, Focus 2018 , March 2018

115 ‘Norway increases defence spending, reinforces northern forces’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 18 October 2017

116Norway opens for continued USMC rotational training and exercises’, Norwegian Government press release, 13 June 2018

118 Oral evidence taken on 24 January 2018, HC 388 [2017–19], Q29; ‘Plans for Massive NATO exercise in Norway underway’, SHAPE press release, 1 March 2018

119 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Qq2–3

120 Danish Ministry of Defence, Forsvarsministeriets fremtidige opgaveløsning i Arktis, June 2016. The English executive summary is found at pp. 15–20

121 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q12

122 Kingdom of Denmark (DIA0027)

124 Danish Defence Intelligence Service, Intelligence Risk Assessment 2017, p 44

125 ‘US to withdraw military presence from Iceland’, Jane’s Intelligence Watch Report, 17 March 2006

126 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q5; ‘US and Iceland reaffirm defence cooperation with new agreement’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 30 June 2016 ; ‘US Navy deploys Poseidon to plug GIUK Gap’, Jane’s Navy International, 1 November 2016; In Return to Cold War Posture, U.S. Sending Sub-Hunting Planes to Iceland’, Foreign Policy, 4 December 2017

127 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q13 [H.E. Mr Thórdur Aegir Óskarsson]. See also Bailes, A J K and Ólafsson, K, Nordic And Arctic Affairs: Iceland’s National Security Policy: Latest Progress, December 2014

128 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q4

129 Ministry of Defence, ‘Defence Secretary announces new UK deployments’, 8 June 2018

130 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q12

131 Government Offices of Sweden, Sweden’s strategy for the Arctic region, 2011, pp 14–15

132 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q4

133 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q11

137 Prime Minister’s Office, Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy, 2016, p 11

138 Prime Minister’s Office, Government Report on Finnish Foreign and Security Policy, 2016, pp 24–25

139 Prime Minister’s Office, Government’s Defence Report 2017, February 2017, pp 8–10

140 See ‘NATO’s Enhanced Opportunities Partners’, German Marshall Fund of the United States, 29 June 2016

141 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q7

142 Arctic Advisory Group (DIA0003); Oxford Research Group (DTA0001)

144 Ministry of Defence, ‘Sweden and Finland join UK-led response force’, 30 June 2017; ‘Northern composure’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 13 April 2017

145 Congressional Research Service, Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress, 21 May 2018, p 4; Wezeman, S T, ‘Military Capabilities in the Arctic: A new Cold War in the High North?’, SIPRI Background Paper, October 2016

146 Office of the President of the United States, National Security Strategy of the United States of America, December 2017, p 40

148 Office of the President of the United States, National Strategy for the Arctic Region, May 2013

149 US Department of Defense, Arctic Strategy, November 2013

150 US Navy, Arctic Roadmap 2014–2030, February 2014. A new US Navy Arctic Strategy is due in the summer of 2018: ‘Navy to Release Arctic Strategy This Summer, Will Include Blue Water Arctic Operations’, USNI News, 19 April 2018

152 Congressional Research Service, Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress, 21 May 2018, p 64

153 Wezeman, S T, ‘Military Capabilities in the Arctic: A new Cold War in the High North?’, SIPRI Background Paper, October 2016

154Army paratroopers train in Alaska’s Arctic conditions’, Army Times, 27 February 2017

155 See paras 45 above and 107 below

156 Wezeman, S T, ‘Military Capabilities in the Arctic: A new Cold War in the High North?’, SIPRI Background Paper, October 2016

158 US Navy, ICEX 2018 Visitor Briefing Book, January 2018

161 Dr Rob Huebert (DIA0013); Dr Adam Lajeunesse (DIA0024); ;’Eyeing up the new Arctic: competition in the Arctic Circle’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 14 January 2008

162 Government of Canada Department of National Defence, Canada First Defence Strategy, May 2008, p 8

163 Government of Canada Department of National Defence, Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s National Defence Policy, June 2017

164 ‘Royal Canadian Air Force studying options for MALE UAV procurement’ Jane’s International Defence Review, 15 November 2017

165 ‘Canada expands air defence zone to include all national Arctic territory’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 29 May 2018

166 Wezeman, S T, ‘Military Capabilities in the Arctic: A new Cold War in the High North?’, SIPRI Background Paper, October 2016; ‘Canadian Rangers’, Canadian Army website, accessed 10 July 2018; ‘Canada plans to boost Arctic patrol forces’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 8 May 2009; Government of Canada Department of National Defence, Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s National Defence Policy, June 2017, p 80

167 ‘The Cold Thaw’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 7 May 2014

168 Government of Canada Department of National Defence, Strong, Secure, Engaged: Canada’s National Defence Policy, June 2017, p 37

171 Haftendorn, H, ‘NATO and the Arctic: is the Atlantic alliance a cold war relic in a peaceful region now faced with non-military challenges?’, European Security, Vol. 20, No. 3, September 2011, 340–341. See also Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q27

172 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q16

173 Royal Norwegian Embassy, London (DIA0047)

174 Oral evidence taken on 1 March 2017, HC 879 [2016–17], Q16

175 Zakrzewska, J, Security in the High North: NATO’s Role, NATO Parliamentary Assembly Political Committee ,12 October 2013

176 Moon, M, NATO and the Future Role of Naval Power, NATO Parliamentary Assembly Defence and Security Committee, 19 November 2016

177 Connolly, G E, NATO and Security in the Arctic, NATO Parliamentary Assembly Political Committee, 7 October 2017

178NATO Mulls Arctic and Atlantic Command to Counter Russia’, Wall Street Journal, 18 May 2017

180 Oral evidence taken on 31 January 2018, HC 388 [2017–19], Q86

181 Oral evidence taken on 24 January 2018, HC 388 [2017–19], Q36. See also Oral evidence taken on 24 January 2018, HC 388 [2017–19], Q38 [Professor Grove]

182 Oral evidence taken on 24 January 2018, HC 388 [2017–19], Qq34–35 [Professor Grove]

183 Oral evidence taken on 31 January 2018, HC 388 [2017–19], Q109

184 PQ 160778 [2017–19]

185 Oral evidence taken on 24 January 2018, HC 388 [2017–19], Q109.

186 Ministry of Defence, ‘UK-led joint force launched to tackle common threats’, 30 November 2015; ‘Joint Expeditionary Force reaches full operational capability’, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 3 July 2018. Led by the UK, the six other signatories to the 2015 JEF Memorandum of Understanding are Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Norway. Sweden and Finland joined in 2017.

187 Ministry of Defence, ‘Defence Secretary launches new forum of northern European countries’, 10 November 2010. The Northern Group is made up of the Nordic and Baltic nations alongside Germany, the Netherlands and Poland. See Depledge, D, ‘Looking North: Britain’s revitalised interest in the northern areas of Europe’, RUSI Commentary, 9 March 2012

188 Oral evidence taken on 31 January 2018, HC 388 [2017–19], Qq69–72

189 Congressional Research Service, Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress, 21 May 2018, p 59

190 Oral evidence taken on 31 January 2018, HC 388 [2017–19], Qq69–73. Royal Norwegian Embassy, London (DIA0047).

Published: 15 August 2018