MPs fear resurgent Russia will pose threat to Arctic stability

HMS Trenchant breaking through the metre-thick ice of the Arctic Ocean (Cdr Charles Ball/Royal Navy/PA Wire)
HMS Trenchant breaking through the metre-thick ice of the Arctic Ocean (Cdr Charles Ball/Royal Navy/PA Wire)

MINISTERS have been urged to show “greater ambition and apply more resources” to address the developing security situation in the Arctic.

A panel of MPs have warned that a resurgent Russia could mean a return to “great power competition” in the region.

In their report, On Thin Ice: UK Defence in the Arctic, the defence sub-committee identified the Arctic and High North as an area where Russia might seek to expand its presence and influence.

Although the Arctic has traditionally been an area of low tension, the retreating ice sheet is making the Arctic more accessible to shipping and is exposing the region’s extensive natural resources to exploitation.

Alongside these broader changes, the sub-committee has noted an increase in military activity in the Arctic and High North that has been led by Russia.

This has included the construction and re-activation of manned bases along Russia’s Arctic coastline and on its islands on the edge of the Arctic Ocean; build-up of heavily armed, Arctic trained land forces near the borders of neighbouring states; the re-introduction of strategic bomber flights over Northern airspace, progressive installation of long range missile and air defence systems, and a marked increase in the level of naval activity that projects power from the Arctic into the North Atlantic.

The sub-committee’s view is that this build-up goes beyond what would be proportionate to a purely defensive posture and should be a matter of concern given Russia’s “aggressive and revisionist behaviour”.

In their report, MPs said the strategic importance of the High North and the North Atlantic “cannot be overstated” and concluded that a “comprehensive strategy” was needed to ensure the UK’s interests were guarded.

To co-ordinate strategy, the committee called on the Government to appoint an Arctic Ambassador to improve co-ordination of policy in Whitehall and bolster UK representation in Arctic affairs.

Madeleine Moon MP, who chairs the committee, said: “The changing security environment in the Arctic and the High North is a matter of growing significance to the UK, given the strategic importance of the region and the increasing level of military activity we see. This has been led by Russia, which is continuing to expand its military presence and influence.

“The UK has previously played a leading role in defending Nato’s Northern Flank and in maintaining maritime security in the North Atlantic.

“The importance of this role is now returning to significance. The UK’s capabilities to perform these tasks still exist, but they are sustained at a low level and are in high demand elsewhere. A new level of ambition backed up by adequate resources is required to meet the developing threats we have identified.”

She added: “If the definition of a leading – or even a ‘Tier 1’ – defence nation is one which has the ability to deploy a full range of capabilities anywhere in the world, then this includes the unique operating environment of the Arctic and the High North.

“Being able to do so is ultimately a question of resource and a question of ambition, and the Sub-Committee calls upon the Government to show leadership in providing both.”