hms iron duke

hms iron duke

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Frozen Harmel?

“…the Alliance is a dynamic and vigorous organisation which is constantly adapting itself to changing conditions. Given such changes people in NATO societies want action/protection and not seeing it. It has also shown that its future tasks can be handled within the terms of the Treaty [of Washington] by building on the methods and procedures which have proved their value over many years”.
Report of the Council on the Future Tasks of the Alliance, 13 December 1967

Alphen, Netherlands. 13 December. If the Netherlands had a slope it would be sliding ‘slippererily’ down it!  Right now I should be in Stockholm having addressed a joint Atlantic Council-Konrad Adenauer Stiftung event on security in the North Atlantic and Arctic. Instead, I was trapped at home, KLM cancelled my flight, and the Netherlands declared ‘Code Red” due to snow. My apologies to my friend Anna Wieslander at the Atlantic Council.  So, by way of very limited recompense here are my remarks that in the end I made by Skype. 

Fifty years ago Pierre Harmel published his seminal report, “The Future Tasks of the Alliance”. The report was based on a dual-track approach – sound defence and engaged dialogue – to deter the Soviet Union whilst talking to it.  Dealing with Russia in the North Atlantic and the Arctic will require a similar approach, a new Northern Dual Track. Indeed, because whilst Russia signals co-operation at times, particularly in the Arctic, it is also developing military capabilities which means if Moscow’s intent changes NATO allies and EU member-states in the region could very quickly face an overtly hostile Russia.  Credibly deterring Moscow from crossing such a threshold must be our collective aim, and by so doing convince President Putin of the mutual benefits of co-operation across the region.

My core message is this; security in the Arctic sits perilously on the cusp between co-operation, competition and conflict; between regimes and treaties and force majeure; and between legitimacy and legalism and a Realpolitik sphere of influence. EU and NATO together must develop sufficient hard power in the region to ensure soft power prevails as the modus operandi of co-operation with Russia.

Anna posed four questions for this session which I will endeavour to answer:

1)   What is at stake in the North Atlantic and what should be our response in order to increase security?

The keyword is deterrence.  I worry about Russian ambitions on Norway’s North Cape because of what it would mean for the Russian Northern Fleet to control it, and the Greenland-Iceland-UK (GIUK) gap. Therefore, with the United States Navy (USN) stretched thin the world over ‘credible deterrence’ would mean an essentially European Naval Joint Expeditionary Force at least able to match that of Russia.

2)   How does Climate Change affect security operations in the Arctic?

Moscow clearly thinks a new Northern Sea Passage could open up shortening the sea route between Europe and Asia by some 3000 nautical miles, with much of it along Russia’s northern coast.  Russia would naturally seek to control that trade. However, even if some scientists suggest the Arctic ice cap is melting far more quickly than envisaged many suggests it could still be 30 years before such a route opens up.  In any case, there could, in time, be as many as four such routes across the Pole. 
Either way, Russia seems to have ambitions to see much of the Arctic under its sphere of influence which is why we must collectively resist such a goal.  Specifically, the EU and NATO together must ensure current relationships are locked into regimes, treaties and institutions so that they remain the mechanisms for resolving what look like inevitable future disputes over sea-lines of communications and natural resources.

3)   Does it continue to make sense to view the North Atlantic and Arctic as two separate areas?

In a sense the EU and NATO are forced to as long as Russia is willing to co-operate in the Arctic, but competes in the North Atlantic.  The real challenge for the Allies and Partners in the region will be to get non-regional NATO and EU members to take the Russian threat in the ‘High North’ seriously.  Too many eastern allies look east, southern allies look south, ne’er the twain ever meet, and very few look north.  The UK? God knows where London looks these days. The real question is what will the EU and NATO do if and when Russia tries to exert unreasonable influence over either the Arctic or the North Atlantic, or both.

4)   What are Russian strategic concerns and perspectives?

-      Political: Part of Moscow’s strategy is simply to keep EU and NATO states politically and          permanently off-balance and the on strategic back-foot around its extensive periphery from Syria    to Svalbard.
-      Economic-domestic: Russia, dangerously to my mind, too often sees Arctic resources as a ‘one     shot’ chance to avoid much-needed economic reforms, and as a ‘silver bullet’ to solve all of its    economic contradictions.
-      Military-Operational: It is vital to Moscow that the Northern Fleet can ingress and egress between North Cape and Bear Island without detection or molestation the main fleet base at Severomorsk and the secondary base at Kola and maintain the nuclear launch ‘bastion’ for the one Typhoon-class SSBN currently operating there (Dmitriy Donskoy), the seven ageing Delta IV-class ‘boomers’ and the one new Borei-class boat.  There are more Borei-class SSBN boats planned.
-  Military-Strategic: It is also vital to Moscow that the Northern Fleet bases can operate as springboards for offensive maritime-amphibious-land ops across the Arctic, Baltic and North Atlantic regions to assert Russian interests and claims, to intimidate and if needs be to seize.

To conclude, we Europeans are very good at talking these days, but very poor at defending. Therefore, NATO must re-kindle Harmel in the High North (Frozen Harmel?) and in conjunction with the EU. To that end, it was encouraging to see some progress made this week on enhancing the EU-NATO strategic partnership at the NATO Ministerial. Peace through legitimate and realistic strength must be purposely allied to engaged dialogue with Russia.  Indeed, whilst we must never stop talking, we must never stop defending.

Now, where’s that bloody snow shovel?\


Julian Lindley-French 

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