It is not just Ukraine which should be focus of our efforts to curb aggressive Russian behaviour, writes Roberto White, with the Arctic among a number of key geopolitical arenas the West must look to safeguard.

Over the past week world leaders have gathered at the G7 and NATO summits in Germany and Spain respectively where they have discussed the major security issues of the day. At the G-7 summit the primary topic was Russia's barbaric invasion of Ukraine, while leaders renewed their support for Ukraine and announced increased coordination on sanctions against Russia. Similar themes were discussed at the NATO summit, and a new Strategic Concept was endorsed, which outlines the alliance's three core tasks of deterrence and defence, crisis prevention and management, and cooperative security.

While Ukraine has quite rightly been the focus of the West recently, in this new competitive world governments cannot afford to focus on a single issue of global significance; their time and resources must be capable of dealing with multiple theatres, such as the Arctic.

As my co-author, Robert Clark, and myself argue in our new report published by Civitas, the Arctic is fast becoming a new arena of geopolitical competition, and for good reason. It is estimated that 90 billion barrels of undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of the world's natural gas reserves are located in the region. As regional ice caps melt, new shipping lanes emerge which have great economic potential; it is estimated that one of the routes, the Northern Sea Route, would allow ships to travel from Shanghai to Rotterdam in 35 days, two weeks less than it would take if it went through the Strait of Malacca, which would save a lot of money in shipping costs.

Both Russia and China recognise the geostrategic potential of the region and have acted accordingly. Putin has described the Arctic as the "concentration of all aspects of national security- military, political, economic… and that of resources", and since 2013 Moscow has built dozens of military facilities in the region, including airbases. Russia's Northern Fleet is based on the Kola Peninsula, right next to Finland, and is equipped with nuclear-powered missiles, anti-submarine aircraft, and coastal troops. Also, Russia has tested hypersonic missiles in the region which, according to the former Commander of US Northern Command, constitute some of the "biggest threats in the region".

Write for us.

We're always on the lookout for talented writers and welcome submissions. Please send your opinion piece or pitch to: editor@commentcentral.co.uk

China has also increased its Arctic footprint, contextualising their presence under the self-imposed label of 'near Arctic state'. Sweden hosts two major Chinese facilities, including the China Remote Sensing Satellite North Polar Ground Station, which is fully owned by China; in 2019, the Swedish Defence Agency warned that these facilities may be used by the Chinese military given the militarised nature of the Chinese space program. China and Russia collaborated to launch the Yamal LNG project, an operational liquefied natural gas plant that ships primarily to Asian markets. In September 2015, the Chinese navy sent vessels to international waters off the coast of Alaska, which included some who had just finished a joint military exercise with Russia.

It is in this context of Russia's militarisation and China's expansion that we propose a series of recommendations for the UK government. The UK has major security interests in the region as five of the eight Arctic states are NATO members (once Sweden and Finland join this will increase to seven), and it is a member of several Arctic-related forums, including as an observer to the Arctic Council.

The most important thing for the UK to do is to enhance its cooperation with its Arctic allies, and one way to do this is through the creation of a CAUKUS (Canada, UK, and US) defence and security pact. Resembling the pact signed between Australia, the UK and the US in September 2021, this pact would enhance the UK's relationship with Canada, one of its most important Arctic allies.

Canada, like Australia, only has diesel-electric submarines which operate for a short period of time under the ice and are more susceptible to detection by advanced Russian sonar and radar. The UK could provide Canada with the technology to develop nuclear-powered submarines, which Ottawa will need between 2036 and 2042. Additionally, Canadian analysts view UK submarines as "the number one capability" they are interested in. The UK's expertise would greatly improve Canada's strategic posture in the Arctic, as nuclear-powered submarines would allow them to properly counter Russia and China. Fortunately, there is already precedent for UK-Canadian collaboration in this domain; both countries are working together on Canada's British-designed Type 26 Frigate.

Ultimately, the Arctic deserves greater attention from governments, especially the UK. The CAUKUS pact, along with the other policy recommendations in our report, will ensure the UK develops a firm strategic posture in the Arctic as it confronts Russian aggression and Chinese expansionism.

1 vote

Sign-up for free to stay up to date with the latest political news, analysis and insight from the Comment Central team.

By entering your email address you are agreeing to Comment Central’s privacy policy