LONDON -- NATO has been urged to rethink its maritime strategy to address the re-emerging contest with Russia for supremacy in the North Atlantic, a paper by one of Europe’s top military think tanks says.
“If NATO does not have effective control of the North Atlantic, or at least the ability to deny Russia naval access to this maritime domain, Russia could block or disrupt U.S. reinforcement to Europe," the Royal United Services Institute said in the paper to be published in London on Monday.
Titled, "NATO and the North Atlantic: Revitalising Collective Defence," the paper draws on views from leading experts, including Adm. James Stavridis, the Supreme Allied Commander between 2009 and 2013.
Until now most of NATO’s strategic response to Moscow’s aggression has been in the air and land sectors, but now senior ex-military officers writing in the survey are saying the alliance has to respond on the maritime front as well.
“NATO must put the North Atlantic Ocean back on its agenda," retired U.S. Gen. Philip M Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe until last year, wrote in the survey's foreword.
“We must have command of the sea. The way forward is to strengthen both capability and sustainability, upgrade contingency plans, and reassess the current command and control structure to meet the challenges of tomorrow. NATO needs first-class intelligence and top-notch weapon systems for all domains: air; land; sea; submarine; cyber; and space," he said.
NATO’s European members also need to improve their readiness and responsiveness, said Breedlove.
"NATO must understand that because the North Atlantic plays an important part in Russian military strategic calculations – as evident in its growing naval and air force laydown – it is essential that the region become more central to NATO’s own planning, deployments and preparations,” according to Stavridis
The retired U.S. admiral said NATO requires an “updated maritime strategy and a solid command and control structure specifically designed to deal with threats to the North Atlantic. It also necessitates updated intelligence and contingency plans for the region.”
The main conclusion emerging from the study is that NATO must return to North Atlantic waters, said Col. John Andreas, the Norwegian defense attache in London and the survey's editor.
“The North Atlantic must yet again be recognized as an operational space in its own right as well as a continuous and interdependent transatlantic theater of operation,” he said.
The Russian navy is now operating in areas and at a tempo not seen for almost twenty years and is investing heavily in its capabilities.
Numerous reports have cited rapidly increased Russian nuclear submarine activity in the North Atlantic, including around the coast of Scotland where Britain has its Trident nuclear missile submarine fleet base.
In a show of force late last year the Russian Northern Fleet sailed a battle group led by the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov down the North Sea and through the English Channel en route to Syria.
The U.S., the UK and Norway have a special role to play in strengthening the defense of NATO’s northern flank due to their geographic locations and capabilities, said the report.
The three nations recently announced they were stepping up maritime reconnaissance in the region by co-operating in the utilization of Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft.
Britain said mid-2016 it was buying nine of the jets and Norway later announced it too would become an operator of the aircraft with an order for five aircraft.