LONDON – Britain is urging the NATO alliance to be more proactive in the Arctic region, where Moscow is raising its game militarily.
The government laid out its strategic thinking on how to react to the growing importance of the High North as melting ice opens up the region in a document published March 29.
Release of the strategy document comes just days before the end of a major Norwegian–led exercise involving around 30,000 personnel from 27 NATO and partner nations that tested the ability of the military to reinforce local forces.
The British, who don’t actually have any territory in the Arctic Circle, were major contributors to Exercise Cold Response 2022, most notably the deployment of HMS Prince of Wales, one of the Royal Navy’s two new aircraft carriers.
British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said in a statement accompanying the strategy that his department would step up its defense activities in the region.
“The UK Armed Forces will be doing more with our close Arctic allies and partners, as part of NATO, bilaterally, and through other multilateral groupings such as the Joint Expeditionary Force. The Royal Navy, including our dedicated Littoral Response Group (North), will periodically operate in the High North alongside Allies and partners, the Army will expand its cold-weather training, and the RAF will deploy P8A maritime patrol aircraft to the region and continue participating in Icelandic air policing,” he said.
Previously, Wallace has warned the Artic was becoming an area of increasing military competition whose security would directly affect Britain.
The strategy document, entitled “UK’s Defence Contribution in the High North,” urges the Alliance to boost activity in the region if required.
“The UK will advocate for NATO to take a more proactive approach to the High North,” it states. “The NATO approach should be calibrated and proportionate, reflecting low levels of tension. But there must be an acknowledgement of the region’s importance within a 360-degree approach to collective deterrence and defense, and a recognition of its crucial importance in helping to enable reinforcement across the North Atlantic,” said the document.
Wallace justified the push for greater capabilities in the region saying that while the Arctic has historically been an area of low tensions, things were changing.
“Melting sea ice in the Arctic brings threats as well as opportunities: Russia is taking an increasingly militarized approach to the region; and China is supporting its proposed Polar Silk Road with a range of infrastructure and capabilities that have dual-use potential, " he warned.
“As the region becomes increasingly accessible, threats from elsewhere around the globe could spill over into the Arctic. We must be able to respond appropriately to the changing regional dynamic arising from the receding sea ice,” Wallace said.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.