‘Fire and Ice A New Maritime Strategy for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Northern Flank’

DefenceSynergia Critique of the Human Security Centre Paper:

‘Fire and Ice A New Maritime Strategy for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Northern Flank

 DefenceSynergia(DS) is grateful to Dr Rowan Allport and the Human Security Centre(HSC) for permission to publish and review their paper ‘Fire and Ice – A New Maritime Strategy for the North Atlantic TreatyOrganisation’s (NATO) Northern Flank’. This is a most welcome study of an area of NATO operations which has been allowed to lapse since the demise of the ‘Warsaw Pact’ but that has rightly attracted the attention of the House of Commons Defence Committee (HCDC) in its inquiry ‘On Thin Ice’ into what some refer to as ‘The High North’. Not only is the paper extremely well researched, informative and prescient in its conclusions and recommendations it also provides an excellent aidemémoire of Russian and NATO force structures, planning intent and equipment for those of us who have limited time to access military detail.

It has long been the DS view that the United Kingdom (UK) requires a national articulated ‘Grand Strategy’ that informs Military Strategy. Sadly, despite Her Majesty’s Government (HMG) constantly referencing the National Security Strategy (NSS) as fulfilling this requirement, it can be argued that this is not the case. If the NSS articulates UK strategy at all it is in nebulous terms such as ‘UK will continue to have a world wide role and reach’. What is missing is an overarching cross party Government endorsed Aim which, in military terms,  provides the Ministry of Defence (MOD) with clear objectives against which to formulate and quantify the Ways and Means required (the enablers) with which to carry out Parliament’s will – once properly funded DS would call this Military Strategy in action.

 It is the DS view that a ‘Maritime/Air’as opposed to a ‘Continental’Strategy best melds with the NSS and National Security Council (NSC) direction of travel and is UK’s historical position. This is consistent withthe HSC proposition pressing for a New Maritime Strategy for NATO’s Northern Flank albeit DS would argue that British diplomacy is underpinned by Hard and Soft Power designed to further international obligations to the UnitedNations (UN), the UN Security Council (UNSC), NATO et al. Therefore, a British Maritime (Air) Strategy should not just focus on NATO’s Northern Flank but support UK interests worldwide.

Inbriefing the HCDC over time DS has highlighted the importance of the’High North’ to NATO and UK defence pointing out, much as this HSC paper does, that Russia has an enduring interest in, and is devoting ever more military resources to, NATO’s North and Eastern regions andwaters, especially in the North Atlantic, North Sea, Baltic,Norwegian Sea and the Arctic. From a NATO/UK perspective we pointed out the importance of re-engaging – in the air, on the surface and below the surface – along the Greenland, Iceland, United Kingdom (GIUK) gap and along the Norwegian coast and into the Norwegian and Barents Seas. And, like HSC, we pressed the urgent need for NATO/UK to properly fund and equip our Armed Forces for Arctic action and to train and exercise more frequently too.

  If DS takes a slightly differing view to HSC it is in the matter of Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW). We would not argue against more ASW capability being funded and developed by NATO/UK only that it is arguable which weapons/sensor system is the more effective against Ship Submersible Nuclear (SSN) and Ballistic (SSBN)?  Former Royal Navy submariners have advised that the best way to detect and kill an SSN/SSBN is with another SSN, albeit they also point out that sea bed sensor arrays are useful and that a threat from the air can generally persuade an SSN commander to go deep. The argument goes that surface towed arrays offer far less certainty.  Indeed, DS has long argued that replacing the original planned circa 21 x Nimrod Maritime Reconnaissance Attack (MRA4) with 9 x P8 Poseidon Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (LRMPA) is far too restrictive for the Global job expected and intended in Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR2015). Perhaps this is an issue worth exploring further if/when NATO formulates the Operational Requirement (OR) to meet a new Maritime Strategy on its Northern Flank and the UK publicises the long awaited Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) report.

To sum up. With one or two minor exceptions, DS supports the conclusions and recommendations of Dr Rowan Allport’s excellent paper calling for renewal of Maritime Strategy on NATO’s Northern Flank. Sadly, HMG and MOD still seem reluctant to engage in dialogue or action that locks them into an articulated Strategy therefore any and every contribution that puts UK Strategy back on the agenda is most welcome.  We would, therefore, recommend that this paper is read widely, especially in MOD and NATO HQ. [Read the full HSC article here.]