The Human Security Centre (HSC) has published a report ‘Fire and Ice – A New Maritime Strategy for NATO’s Northern Flank’, discussing the challenge posed by Russia, and the options NATO has for countering it.
The HSC is an independent international affairs think-tank based in London, with interests in foreign, defence and security policy. The organisation say it produces a wide range of digital publications, submits evidence to parliamentary inquiries and provides advisory support to policymakers.
In the report, the HSC say it has examined:
- the regeneration of Russia’s military capabilities and the doctrine they support;
- potential scenarios for the use of military force by Moscow, and;
- the role of NATO maritime power in deterring and, if necessary, countering hostile action by Russia.
The report contains a series of warnings and findings, chief amongst them is the view that if were Moscow to launch hostilities, it is likely that Russian forces would be able to overrun vulnerable areas of NATO territory – including the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – before adequate reinforcements could be deployed.
The report also advises that Russian forces would subsequently seek to deter and, if necessary, combat a major NATO response to such an attack. If required, Moscow has the capability to:
- conduct limited interdiction of shipping bringing forces across the Atlantic from the US;
- engage in precision-guided conventional strikes by using cruise and ballistic missiles against militarily, economically and politically sensitive targets in locations across Europe, including the UK;
- hinder NATO access to key sectors of airspace.
In response, the report recommends:
“Were Russia to initiate hostilities in Eastern Europe, NATO should adopt a strategy of ‘horizontal escalation’ by widening the conflict to include actions within Russia’s northern maritime approaches – an effort which may include direct strikes against Moscow’s strategic assets.”
HSC Senior Fellow and author of the report, Dr Rowan Allport, said:
“The recent Exercise Trident Juncture 2018, the US Navy’s decision to reform its Second Fleet to coordinate North Atlantic operations, and a parallel effort by NATO to set up its own Joint Force Command for the Atlantic, are all encouraging signs that the Alliance is taking the northern maritime realm seriously after a near exclusive focus on Eastern Europe in the wake of Russia’s actions against Ukraine.
However, much more remains to be done. Russia represents at threat to NATO’s sea lines of communication through the use of advanced submarines, is capable of targeting the alliance with a growing arsenal of conventional strategic weapons such as the Kalibr and Kh-101 cruise missiles, and continues to build-up its facilities in the Arctic. A firm commitment is now required by the Alliance to rediscover the forward maritime strategy that helped contribute to winning the Cold War.”
Other key recommendations outlined in the report include:
- The UK’s Royal Navy should take the lead in any early effort to counter offensive Russian submarine operations via a multi-national task group centred upon one of the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
- NATO requires a pro-active strategy to degrade and defend against Moscow’s ship, submarine, air and ground-launched cruise and ballistic missile capability based in and staging out of the Arctic region – a campaign that would require a wartime multi-carrier deployment by the US Navy and the basing of substantial forces in Iceland, the UK and Norway.
HSC Director and Arctic expert, Dr Dwayne Menezes, added:
“Russia, under Putin, continues to allow dog-whistle politics of civilisational difference and siege mentality to push the boundaries of what might be termed ‘defensive’, and governs with ambitious militarisation within and military adventurism beyond. Thus, even Russia’s most ardent admirers must watch with dismay a great cultural, intellectual, political and economic power of our age reduce itself to a rogue state, repeatedly indulging in insecurity-fuelled thuggery to prove its might and forever at odds with international law and even states that would rather be close trading partners, neighbours and friends.
When it comes to the Arctic, however, peace and cooperation has prevailed, not miraculously but by conscious choice and concerted action. After all, when one considers the opportunities and challenges arising from a changing Arctic, it is clear that peace and cooperation is in everyone’s interest. Yet, ensuing as they both do from a delicate balance, it is imperative that the balance be carefully maintained. Moreover, given the Arctic is not removed from, or immune to developments in, the adjacent North Atlantic, Nordic, Baltic and North Pacific regions, it is in the interest of every state, including Russia, for the Alliance to be capable of maintaining the vital balance in an ever-more integrated North.”
This comes not long after General Mark Carleton-Smith, the Chief of the General Staff, claimed that Russia is a greater threat to Britain than Islamic State.
Recent events have gone a long way to proving him correct.
Chief of the General Staff (the professional head of the British Army), General Mark Carleton-Smith, said:
“The Russians seek to exploit vulnerability and weakness wherever they detect it. Russia today indisputably represents a far greater threat to our national security than Islamic extremist threats such as al-Qaeda and Isil.”
General Mark Carleton-Smith has played a leading role in many recent operations at home and abroad, including the campaign to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, supporting to British Overseas Territories impacted by Hurricane Irma and the military’s support to areas badly affected by the snow earlier this year.
While speaking to The Telegraph, he also mentioned the danger posed by Russian attempts to undermine the UK using unconventional means, saying:
“Russia has embarked on a systematic effort to explore and exploit Western vulnerabilities, particularly in some of the non-traditional areas of cyberspace, undersea warfare,” he said.
“The Russians seek to exploit vulnerability and weakness wherever they detect it,” he added.