UK and ‘mini-NATO’ for the Arctic: can it work?

An interesting proposition for the emergence of a distinctly northern European security arrangement has been circulating the airwaves: a UK-led initiative that would see London align security and defence policies in the Arctic in tandem with Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. The goal is to establish a framework that addresses ‘common interests’ between each nation. This article is going to look at the possible architecture of such a structure, what its goals might be, and the reasons the UK has to begin this partnership.

There are several strategic dimensions to this theoretical alliance in northern Europe. The first is that it would be the easiest extension of British influence in the Arctic, since the UK has no sovereign land holdings above the Arctic Circle. Second, finding regional commonalities with other interested parties gives British interests not only more weight, but also the most legitimacy. The UK is qualitatively different than the other members of this proposed alliance, because it is a nuclear power, and this status gives London  a separate level of political, diplomatic and military influence in contrast to the rest. The European Union would also be implicated here, because the UK remains a part of Brussels’ overarching foreign policy framework through the European External Action Service. Effectively, ‘mini-NATO’ would be another expression of multilevel governance in Europe, as this grouping would not be insular from the EU, NATO or other conditions that already exist on the northern part of the continent (e.g. UNCLOS and the Arctic Council).

The strategic intent is to limit Russia’s military influence in the High North. Its enclave around Kaliningrad at the heart of the Baltic states is of particular concern, as the potential range of weapons that can be deployed in the region is a direct security threat  to Europe (e.g. Project 955 SSBNs, Voronezh radars and S-300/400 air defence systems). A formal commitment to Arctic peace and security would give purpose to the organization and become the foundation for common interests.

As this structure would be closely related to NATO via its largely overlapping membership and security focus, a possible change in the Alliance’s strategy to make the Arctic a priority will largely impact this proposed structure.  Changes in NATO’s mandate with respect to the Arctic may extend beyond military security and involve economic infrastructure security, commercial shipping and also the political outreach that would shape the communication on these shifts. The global interest in the region would warrant such a move from NATO, and solidarity and consensus would make the Arctic a priority for all 28 members, if functionally only for the four littoral states. In this way, the proposed security alliance in northern Europe would complement NATO, even if the overall strategic imperative is to check Russian influence in the Arctic.

While NATO maintains partnership contracts with non-member states through arrangements like the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and the NATO-Russia Council, it is still a regional politico-military alliance. The recent visit by Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen to Japan and the conclusion of a political declaration of common interests has helped solidify a two-decade relationship, but it has also highlighted NATO’s impermanent role in Asia. While global links like these exist, they are not binding, and this reality means NATO is not yet a global organization. Conversely, the Arctic is an intersection for significant players with global perspectives and capabilities, and it would bring NATO much closer to being a global alliance. In one elementary example, were China to acquire hypersonic weapons, targeting Europe over the Arctic rather than through Western Asia is strategic pragmatism – that development would necessitate a NATO-China Council, not unlike the NRC in format. Only then might we be justified in calling NATO a ‘global’ organization.

Full article: UK and ‘mini-NATO’ for the Arctic: can it work? (The World Outline)

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