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UK seeks to be a global power, but neglects its most basic security tasks

UK seeks to be a global power, but neglects its most basic security tasks
4 min read

You could be forgiven for thinking that we were still fighting the Napoleonic Wars, say Martin Docherty-Hughes MP, as he calls on the UK government to re-commit to North Atlantic defence.

The cold grey waters of the North Atlantic were considered the very edge of civilisation until the Modern Age, but evolved to become our route to the rest of the world – and it was keeping the North Atlantic’s vital sea lines of communication open, on which victory in the Second World War depended, and on which Cold War planning rested.

It’s a point made by John Andreas Olsen in a recent RUSI handbook about revitalising the North Atlantic aspect of UK Security: made all the more significant by the fact that he is the Defence Attaché in London for Norway, one of our closet neighbours, and most steadfast allies.

The recent announcement, from a pro-MoD website which regurgitates press releases from Main Building, that the Royal Navy was hoping to deploy warships more regularly in the Asia-Pacific region, was met with incredulity by many who have seen the UK seek to project itself as a global power, often at the expense of its most basic security tasks and obligations in our neighbourhood.

Scotland, and therefore the UK, is the most northerly state not to have territory inside the Arctic circle: it’s land mass juts out prominently into the Greenland/Iceland/UK gap, yet security in the region, which we take for granted, is becoming a huge issue, with incursions from Russian submarines and aircraft reaching levels not seen since the Cold War.

Many of us will have read too about the economic potential of the High North and Arctic opening up as ice gaps retreat: and while this can often be overstated, there are nonetheless huge opportunities for Scotland across these grey waters.

Yet, looking at the UK’s security posture, you would be forgiven for thinking we were still fighting the Napoleonic Wars: the Royal Navy’s most northerly warship base is on the UK’s southern coast, and in one famous example from 2014, it took a Navy destroyer more than 24 hours to reach a Russian aircraft carrier group that had ‘taken shelter’ in the Moray Firth.

This is not the only example of HMG not taking the subject of Northern security seriously: the cancellation of the Nimrod Maritime Patrol Aircraft programme, and the continued reliance on allied MPA until at least 2020; or the strain put on the Royal Marines and UK/NL amphibious force through cuts and manning issues; or the lack of UK contributions to NATO Standing Maritime Groups in the region point to a failure to take these tasks seriously.

Our allies have noticed, and they are worried. Scotland has clear security and economic interest in the region, and SNP MPs will be pressing the government to make sure they do not neglect this.

We take our lead from the Scottish Government, with Cabinet Secretary for Cabinet Affairs Fiona Hyslop making clear in the 2015 Nordic-Baltic statement what Scotland’s interests were:

We are watching developments in the Arctic region with great interest and are keen to engage with our Northern European partners – particularly the Nordic countries – to address issues which these developments present. Scotland has much to offer the Arctic region, our resources and our expertise in areas including energy and climate change, maritime affairs and research & development.”

There has been much talk about security being the UK’s most valuable bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations: and the best way of demonstrating that it does not intend to withdraw completely from Europe. Taking it’s obligations to the security of our Northern neighbourhood would be the best way to do that – and they will be able to rely on SNP support should they choose to do so.

Martin Docherty-Hughes is the SNP Member of Parliament for West Dunbartonshire and is a member of the Defence Select Committee

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