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New UK Defence Arctic Strategy Announced

UK Secretary of State for Defence Mr. Ben Wallace and the Minister of Defence in Norway, Odd Roger Enoksen, visited British and Norwegian soldiers during COLD RESPONSE 2022 [© Forsvaret: Torgeir Haugaard]

The UK’s new defence strategy in the Arctic region has been announced in Norway today by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace.


Press Release, Whitehall, 29 March 2022: The UK’s Defence Contribution in the High North outlines plans to protect critical underwater national infrastructure and ensure freedom of navigation through international seas and Exclusive Economic Zones in the Arctic region.

The strategy sets out the UK’s commitments to NATO, such as increasing UK training and operations in the area with Allies and international partners. The UK will also invest in research and development to build a sustainable and modernised Defence capability for the region. As part of the new strategy, the UK will maintain a periodic Royal Navy presence in the High North. The strategy also reinforces support to Arctic Allies to preserve the stability and security of the Arctic region.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace MP said: “The High North and the impact of climate change affects us all whether we like it or not. The North Atlantic will always be the UK’s ‘home beat’ and so it is vital that we strengthen both our interoperability and our force integration with NATO and non-NATO partners in the region.”

The Defence Secretary met his Norwegian counterpart Odd Roger Enoksen, as well as those taking part in Exercise COLD RESPONSE 22 during his time in Norway. Exercise COLD RESPONSE 22 is a Norwegian-led exercise with 35,000 troops from 28 participants nations. The main UK contribution saw six Royal Navy ships and 2,000 UK personnel carrying out cold-weather training in northern Norway. While the exercises are routine, they demonstrate the UK’s commitment to Allied forces which need to be ready to operate in any environment under any conditions.

Training in Norway allows NATO Allies and partners to practise their skills operating in extreme and rugged surroundings. Around 900 Royal Marines have been deployed to the Arctic since January in preparation for the exercises, sharpening their expertise in operating in the freezing conditions.

HMS Prince Of Wales (foreground) serving as Command Ship for the NATO Maritime High Readiness Force at the start of COLD RESPONSE 2022 [Crown Copyright: LPhot Ben Corbett]

The Defence Secretary met with the crew onboard one of the UK’s two aircraft carriers, HMS Prince of Wales, which has been leading the Royal Navy’s contribution to Exercise COLD RESPONSE 22. While onboard he received a series of briefings on its role as a NATO command platform. The ship remains flexible and ready to respond in order to command and control Allied ships at sea. The Defence Secretary will also visit Kirkenes to see the enduring Norwegian presence at the border to Russia.


The UK’s Defence Contribution in the High North.

Library image of a Royal Marine deployed to Arctic Norway in 2004 ~ UK MoD has not yet released images of Marines deployed on Exercise COLD RESPONSE 2022 [© Bob Morrison]

Details: As the 2021 Defence Command Paper makes clear, the High North and maintaining security in the defence of the North Atlantic remains of great importance to the UK. The MOD will continue to ensure that it remains capable of protecting the UK’s interests as the region opens up in the coming years.

The UK’s Defence Contribution in the High North lays out the Defence objectives that support wider UK aims, as outlined most recently in the 2018 Arctic Policy Framework, Beyond the Ice. The main commitments include:

  • Protecting our Critical National Infrastructure and our other national interests, and those of our Allies and partners.
  • Ensuring our freedom to navigate and operate across the wider region.
  • Reinforcing the rules-based international system, particularly UNCLOS.
  • Contesting malign and destabilising behaviours.

To deliver these objectives, we will:

  • Improve our understanding of the region, how it is changing, and the activities of state and non-state actors within it.
  • Work with regional Allies and partners, including through NATO, the Northern Group, and the Joint Expeditionary Force, aligning policy, activity, and capability where possible and across all domains.
  • Maintain a coherent Defence posture, presence, and profile in the region, including training, partnering, and operating from and in the Arctic.
  • Develop sustainable, modernised, and proportionate Defence capability for the region, including through investment in Research and Development.

The UK’s Defence Contribution in the High North will guide Defence efforts over a 10-year period, including long-term capability decisions. While its focus is on the High North, it notes that the region is contiguous with the North Atlantic and cannot be isolated from UK interests in adjacent regions, including Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea region, and the rest of the world.

Source: UK Ministry of Defence; published 29 March 2022

Library image of Royal Marines deployed to Arctic Norway in 2004 ~ UK MoD has not yet released images of Marines deployed on Exercise COLD RESPONSE 2022 [© Bob Morrison]


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