Feature Interview: UK announces new Arctic defence strategy, but who’s the intended audience?

“Russia, with more submarines operating under the ice and ambitions to build over 100 facilities in the Arctic, are staking a claim and militarising the region,” said UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson at the Conservative Party Conference this week. “We must be ready to deal with all threats as they emerge.”
Arctic sub-hunters, more cold weather training, and RAF Typhoons patrolling the Icelandic skies.

These were just a few of items UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson ran through at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, England last weekend as he announced a new Defence Arctic Strategy, saying it was time for Britain to respond to Russia’s increasing development along the Northern Sea Route.

“As the ice melts and new shipping routes emerge, the significance of the High North and Arctic region increases,” he said in a news release. “Russia, with more submarines operating under the ice and ambitions to build over 100 facilities in the Arctic, are staking a claim and militarising the region. We must be ready to deal with all threats as they emerge.”

Re-booting Britain’s High Arctic know-how

The announcement comes on the heels of On Thin Ice: UK Defence in the Arctic,  an August report from the UK defence sub-committee bemoaning the country’s dwindling expertise in the region.

Although the report described the Arctic as a “low tension” area, it said climate change was altering the region’s security environment, but that Britain’s High Arctic know-how needed to be regenerated.

Among the measures announced by Williamson on Saturday were:

  • closer integration of the Royal Marines and the Norwegian military for cold weather training
  •  four RAF Typhoon fighter jets to patrol Icelandic skies in 2019
  •  introduction of new P-8 Poseidon aircraft that can “combat a range of intensifying threats, not least increasing submarine activity in the Arctic.”
  • More frequent under-ice deployments for the Royal Navy
Russia, Brexit and Britain in the Arctic: A conversation with Richard Powell
“It is not a coincidence that [the Defence Arctic Strategy] was announced quickly on a Saturday at the [Conservative Party] conference, it’s an attempt to set new policy goals and show new policy agendas, but these things could change depending on how the Brexit situation evolves,” says Richard Powell from Cambridge University’s Scott Polar Research Institute. (Courtesy Richard Powell)
To find out more about the significance of the UK Defence Arctic Strategy and what it tells us about Britain’s positioning in the North, Eye on the Arctic spoke with Richard Powell, the director of MPhil polar studies at the University of Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute:

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn@cbc.ca

Related links from around the North:

Canada: Canadian military to build multi-million dollar facility in Northern city, CBC News

Finland: Finland to host major war games in 2021, Yle News

Norway: Will NATO save important air base in Norwegian Arctic?, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russian navy boosting armament on northwestern bases, satellite images show, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedish military wants to double in size, Radio Sweden

United States: New symposium brings U.S. military’s attention to the Arctic, Alaska Public Media




Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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