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I am really grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate ahead of the NATO summit in Brussels in a few weeks’ time. Now is also an opportune time to make clear to our NATO allies the importance of strengthening the collective maritime strategy.
With much military activity off the coast of Scotland, now at levels not seen since the cold war, it is imperative that we put a renewed focus on our security interests in the high north. As the Defence Secretary acknowledged during an evidence session in the Defence Committee on
“the North Atlantic—and in particular the Arctic—is an increasingly important part of Russian military strategic calculation, as evidenced by its growing defence modernisation efforts as well as naval and air prowess. It is therefore essential that the North Atlantic region comes to be seen as being central to NATO’s own strategic interests and be a recipient of more NATO assets.”
Despite such warnings, there was no mention whatsoever of the north Atlantic and the high north in the 2015 strategic defence and security review. This is a poor reflection on the UK Government’s ability to effectively prioritise and plan our future security requirements. The new modernising defence programme must address this issue to ensure that we are fully protected against rising Russian threats in this area. Not only that, but we need to protect our oil and gas interests, underwater cabling, renewable energy and fishing, as well as the new and increasingly important tourist activity in the Arctic as it becomes a much more interesting destination for many tourists. ln 2010, the then Defence Secretary, Dr Fox, decided to scrap the RAF’s Nimrod maritime surveillance fleet, severely constraining our ability to locate Russian submarines off the coast of Scotland. That decision was remarkably reckless and left the UK in a tremendously weak position at one of its most vulnerable frontiers. We have had no choice but to allow others to pick up the slack, such as the Americans, the French, the Norwegians and the Canadians, who have had maritime patrol aircraft entering UK airspace in recent years. At the end of last year, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach warned that
“our anti-submarine warfare capability has been seriously neglected” due to underfunding. He urged the UK to
“develop our maritime forces with our allies to match Russian fleet modernisation.”
Scotland is strategically located to host the new NATO maritime command base. Scotland’s proximity and accessibility to the north Atlantic makes it a prime location to form a vital link between western Europe and North America, and to cover the Greenland-Iceland-Shetland gap. I conveyed my views on this proposal to the Minister for Europe and the Americas during my Westminster Hall debate on the appointment of an Arctic ambassador last November, and I make the case again today. The east of Scotland is by far the best option for a new base. I hope that the Secretary of State will make such representations to our allies at the NATO summit in July. Perhaps the Minister can confirm that commitment.
I urge the Secretary of State to work with our NATO allies at the Brussels summit to rethink our collective defence and to put a renewed maritime strategy at the top of the NATO agenda.