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MPs highlight growing importance of defence in High North in new report

21 July 2023

The Scottish Affairs Committee calls on the UK Government to re-assess its defence presence in Scotland in the face of new threats in the North Atlantic and High North region, as it publishes the third report of its inquiry into Defence in Scotland.

The North Atlantic and High North, including the Arctic, are of increasing strategic importance to the UK’s defence and security. Russia is increasing its military presence in the region, climate change is reshaping the Arctic and economic activity in the area is on the rise.

Scotland is home to a number of UK military and naval assets and bases which currently provide Quick Reaction Alert air response from RAF Lossiemouth, deploying and defending the UK’s nuclear deterrent from HMNB Clyde in Faslane, and policing the strategically important Greenland-Iceland-UK gap. During its inquiry, the Committee heard evidence from the UK Government about the importance of maintaining both these capabilities. Whilst not all Members of the Committee support this view, the report notes that the Committee recognised the serious implications for the UK and NATO should the nuclear fleet ever be removed from Faslane.

In a new report, Defence in Scotland: The North Atlantic and the High North, the cross-party Committee of MPs notes the UK Government’s continued recognition of Scotland’s important role in meeting the UK and NATO’s defence and security objectives in the region, and calls for clarity on how the UK’s defence presence could be increased sufficiently if required.

The Committee recommends a UK Government review on what equipment, technology and appropriately trained personnel may be needed to operate in extremely cold environments. The review should report before the next general election. The MPs also recommend the UK Government address concerns over whether there are sufficient aircraft available in Scotland to meet increasing security demands in the region.

The Committee agreed that, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the effects of climate change, the UK Government should continue to consider how the UK’s security priorities in the High North may change in future. The UK Government should set out its assessment of the challenges faced by increasing Russian belligerence, growing Chinese interest in Arctic politics, and the opening of new Arctic sea trade routes.

The MPs also call for a strategy on protecting offshore infrastructure, following the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline, and for the UK Government to make the most of the innovative and rapidly growing space sector in Scotland when deploying new space-based defence technologies.

The report is the third in a series of reports the Committee has published on Defence in Scotland over the last year. It follows previous work by the Committee on the military landscape in Scotland and military shipbuilding.

Commenting on the report, Pete Wishart MP, Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, said:

"The North Atlantic and the High North are becoming increasingly important to the defence interests of both the UK and NATO, and Scotland’s role in the defence arrangements is considered to be fundamental. During our inquiry we heard widespread agreement that the Arctic is of growing strategic importance and maintaining a well maintained and resourced military capability is essential to meet The UK’s defence interests.

“Because of its geography Scotland is home to a number of the UK’s strategic military assets and in our report we call on the UK Government to look at how the defence presence in Scotland could be scaled up if required to meet future threats if required. We are also calling for a review of the UK’s cold weather capabilities.

“We also looked at the opportunities and threats that may emerge because of climate change in the Arctic and the High North. Emerging trade routes and the responsibility of protecting offshore and subsea infrastructure are likely to become emerging priorities in a fast changing environment.

“As a Committee, we’ve conducted a series of work on Defence in Scotland, and it’s clear to all the considerable contribution Scotland makes to the UK and NATO’s defence and security. This is a topic we will be keeping a close eye on. We wish to extend our gratitude to all those who work to defend us and keep us safe."

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Image: MoD/Crown copyright