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UK must adapt to new security threats in the High North, says Ministry of Defence

18 October 2023

The Scottish Affairs Committee today publishes the Government’s response to its report on Defence in Scotland, in which MPs called on the UK Government to re-assess the defence presence in Scotland in the face of new threats in the North Atlantic and High North region. 

In its response, the Ministry of Defence agrees with the Committee that the UK’s defence approach in the High North must adapt to new security threats and the “ripple effects” of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. This includes changes to the UK’s capacity for international cooperation across the region on issues such as climate change. 

The UK Government fails, however, to address a number of the Committee’s recommendations, including the vulnerability of offshore infrastructure as highlighted by the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline. The Committee's report expressed concern at the Government’s lack of leadership in repairing subsea cables. In today’s response, the Ministry of Defence again fails to engage by refusing to comment on how subsea cables could be quickly repaired, despite naming itself as one of the departments responsible. 

In its report, the cross-party Committee of MPs urged the UK Government to review whether the UK has enough aircraft in the North Atlantic and High North to meet increasing security demands. During its inquiry, MPs heard evidence that made clear that aircraft from elsewhere would be required to safely defend the UK – a concern also raised frequently by the Defence Committee. Yet the Ministry of Defence remains confident it maintains the “right force mix.” 

Despite the Committee’s calls for clarification, the Ministry of Defence’s response swerves mention of its plans to build the second Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance Ship (MROSS) in Scotland, as set out in previous policy documents. The Committee will closely monitor announcements regarding the second MROSS and whether the Government will backtrack on its previous commitment to build the ship in Scotland. 

Chair's comment

Scottish Affairs Committee Chair Pete Wishart MP said:  

“Because of Scotland’s geography, it is home to a number of critical military assets and is therefore strategically important to the UK Government and NATO. With Russia’s growing military presence in the region and climate change rapidly reshaping international priorities in the Arctic, we welcome the UK Government’s broad acceptance of our report’s conclusions and recognition of Scotland’s role in High North defence against future threats.  

“However, it is disappointing that the UK Government’s response today lacks clarity on a few key areas. We would have liked to see the UK Government commit to updating its Arctic defence strategy every five years to reflect the region’s increasing strategic importance. Although ministers reject this recommendation, we will closely follow this policy area and will not hesitate to urge ministers to change tack if necessary. 

“Ensuring our defensive capability is well maintained and resourced is crucial. It is therefore disappointing that today’s response does not properly address concerns we heard about whether there are sufficient numbers of aircraft to meet our defence requirements in the High North. Refusing to comment on the protection of transatlantic cables, despite recent hostility involving the Nord Stream pipeline, is not just disappointing but inexplicable too. We will continue to push for an explanation and keep a close eye on these important areas.  

“As always, we wish to thank those who work to defend us and keep us safe.”

Further information

Image: Crown Copyright