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NATO og GIUK-hliðið – erindi æðsta flotaforingja NATO

Clive Johnstone
Clive Johnstone

Hér fyrir neðan birtist erindi sem Clive Johnstone flotaforingi, æðsti yfirmaður flotamála hjá NATO, flutti erindi á fundi Varðbergs í Safnahúsinu við Hverfisgötu föstudaginn 23. september. Erindið hefur verið birt hér á síðunni í myndupptöku. Nú birtist texti þess hér í heild.


Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone CB CBE Royal Navy

Commander Allied Maritime Command





Good afternoon, it is a huge honour to be here.  My thanks to Arnor for his great hospitality last night and discussions today, and to Bjorn for hosting me here at the Atlantic Treaty Association of Iceland.


Thank you all for attending this first installment in a series on Iceland and International Security.  I would also like to thank the MOD and the people of Reykjavik for the warm welcome extended to the ships of Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 which visited the city in August.


I come here slightly daunted as a British Officer and as a fisherman and footballer – to have lost two Cod wars is one thing but the Euro’s is quite another – I hang my head in national shame!  Congratulations by the way – your football team were both a credit to Iceland but also a credit to the world game.


Let me just touch on who I am and why I value this opportunity to visit Iceland and speak here in Reykjavik today.  I noted when I was reading about Iceland’s early history that many of the early settlers on this amazing island were Celts – from Scotland or Ireland.  As a chap with an Irish and Scottish pedigree – my forbearers were Scottish clansmen in the borders harrying the English and nicking their cattle – I feel very much at home.


I joined MARCOM with the following priorities – to Focus on Operations (because we need to!), to change our behavior so everything was focused on this operational delivery, to think entirely different about the relationship with Nations.  You task me to support you – that is what NATO is – NATO does not  exist for itself.  Finally to work in partnership with everyone – we have no spare resources for competition within the Alliance or with our partners and finally to engage better and sell our story better so politicians listen and our populations care about what we say.


As I look out the window at the start of this new term there is a lot to ponder – Russia in all its forms; what I term the Syrian complex; the uncertainty in the region surrounding the Black Sea; the potential creeping instability along the North African littoral (with the potential for hyper-migration) and finally and as important as any – the re-definition and understanding of the Atlantic.


Finally, by way of introduction – if we do really want to be agile, if we do want to be operational I feel we need to have a proper conversation about Command and what it means.  I, for one, feel very strongly that the responsibility lies with me as a Commander – It is our responsibility to lead the maritime for the inspirational General Scaparrotti and the Secretary General.  Command is personal and visceral and MARCOM feels keenly the weight of its responsibility.





I was asked to speak about the importance of the GIUK Gap to NATO.  The simple answer is that it is very important indeed.


It is important in strategic terms because it is, and has always been a strategic crossroads between the Arctic Sea, the Atlantic and the North Sea.   Being strategic also makes it prone to competition as it was in World War II and later in the Cold War.


In the years that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall, this region became less visible in the eyes of some.  For 20 years the area was seen as a strategic backwater as focus shifted to the Gulf and then the Indian Ocean.


So to kick off this conversation I would like to give you my perspective on why the GIUK Gap is back on the agenda and what that implies for maritime NATO.


The first and most relevant reason is the change in NATO’s relations with Russia.  Following a Twenty Years Crisis in their fortunes and the near collapse of their navy, Russia has returned to international competition with the West in several strategic theatres. Including this one.


We have seen the illegal annexation of the Crimea and occupation of Donbas in Ukraine, Russian intervention in Syria which established air bases and reinforced the port of Tartus, area denial capabilities in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black & Baltic Seas and the establishment of extensive A2AD networks which, if they don’t threaten nations, at least need more resilience than should be demanded to enforce freedom of navigation.


The Russian Navy has partially recovered from its collapse in the early 1990s. Presenting new ships and submarines, a robust operational tempo, new capabilities such as the Kalibr land attack cruise missile, and a seemingly more assertive attitude.  Once having 240 submarines, Russia can boast about 70 today.  But some of those submarines are better and quieter than anything they have ever fielded.  They demand our respect.


Russian submarine activity is the highest it has been since the end of the Cold War and some of that has been remarkably aggressive. You also know first-hand of Bomber flights near Icelandic airspace.


In the Arctic the Russian Navy is also extremely active, with the construction of new bases and the deployment of Arctic exercises.  A new Northern Command Construct and extensive, regular naval exercises.


In the Mediterranean, Baltic and Black Seas we have witnessed – in addition to increased activity – remarkably dangerous acts of harassment of Allied naval vessels, dramatically illustrated by the flyover of USS Donald Cook and the recent near collision of a Russian fighter with a US P8 patrol aircraft over international waters of the Black Sea.


Of course, Russia has the right to build and sail these vessels and aircraft within the limits of international law, as do we. There is no intent on our part to harass or exclude any nation’s naval assets from international waters. And I stress there is no intent to get back to a Cold War – but we do need to be prepared to meet any challenge in an unpredictable future. We need presence, posture and activity that deters provocation and adventurism today. We need to be credible and have escalation control.
Northern Allies have recognised the challenge.  I know that Arnor has been arguing for the strategic importance of ASW to the North Atlantic in NATO for years and the re-awakening of the Alliance to the region is very much a tribute to his efforts.  Iceland’s agreement to host new US P8 assets to improve ASW capabilities in the North Atlantic will substantially improve our ASW reach and is greatly welcome.


Recently Norwegian State Secretary Oystein Bo has called for new thinking on how we secure NATO’s sea lines of communication in the North Atlantic, improve high-end warfighting capabilities and ensure that NATO’s maritime command structure is fit for purpose’, with deeper linkages between national maritime headquarters and NATO.


But Iceland and Norway are not alone in this. Admiral Jamie Foggo, Commander 6th Fleet writes wisely recently about the 4th Battle of the Atlantic.  In Washington, Kathleen Hicks at CSIS has directed a major study on Undersea Warfare in Northern Europe that sets out the challenge and makes many good recommendations.  In my own country, our last SDSR moved to invest in ASW and surface combatants, restore our airborne ASW capabilities though P8’s purchased from the US and herald a new maritime confidence with the two Queen Elizabeth Carriers .  The Royal Canadian Navy has been very forward in supporting NATO’s activity in the Atlantic with notably well led and capable warships and aircraft – I could go on …


ASW is a key concern for me given the shape of the Russian order of battle and because it has not been a priority in NATO or Allied training for many years. We are still good at it, but that is almost a legacy from the past rather than a current priority.  We need to be better and particularly when acting together as a multinational force conducting Theatre ASW with ships, submarines and aircraft.  I have made this a priority of my command ….. that we support Nations maintaining NATO’s operational edge over potential adversary submarine capabilities, in particular in the area of command and control, communications and interoperability.  Nowhere is more important for this capability than here in the North Atlantic and the Atlantic more generally,


Over the past year, Allied Navies and MARCOM have been maintaining oversight of Russian navy movements in the Atlantic and Mediterranean, including submarines.  MARCOM has been recognised as the central coordinating hub for multi-national efforts combining both the Standing Naval Forces and national assets, a role similar to SACLANT’s in the past. We are more active in the Baltic, Black Sea, Atlantic and Mediterranean than we have been in many years.


At the NATO Warsaw Summit, this effort was specifically applauded by the Heads of State and Government that called for increased ISR and tracking of potential adversary assets on the sea to ensure Strategic Anticipation of hostile intent.


ASW matters, just like the Air and Surface environment matters because sea lines of communications, transatlantic reinforcement and forward presence are inextricably linked to the North Atlantic. Submarine surface and air ASW fleets and their capabilities have changed a great deal since the Cold War, but I fear our doctrine and tactics may not have kept pace. What old assumptions are no longer valid and which endure? Where does tactical and operational advantage in the Atlantic reside today and what impact does that have on how we do our business?
To answer those questions we have put in train a major effort to boost our ASW skills.


This summer Exercise Dynamic Mongoose tested our anti-submarine abilities off Norway. Mongoose involved 3000 sailors and aircrew from 8 nations; 4 submarines, 9 surface ships and 4 ASW aircraft.  We built a demanding programme to hone advanced surface and subsurface ASW tactics in deep water.  A great deal of good training and learning was achieved and we are looking at the results very carefully.


During the exercise I had the privilege to be in Trondheim with the Secretary General of NATO to visit the ships of the Standing Naval Forces that took part.  Mr Stoltenberg equally sees the need and the moment.


This October we will conduct MARCOM’s major maritime exercise Noble Mariner in October.  This year the exercise is fused with UK’s Joint Warrior exercise off Scotland.  Again, ASW will feature heavily but so will experimentation.


We will be integrating unmanned systems into the training, leveraging the Royal Navy’s Unmanned Warrior initiative.  We will have an opportunity to train with and against unmanned vehicles in the air, surface and sub-surface environments.  The lessons we identify in this autumn will feed into the Manta and Mongoose ASW exercise series in 2017, in what I hope will be a virtuous cycle of training, experimentation and reform.
Looking further ahead, NATO’s triennial High Visibility Joint Exercise in 2018 will be in Norway and I expect the same war fighting focus will feature strongly in the maritime programme.


So as you can see, the North Atlantic is no longer remote from NATO’s concerns. In fact, it is increasingly central to our maritime and our joint planning and exercising.





But of its many critical aspects, the GIUK Gap is also the doorway to the Arctic, and so might be useful to say a few works about how the High North fits into our thinking.


NATO does not have a formal position or policy on the High North as allies differ in their views of the matter.  These comments are thus only mine.


NATO does have more than a theoretical interest as NATO’s Area of Responsibility for Collective Defence includes the territories, ships and aircraft of Allies in the North Atlantic above the Tropic of Cancer.  That has always been considered albeit not mandated, to reach to the North Pole.


Five of the eight Arctic Council members are also in NATO and four of five littoral states are also NATO Members.


We have a role, therefore, to the extent that 28 Allies – soon to be 29 – decide that transatlantic defence and security requires one.  And it is worth stating all the general objectives and policies of NATO are applicable there as well, where they are appropriate.


The Arctic was a contested undersea space in the Cold War.  It is still the place where Russia maintains its seaborne deterrent.  But outside the nuclear deterrent dimension, cooperation has been the watchword since the end of the Soviet Union and especially since the ice began to melt and transit became possible.


Of course the trigger for this has been global climactic change that are having far wider effects than the opening of Arctic passages.  Over the last thirty years the Arctic sea ice has lost three quarters of its mass and half its area.  The implications for the future are profound: the global ecosystem will change, in particular for the Northern Hemisphere; substantial additional energy and mineral resources will become exposed or available for extraction; new major shipping routes will be established; fishing stocks will alter.  I don’t really need to tell an Icelandic audience this as you know it well.


All of these changes are double-edged.  They create some amazing new opportunities, some serious environmental challenges  – we must work very hard to avoid them leading to competition and confrontation.


There has been an extensive network of cooperation on exploration, managing environmental risks, and search and rescue.
International law and negotiations have been the norm, not confrontation – it is vital that NATO does everything it can to support this.
The Arctic Council has functioned very effectively in addressing issues in the High North – Indeed the Arctic Council appears to have been an effective model in many areas.


But some Allies also have vital skills and experience in the region, including yourselves, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the United States to a much lesser degree UK, other European countries and China.  Those abilities range from energy resource extraction in forbidding Arctic territory to search and rescue and Arctic submarine operations.  In the future NATO may need to pull together those skills and knowledge base to improve our own understanding of the region and its dynamics. The Icelandic Coast Guard will be one of our first organisations to visit.


No Ally desires to see the militarisation of the Arctic and the threat of armed conflict there is very low. That said, Russia’s recent behavior elsewhere in the world necessarily makes us cautious.


I can speak only for myself on this point, but in my experience NATO changes its military posture when new threats require it to, not before.


28 nations decide whether those moves or others like them warrant a different role for NATO, it is not my call.  But what MARCOM will do is to maintain and improve our readiness, our responsiveness and our maritime situational awareness to respond to any challenge when the Alliance calls on us to do so, wherever that may be.





But you should also appreciate – as I know that Arnor does – that Russia is not the single threat that pre-occupies us.  Response to potential Russian aggression might be my most important task, but the most urgent threat today comes from a multitude of stimuli all sitting to the south and south-east.  Indeed, Russia and its security behavior is enforcing a complicated environment and set of challenges that has a panoramic arc of 360 degrees.


To give you the full picture, let me briefly explain where NATO is with our other challenges.  You will see the need we have to balance our efforts to shore up the security of the Alliance in all its regions.


Failing states, civil war, state action, terrorism, militias and the resulting environmental, social and economic upheaval in the Mediterranean all hold our attention.  The result has been large waves of migration, often facilitated by criminal and truly dangerous migrant trafficking networks.
Migration is a multi-directional challenge that has polarised politics across Europe (Gosh! I should know as a Brit.) and reaches every country – even those seemingly well away from the challenge. NATO has joined with the EU and other stakeholders to contribute to the stemming the flow of illegal trafficking in the Aegean. And you will be aware that many National Capitals and the NATO HQ and SHAPE are working on how NATO and the EU can work better together in the Central Mediterranean sphere of operations.


The third challenge is Terrorism in the arc of crisis from Syria, Libya, and all along the North African littoral – this threat involving Da’esh as well as other terrorist or insurgent groups. The flow of arms and terrorist fighters from North Africa, in particular from Da’esh bases in Libya, could threaten further horrific attacks in Europe as well as established shipping lanes.


What are we doing?


We have created a new maritime security operation called Sea Guardian that is a substantial evolution of Operation Active Endeavour, moving it from an Article Five to a Non Article Five Operation founded on Maritime Situational Awareness but heavily enabling of Maritime Security Operations.


In addition, since February SNMG2 has been conducting monitoring and surveillance in the Aegean to support efforts to stem the flow of migrant trafficking. While NATO’s deployment has not been the main reason for the easing back of migration it has contributed to an almost 90% reduction in trafficking in the area. I believe it’s co-ordination role has been pivotal.


NATO is now considering its role off Libya and in the wider Mediterranean, with some form of interaction or deconfliction with EU Op Sophia in stemming illegal trafficking and enforcing the arms embargo under UNSCR 2292 that was mandated last week in New York.  That will be a conversation over the coming weeks and months in Brussels.


So as you see our challenges are complex, indeed most demanding. NATO’s response needs to be comprehensive and 360 degree in scope.  Reassurance, deterrence, containment and continuous adaption and agility must be the themes we drive for.



To conclude,


To meet the mandate of the Allies at Warsaw, NATO needs to reassure its constituent Nations, to maintain a solid deterrent posture and become more agile – adapting as a matter of course.  Rapid response in days and weeks, not weeks and months, enhanced forward presence in the Baltics and Poland (but not just the Baltic and Poland), logistic and coordination nodes, pre-positioned stocks and effective planning – to start with.


But also, as the political leaders noted, we need a strong Standing Naval Force, the ability to bring the totality of Allied Maritime power to bear in deterring aggression and improved capabilities for ISR and coordination of both NATO and national maritime activity. We need to complement our maritime posture with presence and activity – to provide assurance and maintain credibility and authority.


This operational capability, this credibility and authority that wee seek is not designed as a threat to other Nations but as a foundation for dialogue and diplomacy.


All of these dynamics are in play in the North Atlantic and indeed in the GUIK Gap.  So let me finish here and I look forward to your questions.






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