Deter Russia? Follow the example of the Irish fishing industry – POLITICO
Elisabeth Braw is a senior member of the American Enterprise Institute and an advisor at Gallos Technologies.
Russia is a country unlikely to pass up a threat opportunity.
Earlier this month, four Russian ships led by a warship showed up in Ireland’s Exclusive Economic Zone – and stayed there. The ships didn’t just wander around in a random spot, but remained suspicious near the undersea cables connecting Ireland to the world. And the Irish Naval Service could do nothing to persuade them to leave.
Meanwhile, last month a group of Russian commercial vessels also parked off the coast of Ireland near where a new undersea cable linking Galway to Iceland was recently opened.
All of this is a crucial reminder to other Western nations that protecting critical national infrastructure does not just begin when a threat materializes – it begins by signaling that such threatening moves will not be tolerated. And these signals must involve both the government, the private sector and the public.
The world depends on submarine cables for virtually every aspect of daily life. However, the sea is also about to become the home of the many wind turbines that our countries must build if they are to meet carbon reduction targets. For example, compared to its 2021 levels, sea-based electricity generation in the European Union is expected to increase 25 times by 2030.
But as MEP and retired general Riho Terras, a former Estonian defense chief, told me, “this behavior by Russians seems to be increasing, and it often involves civilian ships.” “The Russians have always had ships that look civilian but are military and have advanced technology on board,” he added.
And now NATO has raised infrastructure protection to chef-know — Business of the Secretary General.
“For NATO, the protection of critical underwater infrastructure is essential to our security and defense because it is essential to protecting the security and prosperity of our societies,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this month. ci, after meeting with private sector leaders to discuss infrastructure protection. after the alliance launched a critical underwater infrastructure coordination cell in February. And this month, Norway and the UK formed a partnership that “will enhance the ability of both nations to exercise and operate together and develop capabilities that will protect our common interests in the North Sea”, according to an announcement. of their ministries of defence. .
However, it’s unclear exactly who should be patrolling said critical infrastructure — and patrolling so visibly that Russia feels disinclined to cause nuisance or intimidate.
Countries must make it clear that they will keep a constant eye on visitors, precisely because almost everyone is allowed to enter exclusive economic zones, and almost everyone can approach critical national infrastructure on land. But while Ireland’s navy may be smaller than most, no government is large enough to constantly patrol all infrastructure.
This is where infrastructure operators can step in.
Undersea cables are, for example, the private property of companies such as Google, Amazon Web Services and Meta, all of which have a clear interest in ensuring there is no disruption. The multinationals could thus create a small (civilian) fleet to roam the cable areas, signaling to the Russian Navy – and any other outfit that is useless – that they are being watched.
“The sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines has caused a real wake-up call among maritime infrastructure operators,” said retired Rear Admiral Anders Grenstad, a former head of the Swedish Navy. “They’re starting to think about what role they can play in keeping their facilities safe.”
Commercial ships are not allowed to harm intruders, of course – our navies and coast guards exist to protect countries against such maritime attacks.
And according to Terras, whose military career began when he was drafted into the Soviet Navy, NATO navies should follow Russian ships more closely. “Commercial ships have an AIS [automatic identification systems, required for all but the smallest commercial vessels], but obviously they can turn it off,” he pointed out. “So you need visual coverage, radar coverage to help you recognize what type of Russian ships are approaching and what they are doing. Then we can identify areas of concern. Once we identify that, we can send ships to track those ships.
Terras’ military service was aboard a frigate that followed NATO ships. “We were always following the American aircraft carriers to see what they were doing,” he said. “If we could carry out such surveillance of Russian ships with other NATO states, it would make it easier for everyone. Sweden’s NATO membership would bring an important capability as it has the largest navy in the Baltic Sea.
And because navies and coast guards can’t be everywhere all the time, operators could partner with them. “There will be practical details to work out,” Grenstad noted. “For example, when something happens, who should respond?” But by working on such important details in advance, including through exercises, governments and operators will be prepared.
The same could be true for ground infrastructure, where operators could help police and the armed forces – a proposition reminiscent of local patrols in my parents’ small town. With the nearest police office about 10 miles away, the local entrepreneur who owns several establishments in town hired a retired policeman to be on the “beat” – on foot or in his car – sending a clear message to potential offenders, even if he can’t stop anyone.
And infrastructure protection should also involve the public, much like when the Swedish Navy launched a “Look it, Tell it, Sort it” campaign two years ago – a step that has already proven decidedly worthwhile. While members of the public can be wrong or deliberately report false sightings, most citizens sincerely want to help keep their surroundings safe.
Who knows, some might even turn out to be as useful as the Irish fishermen.
Last year, when the Russian Navy announced it would conduct exercises off the coast of Ireland in February, no plea from Dublin deterred it.
Then the Irish fishermen intervened.
“Our boats will be going to this area on the first of February to go fishing,” Patrick Murphy, chief executive of the South and West Irish Fish Producers’ Organisation, told POLITICO. “When a boat has to return to port, another leaves, so there is a continuous presence on the water. If it’s close to where [military] the exercise is taking place, we are waiting for the Russian naval services to comply with anti-collision regulations.
Russia canceled the exercise.
What it all shows – with the trinity of government, private sector and public, we can erect a “defensive wall” to deter threatening intruders.