In response to escalating threats and security challenges in northern Europe, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has embarked on a mission to fortify the UK’s presence in northern Europe by announcing a military deployment of more than 20,000 British troops, along with an array of assets, as part of an initiative to safeguard the region’s interests and tackle emerging hybrid threats.
This move comes after mounting concerns over escalating hybrid threats and increasing strategic competition in this vital area.
The UK prime minister, who held discussions with Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) leaders on the strategically significant island of Gotland, emphasised the urgency of addressing these challenges. This rendezvous marked a watershed moment in bilateral and multilateral efforts to fortify the security of northern Europe, with a particular focus on safeguarding critical national infrastructure.
Recent incidents, such as damage to pipelines between Estonia and Finland and the need for HMS Queen Elizabeth to launch fast jets to intercept Russian maritime patrol aircraft in the Arctic, highlight northern Europe’s real and immediate threats.
The leaders of the JEF, including the UK, discussed strategies to address Russia’s destabilising actions in the region. This includes strengthening defence collaboration and boosting industrial cooperation to counter these threats effectively.
The deployment set to take place in northern Europe next year will comprise more than 20,000 soldiers, sailors, marines and air personnel, complemented by eight Royal Navy ships, 25 fast jets, and an aviation task force consisting of Apache, Chinook and Wildcat helicopters. These forces will be engaged in large-scale, multinational exercises, air policing and cold weather training.
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Sunak underscored the importance of solidarity among allies to confront evolving security challenges. “As the international order continues to be challenged by desperate dictators, rogue states and terrorist organisations, we must stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our international friends and partners to defend our values, security and prosperity,” he emphasised.
The UK’s commitment to northern Europe has been shown by the presence of the carrier strike group, led by HMS Queen Elizabeth, which is currently on an autumn deployment in the region. This group includes five British ships, F35 Lightning II stealth fighter jets and Wildcat helicopters.
The carrier strike group and HMS Queen Elizabeth will return early next year to lead the UK’s contribution to exercise Steadfast Defender, a Nato military drill.
This builds upon the UK’s security assurances to Sweden, which were agreed upon last year before Sweden acceded to Nato.
Sunak’s visit and the announced military deployment reflect the strategic importance of northern Europe in an increasingly complex and dynamic global landscape.