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The United Kingdom and Norway have signed a security accord to counter shared threats in the undersea domain, including threats to undersea infrastructure.

The statement of intent (SOI), which focuses on collaboration in the fields of protecting critical energy infrastructure, anti-submarine warfare and subsea protection, was signed by UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Norwegian Defence Minister Bjørn Arild Gram during a visit to the UK’s Maritime Operations Centre in Northwood, Hertfordshire, on 18 May 2023.

In a press release on 18 May the UK Ministry of Defence noted that the growing use of the seabed for energy and communications purposes has resulted in increased opportunities for adversaries to threaten Western subsea critical national infrastructure. The UK-Norwegian accord, after all, comes less than eight months since of a series of attacks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 natural gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea in September 2022. While it emerged in March 2023 that the Russian Baltic Fleet had been active in the area in the days prior to the Nord Stream pipelines being holed, no positive attribution of responsibility for the attacks has so far been possible.

“With shared interests in the North Sea, the North Atlantic and the High North, regional security is central to the national security of both nations,” the UK MoD stated. “This strategic partnership will continue to deepen defence ties between the two nations as they work together to protect and deter against subsea threats.”

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Norwegian Defence Minister Bjørn Arild Gram shake hands on the signing on 18 May 2023 of an SOI on the protection of undersea infrastructure. (Photo: Crown Copyright)

The UK MoD added that the accord “builds on the excellent bilateral defence relationship between Norway and the UK”, including by co-operating closely in the UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) and the Northern Group (a forum of northern European naions), as well as on key shared capabilities such as the P-8A maritime patrol aircraft and F-35 fifth-generation fighter. “Training and exercises provide the bedrock to our bilateral defence relationship, and have done for over 50 years,” the MoD stated.

On the signing of the SOI, Wallace stated, “Co-operating through the JEF and the Northern Group with our long-standing defence partner and NATO ally Norway, we are heightening our joint capabilities to protect Western critical national infrastructure on the seabed.

“The attack on the Nord Stream pipeline has determined even closer collaboration across our collective assets to detect and defend against subsea threats and ensure continued North Atlantic security,” he said.

Gram added, “It is important that democracies like the UK and Norway stand together when the rules-based international order is under pressure. The sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines last year is a concrete reminder of what is at stake here. By working together we can improve our ability to detect submarines, to counter mine threats and to protect critical infrastructure on the seabed.”

Peter Felstead