Wednesday, March 08, 2023

Nord Stream's Tap on the Shoulder

Outside everyone's interest in knowing "who'dun'it" in the blowing up on the Nord Stream pipeline in the Baltic Sea, there has yet to be an full appreciation of the larger meaning of its destruction.

1937's bombing of Guernica gave a preview of what would befall Europe's cities just a few years later. The Russo-Ukrainian War is giving hints of what has changed over the last few decades that should give everyone pause to review their assumptions and critical vulnerabilities. Small and medium wars are good for that - they give hints to issues that will arise in future large wars.

While it is easier to understand, even in the face of "sea blindness," the importance of the trade that arrives by ship, food and fuel at the top of the list, from the man on the street to policy makers in nations' capitals, the importance of what lies on the sea bed is lost to most.

Though focused on the UK, our friend Alessio Patalano today has an article up at the Council on Geostrategy,  Unseen but Vital: Britain and Undersea Security, that is worth an investment in your time for a quick read;

The first and third aspects of today’s maritime century have direct relevance to undersea security. Maritime connectivity is both a function of, and a key driver behind, contemporary prosperity. It is a well-known fact that some 90% of global trade is carried by sea, yet it is a less well-known fact that some 99% of the world’s communications are delivered by 1.4 million kilometres of submarine cables. Of no less significance, a substantial part of gas and electricity resources is delivered through a series of undersea connectors.

...between 2010 and 2021, the capacity of energy interconnectors has increased to unprecedented levels. According to official data, electricity imports to the UK increased almost tenfold, with HM Government planning to expand the country’s capacity from 7,440 megawatts to 18 gigawatts by 2030.

Within this context, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and the Republic of Ireland are primary energy trade partners for the UK, with new interconnectors set to link the UK to Germany and Denmark in the near future. The undersea security of Northern Europe is indivisible from the security of the UK.

By a similar token, much of the UK economy and social services rest upon the continuous and uninterrupted use of undersea cables delivering data connectivity. As one informed observer recently noted, a disruption to the network of the approximately 60 British undersea cables would have potentially devastating consequences. Incredibly diverse aspects of life in the UK, from multimillion international bank transactions to medical activities resting on access to cloud-based access to data, would be at risk if a sufficient number of cables were severed or sabotaged.

As we covered in a FbF back in 2009, attacking undersea cables dates back to the 19th Century - but the modern reliance on what is on the sea bed is orders of magnitude greater than just telegraphs were back then.

Getting to them is not easy ... but life once they are cut is even less easy. 

Time to think about what is needed to keep them secure, especially in any time of heightened tensions...but in an era of international terrorism, is there really a time of peace for vulnerable targets?

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