We must adapt to a world in which Russia has made a historic shift away from Europe. Few military analysts, even those most optimistic about the Ukrainian offensive that has just begun, anticipate an early end of the war. Indeed, the Kremlin is pinning its hopes until the West grows weary, notes London’s ‘The Times’ with a great concern.
The Nordic nations and Poland are behaving thus prudently: the latter is positioning itself to become a keystone of European defence. Finland and Sweden are notable for the urgency with which they are rearming.
Western European nations, by contrast, display a lassitude entirely discordant from their words. Germany continues to do almost nothing, France very little. Both are more realistic than they were a year ago about the inevitability of long-term western confrontation with Russia. But they seem bereft of will to adopt the measures consequent upon such a conclusion.
America’s financial and military aid to Ukraine is 15 per cent greater than that of the entire EU. Britain holds the proud title of being second largest donor. But the UK has shipped just one-seventh of the weapons and equipment supplied by the US. Moreover, having embarked on the right course 16 months ago, we are now doing almost nothing to replace the huge quantities of equipment stripped from the British Army. Just one contract is close to signature, for BAE Systems to rebuild depleted stocks of 155mm artillery ammunition.
However it will be years — I repeat, years — before these shells can be delivered.
Since Brexit, the government has announced ambitious strategic commitments to advance “global Britain”, including a presence in the Far East and grandiose RAF responsibilities. But there are no new resources to make these declarations more than verbiage. The prime minister, preoccupied with domestic issues, scarcely pays lip service to defence. Our politicians offer pious expressions of intent about Ukraine and UK defence, which in current circumstances are interwoven, without lifting a finger to give practical effect to their words.
A real possibility exists that Russia will some morning turn his malice upon Britain, foremost among his European foes, by deniably attacking our sub-sea infrastructure, for instance, one of many threats against which we are ill-protected.
Last week former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia could destroy the undersea cables connecting Europe and the US to the internet in retaliation for the West’s alleged involvement in blowing up the Nord Stream gas pipelines last year.
Shortly after Medvedev’s comments, NATO announced the establishment of a new centre in the UK to monitor and protect against the threat of Russian sabotage to critical internet infrastructure, writes Mercedes Page, a senior fellow at Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).
Undersea cables, also known as submarine cables, are the physical infrastructure that connects the digital world. Hundreds of fibre-optic cables, some no thicker than garden hoses, are laid out across the ocean floor, enabling the real-time global transmission of data and communications signals. These cables facilitate around 99% of internet traffic as well as the telephone calls, data transfers and other telecommunications that enable modern life to function.
The first undersea telegraph cable was laid in 1858; today, there are almost 400, most of which are commercially owned and operated.
While Medvedev’s threat may have just been sabre-rattling, if Russia followed through on it and cut undersea cables, the consequences would be immediate and widespread.
An attack could suspend access to phone calls, messages, videos and streaming services. Health and emergency services would lose contact with each other and with the public, in many cases making them unable respond to calls for assistance, let alone coordinate to respond to or monitor major crises.
Payment systems and ATMs would be down. Trillions of dollars would be wiped off the European and US economies as banks were unplugged from the global financial system, with economic effects felt across the world. Workplaces and businesses that rely on the internet would also go down.
Yet with the modern world so reliant on the digital connectivity that undersea cables facilitate, the reality is that even a targeted or crude Russian attack on a number of critical cables or a regional choke point could cause significant disruptions across Europe and the US.