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Courting Disaster: Why Are the Dutch Boosting NATO Cooperation in the Arctic?

Dutch Royals met British officials on Tuesday to commemorate 45 years of joint cooperation between the Royal Marines and Royal Netherlands Marine Corps. The latest diplomatic visit indicates that, notwithstanding Brexit, defense pacts between Britain and Northern Europe remain at all-time highs.

Dutch majesties King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima visited the HMS Belfast to promote several joint initiatives with the United Kingdom, including innovation and trade agreements.  

Prior to the visit, UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said to his counterpart Stef Blok that the UK and Netherlands would "work to further peace and security across the globe," including fighting terrorism and cybersecurity to "promoting values of freedom." 

The two militaries have worked closely together for over 45 years, "demonstrating world-class military integration," UK defense secretary Gavin Williamson also said prior to the visit. 

Soldiers from the British Royal Marines Commando demonstrate city fighting techniques during the NATO Response Force exercise - Sputnik International
Dutch General Accuses Russia of Trying to 'Provoke' NATO Marines in Arctic
Williamson mentioned that British and Dutch efforts in Norway to build the Defense Arctic Strategy "shows our deep-shared commitment to European security," adding that the visit would help celebrate "an enduring alliance with one of our closest defence partners". 

The visit follows statements from Dutch marine corps director of operations Gen. Jeff Mac Mootry, who accused the Russian military of provoking NATO soldiers in the Arctic Circle, adding that Russian ships wanted "to make their presence visible […] in a provocative way". 

Within pending bilateral agreements and joint economic initiatives lies the core of Anglo-Dutch dealings: containment of Russia and militarization of the North Sea under NATO, with the impetus for doing so beginning in October.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov cited deteriorating Russia-Dutch relations in an October 8 press statement, where Dutch authorities had detained four Russian specialists for allegedly cyber spying at the Hague in March.

Instead of contacting Russian officials, Dutch media leaked the reports six months later, in September and close to an Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) meeting the following month. Russian diplomats invited the Dutch ambassador to comment, but “we did not receive a sensible answer,” Lavrov told the press.

Lavrov called Dutch accusations “megaphone diplomacy” which neglected established diplomatic channels and instead were used as a platform for rallying the OPCW to “turn its Technical Secretariat into a kind of punitive body”, adding that a North Atlantic Council meeting took place the same day as the news conference. This set the stage for increased Dutch cooperation with NATO. 

What Is the UK Defense Arctic Strategy? 

A Defence Ministry press release said that changes "in the natural environment in the Arctic and High North" were driving Russia to "an increase in military activity" while accusing Moscow of building over 100 military facilities and surreptitious submarine patrols. 

The strategy was announced September 30 and entails sending Royal Marines to "cold weather training" exercises each year in Norway "on a long-term basis", with roughly 800 marines set to deploy in 2019 as an integral part of Norway's defense plans, among other initiatives.

READ MORE: War is Peace: NATO Allies Join Forces to Counter Underwater Russian Bogeymen

British officials have espoused similar rhetoric of "shared values" alongside history and geography in the past, with Norwegian state secretary of foreign affairs Tone Skogen and former UK defense minister Guto Bebb meeting May 3 to ink multibillion-dollar deals on American F-35 jet fighters and P-8 patrol aircraft set to operate from Scotland's Lossiemouth Royal Air Force base. 

Like Mac Mootry, Britain's defense secretary urged MPs to "wake up" to the "Russian threat", pointing to alleged submarine activity in the North Atlantic which undoubtably "shows the increasing aggression and increasing assertiveness of Russia". 

The RAND Corporation Disagrees 

Organizations such as the World Policy Institute and other Western news sources published several journals touting this hypothesis in 2015, but the RAND Corporation, America's military think tank, published a 2017 report at the height of "Russian meddling" accusations acknowledging that global Arctic cooperation had "remained largely intact" despite tensions.  

The document segued into mapping potential, not present threats to Arctic security, in addition to recommending the US government ways to mitigate "risks to [Arctic] cooperation". 

The report warned the Pentagon that Russia would firstly perceive NATO expansion as a threat to national safety, including "heavier NATO involvement [through] increased military presence". It also added that NATO should maintain such a presence because "five of its member states are Arctic nations" despite Russia protesting the alliance's military buildup on its doorstep.

Sea ice melts on the Franklin Strait along the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, Saturday, July 22, 2017. Because of climate change, more sea ice is being lost each summer than is being replenished in winters. Less sea ice coverage also means that less sunlight will be reflected off the surface of the ocean in a process known as the albedo effect. The oceans will absorb more heat, further fueling global warming - Sputnik International
UK Unveils Strategy to Defend Arctic in Light of Alleged Russian Threat
The report also warned that if Sweden and Finland joined NATO, Russia would accuse NATO of encirclement and endangering Moscow's Arctic resources which could disrupt "its ambitions for enhancing its energy sector through northern oil and gas reserves". 

Stepping up military coordination in the High North and Arctic regions is a symptom of NATO expansion and not Russian belligerence by the RAND Corporation's own accord. Pulling the Netherlands into NATO's Arctic military objectives will court disaster over the coming years and will not guarantee safety for any participating countries.

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