NATO says Russian ships have mapped important underwater infrastructure in the Western military alliance’s sea zone.
NATO has set up a new center focused on protecting undersea pipelines and data cables after apparent attacks on Nord Stream gas pipelines and growing concern that Russia has mapped vital western underwater infrastructure around Europe.
NATO members’ defense ministers meeting in Brussels approved plans for a NATO “maritime center for the security of critical underwater infrastructure,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday.
The center is based at NATO’s naval headquarters in Northwood, near London, and will be responsible for developing a new surveillance system for, among other things, parts of the Atlantic as well as the North Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Mediterranean Sea. Sea and Black Sea.
The efforts to protect critical underwater infrastructure in the West come in response to allegations of sabotage against the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipelines in September. It is still unclear who was behind the destruction of the pipeline.
“The threat is evolving,” said Hans-Werner Wermann, a former German three-star general, who was prompted to act after reports that Russian ships had mapped critical infrastructure in NATO alliance areas.
“Russian ships have actively mapped our undersea infrastructure,” he told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels, adding that there are concerns that Russia could target cables and other critical infrastructure under the sea in an effort to disrupt Western life.
Wiermann said the new NATO center will bring together NATO members, allies and the private sector to “enhance information-sharing on emerging risks and threats.”
Nearly 8,000 km (5,000 mi) of oil and gas pipelines cross the North Sea alone and other underwater data systems, networks and grids are impossible to monitor continuously.
“There is no way NATO will have a presence on these thousands of kilometers of undersea infrastructure,” Stoltenberg told reporters after chairing the meeting.
“But we can be better at … gathering intelligence, sharing information, connecting the dots, because, even in the private sector, there is a lot of information about shipping and maritime surveillance”, he said.
Instead of trying to see it all, the new center and NATO allies will focus on high-risk areas, such as pipelines in shallow water that can be easily reached by divers. Potential damage to data cables can be mitigated more easily.