Strategic Nuclear Patrols and an Arctic Military Code of Conduct


  • Ernie Regehr The Simons Foundation


anti-submarine warfare, militarization, nuclear deterrence, strategic stability, zone of peace


While rising northern tensions clearly challenge notions of the Arctic as a durable zone of peace, current tensions are rooted in fears of a European conflict spilling northward, not in conflict endemic to the Arctic. Two decades of high north military expansion have certainly added to the region’s strategic uncertainty, but more consequential are the currently increasing levels and pace of competing strategic patrols in the Arctic, especially those that undermine basic nuclear deterrence. Proposals for an Arctic code of conduct, designed to avoid provocative behaviour and reduce risks of accidental encounters escalating, seek to preserve the Arctic as a low-tension security environment, and proposals to constraint strategic patrols rest on the same principle. In particular U.S. anti submarine warfare operations aimed at Russia’s sea-based nuclear deterrent forces threaten the latter’s second-strike forces and thus destabilize mutual strategic deterrence. Strategic ASW operations have been of enduring concern and have led to a succession of proposals to constrain such deployments. Those ideas, however, have never been elevated to sustained exploration or drawn into formal arms control negotiations. Early 2023 may not seem a propitious time to revive ideas of anti-submarine warfare constraint, but in the long term, strategic stability and resumed arms control and disarmament will require attention to them.

Author Biography

Ernie Regehr, The Simons Foundation

Ernie Regehr is Senior Fellow in Defence Policy and Arctic Security with The Simons Foundation Canada, Research Fellow at the Centre for Peace Advancement, Conrad Grebel University College, University of Waterloo, Ontario. He is co-founder and former Executive Director of Canada’s Project Ploughshares.