The Nato military alliance has highlighted the benefit of increased partnership with Ireland in protecting digital cables coming across the North Atlantic.
The deputy secretary general of the organisation said ensuring Ireland’s resilience, as an economy dependent on the flow of technology, was “critical”.
Mircea Geoană said Russia’s naval exercise on the edges of Irish-controlled waters, and the sabotage of the Nord Stream oil pipelines in the Baltic Sea, put the security of transatlantic cables into “sharp focus”.
It is estimated that about three-quarters of all cables in the northern hemisphere pass through or near Irish waters, most off the southwest coast and some off the northwest coast. These cables carry 97% of global communications, including financial transactions, business operations, and everyday internet access.
It is believed that four of these transatlantic cables physically connect to Ireland, with a further 12 connecting Ireland and Britain.
Speaking at an online event hosted by the Dublin-based Institute for International and European Affairs, Mr Geoană said President Putin had effectively “declared war” on the rule-based international order with his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. “We must support Ukraine to win this war, because, if he [Putin] wins, he and other authoritarian leaders would learn a terrifying lesson,” the former Romanian diplomat said.
He said societies must also strengthen their “resilience”, pointing out that modern conflict was more than about guns and tanks. He said Nato was every bit as concerned with protecting critical infrastructure, supply chains, and cyberspace.
Mr Geoană said: Even here in Ireland, far from the frontline, Russia’s presence is felt.
“Last year, Russia planned a naval exercise in Ireland’s exclusive economic zone, and following the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, the security of undersea cables connecting Ireland to North America, UK, and Europe has come into sharp focus.”
To counter this threat, he said Nato countries have recently set up a new Critical Undersea Infrastructure Coordination Cell, which will work with industry and civilian authorities to boost the security of these cables.
“As an advanced knowledge-based economy, with thriving technology, pharmaceutical, biotech, and financial sectors, ensuring Ireland’s resilience will be critical in the years ahead,” Mr Geoană said. “This is where, I believe, our partnership would be good to work.”
He pointed out that Nato was “stepping up” its co-operation with the EU, with a new joint task force on resilience and critical infrastructure.
He said he spoke about these issues with Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Defence, Micheál Martin, at the Munich Security Conference in Germany last month, along with his counterpart in Malta, another non-militarily aligned state.
Mr Geoană said this was a “real point of concern” to all. He added: “So, of course, if Ireland would be interested in our already very dynamic partnership to find ways to co-operate also on this topic we will be very open to that proposition.”
He said Russia was “amplifying” the work it has been doing for years on espionage in European countries and said it was a threat that needed to be taken “very seriously”. He said Russia’s use of disinformation was widespread: “That’s something very, very pervasive, in basically amplifying the fractures in our own societies”.
This, he said, can as go as far as financially supporting some political parties who are against the “western orientation” and cyber attacks.
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