Speech/statement | Date: 2015-02-24 | Ministry of Defence
Annual address to Oslo Militære Samfund, 9 February 2015, from Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide. "Strengthening and renewing our Armed Forces for the future – hard choices and dilemmas". Original title in Norwegian: «Et forsterket og fornyet forsvar for fremtiden – vanskelige valg og dilemmaer».
Pictures of the Minister of Defence can be found here: Mediearkiv.
*Translated from Norwegian*
Distinguished guests, friends of the Armed Forces, ladies and gentlemen,
Just before New Year’s, the first volume was released in a highly unusual book project – the history of the Ministry of Defence.
In this first volume we learn more about the ministry’s early formative period, and about the world as it looked from Norway from 1814 until 1940. It reminds us that Norwegian defence history is complex and diverse. It brims with contradictions, and at times quite dysfunctional solutions. Defence planning on the whole is portrayed as wishful thinking. Rarely did it go beyond high-flying declarations of intent.
Knowledge of the past makes us better equipped to face the future. But I would add – the solutions themselves are unlikely to be found in the past. Tomorrow’s Armed Forces require different answers than those given yesterday. What was right in 2012 or 2013 is not necessarily right in 2015 or 2020.
Standing at this podium last year, the world looked quite different. Russia’s use of military force against Ukraine was still a few weeks away. That tells us how suddenly and unexpectedly the security situation can change.
The new security situation dominated discussion during the NATO defence ministers’ meeting in Brussels and the Munich Security Conference just before the weekend. The conversations I had and the impressions I’m left with confirm that the work we are now doing in NATO is both correct and necessary.
I don’t think anyone would dispute that we in early 2015 find ourselves facing a more turbulent security situation than we have seen in a long while. I view the situation with the utmost gravity. The situation is made all the more serious due to the fact that it further strengthens the need to make changes in our own Armed Forces.
It was also from this podium last year that I gave an outlook which I dare say departed from the view that everything is just fine in the Armed Forces.
Tonight, after what we have seen and learned in the past year, I would say it even more clearly: Today’s defence is unsustainable over the medium and long term. Our ambition level, structure and available resources are under great pressure, and will fall further out of balance if we don’t make some fundamental choices. And this is not only a question of financial resources. It is just as much about organisation, adapting to new technologies, and getting more defence out of every krone we spend.
I believe a course change is required in several areas. That’s not an easy thing to say to you – an organisation that has been restructuring for 15 years. Let me therefore add – it’s because we have such highly skilled employees that so many things are as good as they are. The scene I will describe today is neither all gloomy, nor all rosy. I will be realistic. These days, we are all well aware that change is normal – whether for better or worse.
That is why I say my primary goal is to encourage innovation and the embrace of change. It’s now my turn to lay the groundwork for making hard choices and setting out clear priorities. And as I said to you last year, we politicians must examine whether the solutions we recommended in the past have held up.
Politics is about making choices, setting priorities and carrying out plans. The tense area between what’s desirable and what’s possible is where we make our choices. I have stressed the need for realism and level-headedness over wishful thinking. Tonight I will repeat that.
I will highlight some important perspectives and linkages. I will discuss the status of our own defence and the seriousness of the new security situation. And I will use this occasion to discuss some dilemmas we face in our efforts to strengthen and renew our defence to meet the future.
Let me start with what we have done so far, what we have learned, and where we wish to go.
Shortcomings, challenges and the way ahead
During the past year we have scrutinised the Armed Forces’ operating situation, structure and staffing. It’s been an important, necessary process. We have seen what we do well; we have also seen limitations and gaps, and identified just where the shoe pinches.
This review confirms that important parts of our defence structure lack the responsiveness and endurance we require to confront the major changes occurring around us.
The combination of those international developments, military operational challenges and tight economic conditions makes it easier to see the difficulties and dilemmas we face.
Foremost among them are important changes in certain of our planning assumptions – not least our understanding of likely warning times. We have long assumed that we would receive early warning, and that is why large parts of our forces are set up with long reaction times.
That’s not good enough anymore. Today, if we don’t change, parts of the structure will lose relevance due to their inability to achieve the necessary response capability. And for the record let me add: We are not alone in this. All European countries now face the same challenge of giving rapid-reaction capacity to a sufficient volume of their forces.
We have also noted a lack of endurance in key parts of the Armed Forces. Limited logistical and structural support capacity means limited endurance.
Our logistics – and this has been a challenge for several years that is now becoming clearer – are not dimensioned to ensure we can engage simultaneously in force build-up, front-line defence and reception of allied support. We see simultaneity challenges and delays in readying units for service, and we see reduced endurance.
Logistical support requires support from civilian society. We must therefore ensure that the total defence concept is kept up to date and relevant. The challenges around us demand more than military responses. The current set of threats is a test of our national ability to collaborate. Our skill at responding with speed and synergy across sectors will be crucial.
The sum of the findings and vulnerabilities we have outlined leads to the conclusion that we must structure our Armed Forces differently. We need a sharper defence with higher readiness, more speed in building up forces, longer endurance, and stronger civilian-military cooperation.
To achieve such a defence, there are no shortcuts. There are no easy answers or solutions. It will be a difficult and expensive exercise. But let there be no doubt – it is absolutely necessary.
The Government’s efforts will follow two main tracks. First, we will continue to increase defence budgets and continue to prioritize operational activity and readiness. We have gone outside the budget to finance the international operations of the Armed Forces from the end of 2013 and in 2014.
Our international activity level in 2014 has been both high and varied. In addition to our long-term missions, like Afghanistan, there were many that were not accounted for in advance. These ranged from Operation RECSYR and the transport of chemical warfare agents out of a war-torn Syria to the assignment of a command vessel for NATO’s standing maritime forces. Other such missions included the transport of Ebola-fighting medical equipment to Sierra Leone and significant contributions to reassure our allies in the east. In addition we have obtained supplementary funding for the fighter aircrafts – a large but crucially important economic undertaking.
I agree with the Chief of Defence that our more fundamental challenges are not to be solved entirely within the annual budgets. Nor can they be solved within the current long-term plan, or any one newlong-term plan. Together we must examine whether we can do even more to shift resources from lower- to higher-priority activities. And we must consider the possibility of increasing allocations more than we already have. I am now in the middle of that effort and devoting just about all of my time to it.
The second track the Government is following is to prepare for a longer-term change of direction. In a nutshell, we’re developing a defence force that is relevant for the future. There are two sides to this. One is to maintain a high level of investment. The F-35 and JSM are two examples – a core capacity that no opponent will be able to ignore. The second is to address the basic vulnerabilities and shortcomings we see. It’s about staking out a new course – a new long-term plan for the Armed Forces.
I have emphasised transparency, public openness and commitment in the process. I’ve reached out for advice and input. By doing so I know very well that we’ll be challenged. I know it may create anxiety, and I know with certainty that we will face some very hard choices and dilemmas.
The Chief of Defence’s Military Advice on future development of the Armed Forces will be of particular significance. It’s important to have a military chief who provides clear and independent advice. The Chief of Defence will submit his Military Advice on October 1, exactly a year after I gave him the task. In keeping with my desire for transparency, there was full openness around the letter of assignment, and the Chief of Defence and I held a joint press conference.
I also look forward to the report of the independent expert group that will consider the capacity of the Armed Forces to perform the most demanding tasks they would face in crisis and war. The group will release its work in the spring.
I have commissioned the National Security Authority to issue a Security Advisory Report. As everyone knows, we live in an increasingly vulnerable society. This advisory report will not only delineate vulnerabilities but will recommend how to deploy preventive measures to protect the things we value.
We have appointed a conscription committee, which will provide important input on how we can extend the social contract of compulsory military service into a new era.
And finally, I've asked for input from external consultants to see how we can be even smarter in our use of resources – and find even better ways to make use of NOK 43 billion for improved operational ability.
Altogether this will provide a solid basis for the Government, and then the Storting, to make political decisions and resolutions.
I expect debate. Or to put it another way – I want debate. No one is served by defence policy discussions that take place exclusively in closed circles. The defence of Norway is not a special interest. It concerns all of society. We are all on board, and we all pay the insurance premium that our national defence spending really is.
That is why I’m eager for us to succeed in elevating the defence policy debate and public interest in defence affairs across society. I think it’s high time for a broad public exchange of views on the ability to defend our country and our interests. I need your help with this – so please, stay engaged. All of you, in different ways, provide invaluable help in fostering understanding and commitment on defence matters.
Often, what moves us most are issues having to do with localisation. That is understandable – self-interest is a great motivator. But in many ways I’m afraid localisation discussions can overshadow underlying problems – and solutions, too.
It’s now time to raise our eyes and look beyond the bounds of party politics. That is easier said than done. After eight years in opposition, I know that quite well. Short-term political victories are often highly prized. Yet in the wider perspective there are no winners – perhaps least of all the Armed Forces, which depend on long-term, predictable operating parameters.
Given the gravity of what surrounds us, we have no time to discuss losers or winners, or what is perceived as “fair” distribution – whether geographically or organisationally. There is no time to discuss yesterday’s decisions or gear up for a replay of old political battles.
The challenges we face are not this government’s to solve alone. Future governments will have to deal with them too – regardless of party colours. I believe any responsible government must take this seriously. We must work together to explore ways of building a relevant defence together. That’s what we’ll be judged on. And that is where we should stake our prestige.
I will spend much of the time ahead looking for new solutions. We must have the courage to ask ourselves whether the solutions we have chosen are providing us with the Armed Forces we need. And we must not lock ourselves into one way of thinking.
That forces us to recognise that some aspects of today’s situation are different from what we faced a few years ago – the security environment for one, and the Armed Forces’ economic framework for another. Let me say a few words about each of these.
Our security environment
2014 was a black year for security in Europe, as Jens Stoltenberg has said. We are witnessing significant shifts in the security landscape. The conditions we have known since the end of the Cold War now look completely different.
Taken together, the international challenges loom larger than they have for a very long time. Their span is great, and the threats to our security are varied. We must strengthen our ability to handle the unexpected. We must guard against both conventional and asymmetric threats as well as hybrid warfare, cyber threats, terrorism and the rise of extremism. Old and new challenges are converging. And when a new one emerges, the old ones do not go away.
Russian aggression against Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea and the active and ongoing destabilisation of the country’s eastern areas represent a moment of truth in European security thought. We can no longer permit ourselves to think about European security and defence in the same way.
Basic international rules have been violated. International law is the foundation that Europe has constructed after the hard-won lessons of two devastating world wars. When it is breached, the threshold for using military force is lowered. Those now paying the highest price are the people of Ukraine.
Today we are faced with a different Russia. International cooperation has been replaced by increased tension. As Moscow sees it, military armament and aggression are the answer to the challenges the Russians see around them. There can be no doubt that spheres of interest and power politics are once again the core of Russian security policy.
In 2014, Russia’s military activity was at a level we have not seen since Soviet times. Its range and quality are completely altered. Exercises, training and military modernisation are not problematic or illegitimate, in and of themselves. All countries that seek to develop a relevant defence force that’s fit for combat do those things.
It is quite another matter when a country chooses to ignore international agreements and rules. Security is then reduced. Regular flights over the Baltic Sea by heavy strategic bombers and rather aggressive flights that violate other countries’ airspace have become part of the picture. There is no other way to interpret it than as a show of force by the Russian side.
From Norway, the view is somewhat less clear-cut. While neighbouring countries and close allies contend with territorial violations and increased activity, the pattern we observe is more recognisable. In our vicinity, the number of aircraft identifications remained at about the same level from 2013 to 2014, while in the Baltic Sea area there was a tripling of Russian aircraft activity. But also in the High North we notice a higher degree of complexity and quality in Russian flights, ship movements, exercises and test activity. Strategically, the northern regions have become no less important for Russia.
New and upgraded Russian materiel, the formation of new military units, more complex operational patterns, a new level of strategic mobility, and the establishment of the Arctic Command all make it imperative that we continue to eye future Russian developments very carefully. We must also provide for the possibility that conflicts arising elsewhere can spread in our direction. Heightened awareness and a stronger presence are one response.
At the same time we must attend to the vital tasks Norway and Russia face together in the north. Our people-to-people cooperation is important and can be developed further. And we share a desire for safety and stability in the High North. We are therefore maintaining our cooperation on border control, coast guard and search-and-rescue operations as well as contact between the Norwegian Joint Headquarters and the Northern Fleet, even though bilateral military cooperation is suspended.
Firmness and predictability have always served our interests in the north. This is unchanged. Our security mooring in NATO is also unchanged.
I believe that the alliance is more significant now than it has been in a long time. We must never forget that NATO is a political alliance, built on shared values across the Atlantic. We and our allies must protect NATO’s political credibility. We do this by ensuring the alliance’s military credibility.
That was the essence of the summit in Wales. But there was much more to it: the allies gave clear marching orders to begin a strengthening of NATO. Decisions were taken to reinforce NATO’s core functions, heighten readiness, cut reaction times, and enhance its capacity to plan and carry out collective defence operations.
Taking the long view, I think the sum of the changes we are now seeing in NATO will give us a NATO “before and after Wales”. Keep in mind that we’re emerging from a time when many people associate NATO forces and Norwegian soldiers with desert uniforms and operations far beyond Europe. You and I know that the picture is far more complex.
Now we see the outlines of something new. We must base our policies on the assumption that the Armed Forces will focus increasingly on protecting alliance territory.
This challenges us. The Telemark Battalion’s mission in Latvia last autumn was something more than just an exercise. A conceptual change is under way that affects the entire military. In our current planning, there is no provision for what we now call reassurance operations.
Deterrence and reassurance are something completely different from combat operations in Afghanistan. Exercises to test NATO’s collective defence planning is quite unlike training Afghan security forces. In the new security situation, our Armed Forces must be ready to do both. We need a defence structure with operational concepts suitable to a variety of missions at home and abroad.
The job we have taken on in Afghanistan will be completed in partnership with our allies. And we will use the time before us to draw meaningful conclusions that will help guide us in the future. I have great expectations for the work now under way by the Afghanistan committee.
Along the way we must dare to ask: What effect does a protracted international mission like Afghanistan have on our Armed Forces? How does it influence the structure, the way of thinking, and not least recruitment?
I believe the mission in Afghanistan has given the Armed Forces and our allies a great deal of important experience. Three things in particular stand out, in my opinion:
One, our land forces can now join an allied operation far more seamlessly than before. We must preserve and develop this capability, because it’s at least as important in allied territory.
Two, Armed Forces restructuring and modernisation have received a significant boost. The people involved have been the most important part of this. We have a generation of soldiers and officers with long experience in both the planning and implementation of complex operations in harsh conditions.
Three, the important and enduring promise that has been made to our veterans. I can hardly remember an issue with such broad cross-party consensus and support. It makes me optimistic about the work ahead, although much remains to be done. The Government’s new follow-up plan lays out a broad approach to making sure veterans are followed up effectively in their contact with civilian agencies and institutions.
We must preserve all of this. And we must prepare ourselves for the new security situation. For us and for our allies, that will mean a huge shift in planning and in the ways we exercise and train.
“Reinforcements are our security.” Since the 1970s this has been a mantra in Norwegian security and defence policy. But have we really thought this through in the last 15–20 years? Have we exercised enough on the premise?
Norway will continue to pursue an active invitation and hosting policy. And to strengthen the collective defence we will participate even more in relevant exercise and training activities in other parts of the alliance.
This autumn, more than 25,000 NATO soldiers will take part in the first of a new type of large-scale exercise. On and around the Iberian Peninsula, they will practice joint operations, heightened alert status and rapid reaction. They will demonstrate the ability to deter adversaries and defend that particular alliance area. Norway will send a substantial contingent.
The next such exercise is set for 2018. As some of you may have seen, NATO’s Secretary General and I announced last week that Norway has taken on the job of hosting the next high-visibility exercise. We have long experience with allied exercises and training in Norway. Geographical balance is important. We must understand the challenges as seen from all parts of the alliance. The northern parts of course are essential to the whole, and the training scenario for the 2018 exercise is collective defence. The exercise in 2015 will focus on crisis management.
In today’s security environment we need forces that are ready on shorter notice. Heightened readiness is the point of a new rapid-reaction force to be tested and designed by Norway, Germany and the Netherlands. It enhances our ability to defend Norway, and it’s important for the alliance. For Norway it’s important to assume responsibility for carrying out decisions made at the summit. But we must not forget to follow up the rest of the Readiness Action Plan: That is where many of the major challenges lie.
The measures we’re taking in NATO are designed to equip us for challenges from several quarters. The tensions and insecurity in Europe are exacerbated by trends in the Middle East. There, too, the strategic situation has changed abruptly.
This is a development we must confront on several levels. Increased readiness at home is one of them. Combating radicalisation is another. Military support for capacity building in Iraq is a third. The Government has decided to contribute about 120 Norwegian soldiers. Along with our allies and partners, the aim is to strengthen Iraqi security forces against the threat from ISIL.
I am pleased that we have been able to respond to the challenges around us, and that Norway steps forward when needed. This does not happen by itself. Our people on duty at home and abroad understand this. As you know better than anyone, it’s the military personnel who have borne the burden and made it possible for Norway to engage in international operations.
Higher levels of activity at home and abroad cost money. This can be felt in the daily operations of the Armed Forces. Quite simply, the new security situation carries with it an all-new price tag.
That’s not a comforting thought, but Norway is not alone in facing such challenges in the alliance. The changes in NATO are a headache for both economists and force generators. Europe’s economic downturn has hit defence extra hard. And it continues to challenge European solidarity.
The economic crisis is far from over. 21 of 28 NATO allies spent less money on defence in 2014 than in 2008. So while the challenges around us are increasing, budgets are continuing to decline.
We see societies that are more polarised. The emergence of radical protest movements, anti-establishment parties and nationalism could lead to increased re-nationalisation of security and defence policies. The European security community would in that case risk erosion, with implications for our decision-making ability.
The EU and NATO have been invaluable as arenas for including southern and eastern Europe in this community. NATO’s stabilising effect in the realm of security policy can hardly be overstated.
Norway is one of the few European countries that have maintained stable defence appropriations over these years. As a result, our position in NATO has probably never been stronger. But it also means that we have to pay a larger part of the bill for our own security. And that takes me to another important topic – the economic framework of the Armed Forces.
The Armed Forces’ economic framework
Given the situation of our Armed Forces and the new security landscape, should we strengthen budgets more than we’re already doing?
Every government of course must reconcile its policies with economic reality. It’s about finding a balance between the desirable and the possible.
It is not my ambition to write the second volume of the history of the defence ministry. But I would like to present a rough historical sketch of Norwegian defence economics. The light of history often helps clarify the current situation as well as changes in circumstance.
We all recall how we built up the Armed Forces in the 1950s and ’60s. We were a recipient of security during a period when the United States took a strategic view of the northern flank and of the naval powers. Perhaps some of you remember the 1960 Fleet Plan? Those were the days when most of our vessels were manned at all times. So were our northern coastal forts – with 30-minute reaction times.
In the 1970s and ’80s we continued to receive quite a lot of help from outside. We remember this period for NATO’s large infrastructure projects. Through extensive shared financing – a concept that is practically non-existent in NATO today – we were able to build large military facilities, air bases and forts.
In the 1980s the United States again increased its defence appropriations, with Europe and Norway benefitting. We also invested substantial amounts of defence money on our own. Nevertheless, in many ways we remained at the mercy of outside support.
Then came the fall of the Berlin Wall. Like other members of the alliance, we transitioned from a mobilisation defence to a mission-oriented defence. We took out the so-called peace dividend. Large financial resources were freed by reducing defence structure and disposing of property.
An extensive internal efficiency drive made it possible to undertake broad-based modernisation of the Armed Forces. If we succeed with the remainder of the plan, the Armed Forces from 2002 to 2016 will have been able to reprioritise the accumulated sum of about NOK 60 billion from lower- to higher-priority areas.
That allowed us to finance the modernisation and restructuring of the Armed Forces during a period of almost flat budgets. Perhaps inadvertently, we allowed ourselves during this period to give less priority to emergency stockpiles and to the force build-up capability of the entire structure.
And we did something else that is highly significant: We accepted a reduced operational level to cover some of the costs of new investments. Our five frigates followed such logic. It may well be that it made sense in a situation when developments around us suggested that this was possible.
Jumping forward to our own time, things are quite different. The security situation does not allow for reduced operational activity. On the contrary, we see demands and expectations for increased readiness across the crisis spectrum, including support for civilian society. We realise we must fill our emergency stockpiles, not empty them.
We also have to invest in fighter aircraft whose total cost exceeds what we have obtained through efficiencies and reprioritising. The United States is the main engine of the F-35 partnership, but there is little to suggest that a new Marshall Plan is in the works.
On the contrary, there is strong domestic political pressure for the United States to reduce its defence spending. That affects us, too. Europe must bear a greater share of the costs for its own security.
We were reminded of that again last week during the NATO defence ministers’ meeting. The goal of halting the decline in defence budgets and working towards a minimum defence spending level of 2% of GDP within 10 years is a very demanding one for most of our allies.
We, too, have a way to go before reaching the 2% level. But we stand by the target. At the same time, I would point out that the 2% spending goal is far from the only operational capacity goal. A willingness to invest in future capabilities and to restructure the Armed Forces is also important. And to that I would add the scale of exercises we perform, and our approach to exercises and training in general. I am happy that we are one of the few countries that now meets the goal of spending more than 20% of the budget on investments, that we are moving forward on modernisation, and that we’re spending more on exercises and training.
It is challenging to protect major investments. Although the purchase of new fighters has been decided, I would remind you that this is the government that must find room in its budgets for real increases of many billions of kroner. The aircraft are pre-ordered, but I can promise you they are far from prepaid.
We must fight for those billions in competition with many other important areas of society. And at the same time we must still find room for our share of the investment, as projected, within the defence budgets. I can promise that will not happen by itself. Such prioritising is a tough, grinding process.
We must make certain that the operational units are adequately staffed. The Chief of Defence and I have a constructive dialogue on this. And we must continue renewing and investing in new equipment. We must continue to plan for major purchases of materiel, not only in the near future but 15–20 years ahead.
That’s what we are now doing in the Army, which is undergoing extensive modernisation with the phase-in of a new armoured combat vehicle, the CV90. This represents a substantial boost in capacity, whose investment alone comes to about NOK 10 billion.
New submarines are another essential purchase. They increase the overall ability of the Armed Forces – and add credibility to our future war prevention threshold. I am therefore glad that the Government recently adopted a resolution in principle on acquiring new submarines rather than extending the life of those we have.
Yet a submarine acquisition is also a good example of the economic challenges we face. We can no longer fund that kind of procurement by reducing volume or through efficiencies. If we want submarines, we must make room for them in the budget, and we know that could mean lowering other priorities.
The need for aircraft, submarines and modern army materiel is simple to understand, and it is easy to generate support for procuring them. The same applies to other modern combat systems. But significant parts of our defence structure have fewer advocates. I am thinking here of systems that provide situational awareness and the ability to coordinate action.
We see the need to strengthen that ability in the years to come, with particular emphasis on monitoring our vast maritime areas and airspace. Such joint capabilities must be thoroughly discussed in the upcoming Military Advice and in the framework of the long-term plan.
The Armed Forces must keep pace with developments. To be relevant, we must constantly improve the performance of military assets. That is why we see technology-driven price hikes in our sector that are higher than elsewhere in society.
It’s a safe bet that it won’t become any cheaper to procure and operate a high-technology defence. Today we can estimate with some confidence that the F-35 will cost almost NOK 400 million more to operate each year than the F-16. Other new platforms, like the NH90 and CV90, follow the same logic and pattern. We get new and better capability, with more functional breadth, but at a completely different price.
Again you see the outlines of the discussions we will be having in the coming year. And the need to make strategically important but tough decisions.
We will continue to do a very thorough job internally to make sure we’re using resources properly. We must ask ourselves again – do we have further to go? In new areas, perhaps? Can we do things differently? Are we doing the right things – are we doing things right?
When it comes to such questions, I’m not afraid to seek advice from external consultants. I have therefore asked McKinsey to study the potential for efficiencies in selected functions in the sector.
The objective is to clarify whether we are organised appropriately, with the most practical solutions for staffing, support and – not least – administration. And let me stress: We’re not going to touch operational activity and capability. On the contrary, we’re doing this to strengthen operational capability.
Today, for example, we buy both office chairs and computer eyeglasses one at a time and at great variation in price. By not using framework agreements and fixed standards the Armed Forces probably pays a lot more than necessary. This is money I would rather spend on ammunition and training days.
The solutions chosen should be our own. The organisation must have ownership for best effect. Obviously, the report I eventually receive will be made available to all, in parallel with the ministry’s own work.
For me the point is for us to find smarter and better ways of doing things – where appropriate, where possible – and to generate shared enthusiasm for this. Without stepping on the turf of the central bank governor – who of course delivers his annual address on Thursday – I would point out that we are doing this in a situation where more and more analysts are warning of weakened prospects for the Norwegian economy. This is also a time, we are often told, when we must invest in skills and education.
Let me therefore conclude by sharing some thoughts on the latter.
Expertise, personnel and conscription
Almost 60% of the military’s annual operating expenses are personnel related. This illustrates that people are the heart of the Armed Forces. The sector’s 20,000 or so employees do an incredible job. But it also means we must continuously evaluate how we educate and recruit. The goal must always be increased availability and relevance – that is, increased operational capability. There are several facets to this.
Military expertise and operational experience are needs that will always be there. Good military leaders, skilled soldiers who know their craft and are passionate about what they do – that is what creates combat capability. We must make sure that people with military expertise are asked to do what they do best and are educated to do – professional military tasks.
We’re talking about expertise in planning, management and the execution of military operations. And not least, about the professional code which is so vital to the military profession.
The Armed Forces – whose primary duty is to produce operational capability – must find a proper balance between officers in staff functions and those out in operational positions. It is essentially a matter of how we staff and organise the Armed Forces. It’s about how we prioritise military personnel resources in an operational structure that has need for a manpower boost.
Fast technology development and the rapid pace of change have come to stay. We have to respond with an adaptable defence – with more investment in specialised expertise, experience and continuity. Unfortunately the trend in the Armed Forces has been somewhat the opposite – lack of specialisation, and too little service time in operational posts.
An enlisted soldier gets a new post every 14 months on average. We also know that it costs NOK 1.7 million to educate a gunner for a CV90 – just in ammunition. More and more positions for enlisted personnel are so specialised and so costly that we need programmes making it possible for the personnel to become specialised over a longer time period.
We must therefore create a system that lets Armed Forces personnel build careers in specialised fields. That would serve both the individual’s and the Armed Forces’ needs.
The work done to prepare a new personnel and officer corps scheme is a response to this. We propose to introduce a specialist corps in the Armed Forces. The aim is to strengthen continuity, expertise and operational capability. If this reduces the cost of constantly producing new skills which last only a short time in each position, it would be a welcome additional effect.
Establishing a specialist corps will also increase the responsibility that rests with the individual officer. Quality and content in officer training will become even more important. Traditionally, the culture of the Armed Forces is tied largely to the officers’ role and recognition of broad expertise.
It is important, therefore, to create additional recognition for the role of the specialist corps and for the way officers and enlisted soldiers and seamen complement each other’s work. For a specialist corps to function well, a culture based on mutual respect and understanding will be needed.
We also must look carefully at how we conduct skills development. Is the current system the most appropriate, or could other models do better? This is also something for the Chief of Defence to consider in his Military Advice.
Still another trend as I see it is that education in the future must increasingly take place in closer interaction with civilian educational institutions, and we have already come a long way in that regard.
We have to think in wider terms. Partly that means hiring more people with civilian educations, and providing additional military knowledge to those who need it. Can we also be more adept at using civilians in jobs where the skill requirements are largely civilian, so that those with military expertise can be put in positions that require it?
The traditional way into the Armed Forces has been through conscription. From 1 January of this year, that road had been widened. The intake of women born in 1997 marks the beginning of a historic social reform. First and foremost, it will strengthen our operational capability; but I also feel confident that it will help strengthen the Armed Forces’ reputation and influence in Norwegian society.
Today we have a high-technology defence that is fast-changing and dynamic, and it requires a broad spectre of specialised skills. Our personnel must be diverse enough to provide those skills. Universal military service allows the Armed Forces to recruit those who are best suited, and most motivated.
We have an organisation whose breadth of tasks and functions is unique. And of course the need for conscripts varies among the military branches. We must therefore look for conscription models that satisfy the Armed Forces’ needs.
Here, too, we must ask the question: How can we utilise initial service in a way that increases operational capability? Has the right balance been struck between our use of first-time service members and our use of enlisted men and women?
We must not forget that initial service has been – and continues to be – a central reservoir for enlistee recruitment and officer training. It is also crucial for staffing the current force structure. So this is not a case of either/or, but of both/and. In any case, the needs of the Armed Forces will determine how conscription is practiced and whether the initial service system needs adjustment – such as more variation in length of service. I expect that both the conscription committee and the Chief of Defence, in his Military Advice, will explore these issues carefully.
Defence for the future
Ladies and gentlemen,
I have now shared some thoughts with you about our time and the challenges we face – at home and abroad. And I have spoken of some dilemmas we face. A dilemma, of course, presents two possibilities that both lead towards an undesirable result.
This is not entirely coincidental. At the crossroads we now occupy, I think we have to recognise that many of the choices that lie ahead may turn out to be dilemmas. What’s most important is not to shy away from difficult discussions. It is crucial that we make good decisions, and make them in time.
The time is coming when the Armed Forces will no longer be able to rely on reduction to help finance renewal – at least not without compromising broad structural elements. A new era in Norwegian defence planning will then have arrived. That is not rhetoric. It is reality.
I will stand up for the responsibility we face to change direction and secure sustainable financing for our altered course. I therefore invite all political parties to be a part of finding sound, sustainable solutions for the Armed Forces. I do so knowing that the alternative to pragmatic decision-making and continued change may be decline and irrelevance.
The fact is that wishing for a better future is not enough. We must actively work for it. We must take action in our time, and not leave posterity with the consequences of choices we failed to make. Just as the first volume of the defence ministry’s history tells us that our predecessors were tested, so too will we be tested: High-flown declarations of intent – or realistic goals that we can meet?
Looking forward, that will define our shared efforts. Strengthening and renewing our Armed Forces – Armed Forces for the future!