NATO Back in Europe – a Return of Geography?

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide held this speech at The Military Power Seminar 2014 at the Norwegian Red Cross Conference Centre, Oslo, November 20. Title for the seminar: NATO back in Europe – A Return of Geography?

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide held this speech at The Military Power Seminar 2014 at the Norwegian Red Cross Conference Centre, Oslo, November 20. Title for the seminar: NATO back in Europe – A Return of Geography?

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Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends:
Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this year’s Military Power Seminar. This is my third Military Power Seminar – I’m becoming a seasoned traveler. Allow me from the outset to thank the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs - NUPI - and the Norwegian Defence University College. You have staged an excellent program!
It is always a pleasure to be with you to discuss issues of common concern. We simply need to address a broader audience with respect to defence and security matters. We need to reach out and engage a wider public.
Last year at this seminar, we discussed lessons learned from Afghanistan. And, just as importantly, scrutinized the lessons lost during a number of years having conducted operations far away from Europe. I remember presenting a very candid assessment with regard to NATO’s ability to conduct its core tasks.

The issue is as relevant as ever. To put it bluntly: to what extent are we, Norway and NATO, prepared and capable of handling Article 5? I have for a number of years addressed the need for NATO to strike a better balance between crisis management operations “out of area” and collective defence “in area”. I will continue to beat that drum!
Our armed forces deliver high quality in many important areas – and in some areas they are even world leading.

We have made significant contributions from all services to international operations over many years, and we deliver peace and security through daily operations at home. I am very proud of all our men and women serving our nation. But to stay relevant and capable faced with the security challenges closer to home, we need to address shortcomings in our readiness and capabilities, and we must constantly look for ways of improving.

I believe few - if any - expected the fundamental changes in European security we have seen over the last year. The challenges around us are increasing, and they are coming closer to NATO territory. Unrest and conflict is not something new in Europe’s periphery, but the same year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, our shared vision of Europe whole and free is again being challenged by those who disregard international law. We once again have an armed conflict in the midst of Europe. New geopolitical realities must be taken into account when calibrating our new policy.

My attempt this morning is to offer an account of our changing security environment and how this accentuates the need to develop our Armed Forces.


A New Security Landscape
Let me begin with our neighbor to the east. Over the past years we have witnessed a more self-assertive Russia. Previously, the Russian military capacity could best be described as a “sledge hammer”: it was capable of a massive blow, but was imprecise and took a long time to prepare. Russian reforms have made its military forces more precise and versatile. They can also be moved, deployed and employed on very short notice.

And over the past years, Russia has increased its military presence in the High North, both in terms of announced training and unannounced snap exercises. The strategic components of the Northern Fleet are being upgraded, and new fighter aircraft, helicopters and air defence systems are being allocated to the region. Putin has declared that the High North is of great importance to him, and this has been matched by more Russian military activity.

Russian airplanes are flying more frequently and further down the Norwegian coast compared to a few years ago. They are also flying in bigger formations. This can be illustrated by the number of scrambles conducted by Norwegian F-16s. In 2005 we had 16 scrambles, identifying 23 Russian military aircraft. In 2013 we had 41 scrambles, identifying 60 Russian airplanes. So far in 2014, we have had 41 scrambles, identifying 67 Russian planes. This does not indicate a dramatic increase, but a trend in Russian activity over time close to Norwegian borders.

Russia has also demonstrated its will to use military means to promote national interests. The aggressive actions in Ukraine have led to tension between Russia and the West, and the relationship is at a historic low since the end of the Cold War. These actions have caused unpredictability and great concern in Europe, especially among Eastern European countries.
Although there are some historical parallels between Ukraine and the Baltic states, there is one great difference: the Baltic states are members of NATO. And let there be no doubt; any kind of military aggression against any NATO country will lead to an allied response. Subtle forms of conducting warfare – like hybrid warfare – do not undermine the value of Article 5. The principle of collective defence is as valid today as when NATO was formed in 1949.

Despite a more self-assertive Russia, I see no direct threat to Norwegian sovereignty. Norway has a different historical experience with Russia than many of the Eastern European countries. We have a long-standing common border, and we have had peaceful relations with Russia for more than a thousand years.

Even in today’s tensions, our geography requires us to cooperate in certain practical areas. This is why, although we have suspended all military-to-military activity with Russia, we have maintained cooperation on some important areas like the Coast Guard, Border Guard, Search and Rescue and Incidents at Sea-agreement. We have also kept an open line between our operational headquarters at Reitan and the Northern Fleet.
We do this to avoid misunderstandings and to maintain predictability in a vulnerable region. Norway and Russia have shared interests in keeping the High North stable and peaceful.

I want to emphasize that the current tension between Russia and the West is because of Russian actions in Ukraine. In the long term, Norway seeks constructive co-operation with Russia. But it requires that Russia changes its behavior. However, even when the dust settles, the security landscape in Europe will remain different for years and years to come. We will be faced with a different Russia. The trust that Putin’s regime has broken, will take a long time to rebuild.

Our policy towards Russia has two key elements; firmness and predictability. That is why we emphasize the importance of existing treaties on arms control and confidence and security-building measures. We encourage Russia to show transparency concerning changes in the Russian military organization and its doctrines, as well as predictability with regard to ongoing and future exercises and operations.

But Russia is not our only security concern. The issue of geography and the role of NATO come to our mind also when looking at instability and conflict in our southern neighborhood. South of Europe, a series of weak and failed states stretches from West Africa, via the Middle East to Central Asia, presenting the risk of instability, terrorism, and armed conflict.

We have a terrorist group causing great concern to international security only a few kilometers from NATO’s border. The developments cause enormous human suffering, as ISIL’s brutality goes beyond human imagination. But it also represents a grave threat to our interests in the region and the security of our homeland. The conflict in Syria, for example, has mobilized a number of Norwegian citizens to take part in the civil war as jihadists.

To prevent these failed states from destabilizing neighboring countries or being used as safe havens for terrorism, there will be a demand for international assistance for decades to come, including military assistance.

The importance of NATO
The fundamental shift in the European security landscape underlines the importance of a ready and capable NATO for Norwegian and European security. We must work hard to strengthen NATO, both as a military and political alliance.

NATO is much more than its military component. It is a political alliance of shared values and principles. And it is the most important forum for transatlantic security consultations. But, to be politically credible, NATO needs to have the necessary military capabilities and be sufficiently prepared.

The NATO Summit two months ago gave a clear response to the challenges that I have described. Collective defence was again on the top of the agenda, with emphasis on both deterrence and reassurance. NATO’s decision to deploy both air, sea and land forces to the Baltic region is a strong message about the Alliance’s solidarity and collective will to take action. This includes reinforced Air Policing, standing naval forces and surveillance. Right now, parts of the Telemark battalion is participating in exercise and training in Latvia as part of NATO’s reassurance measures. They are redeploying early next week. Another key message is that NATO is ready to improve its readiness and responsiveness, and the measures in NATO Readiness Action Plan are important in that regard.

Development of Norwegian Armed Forces
So, what does all of this mean for developing the Norwegian armed forces? What do we need to do to be robust and relevant to handle the full spectrum of armed conflict?

I see at least three key priorities. 
First, we need armed forces with higher readiness and ever better responsiveness. We need to have larger parts of our force structure ready on shorter notice. Recent developments in our surroundings have taught us that we cannot expect much warning for a crisis building up. We need to be able to respond swiftly with relevant capabilities, and this in turn requires high readiness.

Second, we need to be able to maintain adequate situational awareness. We need information and intelligence superiority. Situational awareness is essential to make timely and correct decisions, both nationally and within the framework of NATO.
Third, we also need to reassess our contingency planning for the defence of Norway. We decided to revitalize military planning for crisis and war a few years ago. This has already proven its value.
We must systematically work on improvements in logistics, personnel and readiness. We need to be able to start force build up at an early stage, both to deter an aggressor, and to facilitate allied reinforcements.
Let me add that I am very pleased that NATO has updated the contingency plans for collective defence of Norway. This is something we have advocated for some time.

The improvements we foresee will come at a price, and require new priorities. In the context of Norwegian defence planning it means more robustness around those capabilities that are relevant and contributes directly to the most demanding tasks.

It is my firm belief that we need to keep investing in our own security. It is essential for our national defence, but it is also essential for NATO’s credibility. It is essential if NATO is to continue to be the successful alliance it has been since its inception.
Under these circumstances, the need for multinational cooperation is greater than ever. This goes for all aspects of warfare; from procurement, via maintenance, training, and exercises, to operations.

This leads me to my final point.
Although increased focus on collective defense is a first order challenge, we must also be capable of conducting international operations beyond NATO territory. NATO and allies must be able to perform the full spectrum of tasks. As already mentioned, the situation in the Middle East requires international support in years to come. This includes military support.
This is why we have decided to send 120 soldiers to the international coalition against ISIL in Iraq, as part of a broad Norwegian effort that entails both humanitarian, economic and political means in addition to the military component. Their purpose is to train Iraqi security forces, and qualify them to take care of their own security. We cannot allow ourselves to be indifferent to the humanitarian catastrophe taking place in this region. Taking part in operations like these will always have elements of risk – both to our soldiers and to our national security. But there is also a grave risk not doing anything.

It is also in Norway’s interest to contribute to international peace and stability. By military engagement outside Norwegian territory we fulfil our international obligations, we demonstrate solidarity and we contribute to better burden sharing. It also strengthens our ability to operate and conduct military operations with allies and close partners. The will to take international responsibility also strengthens the cohesion and credibility of NATO.

New Long term plan for the armed forces

Ladies and gentlemen,
We must step up to new challenges. We have recently started the process of preparing a new long term plan for the Norwegian Armed Forces. Last month I tasked the Chief of Defence with providing military advice on the future development of our armed forces, and I am looking forward to receiving his recommendations.

The issues I have raised here today will be the subject to careful discussions in the coming months. I can tell you right now that we need to make some difficult decisions and hard priorities. But at the same time it is absolutely necessary to keep modernizing and readjusting our armed forces to be able to meet new challenges. We owe it to our citizens and we owe it to our soldier to be best prepared for the full spectrum of crises.

Thank you for your attention. I would be more than happy to take a few questions. I also plan on staying for the first part of this seminar.