Security in the High North – Norwegian Perspectives

The Henry Bacon Breakfast Seminar, June 26, Washington

The Henry Bacon Breakfast Seminar, June 26, Washington

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Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,

It is a great honour for me to address this seminar and such a distinguished audience, and in such historic and wonderful surroundings.

The strong friendship that exists between Norway and the US can be traced throughout history.

Unquestionably our common experience during the World War II has left a lasting imprint on our relations.

It showed us the value of having close and trustworthy allies and friends.

Peace was not granted us for free.

The war was won through the sacrifices of men and women yearning for freedom, human rights and democracy. They fought for a Europe at peace.

Three weeks ago I attended the 70th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. I travelled with 7 Norwegians veterans from that D-Day invasion, now in their 90s. The moment when these veterans walked along the beach where they had fought 70 years earlier, was both powerful and emotional. It served as a clear reminder of our shared history, and of shared sacrifices.

Today we pay tribute to the crew of SS Henry Bacon.

Their courage, their selfless choice and ultimate sacrifice, saved the lives of Norwegian refugees in peril. I spoke yesterday to Hagel about speaking at this seminar, and he told me that he had read the story of Henry Bacon, and that he was fascinated by it.

Those heroic deeds serve as a continuous reminder of the unwavering support of the United States. And for this we remain forever grateful.

Today those very same waters were SS Henry Bacon and thousands of other vessels and sailors kept hope afloat, are subject to fundamental changes.

The High North is undergoing dramatic climate changes due to global heating. As the polar icecap is receding, the region is becoming more accessible, and therefore more attractive economically.

The abundance of water, ice and harsh weather conditions remain a characteristic feature in this part of the world. But this is not an obstacle for exploring and using this area. Nations have always searched for access to the seas.

It represents a crucial element in international politics, both as an opportunity and equally as a challenge.

In our thinking ahead, we must therefore stress both opportunities as well as challenges. And we must address those events perhaps less likely to occur.

An essential aim of our security policy is to maintain the High North as an area of stability, predictability and international co-operation.

Today I believe there is a surplus of arguments in favour of why co-operation rather than confrontation is likely to occur in the High North.

But arguments alone will surely not suffice. It requires attention, knowledge, visibility and presence. Predictability is key, so is planning.

Prudent and sound planning is all about reducing the risk making mistakes down the road. It is about making the right decisions today, rather than mending something afterwards.

I like to take this occasion to share some Norwegian perspectives on current and future developments in the High North.

Just like the Oceans, the security of nations is also connected. Allow me therefore to briefly pay a visit to very different waters with slightly more comfortable temperatures.

A voyage to the Pacific Sea
As Norwegian defence minister you regularly come to Washington D.C. This is my second visit in less than sixth months.

It is more of rarity that you will encounter a Norwegian defence minister in and around Hawaii. Not anymore I have to say. Duty calls, and I have answered the call....

The occasion is of course the exercise Rim of the Pacific – RIMPAC – where Norway will participate for the very first time ever with a frigate.

This is not a contribution I expect will make it to headlines. Nor will it impact fundamentally the exercise itself.

This is however tangible and firm evidence of Norway's willingness to support US' security interests – even half way across the globe.

Deep down it is about strengthening the transatlantic relationship and the future of NATO. Norway has – with some success – tried to get the US to pay attention to what is going on in our areas, in particular the Arctic. It is important for us, though, to demonstrate that we also pay attention to thos areas where the US has security interests, such as the Asia/Pacific.

Furthermore, it also is an acknowledgement of the prominent role of Asia/Pacific in US foreign and security policy.

This geopolitical shift is not limited to the US. It affects us all, and hence US engagement in this part of the world ultimately is a contribution to our collective security.

The US has made, and is still is making, huge investments in European security. The crisis in Ukraine has once again illustrated US commitment to Europe. For the stability of Europe, strong US leadership and commitment is crucial.

Over the past years the US has taken on a greater share of the financial burden in NATO.

Equally, European allies must rise to the occasion. For the transatlantic partnership to prosper further, both sides have to invest in it.

Sustaining global security depends on the ability of Europe and the US to work together.

It is therefore vital that European allies are willing to assume more of the burden of providing collective security in the years to come. The last NATO ministerial earlier in June, took place at the same time as the US announced its billion dollar re-assurance package to Europe.

European allies, including Norway, are extremely grateful for this commitment on the part of the US. At the same time I fear that we European allies will interpret this as a signal that the US is now taking the responsibility for the crisis, and that we are in some sense off the hook.

On the contrary, Norway sees the US re-assurance package as a further challenge to Europe to do more, and to step up to the plate.

Europe must show willingness to invest in modern defence systems.

Norway has over the past decade steadily increased its defense budgets. We are investing in deployable high-end capabilities such as new AEGIS-frigates, new F-35 combat aircraft, C-130 transport aircraft and a major modernization of our Army.

Also we are developing a new family of highly capable precision guided missiles – the NSM and the JSM.

Yes, we are a relatively big customer in the US defence market. Recently we also decided to upgrade our frigates with the next generation US Sea Sparrow Missile system.

Today we are among the European countries ordering the highest number of F-35's.

It is our expectation that this also is reflected in the development of the industrial solutions.

The Norwegian defence industry may not be among the largest, but it is, I dare say, technologically advanced and competitive within a number of areas.

And obviously when you sail a frigate across the Atlantic and to the Pacific where the world's biggest maritime exercise is, you seize the opportunity.

So in two weeks at RIMPAC, a test firing of the newly developed Naval Strike Missile, NSM will take place. This is a high profile expression of a modern Norwegian weapon system.

The missile, which is developed by the Norwegian company Kongsberg, will be equipped on our frigates and coastal corvettes. It will greatly enhance the operational capability of our Navy.

Equally, we believe this system is highly relevant to the US Navy's littoral combat vessels, the LCVs.

Every minister of course, would like to see their own industry succeed. I definitely will keep my fingers cross when the missile is tested.

Having said this, I also agree with those arguing that is a too narrow minded approach, especially in time like ours. Development has, quite predictably, led to a more demanding market, in which nations increasingly favour their own industry.

It appears that two trends are colliding; on the one hand, the need for cheaper and more accessible materiel, on the other, increased protectionism and the need to secure national industry.

Lack of competition is not only detrimental to innovation and technology development. It also hampers our efforts in bringing the cost level down.

Ultimately as close allies, we are in the same boat and should do our utmost in making this boat as solid as possible.

Be it defence industry or security issues, we have a shared interest extending our co-operation.

Shared interest and co-operation are also crucial when turning to the High North.

The High North
And there is a bridge between these issues:

The frigate participating in RIMPAC carries the name of Fridthjof Nansen, the great Norwegian explorer. In fact, all of our frigates are named after explorers and polar heroes. This is a testimony to the importance of these men in Norwegian history, but also it is an illustration of our emphasis on the polar regions.

The High North is a key priority for my Government. When you look at the map, it is easy to understand why. Norway has jurisdiction of an ocean almost seven times larger than the Norwegian mainland.

To give you an idea, add the total land and water territory of the states of Alaska and California.

Needless to say the ocean and the long coast line have shaped and continue to shape my country in a profound way.

Although Norwegians are few in numbers, we are the world's second largest fish exporter, the third-largest exporter of gas globally, and we are also in the major league when it comes to oil exports (7th).

In a time in which the geography of the High North is fundamentally changing, we must prepare for greater commercial activity over a larger area than before.

Fisheries, extraction of oil, gas and minerals, maritime transport and tourism are all important drivers.

In a global perspective energy is obviously the biggest.

It is estimated that around 20 % of the world's undiscovered global petroleum resources are to be found in the Arctic.

As a consequence, the geopolitical eyes are also looking north. We have new players entering the region.

China, India, South Korea and Japan are among the countries that have increased their presence in the High North.

Needless to say in this audience, this does not imply a race for the Arctic. On the contrary, any conception of a fierce and uncontrolled competition is misleading. So is the notion of a lawless area free for all. I often describe it as "the non-race".

First and foremost, it is because the legal framework is very clearly spelled out. And secondly, any new activities in such harsh conditions do not happen overnight.

All five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean have agreed that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should constitute the legal basis for activities in the region.

The High North offers an example of how small and big nations can work together within internationally accepted legal frameworks.

It is an excellent example of nations coming together finding common ground in an area of strategic importance. As such it may serve as a blueprint to other actors and parts of the world where this is still not the case.

Neither do we currently experience any economic boom. All though the prospects for increased economic activity are good, it is developing slowly. Climate conditions are tough and required investments are high.

Increased commercial activity does not necessarily create more tension and rivalry. In itself it not considered a security policy challenge.

But there are some side effects which we as an Arctic nation cannot overlook.

This is the need for safety and security in an area where both nature and human kind are vulnerable.

A military presence is therefore an insurance we pay in order to avoid problems down the road.

Military assets are a central capacity with regard to surveillance and support to search and rescue operations. I even discussed this with Secretary Hagel yesterday.

It is a sign of predictability and responsibility.

Furthermore we believe a consistent military presence at an appropriate level, is better than sudden escalation in a time of crisis.

Knowledge and operational effectiveness in these conditions are vital. And I can assure you that you do not build that in weeks or month.

A firm and steady commitment is required.

Therefore, the High North will continue to be an important factor when we plan and develop our armed forces.

Allocation of resources and investments in high-end military assets are part of the same equation.

We must make sure that we have armed forces capable of preventing and managing incidents and limited crisis on Norwegian territory and adjacent areas.

We see no direct threat to Norwegian sovereignty or territorial integrity. Our military presence is not directed towards any other state.

Let me say some words about our relationship with our neighbour to the East Russia.

Norway has a long tradition of co-operating with Russia. In 2010 Norway and Russia finally agreed over the sea boundaries in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean, after 40 years of extensive negotiation.

After the unacceptable Russian aggression in Ukraine, when Russia crossed vital red lines of international law, we suspended all bilateral military activities until the end of 2014.

Our relationship to Russia today is therefore limited to practical day to day co-operation.

At the same time, our shared geography and border, requires common measures when it comes to search and rescue, maritime safety, as well as Coast Guard and Border Guard.

This is to ensure the safety of all parties at sea in the High North, as well as preserving stability and predictability in our immediate region.

We carefully follow the Russian military modernization which has strongly improved their military effectiveness.

Russia's military development will continue to be an important factor on Norwegian security and defence policy. Still, we must retain a pragmatic relationship with our big neighbour.

Stability in our area and in the High North is best secured through the Alliance. If serious threat or attacks were to occur, these must be handled within the framework of NATO's collective defence.

When we scramble our F-16s to identify or intercept Russian military aircraft, we do this to protect our sovereignty and territorial integrity.

But we also do it on behalf of the alliance. We do it because preserving the integrity of NATO airspace is a collective task.

The High North is not "out of area". It is "in area". All the way up the North Pole is Allied responsibility.

We need a capable and credible defence alliance for the whole spectrum of operations. And we need an alliance which is able to understand and quickly respond to any potential threat or aggression against allied territory.

This applies to the Baltics, The Black Sea, the Mediterranean, and to the High North.

Key in this regard is maintaining situational awareness. In other words, NATO must know its own geography and the political-military environment.

A way of ensuring this is by implementing a regional focus in the NATO Command Structure. THat will improve the knowledge of different security challenges in different parts of NATO and its periphery.

Linking relevant national headquarters to NATO's Command Structure will contribute to this objective.

As a consequence, the Alliance will benefit from our situation awareness, critical competence and regional expertise in a crisis situation, as well as in peace time.

Concluding remarks
Let me conclude.

The international attention towards the High North is gaining momentum.

We will continue to build knowledge on how to operate in these very exceptional conditions.

In these endeavours my government will emphasize co-operation and predictability.

Activities must take place within an agreed legal framework and in respect of the vulnerable environment.

Let me finally add the following.

There is no contradiction in what today stands out as a very peaceful and stable region, and the same time encouraging NATO to step up its efforts.

To me the very existence of NATO and the transatlantic link is a guarantee of peace, stability and order.

Thank you for your attention.