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Stronger Norwegian-British cooperation

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The close bilateral relations between Norway and the United Kingdom and the tense security situation in Europe topped the agenda as Norwegian Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide met her British colleague, Philip Hammond, in London on Tuesday 29 April.

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide meets her British counterpart, Philip Hammond, in London. (Photo: Derek Wade, British Royal Navy)

The close bilateral relations between Norway and the United Kingdom and the tense security situation in Europe topped the agenda as Norwegian Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide met her British colleague, Philip Hammond, in London on Tuesday 29 April.

“The UK is a key NATO ally and an important partner for Norway,” she says. “Our close relationship as allies extends far back in time, and today we discussed opportunities for further cooperation.” The British Secretary of State for Defence asserted that Norway’s importance to the United Kingdom is on the rise. Norway provides a third of the UK’s energy supply. During the talks, Secretary Hammond noted that security in the High North is very important to the British. Both defence leaders say that active alliance policies serve national interests and security.

Unique training areas

In March 2012, Norway and the United Kingdom signed an agreement to strengthen bilateral military collaboration. Key parts of the agreement provide for cooperative defence and security policy development as well as joint exercises, training and education and defence materiel cooperation. Strategic monitoring and situational awareness in the High North represent another field of cooperation. “In recent years the United Kingdom, like a number of other countries, has shown increased interest in the northern regions,” Norway’s defence minister says. “With NATO paying closer attention to our home regions, it’s natural for Norway to make our areas available for allied training and exercises. Secretary Hammond told me that he is impressed with Norway’s unique training areas, which allow forces to practice many different military capabilities under challenging conditions.”

Last year, Norway hosted more than 85,000 allied soldier training days, of which the British accounted for 28,800.

Ukraine shows the need to work together

The demanding security situation in Ukraine was a major topic of conversation between the two defence leaders. Both countries have condemned Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the military pressure on Ukraine. “A sustainable and long-term solution to the crisis in Ukraine can be achieved only through political and diplomatic means. Secretary Hammond and I are very clear on that,” says Eriksen Søreide.

“What’s happening in Russia and Ukraine changes the security policy debate for NATO countries and other partners. When we see a big neighbour with massive military resources showing that it’s willing and able to use military force, it becomes a defining element in the dialogue. My British colleague and I discussed how the events have changed the UK security policy debate. The situation underscores the importance of our cooperation with close allies,” says the defence minister.

NATO – the way forward

NATO’s continuing evolution was also on the agenda. “The topic is up for detailed discussion in several forums now that September’s NATO Summit in Wales is only a few months away. With the reduction of the military presence in Afghanistan, NATO is entering a new period, so it was useful to discuss NATO’s future with Secretary Hammond,” Eriksen Søreide says. “We agree that it’s important right now, while operations abroad are being downscaled, to make sure we are prepared for future challenges. We discussed how a credible NATO needs military capabilities. That means member states must continue to invest in their own security. In a situation where several allies are cutting their budgets, the increased use of common and multinational solutions and investments will be crucial.”

F-35: joint solutions

With Philip Dunne, the UK Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Eriksen Søreide discussed the F-35 purchase and collaboration opportunities associated with it. In March, representatives of the Norwegian and British F-35 programmes signed a collaboration concept that describes in more detail how the two countries will expand cooperation on F-35 training and operations in Europe.

“Britain, with operations areas similar to ours, is one of the countries we’d like to work with more closely on combat aircraft issues,” the Norwegian defence minister says. “We are keen to find good European solutions for operating and maintaining the new fighters. We also cooperate with Britain on joint systems related to education, training and exercises. If each country alone is to maintain its own aircraft, it will be too expensive. Collaboration is essential. Multinational solutions push prices down and provide opportunities for Norwegian industry to enter the field.”

The UK will fly its F-35s operationally in 2018. Norway’s first two aircraft are to arrive in 2017, and two years later they will be operational. By 2017, therefore, a suitable F-35 support system must be in place in Europe.