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Statement at Berlin Security Conference

Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide's statement at the Berlin Security Conference "Europe and its external challenges - a 360-degree approach in uncertain times".

It is great to be back in Berlin again. These days, I seem to come here all the time.

I was here in October, now I’m here in November, and I will also be here in the beginning of December. And of course I’ll be back in Munich for the Munich Security Conference in February.

Just to state the obvious: it’s no coincidence that a Norwegian foreign minister travels to Berlin on a regular basis.

Germany is truly one of our closest allies.

And these days you can hardly overestimate the value of a likeminded and cool-headed friend.

***

The security landscape in Europe is today vastly more complex than it was just a few years ago.

And we have to be realistic: despite our best intentions and efforts, it is unlikely to change for the better anytime soon.

We are facing a wide array of different and highly complex challenges –both within and outside Europe – which are occurring simultaneously.

Let me quickly mention the most important trends:

First, global security challenges such as terrorism, cyber threats, and international organised crime have emerged and become far more acute in recent years.

Second, contrary to some expectations, old challenges are not being replaced by new ones.

Rather, we seem to be facing both old and new security challenges at the same time: the old security challenges have not gone away, but are back again – as demonstrated by Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea.

Third, traditional security challenges are not only making a comeback, but new technology is also making these challenges more ominous: precision-guided missiles, cyber weapons, autonomous systems.

And, in the future, we may also see capabilities based on artificial intelligence or quantum computing.

Fourth, precisely when we need them the most, our agreements and institutions for arms control, confidence-building, and international cooperation have come under pressure. Some of our agreements, such as the INF, have already fallen apart.

Having said this, we are still able to respond to challenges, through Nato.

Fifth, we are seeing signs of great power rivalry. This may be a long-term trend.

More and more countries will be able to develop high-end weapons in the coming years. If we are to maintain our technological edge, this will be costly. And it will be challenging for us to navigate a political landscape in which several powers are competing for our attention.

Last, but not least, Nato is strong, but ensuring cohesion within the Alliance remains a long-term struggle.

And we have to be honest: this is far more than a transatlantic matter. It is also very much a European one.

Perceptions of threats vary a lot across our own continent, and populism is gaining ground in a growing number of European countries.

This is shaping the political discourse, but it is also increasingly shaping policy.

My concern is that a rise of populism in foreign policy could lead to more European countries being at odds with each other on issues that were uncontroversial before.

This would put further strain on Nato’s cohesion and responsiveness.

It is inconceivable to imagine Nato without US leadership. Without US commitment, European security and stability would be at risk.

We might also struggle to agree on the right balance between addressing
challenges in the South and in the East.

***

So how can we maintain security and regional stability in Europe?

Regional stability probably depends as much on our ability to resolve issues at home as anything else.

We have to identify and address the factors that give rise to divisive and populist policies, which in turn threaten to undermine cohesion in Nato and the EU.

European security, however, remains intrinsically linked to the health of the transatlantic bond.

***

In a few days’ time, I will accompany Prime Minister Solberg to the Nato Leaders’ Meeting in London.

Rumours about Nato’s imminent demise are popular these days. And yes, the Alliance faces challenges. 

But we often tend to forget that the organisation has faced large challenges before.

Ever since it was established in 1949, the Alliance has, at regular intervals, had to deal with political differences – at times deep political differences – between members.

  • The Suez crisis in 1956.
  • The French withdrawal from military cooperation in 1966.
  • And the Iraq War in 2003, which was strongly supported by some Nato members, and equally strongly opposed by others.

One of Nato’s main strengths is that despite our differences, we have always managed to unite around our core task.

To defend each other. Protect each other. And to keep our people safe.

This also shows that Nato is far more than a military alliance.

The core is our political unity.

Our military strength is dependent on the political cohesion of the Alliance, and on the fact that we are all willing to risk the lives of our soldiers to defend each other in extreme situations. In short: we are willing to commit beyond our immediate self-interests.

***

Nato is one of a very few multilateral organisations that have grown stronger in recent years.

Our collective defence and deterrence are in a much better state today than they were five years ago. Norway has over the past five to six years worked extensively with close allies such as Germany to reform Nato’s command structure and enhance the maritime posture of the Alliance. These improvements were finally decided on last year.

But we still have to work on deterrence and defence, because the job is not yet done. Now we need to focus on implementation.

Defence spending will probably be the number one issue in London. And it remains the main litmus test for Allied cohesion.

A strong transatlantic bond is also crucial for political reasons. Even if we differ on other important issues (such as trade and climate change), in terms of defence, US leadership remains vital to Europe.

It helps us all pull in the same direction. It is the only guarantee for a level playing field between Europe and Russia. And it remains the most effective barrier to further fragmentation of our security order.

But above all, defence spending matters to Europe. Our own capabilities are simply not dimensioned to address the current threat landscape.

The overall security situation in Europe today is profoundly different from the situation just five years ago, and as I said earlier, it is unlikely to change for the better anytime soon.

Norway is therefore investing significantly in new capabilities that will benefit both our national defence and that of Nato.

Our investment rate has, for the past couple of years, been around 30 %, in large part due to our investments in new F 35 combat aircraft, new (German!) submarines, new P8 maritime patrol aircraft, and enhanced army and intelligence capabilities.

Our defence expenditure has risen to 1.8 % of GDP. Norway’s next long-term plan for the Norwegian armed forces will strengthen our defence even further.

We should also remember that in the last few years, we have seen increased American engagement in European security. And this is something that European Nato-allies have called for and wanted for several years.

***

In a time of increasing great power rivalry, it is important that we seek to multilateralise discussions on security issues wherever we can.

This is also why we have welcomed discussions on issues such as China or energy security in Nato.

We do not see a direct role for Nato in these areas. But the fact the US is initiating discussions like this with its allies in a multilateral setting is in itself positive.

It clearly shows an Alliance that is far from being irrelevant or on life support.

Last, but not least, Norway is participating in new security initiatives in Europe, for example the initial stages of the European Defence Fund and  the European Intervention Initiative. We are also interested in participating in relevant Pesco projects.

In addition, we are strengthening our bilateral cooperation with our Nordic partners and close European allies, not least with Germany. These forms of cooperation are by no means an alternative to Nato, but they can complement and strengthen the Alliance in important areas.

When we engage like this, it is to underpin Nato. Any initiative that would undermine Nato is unthinkable to Norway.

Our impression is also that our good cooperation in the Nordic region has helped to make Sweden and Finland closer partners of Nato, and the enhanced security in our region is a positive development.

Military mobility is a case in point for European cooperation. We can have all the high-end capabilities imaginable – but if we can’t move them, we can’t deliver on our core task: To protect each other.

The proliferation of new cooperation formats in Europe could of course lead to fragmentation and unpredictability.

But provided that the transatlantic bond remains strong and we avoid duplication, I do not believe that will happen.

***

Three weeks ago, we marked the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall.

For decades, this city was a symbol of a divided Europe.

Since 1989, it has been a symbol of the opposite: of Europe coming together, of Europe having the same values in east and west, north and south.

So, in this city today, my final message is that we must work to maintain the unity and cohesion of our alliance.

We must keep the transatlantic bond strong, and we must safeguard the European security architecture.

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