Chatham House conference on Security and Defence 2017, London, UK

State Secretary Øystein Bø in The Norwegian Ministry of Defence had a keynote speech regarding “The Norwegian perspective on the continuing significance of international organizations versus bilateral agreements in security”. Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is an independent policy institute based in London.

Info regarding the conference can be read here:

Chatham House conference on Security and Defence 2017, London, UK.
Chatham House conference on Security and Defence 2017, London, UK. Credit: Norwegian Embassy, UK


Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

Let me first thank Chatham House for inviting me to this conference. It is a privilege to speak to such a distinguished audience and share a few thoughts on how we balance our international cooperation between international organizations and bilateral and regional arrangements.

As for international organizations, I will focus primarily on NATO. NATO is the cornerstone of our defence and security policy, and the cooperation in the Alliance illustrates well some of the questions we deal with in this session. And, being a Norwegian I am not – for obvious reasons – the right person to give you valuable insight when it comes to internal discussions and processes on these issues in the EU.

My point of departure is that we must do our utmost to maintain and support the international institutions, as well as the international rules and regulations we have meticulously built over the last 70 years. The reasons are obvious. One is that some of the most urgent issues in today’s world – be it trade, climate or security - can be dealt with in a meaningful way only through international cooperation.

Another is that we all, and not only smaller countries like Norway, benefit from the predictability and stability stemming from a world order based on international law and international cooperation. International institutions play a crucial role in upholding this rules-based international order.

Following 70 years of peace, stability and progress, we are now being reminded that the global and transatlantic political, economic and security architecture we built this progress on, cannot be taken for granted. Polarization nationally and internationally, and deliberate undermining of the institutions that have served us well, has, sadly, become a centerpiece of the current political debate.

We need to continue supporting these institutions, and we need to speak loudly about their  importance and achievements.

Of course, we may not always agree in full with all aspects of the decisions they make. Nevertheless, these decisions are results of processes involving the member states. Hence, blaming the institutions as such, does not seem entirely fair to me. By doing that we risk undermining the very credibility of our own institutions.

In order to ensure that the organizations can contribute to our security and welfare also in the future, it is essential that they continuously adapt and stay relevant. So let us have a quick look at NATO: How do things stand when it comes to adaptability and relevance?

Not bad, I would say. But we must not become complacent. NATO is obviously not perfect. And questions are being raised about the relevance of the Alliance.

If I had been asked to give one single peace of advice on how to sustain a strong NATO in today’s demanding surroundings, that would be: Maintain and strengthen Allied unity and solidarity. In order to do that we have to acknowledge and address the security needs of all Allies, 360 degrees, South, East, West and North. One important aspect of achieving that is, to quote Lord Ismay: Keep the Americans in. We all know it: A committed and engaged US is the foundation on which the Alliance is built.

I believe we have two important tasks ahead of us.

One is for us Europeans to take an even greater responsibility for our own security. That includes increasing defence budgets and, not least, spending our money wiser.

Furthermore, it means that we have to work towards a more efficient NATO. Here, there is, to my mind, room for improvement.

That said, I do not wish to paint a too gloomy picture. NATO has shown itself capable of adapting and delivering on important and urgent security matters. There are a couple of recent examples that illustrate this.

A few months after the Russian annexation of the Crimea, at the Summit in Wales in September 2014, Allies displayed a remarkable unity through the declarations on Ukraine and on Russia's behavior.

In Wales, NATO also agreed on the Readiness Action Plan to respond to the fundamental changes in the security environment. That has ensured that the NATO Response Force is now three times bigger, with a brigade-sized high-readiness spearhead force at its core, able to move within a matter of days wherever required.

At the Summit in Warsaw last summer, NATO again, through the decision to enhance the Alliance’s forward presence in central and eastern parts of Europe displayed unity and demonstrated that the Alliance can adapt to a changing security environment.  

In Warsaw we also agreed on conducting a functional assessment of the NATO Command Structure. This is now in process. An assessment of the Command Structure is vital for NATO’s ability to fulfill all missions and tasks, in particular the most demanding ones. We recognize that there are strong national interests related to this issue, but we must all be willing to engage in an open and frank discussion. Where necessary, we must be prepared to make changes to the structure in order to ensure that it is fit for purpose.

I would also like to touch on the need to reinforce the Alliance’s maritime posture. For obvious reasons Norway has a particular focus on the strategic developments in the North Atlantic. Due to enhanced Russian ability to conduct anti-access and area denial operations, we need to secure the Sea Lines of Communication across the Atlantic, and Europe’s ability to receive reinforcements. This has a clear impact on the security of European Allies. In light of this, the Alliance should lend particular attention to the developments on the maritime flanks, including increased allied presence and improved situational awareness. This includes making sure that the NATO Command Structure is able to lead and conduct high-intensity maritime operations.

So, to sum the first point: We must maintain unity, we must strengthen Europe’s defence capabilities and we must improve the performance of NATO.

My second point is on the importance of strengthening and intensifying our dialogue across the Atlantic. We cannot just state how vitally important the US is for European security. We must show why Europe and the transatlantic cooperation is important for the US. A Europe with 500 million inhabitants, a relatively highly educated workforce, a fifth of the world’s GNP and a defence budget of more than 200 billion Euros, is the best ally and friend the US could have. The US has everything to gain from a continued close defence and security cooperation with Europe.

But quietly acknowledging this fact is not enough. We need to show it, and we need to say it. Loud and clear.

NATO is a consensus-based organization. All members must agree to all decisions. To say that this is demanding, is an understatement.

All allies come to the table with their specific geography, history, economy – and mentality. The threats may look different, depending on what part of Europe you live in.

And we should not forget that this is serious business. This is state security, the security of our citizens. Arguably the basis for everything else, and a core task for all states. So, no wonder it is challenging and time-consuming finding common ground for 28 governments. Reaching consensus is often fraught with frustration and endless meetings into the night. (I know that, I have been there myself, negotiating declarations from numerous Summits and Ministerials.)

The good news here, nevertheless – and what needs to be acknowledged - is that we have actually managed to make NATO the most successful security organization in history. Would NATO have survived and been attractive until this day if the organization had been as ineffective as it is sometimes portrayed? I do not think so. The advantage of consensus is that when you have a decision, it is strong. And effective. And it is the basis for the unity that is NATO’s glue.

I have made the case for strong international institutions. Does this mean that there is no room for strong bilateral or regional cooperation in the field of defence and security? Absolutely not.

We do it. All the time. Also in Norway. Why? Because bilateral and regional cooperation adds value, and is an asset in its own right.

The counter-ISIL coalition is one obvious example of how new threats are met with new tools, but I leave that aside for now.

All Allies are net security contributors, but not all Allies can participate in all activities at all times.

Hence, it is logical that like-minded countries seek together to find bilateral or regional arrangements. Norway has long-standing and close cooperation with the US, the UK, Netherlands and Germany. And France and Poland. We also cooperate with our Nordic allies and partners in NORDEFCO.

Countries in Northern Europe come together for close security and defence consultations in Northern Group and the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), initiatives that were taken here in London and that Norway is pleased to support.

The crucial point is that, while such bilateral and regional arrangements have a value on their own, they should also contribute to improving our common defence and security. They can play a part in strengthening NATO, not undermining the alliance.

When Norway this January welcomed 300 plus US Marines to train in Norway, or when have been hosting UK Helicopter and Royal Marines training in the north, continuously since the sixties, then we do not only build a strong bilateral relationship with our UK or American friends. We contribute to strengthening Allied cohesion, the transatlantic links and our mutual security guarantee.

From our perspective, NATO membership and the alliance framework is an important foundation on which our bilateral relationships are built. So in a sense bilateral and NATO cooperation are mutually reinforcing.

In several areas there is room for both bilateral and alliance efforts. Let me mention one.

Although we do not believe there is a direct military threat in the North, we see a resurgent, more active and more assertive Russia in our neighborhood. A Russia that has revitalized the bastion defence concept. This posture has the potential to challenge the vital sea lines across the Atlantic. With the combined US, UK and Norwegian anti-submarine warfare capabilities, there is an obvious potential for closer regional cooperation on maritime surveillance and patrolling in the North Atlantic. This would not only improve our own situational awareness and defence posture in the Northwestern corner of Europe. It would also contribute to securing NATO’s collective ability to ensure that Allied reinforcements and supplies can flow across the Atlantic. An effective collective defence in Europe depends on our ability to protect the sea lines of communication across the Atlantic.    

So, to sum up: Bilateral and regional arrangements in the field of defence and security are welcome. They can definitely improve security, not only for the countries involved, but for the transatlantic community as a whole. But the prerequisite must be clear: These agreements and arrangements must be complementary to the organizations. They should not compete with them. In order to ensure that, we need to get back were I started. We must take into account the security needs of all allies, and keep our institutions, in particular NATO, relevant and adaptable.

Managed in a wise way, bilateral and regional cooperation will add value to the continuous efforts to strengthen the common security in the transatlantic area. And by that they contribute to uphold the unprecedented peace, stability and prosperity that we have experienced over the last 70 years.

I thank you for your attention! 

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