"Joining forces to improve NATO’s readiness - From Wales to Warsaw and beyond"

State secretary Øystein Bø in Ministry of Defence held this keynote address at the Security in Northern Europe (SNE) Conference by IFS, 26 - 27 May 2016. NATO and the North Atlantic: Revitalizing Collective Defence and the Maritime Domain.

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Introduction: A Tale of Two Cities

Flag Officers, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends – Good morning.

I am delighted to be back at IFS. I commend you again for the “Security and Defence in Northern Europe Programme” that you carry out so well in cooperation with CSIS and SWP. You raise imperative and uncomfortable questions. You focus on both challenges and opportunities. Looking at the agenda, I am confident that you will have two interesting days. It is an honour for me to be part of this opening session.

I would like to use this opportunity to talk about strategic developments in the North Atlantic and implications for the Alliance. We need to revitalize the notion of collective defence in our maritime domain. My point of departure is that the strategic environment is changing. We are entering a new normal. Consequently, we need to reconsider what NATO should do to secure the transatlantic sea lines of communication. In short, we need to make sure that NATO and its command structure is “fit for the purpose”.

But, the High North is “a city of two tales,” to play around a little with Charles Dickens.


One tale is Russia’s new strategic capabilities and increased military activity in the maritime domain, across NATO’s area of responsibility – in the North Atlantic, the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, and even in the Mediterranean.

The “Russian Maritime Doctrine 2015” prescribes increased naval presence in the High North, implying a stronger military posture in this region.

The other tale is that of the High North as a region of stability, cooperation and respect for international law. Thus, from the outset, I would like to underline that the maritime domain is not an issue of black and white.

We need to have both these two tales in mind when we discuss security and defence in the High North, Norway’s key strategic area. Our long coastline creates an enormous expanse of territorial waters and economic zones. More than 80 per cent of the maritme areas in which we have jurisdiction, are located north of the Arctic Circle. Norway has jurisdiction over more than 2.2 million square kilometres at sea, which is close to seven times larger than our mainland territory. I mention this to highlight that great resources also come with a great responsibility.

The Tale of a more self-assertive Russia

The new European security landscape includes a more self-assertive Russia. Russian armed forces are training more, and their exercises are of an increasingly complex nature.

The scale, scope and intensity of recent Russian “snap exercises”, occurring without advance notification, are considerable.

In the current situation, snap exercises create uncertainty and increase the risk of unintended escalation.

This corresponds to a higher level of Russian activity across NATO’s area of responsibility, from the North to the South. While Norway does not consider Russia a military threat today, we cannot discount that its military capabilities may pose a challenge to transatlantic security in the future.

Russia is developing new military capabilities, including new submarines and aircraft, and long-range high-precision missiles that in sum can target all of Europe, as well as transatlantic lines of communication. It has built new garrisons and support facilities along its Northern coast and on Arctic islands such as Novaya Zemlya, Franz Josef Land and New Siberian Islands. The Russian authorities use the upgraded and expanded infrastructure for daily policing, but it can also be used for military operations. 

Russia’s only ice-free port in the North, Murmansk, remains the base for nuclear submarine-launched ballistic missiles, established to defend the Russian homeland and able to harm Allied territory. The High North also remains the patrol area of the Russian submarines.


In 2014, Russia established a new Arctic command in Severomorsk under the Commander of the Northern Fleet, and covering the whole Arctic area. The strategic Russian military capabilities based in the High North, and the need to protect them, remain the primary reasons for the geostrategic value Moscow places on the region.

This is a revitalization and extension of the so-called Bastion Defence, the key concept to defend the strategic nuclear weapons of the Northern Fleet and its second strike capability.

We have observed an increased Russian naval presence in the North Atlantic. New strategic nuclear submarines with Bulava missiles are being put into service. New submarines with dual capable missiles are also becoming operational. Highly accurate, long-range cruise missiles designed for land, sea and air platforms have been introduced. In recent years, flights of long-range bombers from the Kola Peninsula and all the way south towards Iceland and the United Kingdom have become more sophisticated and more frequent. These strategic capabilities join a broader reform of the military structure involving more forward basing, which increases the potential reach of strategic assets.

Russia’s introduction of new high-end maritime capabilities poses a particular strategic challenge to NATO. The development and fielding of such assets, combined with advanced training and exercises make Russia increasingly capable of conducting Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) operations in the North Atlantic.

This enhances their ability to disrupt sea operations and project force into the Atlantic Ocean, as well as to deny allied maritime and air operations Northeast of what we refer to as the GIUK gap, the naval choke point between the landmasses of Greenland, Iceland and the United Kingdom. 

Added to this, over the years, Allied presence in the High North has been gradually reduced. Consequently, the military strategic balance in these areas might well be shifting in NATO’s disfavour. There is an increased challenge of Russia developing an ability to hold Europe and North America at risk.

NATO’s ability to provide mutual support across the Atlantic and in other regions, is fundamental to the Alliance’s security architecture. I would go as far as to state that strategic stability in Europe depends on the credibility of NATO’s collective defence capability, which in turn depends on a credible concept for US reinforcement of Europe.

I have so far focused on the tale of a more self-assertive Russia. Before I turn to how NATO could respond, I would like to reflect briefly on the other tale, the one of stability and cooperation in the High North. 

A Tale of Stability, Cooperation and Respect for International Law

I strongly believe it is in the interest of all Arctic states that the High North remains a region of stability and predictability through cooperation. Cooperation with Russia based on international law is a precondition for long-term stability. In particular, the joint management, during and following the cold war, of fishery resources has been successful in reducing over-fishing of quotas. This is an example of how Norway and Russia together have ensured that, today, the important Barents Sea Cod population, is at a more than sustainable level.

In the spirit of cooperation and peaceful coexistence, we have negotiated a maritime delimitation agreement with Russia that covers the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

The 2010 agreement solved what had been the single most important unsettled issue between Norway and Russia, an issue we had negotiated for more than 40 years. It provided us with predictability for our maritime borders. It also provides the legal basis and framework for further Norwegian–Russian cooperation on fisheries, and enables potential cooperation for the development of petroleum resources across the maritime boundary.

Following the illegal Russian annexation of Crimea and its destabilization of Eastern Ukraine, we have suspended bilateral military cooperation with Moscow. At the same time, both countries are interested in continuing to safeguard the stability in the High North.

That is why we continue to work together in areas such as search and rescue, and to uphold the Incidents at Sea agreement.

Our sustained collaboration on coastguard and border control maintains Norway’s ability to exercise authority, secure sovereign rights and maintain environmental responsibilities in the North. Our coastguard cooperation is clearly beneficial to the safety of both the Norwegian and the Russian fisheries’ communities.

We maintain a direct line between the Norwegian Joint Headquarters and the Russian Northern Fleet. This is especially important to avoid any misunderstanding or unintended escalation, and to ensure the security of the people living in the North.

In order to avoid misunderstandings in relation to military exercises and training, it is important to update existing agreements that contribute to openness, predictability and confidence building. The Vienna document, Open Skies and the agreement on Conventional Forces in Europe (the CFE Treaty) constitute important existing mechanisms to this end. However, Russia unilaterally suspended the CFE treaty in 2007, eventually causing NATO to stop sharing information with Russia in 2011.

The cooperation in the Arctic Council has been functioning well, despite the increased tensions between Russia and Western countries. The Arctic Council is an important forum for political conultations, including on environmental and indigenous issues, and for research collaboration.  It is in the interest of all that the Arctic Council also in the future remains a well-functioning political body.

Almost all territorial questions in the Arctic have been solved, but processes regarding the continental shelf are still on-going within the framework of the United Nations.

All five Arctic coastal states have agreed that the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should be the base of all territorial claims in the Arctic. These five states have also invested substantial political prestige, resources and scientific attention to the issue of the continental shelf. The Law of the Sea provides an integrated and predictable international legal framework for the sea areas, firmly based in the UN.

The Norwegian position

As a small state neighbouring a nuclear power, the guiding principle for Norway has for decades been a balance of deterrence and reassurance towards Russia. For Norway, credible deterrence means standing firm with our allies, exercising our sovereign rights and making our strategic interests clear. We reassure through a predictable, recognizable and non-threatening posture. Our defence concept is based on the premise of involving allies early on in a crisis, and as seamlessly as possible. The security guarantee embedded in the NATO charter, along with close and lasting ties with the United States, our most important ally, remain the cornerstones of Norway’s security strategy.


The United States has prepositioned military equipment in Norway, available for rapid preparation and debarkation in support of overseas deployments, enabling a strong and credible reinforcement of Europe.

The U.S. Marine Corps Prepositioning Program-Norway (also known as the MCPPN) is firm evidence of the American commitment to Norwegian and European security. Norwegian units of all services regularly train and exercise together with American forces and with other allies. Exercising together maintains interoperability, keeping collective defence guarantees credible. Joint exercises are equally important to show political commitment to collective defence.

Moreover, the United States has signalled that it may resume airborne maritime patrol operations from Iceland. The United Kingdom has announced plans to invest in new maritime patrol aircraft to be based in Scotland. France has also showed greater attention for surveillance, exercises and training in the High North. This will entail greater Allied attention to the challenges in the North Atlantic.

Substantial, yet balanced military peacetime activity in the North Atlantic with multinational participation has been, and will remain an important part of a credible, transparent and accountable policy. Therefore, we would like to see a more frequent presence of Allied forces in the High North, training and taking part in exercises.


We believe this is important, both as a signal of Allied cohesion and solidarity, and as a way of enhancing the knowledge of operating in the Alliance’s own area of responsibility.

In our efforts to ensure a stable, predictable and cooperative strategic environment, we are maintaining armed forces that contribute to deterring and defending against pressure, assault and attack on Norwegian territory and adjacent areas. The Norwegian Armed Forces maintains its presence in the High North. The Norwegian Joint Headquarters is located just north of the Polar Circle. Several coastguard vessels patrol the vast sea areas over which Norway has jurisdiction. F-16s are continuously on Quick Reaction Alert as part of NATO’s integrated air defence system. The majority of our land forces are located in northernmost part of Norway. We have invested in Aegis frigates, coast guard vessels, and maritime helicopters.

Our acquisition of new combat aircraft, the F-35, is also a part of this overall investment. The F-35 is a lot more than a replacement of the F-16s. It adds a wide range of new capabilities to our Armed Forces. The F-35, with the long-range precision-guided Joint Strike Missile (JSM), ensures that we will be able to strike even well defended targets at extended distances. This strengthens our ability to deter any potential opponent. That is also an essential part of the mission of our submarines, which we are looking at possibly replacing within the next few years. 

A predictable Norwegian presence prohibits the development of a dangerous power vacuum in the region and demonstrates our intent to defend our sovereignty.

The need for a 360-degree approach to deterrence and collective defence is more important than ever. We must view the potential threat to the Northern and Baltic regions as interlinked, emphasize anti-submarine operations and secure sea lines of communications across the Atlantic. Consequently, we must pay attention to the developments on the maritime flanks in the form of increased Allied presence, situational awareness, surveillance and intelligence sharing.

Collective Response: Looking to the NATO Summit in Warsaw and Beyond

Dear friends: it should be clear that challenges in the northernmost part of the Allied area of responsibility concern us all. We need a coherent, consistent, and comprehensive response to the changing strategic environment in the North Atlantic. Together with the United Kingdom, France, and Iceland, Norway has actively promoted an initiative to strengthen our maritime flank.

I would like to conclude with the essence of our joint initiative for the NATO Summit in Warsaw. We wish to include the maritime domain of collective defence on the agenda for NATO’s development for Warsaw and beyond. The ultimate aim is to achieve lasting structural change. Let me suggest three concrete measures.


  • First, NATO Allies need to invest in high-end maritime capabilities. We must research, develop and purchase weapon systems that can contribute to freedom of movement at sea, keeping sea lines of communication open. We cannot allow ourselves to be held at risk, to be faced with anti-access area-denial in our own area of responsibility. Developments in the High North, and proper analyses of the implications of Russia’s maritime doctrine and practice, must be taken into consideration.
  • Second, NATO needs command and control mechanisms that are “fit for purpose.” We must take a close look at NATO’s Command Structure and the command elements of the NATO Force Structure so that we have the ability to plan, lead and execute joint and combined operations. In particular, we need a better command arrangement with competence on full spectrum maritime high-end, blue-water operations. This requires close links between national headquarters and NATO’s Command Structure. Norway has for some time advocated a stronger regional orientation to our command structure to better utilize situational awareness, regional know-how and operational insights. The importance of command and control arrangements cannot, to my mind, be overstated. And, at the core, command and control is a human, not a technical, activity.
  • Third, we need updated and timely contingency plans for Norway and the maritime flanks, and just as importantly, such plans must be accompanied by presence, training and exercises. I am pleased to note that this work has started. In addition to boosting interoperability and providing familiarity and understanding of the area of responsibility, training and exercises signal Allied cohesion and solidarity. This has a deterring effect. Naval ships are war-fighting systems that require highly trained and specialized personnel. We must facilitate conditions for relevant high-end training and exercises, including the most demanding scenarios. It is important that NATO’s integrated military structure runs a comprehensive exercise and training program and is able to draw the necessary lessons from this activity. The High Visibility Exercise in 2018, hosted by Norway, will provide a good opportunity for NATO to exercise high-intensity maritime operations in a large format in the North Atlantic.

Conclusion: A Call for Maritime Power and Presence in the North Atlantic

This trinity of Cs will be with us to Warsaw and beyond: We need to invest in high-end maritime capabilities, we need to improve command and control arrangements, and we need to update contingency plans for the North Atlantic.

But that said, the heart and soul of this trinity is our highly skilled and qualified personnel, the human competence in everything we do.

This recipe will contribute to our goal of a NATO that remains politically and militarily credible.

In Warsaw, we will chart the course for the Alliance’s long-term adaptation to the new security environment. This will strengthen the 360-degree approach to Alliance security, in effect connecting the different regions and maritime flanks of the Alliance.

In particular, the dynamic developments in the North Atlantic have a strategic impact on the transatlantic link and on the security of both Europe and North America.

Dear friends. To sum up: NATO must to adapt a coherent and robust long-term strategy. There are many aspects of that strategy, but a key element is, no doubt, maritime power and presence in the North Atlantic and the High North.

I thank you for your attention.