Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide’s speech at ACUS conference “Charting NATO’s future”

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søriede held this speech at The Atlantic Council conference on The European Security Landscape. Enduring Change and the Future of the Transatlantic Relationship. A Norwegian Perspective.

 

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Dear Chuck, Fred, Damon, Barry. Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,

It is great to be back in DC and at the Atlantic Council. I am looking forward to discussing NATO’s future and transatlantic relations. Those who have heard me speak before know that these issues are close to my heart.

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søriede held a speech at The Atlantic Councils seminar «Chartering NATO’s future».
Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søriede held a speech at The Atlantic Councils seminar «Chartering NATO’s future». Credit: Marita I. Wangberg, FD

I am especially glad to be introduced by you, Chuck. I am proud and honoured to call you a dear friend. We were able to do some important work together in NATO while you were Defence Secretary. And your contribution to transatlantic security and to the Alliance is enduring, as is made clear by your presence here today.

I would also like to thank the Atlantic Council for organizing this event, and for your continued leadership on transatlantic security. During my two years as Defence Minister there has been a noticeable change in Washington. European security is back on the agenda.

Obviously recent events in Europe are an important factor. But I would also credit the Council. You have continued to speak on behalf of transatlantic security and maintain US awareness of the importance of Europe. For that I am grateful.

I am also glad that so many have joined us today, knowing that we are competing with the Pope’s visit to Congress.

This morning I will focus on the state of the transatlantic union. I will also touch upon the evolving security situation in in Europe and in Norway’s neighbourhood. How new realities shape Norwegian priorities. And how NATO should adapt.

Fellow ministers Chuck Hagel and Ine Eriksen Søreide.
Fellow ministers Chuck Hagel and Ine Eriksen Søreide. Credit: Marita I. Wangberg

The transatlantic relationship

But first, let me address the state of transatlantic affairs.

From a Norwegian perspective, and from the perspective of European leaders, it is clear that we need US leadership in NATO. I want to emphasize this point: US leadership in Europe is needed and it is desired.

But a truly comprehensive and enduring transatlantic strategy needs a strong European commitment as well. It needs to be based on both sides of the Atlantic sharing the burdens.

NATO solidarity means that we consider threats to one ally as threats against all of us. Solidarity among allies is about the big strategic decisions, but also about working together every day to shape a common strategy and putting it into effect. NATO solidary is built upon the democratic values of the Atlantic Treaty.

The foundation of this relationship is trust. Trust in our collective defence commitments, and trust in the strength of the transatlantic ties. Such mutual dependence can only work if we are honest with each other. So what is the state of affairs in NATO today?

The United States accounts for 69 per cent of the alliance’s defence budgets. The financial crisis that started in Europe in 2008 has resulted in the following paradoxical situation: As defence and security challenges are increasing, defence have been decreasing. In 2014, 21 out of 28 allies spent less on defence than in 2008.

This situation is not sustainable. Our ability to share the burden of collective defence is a pressing issue that puts each of our allies’ ability to prioritize to the test.

European leaders might be tempted, during hard economic times, to argue that the US should continue to bear the burden of European security, and to even look to the US for more.

I remember when Chuck announced the European Reassurance Initiative during a NATO Ministerial. Many of our colleagues saw it as an opportunity for Europe to do less. But in fact the message was that Europe needed to do more for our collective security.

There is a clear, understandable and completely justified expectation from US policy and decision makers that Europe must take a larger responsibility for its own security and defence.

As Europeans we need to understand that sustained US commitment to Europe depends on our willingness and ability to step up to the plate.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine has been a wake-up call. 2015 appears to be the year that the decline in European defence budgets has halted, and in some cases been reversed.  Sustaining and strengthening this budget trend must now be our priority.

The health of the transatlantic relationship depends on more than Dollars and Euros. NATO has always been a political alliance.

And the financial crisis in Europe has also had political effects. Many European countries experience domestic political tensions that aggravate the challenge of transatlantic burden sharing and NATO solidarity.

We need to keep an eye on the changing political situation in Europe. Without being alarmist, I would assert that we are seeing some worrying trends in the health condition of European politics:

Nationalism is on the rise. Trust in political and democratic institutions, including the EU and NATO, is diminishing. Radical movements – both on the left and right – are gaining momentum in several European countries. Some of the radical European political parties –from both sides of the political spectrum – openly admire Putin and Putinism. Anti-establishment and anti-modernity are common features of these movements.

The more complex and multifaceted the world around us is, the more polarized politics seem to become.

How we handle the on-going refugee crisis will be a test for Europe. The sheer magnitude and acuteness of the crisis is staggering. This is the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

In Europe we have so far not been able to address this crisis in a coherent way. Several countries have made exemptions to immigration laws. But we have also witnessed the opposite: Fences have been erected to keep refugees out and border control has been re-established within Schengen. If not handled correctly the refugee crisis could lead to further fragmentation in Europe.

The reason for mentioning these aspects here, is that they have potential implications for our political cohesion as well as our collective decision-making ability. Also within the realm of security policy.

An increasingly polarized and fragmented Europe could damage or undermine  transatlantic unity. At a time when unity is more important than ever. 

The changing security environment

Friends,

The complexity of the situation demands that we all do our part. So let me now turn to how the changes in the security landscape in Europe are felt in Norway´s neighbourhood. And how we are meeting these challenges.

Most of Norway´s surrounding areas are sea territories. Norway is responsible for sea areas that are seven times larger than our land territories. 70 per cent of Norway’s sea areas are north of the Arctic Circle

We have vast maritime areas and a unique geographic location.

The Norh is an area where the strategic interests of NATO meet those of Russia. This is NATO’s northern maritime flank, and this is an area that has been largely neglected by the Alliance for the past decades.

To be clear: We do not consider Russia to be a direct military threat to Norway or to Norwegian interests in the current situation. We firmly believe that we have a common interest in predictability and stability in the North. But the strategic changes forces us to think differently.

In my opinion, we have an obligation to describe the world as it is – not as we would like it to be.

The Russian military reforms, which started in earnest in 2008, have resulted in increased mobility and responsiveness. Russian military activity is in many ways at a level that you would expect of a military power of that size. In the High North, we have so far not seen a significant increase in the number of Russian flights, but we see a different quality and complexity in their operations.

The reforms have improved the efficiency of command and control systems. This means that the concept of warning time has changed profoundly. Warning time is reduced to little or no time.

We are seeing the introduction of new high-end maritime capabilities, both surface and sub-surface. These platforms have high-precision long-range strike capabilities. The Russian Defence Concept has a strong focus on ensuring sea control and sea denial, to protect the nuclear forces based on the Kola Peninsula.

So, given the strategic importance of Russian capabilities in the High North, this area will be highly relevant in any potential crisis or conflict involving Russia.

Dear friends,

My key point this morning is this: As a result of these developments, especially in the maritime domain, we are on the verge of an Anti-Access/Area Denial challenge in the North Atlantic. We could potentially face a resurrected threat to the sea lines of communication across the Atlantic. Therefore this challenge is not limited to the North Atlantic, but concerns all of Europe and the US.

The understatement of the day is that there is a considerable asymmetry between Norwegian and Russian military power in the North. Our main task will be to have a good situational awareness. This is the key to continued stability. As part of next year’s Defence White Paper we will focus on developing and acquiring capabilities that provide situational awareness, presence and fighting power.

NATO – from Wales to Warsaw

At the end of the day, though, Norway depends on NATO for our security.

But we need a NATO that is credible and capable. Thus NATO needs to evolve to meet the evolving security situation.

One area that needs more attention is the increasing challenges in the maritime domain. Activities in NATO’s maritime areas are increasing– not just in the North but across NATO’s AOR. The Black Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean. The challenges are different in character, but should be met by a coherent NATO strategy.

Maritime power and presence is becoming more important for NATO.

We must focus on generating true allied maritime capabilities. Secretary Carter and I talked about this yesterday. Working with key allies such as the US, this will be a main issue in the run-up to the Warsaw Summit. NATO must not yield on the maritime flanks.

But NATO also needs to make more fundamental and structural changes. The re-assurance initiatives that have been put in place in the East have been important and have had a stabilizing effect. Importantly, NATO was able to act swiftly. I would also commend the US for reacting quickly and deploying forces to re-assure allies.

Re-assurance activities are important and valuable. But they will not have a lasting effect unless we develop a strategic framework that guides what we do as an alliance. We can not only do “deterrence on a rotational basis”, when a situation occurs. We need that strategic framework.

We need to dispel the notion that these initiatives are temporary, only in place until the current situation is resolved. Re-assurance and RAP are terms that still have a temporary ring to it. I am of the opinion that we need a long-term strategy.

No matter what happens in Ukraine, we will still in all likelihood in the foreseeable future have to deal with a Russia that is fundamentally different than what we assumed before Crimea. That is why we need an enduring strategy that addresses the enduring change in our security environment.

In NATO we need to take a hard look at the current command structure and our planning processes. Norway has called for a strategic framework for training and exercise as well. There are a number of important exercises being held at the national and multinational level. The truth is, though, that NATO´s involvement in these activities is limited, and in some cases non-existent.

This is a situation that must be addressed. Exercises and training are not only important for the collective military capability of the Alliance. These are also key tools in NATO´s toolbox. As hosts, it is a top priority for Norway to make NATO´s High Visibility Exercise in 2018 as relevant as possible. If we adopt a strategic approach to exercises and training, these activities can support our policy objectives of providing re-assurance, deterrence and stability.

In short, NATO needs to look at how we do business. We need to make necessary changes to prepare the Alliance to meet a security environment that is changing fundamentally and strategically. This should be the main theme for Warsaw.

Conclusion

Dear friends,

The state of the transatlantic relationship is strong. But, as with every friendship, it requires effort and work to from both sides. We need leadership and engagement from the US, and Europe needs to invest more in our own security. The political situation in Europe requires attention and focus. We face a threat environment that is unprecedented in its complexity. NATO – and with the transatlantic relationship at its core – has never been more important.

As we continue to develop NATO, we have to focus on high-end collective defence capabilities, across services and domains. I came to DC on Tuesday from Ft. Worth, where I received Norway´s first F-35 aircraft. This will be the backbone of our future defence force.

A NATO without credible collective defence forces will lead to increased instability. A NATO without US leadership will lead to increased instability.

Let us be firm. Let us work together on a NATO strategy that deters aggression, and that ensures an international order based on the rule of law.

Future generations will look back at our time and perhaps see it as a watershed in European history. I can only hope that the decisions we make today, under great uncertainty, will stand the test of time, and that our children and grandchildren will have reason to be proud of us. This demands our continued commitment to the values we hold so dearly: Democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. We must work together, bound by these values, to find common solutions.

 

Fred Kempe in Atlantic Council, Ine Eriksen Søreide and Chuck Hagel.
Fred Kempe in Atlantic Council, Ine Eriksen Søreide and Chuck Hagel. Credit: Marita I. Wangberg, FD