NATO Parliamentary Assembly

Speech by Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Stavanger, 12 October 2015.

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Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a great honour to welcome you to Norway and to the city of Stavanger.

I had the privilege of serving as a NATO parliamentarian for several years. And I am pleased to see familiar faces among the distinguished representatives present here today.

We meet in what is widely known as the oil capital of Norway. But Stavanger also has a proud tradition of hosting NATO. In fact, the Joint Warfare Centre – NATO’s training focal point – is the third NATO body to have its headquarters at Jåttå.

Sixty-six years after it was established, NATO remains the bedrock of Norway’s security. When we joined NATO, we joined a political and military alliance based on shared values. A community founded on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. A community that could safeguard our freedom and security – by political as well as military means.

The rationale for our membership is as relevant today as then. The solidarity of our allies is the foundation of our collective defence. It is our key to peace and stability.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Last time I attended a NATO Parliamentary Assembly, in May 2013, I was head of the Norwegian delegation.

Since then much of the discussion has shifted to security concerns in our own neighbourhood. We are witnessing major divisions in terms of ideology, interests, values and world views. On a scale not seen since the end of the Cold War. These divisions are becoming increasingly evident in many areas.

I would like to point towards two fundamental strategic challenges for NATO:

First, a less predictable Russia. Russia’s aggression and violations of international law in Ukraine is unacceptable. It has brought armed conflict back to the European continent. Russia is increasing its military capabilities. And it has shown that it is willing to achieve strategic goals by military means. We are concerned about Russia's intentions in Syria, and the broader implications of its actions.

Although the threat against NATO remains low, we are witnessing increased military activity along NATO’s borders – and particularly in the Baltic Sea area. Allied and non-allied countries are experiencing border violations. This has raised legitimate concerns in several European capitals. The Russian concept of ‘spheres of influence’ – which we cannot accept – is especially worrying for some allies. There is a lack of trust. The potential for escalation is obvious.

Second, the security challenges posed by war and instability to the south of Europe. These challenges are very different from those to the east. Radicalisation and terror are growing and spreading. ISIL’s brutal onslaught in Syria and Iraq has forced millions to leave their homes. In Syria alone, 12 million people have fled from the ravages of war. The flow of refugees to Europe raises serious challenges. The security situation is complex. The humanitarian crisis is increasing day by day. The ‘belt of insecurity’ that stretches from the Sahel through the Middle East is of profound concern. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today’s security landscape is unique. Not just because new threats have appeared, or because old ones have returned. But because there is such a wide array of security challenges – old and new, local and global, military and political – and because they are interrelated.

Many of these challenges cannot be solved by military means alone. A holistic approach is needed.

NATO must play its role, and be prepared to meet the challenges that arise. This means that NATO must continue to adapt to the changing situation. Norway will play an active part in this important work.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Turning to the High North.

Norway’s maritime areas span from the Skagerrak to the Arctic Ocean.

Norway has jurisdiction over maritime areas covering more than 2 million square kilometres. That is almost seven times the area of our mainland, and just slightly less than the area of the Mediterranean. More than 80 % of our sea areas are north of the Arctic Circle. Norway and Russia have agreed on a maritime delimitation line and our shared border is 196 kilometres long.

It is an absolute Norwegian priority to maintain the High North as an area of stability, transparency and international cooperation. Many aspects of this cooperation have been successful. The Arctic Council is a key arena for wide-ranging cooperation. Furthermore, the five coastal states bordering the Arctic Ocean have committed to uphold the Law of the Sea in the area.

Although the High North remains a region of low tension, we see that the Russian armed forces are undergoing a significant modernisation. We are also seeing that Russian flights and naval operations in the area are being carried out with greater complexity. On land, we are seeing much greater capability for strategic mobility. 

We do not consider Russia to be a direct threat to Norway or Norwegian interests. But the strategic changes in the security environment in our part of the world force us to think differently.

Our history of cooperation with Russia in the north goes back decades. Our aim is to maintain cooperation on coast and
border guard activities, security matters, search and rescue preparedness, as well as in the areas of fisheries, environmental protection and nuclear safety.

We are also continuing our engagement with Russia within the frameworks of the Arctic Council and the Barents cooperation.

Norway and Russia have gradually expanded our contacts and cooperation based on mutual interests and international law. Tensions have been reduced and trust has been built. However, Russia’s actions in and around Ukraine are undermining all this.

We have to be realistic. The current crisis in Ukraine is not a temporary one, and there is no quick fix.

It is up to Russia to rebuild relations to NATO and EU.  Norway supports measures in NATO that can bring relations with Russia onto a more constructive course without compromising our principles. In times like these, it is of particular importance to pursue opportunities to build trust and find ways to mitigate the risk of accidents and unintended incidents.

Military activity is a natural part of any nation’s efforts to ensure security and stability. This also applies in the High North. Norway takes its responsibility in this region seriously. It is important that NATO follows developments closely and maintains situational awareness.

NATO needs to focus more on its maritime domain, including in the High North. This is of strategic importance. Sea denial will seriously hamper NATO’s ability to protect its members. It is vital therefore, that NATO continues to develop its maritime capability. We must make sure that we conduct relevant training and exercises. The maritime domain should be an important part of NATO’s adaptation.

Norway will host NATO’s high visibility exercise in 2018. This will be an opportunity to raise the alliance’s awareness of the High North and the importance of NATO’s maritime flanks.

Ladies and gentlemen,

At the Summit in Wales, we agreed on the biggest reinforcement of NATO’s collective defence capabilities since the end of the Cold War. This includes our rapid response capability.

In Warsaw, we will be able to show that most of the decisions from Wales have been implemented. This is important. But – given the current security environment – there is a need for continuous adaptation.

In Warsaw, we will therefore need to look ahead, and seek to ensure sustainable long-term adaptation. We need to prepare NATO for security challenges that could arise in the south, east, north or west. We must make sure that NATO can continue to provide security and stability through credible deterrence and collective defence.

Our ability to do so will determine the future relevance of NATO. 

Now that we are mid-way between the summit in Wales and the upcoming summit in Warsaw, I would like to share with you some further thoughts about the future direction of NATO:

First, we need to invest in our own security. We cannot take our transatlantic relations for granted. All allies – Norway included – need to share the burden. We need to ensure that we have the capabilities we need to meet the broad range of current and future security challenges. We must take part in exercises and continue to build capacity and interoperability, including with other partners. We will also continue to increase our defence budget in the years to come. For example, we are planning to increase next year’s defence budget by 9.8 %. And we will invest smartly, to ensure the best possible results. Next year, Norway is planning to spend more than 26 % on major acquisitions.

The Norwegian Government will present a Long Term Plan for the Defence Sector to the Parliament in 2016 that will set the basis for the future development of the defence sector.

Second, the unity and solidarity of NATO allies has been clearly demonstrated in the response to the crisis in Ukraine. Reassurance measures were quickly put in place to ensure the security of our eastern allies. This is what NATO is all about. And this is what we shall continue to foster.

Political solidarity and cohesion are essential for effective decision-making and for NATO’s ability to respond in a timely manner. There is nothing new in this.

Third. Instability in our immediate neighbourhood poses a direct threat to our security and stability. This means that it is more important than ever to work with our partners. Building partner capabilities and promoting security sector reform are important roles for NATO, and a direct investment in our own security. We need to give priority to areas where NATO can add value, such as security sector reform and military training.

Fourth, integration into Euro-Atlantic structures has been a strong driver of democratic reforms in Europe over the past 20 years. It has led to unprecedented levels of wealth, liberty and stability in our region. NATO must not compromise on its open-door policy. We must continue to work with partners – and be ready to welcome all European democracies that can meet the standards and requirements of membership.

Fifth, the alliance will benefit from closer cooperation with other organisations. This is obvious, even more so in the current security situation. NATO–EU cooperation is of strategic importance and must be high on the agenda as we prepare for the Warsaw summit. Enhanced cooperation within areas like hybrid warfare, maritime security and capacity building could be further explored.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This autumn, the Norwegian frigate Fridtjof Nansen is taking part in NATO’s standing naval forces. The vessel is named after Fridtjof Nansen, the Norwegian explorer, diplomat and humanitarian, who once said: ‘The greatest thing in human life is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.’

These words apply to NATO today. We need to look ahead. We need to adapt to a changing security environment. In political terms. And in military terms. We need to adapt as an organisation. And most importantly, we need to move together, as a united alliance. This is where our strength lies.