“NATO, the EU and the rise of East Asia”

Speech held at the "Leangkollenkonferansen" February 4th 2014 by Minister of Defence Norway Ine Eriksen Søreide. Title of the speech: “NATO, the EU and the rise of East Asia”.

Speech held at the "Leangkollenkonferansen" February 4th 2014 by Minister of Defence Norway Ine Eriksen Søreide. Title of the speech: “NATO, the EU and the rise of East Asia”.

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Ine Eriksen Søreide speaking at Leangkollenseminaret
Ine Eriksen Søreide speaking at Leangkollenkonferansen (photo: Anders Bergsmo, MoD).

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends

It is a great pleasure to be with you this morning. I am grateful for Kate and her staff facilitating this conference and for putting together such an interesting program.

The rise of East Asia and its security implications particularly for NATO and the EU are quite crucial to understand.

Our national security interests are vested in an Alliance that remains relevant. And we are part of the European community in good as well as in difficult times.  

I, therefore, welcome the opportunity to share my thoughts on this.

Sunday evening I returned from two very intense and interesting days of discussion on foreign affairs and security policy issues.

The 50th Munich Security Conference which took place this weekend contained a blend of different topics, from the critical and appalling situation in Syria to long term trends in international relations.

Allow me to share a one or two observations which I consider relevant to our discussion.   

I think one such observation is the increasing political distance between key actors in international relations. The negotiable is being replaced by stronger national positions.  Again, this is very much illustrated by Syria, and by the impasse in the UN Security Council.

In Munich we received a very candid assessment as to what can be achieved through the Geneva 2 negotiations. Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN Special Envoy on Syria, was frank when stating that “we haven’t achieved anything”. He went on to drawing parallels between Syria and Rwanda. 

No one would disagree that Syria represents one of the greatest humanitarian tragedies of our times. And no one would disagree that this conflict is a threat to the stability of the wider region.

In spite of this there are no signs of any international consensus on how to alleviate the terrible humanitarian consequences of this conflict. Herman Van Rompuy was honest in describing Syria as the “biggest failure of the international community in decades”.  

Division in views and also different perceptions are definitely not limited to Syria. It is also the case in our European neighborhood. I think you all will recall Vice-President Joe Biden using the Munich Security Conference as venue for pressing the well-known reset-button.

Today, a few years later, my impression is rather that the political fronts are becoming sharper in terms of national interests and the different narratives presented. The discussions we had on Ukraine this weekend greatly reinforced this view.    

My second and final observation is on Europe itself and the transatlantic relationship. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel both strongly emphasized US’ unwavering support of the transatlantic relations.

This is of course important. To me an equally strong message from Munich is the encouraging signals from European leaders that Europe is ready to take on a greater share of the transatlantic relationship. In particular since this message came from the hosts themselves.

The German president Joachim Gauck spoke of a Germany that must take a clear leadership also within foreign and security policy. And foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier added to this that Germany is too big to only comment on world politics from the side lines.  

In my view these are very important statements. Potentially it also may involve a more active German participation in military operations. This is good news for Europe and for the future of the transatlantic relationship. We need a strong and firm European leadership.       

Much of the discussion in Munich took place on the backdrop of global shifts and the rise of East Asia. As this year marks 100 years since the outbreak of the First World War, there also has been those who made uncomfortable parallels between then and now. Only that this time the spark ignites in East Asia. 

Frankly, I do not share such a gloomy outlook. The times are very different and mankind can learn from its mistakes. 

America is still a preeminent power and will remain so. For the foreseeable future, there are no obvious candidates to take on the global role of the United States.

But then again, gloomy outlooks or scenarios could too easily be transferred into self-fulfilling prophecies if left unattended.

We are seeing fundamental changes in the distribution of international power. As the world is becoming less “West”, we must prepare for a world quite different from the one we have become accustomed to.

One such significant difference is that hundreds of millions of people have made their way out of poverty. This is truly one of the greatest achievements which obviously contribute to stability.

On the other hand, straight-line projection of economic trends could prove valid. But it also could prove wrong. Then what?

We must expect that developing countries with a growing middle class also will make their voice heard. Sudden economic setbacks could challenge domestic stability, and trust in political leaders. 

For all those puzzling with historical mind games, it is also worth noting that we live in quite a different world in terms of economic interdependence. The stakes of taking military actions in a world like ours are of course even greater.

At the same time, irrationality and isolated political leadership are still parts of the equation that we have to relate to. For obvious reason the political situation North-Korea raises concern, as one example.  

In other parts of East Asia a combination of nationalism and unresolved territorial issues is a source of instability. Incidents may push leaders into a corner.

I could continue. There is a range of possible scenarios and examples one could cater. But this is not my purpose this morning. 

I would rather like to return to our own geographical area. To do this I believe important questions to be pursued are the following;

What should be the future role of NATO in this new world?

Does NATO have any role in the Asia-Pacific, or should NATO stick to its roots as an alliance covering the Euro-Atlantic Area? What does it mean for NATO when the US rebalances towards Asia-Pacific?

What about NATO’s partner policy?

And lastly, how should Europe position itself in times of economic constrain?    


NATO’s response

NATO leaving the emerging new world unattended is clearly not an option. The changing nature of today’s global security environment calls for the Alliance to adjust accordingly. To put it very simply: Today we need more – not less – NATO.

Allow me to raise two of the points that I find highly important.  

My first point is related to the outreach and partner policy of the Alliance. 

NATO’s Strategic Concept of 2010 identifies “cooperative security” as one of NATO’s three core tasks, alongside collective defence and crisis management.

This entails a strengthened security partnership with other nations and actors – an essential contribution to increased collective security and stability.

This is a clear recognition of the fact that promotion of Euro-Atlantic security is best assured through a wide network of partner relationships with countries and organisations around the globe.

NATO is today conducting regular political consultations on security developments with several countries in East Asia. 

Enhancing its engagement does not imply NATO becoming an organisation with global membership. I therefore stress engagement, as opposed to presence or commitment.

NATO has no intention of a permanent presence in East Asia or the Pacific, and NATO has commitments to no others than the members of the Alliance.

What the engagements reflect is an Alliance that has a global perspective on security. It is an Alliance that engages in a region to the benefit of global security and stability. 

In Asia, we witness increasing tension among states in the region. This tension is partly fuelled by these states’ otherwise impressive economic growth. The development is compounded by Asia’s lack of effective security institutions.

I strongly believe that NATO can play a role in promoting stability by demonstrating to nations in Asia and the Pacific the instruments of dialogue and confidence-building which has served Europe so well after 1945.

We know too well that conflicts and instability can be exported across continents.

Physical remoteness is no longer a guarantee for security. On the contrary; global interdependence makes you vulnerable to events that take place far away.

In such a world any contribution to stability in East China Sea or the Pacific is a contribution to stability along our Atlantic shores.

This is also a perspective we must keep in mind when discussing the issue of US rebalancing its efforts towards East Asia.   

This leads me to the second point I wanted to raise.

Sometimes I find it timely to remind ourselves of NATO’s and the EU’s significance for peace and stability in our part of the world.

European integration enshrined within solid transatlantic bonds, is the formula that has allowed Europe to prosper and grow.

We are responsible for passing this successful formula to the next generation in as equally good condition. 

To me the transatlantic partnership is a source of stability in a world that sometimes can seem adrift.

It provides not only regional, but also contributes to global stability. The need for a transatlantic security partnership – based on common values, norms, and principles – is as great as ever.

As the world changes, so does the transatlantic relationship. The debate on NATO and on this relationship, seen from Europe, tends to be about fear of US abandonment.

These fears have been accentuated by the US intention to re-balance to the Asia/Pacific.

Norway still calls for continued US leadership in order to preserve the transatlantic community, but from our point of view we see the US focus on Asia as a natural response to the changes in the global power structures.

In fact US’ engagement in this part of the world is probably one of the most important contributions to global security.

In the future, US presence in Europe will be different from what it is today. But we trust that the US will still retain a robust presence linked among other things to the establishing of missile defence systems in Europe, and through annual participation in training and exercises.

Having said this, I have also made the point that the discussion does not limit itself to how and at what level the US engages in Europe.

We need to take a hard look at burden-sharing, and Europe needs to contribute with our share to our common security.

The situation today – where the US shoulders more than 70% of defense expenditure in NATO – is simply not sustainable. It is indeed undermining the very core of the transatlantic relationship.

The US is faced with significant economic challenges of its own, alongside a difficult and changing domestic political situation.

The new generation of US policy-makers does not necessarily have the same close historical ties to the transatlantic relationship that was developed during the decades of the Cold War.

Nor do they have the same experience with NATO. Today you are more likely to meet officers and officials who have served in the Pacific or in the Middle East, rather than in Europe.

After my meetings in Washington last month I was left with a clear impression that there are growing factions on both sides of the aisle in the US Congress that are questioning the value of continued US investments and engagement in Europe.

What this means is that we no longer can take for granted the current US engagement in NATO. Norway understands this.

So we know what the challenges are. The true question is what can and should be done and what is Europe’s response.  


Europe’s response

I expect you all have registered certain optimism with regard to the economic situation in Europe. Macroeconomic statistics recently presented by organizations as the OECD, contain promising trends. But I should add also very fragile trends.

I am also very realistic as to when a possible recovery will come into effect. The social problems caused by the financial recession will continue to challenge domestic political stability. Many countries are still very much influenced by deep cuts and the need for structural reforms. 

My strong support for the EU is no secret to this audience. Especially in times like these, I am very glad that organizations like the EU exist. In a world with greater strategic uncertainties and limited resources, we need strong leadership and we need common values.

As to the way forward allow me to make three propositions. 

First of all, Europe needs to demonstrate clearly that we are willing to invest in our own security. This will require leadership from political leaders in Europe.

Recognising that many European countries are still burdened by the financial crisis, we still need to maintain credible defenses.

We cannot expect the US to invest in European security when we are not willing to make necessary investments ourselves.

I realize Norway is in a better economic situation than many of our European Allies, since we were spared the worst effects of the financial crisis.

However, I can assure you that we still faces the same dilemmas as other countries when it comes to public spending. We have had to make some tough choices and we continue to make them every day, but we have come to the conclusion that we need to keep spending on defence.

This is because we believe that military threats have not disappeared, and that we need the national ability to meet them.

But it is also because we see our significant investments in our own defence as a contribution to stronger collective defence and security within Europe, and across the Atlantic.

We have over the past decades sustained and even increased our defence budgets. We are investing in deployable high-end capabilities such as new AEGIS-frigates, new F-35 combat aircraft, C-130 transport aircraft and a major modernization of our Army.

These are capabilities that serve our national needs. But they are also contributions to NATO’s ability to execute collective defence, as well as out-of-area crisis response operations.

Our transformation is not taking place in “splendid isolation”. Our posture remains linked to the transatlantic community and to NATO. For the high-end security challenges Norway still depends on firm support from NATO and from individual allies.

Secondly, I want to emphasize that burden-sharing encompasses more than the level of defence budgets. Europe needs to take a greater share of the political burdens. This goes beyond defence.

The process of removing chemical agents from Syria is a good example. I am pleased that Norway, in close co-operation with Denmark and the US, is contributing to this operation. This is transatlantic burden-sharing in practice.

And on that note, let me underline a message I have given to both the US and European allies several times: NATO is more than a military alliance. It is a political alliance, where a set of common values binds us together.

Thirdly, Europe needs to demonstrate a greater understanding and willingness to address US security concerns, not only in Europe.

The developments in the Asia/Pacific area are not only of consequence for the US. It affects us all. US engagement in this part of the world is important for global stability.

There is no hiding the fact that there are political and resource limitations to what Europe can do in Asia. Still, European Allies could and should demonstrate that we care about what happens in the Asia-Pacific region, because this affects us all.

We need to demonstrate that we stand ready to support the US in addressing these security concerns. That is the essence of transatlantic collective security.

For just this reason Norway aims at participating in the naval exercise in the Pacific (RIMPAC 2014) with one of our frigates.

Another measure that we should consider is holding more NATO exercises in North America. Europe needs to demonstrate that we are not only net importers of security, but that we in fact can be exporters of security as well.


Concluding remarks

Ladies and gentlemen,

The world we live is fundamentally changing. This has become a truism. Today, polls even indicate that optimism and hope are on the move to new economic centers of gravity. We are now living in a part of the world where the feeling of hopelessness, especially among young people, is growing. 

I believe it is fundamental for NATO, for Europe – and Norway – to engage more with East Asia. We need to promote partnership and share our experience as to how we have succeeded in creating a Europe whole, free and at peace.

And we need to act in concert to support the international community. As we currently do with China among others in contributing to operation RECSYR in removing chemical agents from Syria so they can be destructed. And as we have been doing in countering piracy in the Gulf of Aden.

These are both good examples of new venues in which nations involved also may identify a set of shared security interests which can promote a sense of togetherness. 

To this you also may add the High North as a promising venue for co-operation. It could also serve as an example for nations looking for appropriate arrangements for multilateral co-operation.

The Northern Sailing route contains interesting prospects for more contact and co-operation. Last year 71 vessels made it through this icy short cut. This is a doubling of the numbers from 2012.

Finally, we need to ensure the health situation of our own multilateral organizations. The EU plays a vital role. So does NATO and this must be safeguarded. The existence of a strong NATO with solid transatlantic ties is key in ensuring peace and stability in our part of the world.

But this requries Europe to step up to the plate. Sustaining global security depends on the ability of Europe and the US to work together. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is obviously in Norway’s interest.

Thank you for your attention.