"New long-term plan for the Armed Forces – a monumental political challenge"

Article for the publication "Norges Forsvar" by Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide, January 2016.

Nearly two years have passed since Russia began its aggression against Ukraine, violating the basic premise of relations between states in Europe. Almost overnight, the illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine triggered the most serious security situation in Europe for many decades. About two years have also passed since ISIL swept through large parts of Iraq in a successful campaign that in many ways redefined the terror threat. While we see no direct military threat to Norway at this point in time, those events were a wake-up call. Today’s threats are changing rapidly, forcing us to improve our situational awareness, response time and operational capability.

Our current military structure was designed in a period of stability and peace in our immediate vicinity. Systematic underfunding over many years has also led to a serious imbalance between resources and mandated tasks. To make matters worse, Norway’s economic reality is much more challenging than just a few years ago.

The need for restructuring is acute. The recommendations now on my desk would require more than NOK 30 billion extra in the upcoming four-year period. As if that was not enough: All of them entail closures and a reordering of priorities. So not only are we facing the need for one of the biggest funding increases in modern Norwegian defence history, we must also undertake reforms that will spark opposition among politicians, military personnel and the general public.

Consequently, even if political leaders manage to find an additional NOK 30 billion for the Armed Forces, many will insist that such an effort cannot be considered a strengthening of the Armed Forces. That is a monumental political challenge.

Some may ask: Why not just add a few billion kroner to the defence budget each year, and everything will be sorted? There are at least two answers to that. One is that increased funding alone will not solve the challenges we face. Many of the measures we have to undertake are not driven by economics but by operational needs that must be met if our defence is to remain relevant.

 

The second answer concerns the need to view developments in our sector as part of a larger whole. At issue is the long-term sustainability of the Norwegian economy. Political responsibility includes making sure that everyone receives their pay, their pension and all the other services we are fortunate enough to have as our due in this country.

Therein lies the great political dilemma for this government. We want a strong defence, but we also want to pursue responsible economic policies. Responsible economic policies require an efficient, cost-conscious public sector. An efficient, cost-conscious public sector is essential if the country is to manage its obligations in the years ahead.

No longer does our planning assume large annual increases in domestic product. New economic fundamentals require us to prioritise more strictly. Jobs and welfare are in focus, and so is our success in gradually restructuring the Norwegian economy. In short: social responsibility.

We must also acknowledge large, urgent challenges related to the unfolding refugee crisis. There will be substantial, unpredictable consequences for government budgets across Europe – including ours. It will demand something from all of us.

That is why I have said the government’s 2016 defence budget is sound. We have chosen to set clear priorities as a direct response to the altered security situation and some of the challenges faced by the Armed Forces. We have made some tough choices to meet a changed security situation, and we have strengthened budgets.

The budget for 2016 is increased by 9.4 percent. That accommodates more presence in the High North and a higher activity level for our submarines, Orion maritime patrol aircraft and the Coast Guard. We are strengthening the Norwegian Intelligence Service, assigning higher priority to monitoring, readiness and combat aircraft, and tightening our operational grip through extra investment in maintenance for the Navy. It is a step in the right direction, but does not solve every problem.

That is largely because of the rapid pace of change over the past three years. Our economic frameworks, our understanding of the true predicament of the Armed Forces, and our security environment have all changed.

We must accept that many of the expectations we had about how the world would evolve have not, alas, come to pass. Just outside NATO’s territory we face major challenges that could have direct consequences for Norwegian and allied security.

The government has taken important measures to deal with this difficult situation. We have managed to provide vital contributions within NATO to respond to a changed security situation. We are one of the driving forces behind the NATO reform processes. In concert with key allies we have begun a project involving the northern maritime flanks, with the Warsaw Summit to serve as an important milestone. And here at home, we have increased military preparedness and presence.

Employees of the Armed Forces have performed faithfully, which explains the high quality that the Armed Forces have delivered. That does not happen automatically. There is a price. We see pressure rising on an already thinly staffed structure and on tight operating budgets. The need to take significant measures is urgent.

The Ministry of Defence is working hard to analyse all the advice and input it has received on the new long-term plan. At the core of it all is risk; Given the political and security landscape, what risks are inherent in the various military alternatives? And what risks can we take with regard to the capacity and willingness of future governments to provide funds? What size budgets can we realistically put forward for the coming years, and within those frameworks what military priorities would have the most impact? There are no definitive answers. This is not an exact science. It is a matter of balance and appraisal, using information, wisdom and judgement.

We must ask ourselves where it makes sense to accept added risk in order to strengthen security in other areas that we consider vital to Norwegian interests. Our goal is to have a military that accomplishes its assigned tasks, where risks are clearly delineated and acknowledged rather than the result of flawed assumptions and plans.

To get there, we must look at all the components of our defence. No parts of the Armed Forces or other agencies in the sector are off limits. We must set clear goals for internal efficiency. We must keep all options on the table and take a critical look at the entire wish list – from staff and support functions to individual capacities and service branches. The security situation requires us to favour resources supporting operational structure over other activity. This is also our approach as we now examine the overall personnel, training and support structure.

The important thing is that whatever structure we ultimately choose has to be funded, exercised, trained and well equipped. We have to abandon the idea that a bigger defence on paper – and with lots of hardware in the garage, along the pier or in the hangar – is better than a smaller and sharper but truly operational force that can perform the tasks required of it. If we fail to do that, the Armed Forces will be unable to fulfil its most demanding missions.

Avoiding or postponing a decision may sometimes seem to be the easiest solution or way out. I believe that is not a viable alternative. If we do not face up to the decisions that are now necessary, they will for all practical purposes be taken for us, as the increasingly precarious economic situation will force us to adopt short-sighted solutions. It is now we have the opportunity to influence the future and not let events control us.

Indeed, looking ahead I would like to give equal emphasis to our opportunities – that is, to designing a sustainable new defence oriented to the future. That is why I do not view restructuring as something exclusively negative. I see it as an opportunity, because it forces us to think anew. We must think different, and think better.

The government’s aim is to submit a credible, high-quality long-term plan for the Armed Forces. A long-term plan that allows the Armed Forces to perform their duties and protect our interests. A plan that is economically sustainable, and that uses society’s resources efficiently and sensibly. The challenges are so great that not everything can be solved in a single long-term plan. But the choices must be made now – because the future of our national security concerns all of us.