Opening address by the Prime Minister at Leangkollen Security Conference

“I believe that the notion of deterrence and reassurance is the right equation. But what matters is that the deterrence has to be credible. We have to make it credible in the way we invest, train and exercise our responsibility. The reassurance point for me is really about how we are recognisable, long-term and predictable”, said Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre.

The speech as delivered (transcript of the video recording)

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for this opportunity. I am older than the Leangkollen Conference, but younger than NATO, so I am well positioned to address you here. And thank you, Leangkollen Conference, for having moved to this auditorium. I think it is great to have Munch ‘in the back’. And if you need to see ‘The Scream’, you have to go elsewhere, because here you have ‘The Sun’, which inspires us, and I think that is a proper scene.

And thank you for putting on this very topical agenda. One could have had a long historic perspective on ‘NATO – Past, Present and Future’, starting with about 12 members, and now we are above 30. And as you said, Grete (Faremo) and Kate (Hansen Bundt), it is the most successful and long-lasting military alliance in history. That was also the message when I was taught security policy 40 years ago. So, it has gone through sequences which are worthwhile studying, and I think that the main message here is that it is, during the years, about the ability of collective security. That is where it is.

In the 1990s, after the Cold War, there was this question, you know, what is the purpose? And I can remember back then, are we really in need of NATO? And we had a discussion of whether we ‘go out of area’ or we ‘go out of business’. Now I believe we are very much back to the modern notion of collective security and what that means. And for Norway, that is critical and key.


Now, the backdrop of my remarks today is, of course, the international scene, the 75th anniversary and the summit in Washington. We are all starting to prepare for that, important as it is.

Half of the world population or a bit more will go to the polls this year, which is not necessarily a sign of strong democracies around the world, but it is a sign that big states will have elections, and that will have an impact.

It is against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, the war in the Middle East, and instability in many parts of the world.

It is against the backdrop of a major industrial revolution going on with artificial intelligence.

It is against the backdrop of extreme weather from climate change, also affecting security quite profoundly.

And it is against the background of deep transitions in our societies. All NATO member states are facing that: Energy transition, climate transition, and demographic transition. So, all these elements are exposing, I would say, our notion of security.

It is not NATO's business to deal with all of that, but it is interconnected. And I think if we kind of disconnect these different elements, we do not grasp the whole picture. So, my message here is that we need to be prepared.


I speak now as a Norwegian Prime Minister, primarily, of course, responsible for Norway's security. We need to be prepared militarily, politically, and morally to live with this security environment that is around our country and globally.

And that means that we have to be prepared to deal with potential military threats to the integrity of our borders and our sovereignty, be they direct or indirect – hybrid. We need to deal with upheavals in local communities through extreme weather and surprises that can turn upside-down local communities. That is also about major preparedness.

And we need to be prepared, I think, morally, to deal with a wave of fake news, conspiracy theories, and things that are really unsettling in the way we shape our opinions. And it involves all of our society, and here we have a strong element of our military, and I appreciate that.

This morning, before coming here, I had a breakfast meeting with the President and Secretary General of the Norwegian Red Cross. I just felt well coming down there, being a former Secretary General of the Red Cross myself, how important that organization is for the civil mobilization of preparedness.

And they had two messages for me: One was to report back from Ukraine, where they are with a very extensive program, Red Cross cooperating, as part of the Nansen Program that we have established as Norway's five-year support package to Ukraine. And now the Norwegian Red Cross can support civil preparedness in Ukraine when they are under attack. Very important.

And the second part of their message was: How do we strengthen preparedness in Finnmark, in our northernmost county, to deal with weather, preparedness, everything happening in the High North? So that is the other side of the preparedness equation.


So, what is the security environment? We could have not only two days, but many days of seminar on that. And let me just mention, before I come to my four points of response to the question of what it means to Norway:

Obviously, Russia's full-scale aggression against Ukraine is a watershed. Europe is dealing with this, as one way of settling issues between countries, a full-fledged war. Two years ago, some were convinced that this was about to happen, and some still could not really envisage that this was a modern response to modern challenges. But it did happen, and it is, of course, a disaster for the Ukrainian people. But it is also unsettling security perceptions of many European states, be they bordering Russia or victims of other kinds of instability.

So, there is the Russian war and the deep sense of insecurity in Europe, that is really part now of our security architecture. How do we deal with that? Individually, as countries, and all my colleagues – I will meet many of them in Munich in a couple of weeks – we are all grappling with the answers from our national perspectives, but of course also how do we lift it into a collective security perspective.


Then there is the war in the Middle East, dramatic and tragic in itself, and as we see now day by day with its consequences and potential spreading effect beyond the immediate borders of Gaza or the West Bank.

There is China, there is Asia, there are unsettled issues, Taiwan, tensions rising, US’ focus shifting both ways. There is Africa, with the conflicts that are often forgotten, be they in Sudan, be they at the Horn of Africa, and around that continent, spreading insecurity. Deeply tragic for the people living there, but also pressure on Europe from the South.

And then again, we have to factor in issues like the COVID pandemic, what it did to economies. This is also part of the security environment. The North-South divide. Is the global South really trusting what we are saying from the global North? Do our messages have credibility when we try to sound the alarm bell of what is going on in Ukraine if we handle the Middle East quite differently?

These are fundamental questions for the security environment. And then there is the question about democracies themselves. There are 4 or 5 billion people voting, but there are also strong publications coming out from historians saying: this is how democracies die, or this is how democracies are threatened from the inside.

And if we talk about security for our countries, then we cannot neglect the quality of our democracies. Are people voting? Is the truth being spoken? Is the press able to do its job? So, these are many elements. I'll try to boil down this to four answers from a Norwegian perspective to deal with our security:

Norway’s national defence. New long-term defence plan

First of all, how we fix our own defence, our national defence, that is key. Second, on NATO, what will be NATO's role, what will be our contribution. Third, the historic fact that the Nordics will be, for the first time in modern times, united in the same security alliance. And my fourth remark is, are we trusting who we really are? What are our core values to stand up against all this?

First on our national defence: we are now preparing a national defence plan, a long-term plan, and it is being prepared in the same mode of approach as we voted the five-years support plan for Ukraine. We invite all parties in the Parliament to come together and elaborate and work on that plan.

On the Nansen package for Ukraine, the five-years plan, we managed to get all parties in Parliament along. I think that was important. I think we are the only country in Europe where there is completely cross-party support in Parliament for our package to Ukraine.

I take note of the fact that the European Union last week voted a four-years package, and I think that our five-years approach has had some impact on that. The money and the contribution in itself, the weapons we are able to contribute, the quality of all that, that is important. But the five-years thing is also very important, because it gives a perspective that we are not there for only the next year, but there is a long perspective. So, we work in that mode.

We have made clear that we will be at the 2% level in 2026 or before. We will see. It depends a bit on how it goes, but we are really focused on being part of that pledge. 30% will go for investments, which is above the NATO target, but that is where we will be modernising our defence. But this is only a first step.

So, there are three major elements in how we approach this long-term plan:

The first one is to make our current structure work better, and to make it relevant to the challenges ahead. That will require three major engagements:

One is on resources. We will need more resources to fund the structure.

Second, we will need more people to man the structure, which means that part of the money we have been mobilising so far, is really about increasing intake at our military schools, training people, getting that capacity up, building new buildings to house them.

And the third one is to fill up our ammunition stocks. And you all know that Western production has taken a peace dividend, and it is now time to invest in the insecurity risk factor. That is how it is.

But my message to the Norwegian society is as following: There are two areas where we know we will have to invest more as a community in the years ahead: It is in health and care services, and it is in military capacity. And for both of these sectors, unfortunately, prices are not coming down. They are going up. So, we will need to spend more on something which is probably going to be more expensive. And if the equation is going to work out, it means that we will have to make tougher priorities.

So, the first one, make our current structure work.

Secondly, when we envisage our defence plan for the coming years, we should take fully note that Norway is in the High North and Norway is an ocean state. I would not make a too big ‘drama’ out of the fact that this is who we are: Geography matters. Sweden and Finland have other geographies. So, the big task here, I will come back to that, is to make these agendas work, which is a unique opportunity.

But Norway will have to take its responsibilities seriously. We have a coastline. We are NATO's eyes and ears up in the North, following what is happening here, providing both stability and deterrence. So, we have to invest in a capacity that can maintain that same quality in the years to come.

I believe that the notion of deterrence and reassurance is the right equation. But what matters is that the deterrence has to be credible. We have to make it credible in the way we invest, train and exercise our responsibility. The reassurance point for me is really about how we are recognisable, long-term and predictable.

I think Norway has stood the lessons during these 75 years of NATO as an ally being predictable, long-term. So, we have been able – to a certain extent – to keep this notion of ‘High North, low tension’. And it is not in our interest to seek the other way around; let us do ‘high tension in the High North’. So, the High North will determine this in a key way.

Also, because our allies are, for obvious reasons, more interested in the Arctic, the High North, the Barents Sea. And when they sail and fly and exercise in the north, we want to be along with them. I think that is a way of reassuring, creating and sharing our experience.

So, make the current structure better, invest in the High North, and increase, my third point, the capacity of allied reinforcement, which is key for Norway. We have to have a strong defence to address our security in the immediate terms, but then we depend on the Alliance functioning and working.

I was with the Defence Minister in Bardufoss, Akkasæter camp, up in Troms, two weeks ago, seeing how we are building capacities for training, for reception, and for exercising with our allies what it means to do winter training and what it means to reach our borders. We are deepening our bilateral agreements with the UK and now lately with the US. We have these four areas of dedicated military areas with the US for the agreement adopted two years ago. And so, last week we put to Parliament the proposal of another eight areas that will be agreed with the US to create predictability and training for how we do that.

So, these are main elements of how we envisage our long-term defence plan. We will do that in good parliamentary tradition, and I think we are on a good path to work and deal with our partners in Parliament on both sides of the aisle, hopefully to reach as broad consensus as we can.

Norway and NATO

So that was the defence. Second, on NATO. Let me be pretty brief on that. Saying that what we see from the Norwegian side of what happened in Vilnius last year was a major achievement of making NATO relevant, and up to where it needs to be at this moment.

I remember from my time as Foreign Minister, and Espen (Barth Eide) and I, we worked on, and Grete (Faremo) you were there too, on what we said: ‘taking NATO back home’ to its geography. We had key people in our defence who knew more about Afghan mountains than about Norwegian fjords. So, you know, there need to be a balance here.

And I think what happened in Vilnius, what is summarised in Vilnius, was a very important achievement in that sense. Four thousand pages from SACEUR about new regional defence plans which are updated and relevant, and where we all find our role, and our national defence plan will have to fit with these NATO regional plans. A new regional command structure, where Norway is under Norfolk, and I think it is a common Nordic intention as well, Admiral, to be under the Norfolk command structure together, which highlights the transatlantic dimension which is key to NATO.

We have contributed to the forward planning. We have 150 Norwegian troops in Lithuania: Much stronger and deeper security dialogue with our Baltic friends. And I will go to Poland to see Prime Minister Tusk in a couple of weeks, also to deepen that relationship between Norway and Poland, which is important in many senses.

We have also taken new initiatives, as I did with Chancellor Scholz to increase NATO's contribution to energy infrastructure security, which I think is a modern private-public partnership between NATO and the private industry, to look after this critical infrastructure for our security.

So, here I believe that NATO is responding and has been doing that under Secretary General Stoltenberg over the last year; responding to what the needs really are and getting the essence of what 31-32 member states can unite around. There will always be debate and there will always be maximising differences of views, but they are democracies and they find solutions. I think that is the hopeful message. So, that is on NATO.

The Nordic countries

My third point, on the Nordics, just a few words. I mean it is historic, it could be another week of seminars; how did it go that all five Nordics are now finally in the military alliance. If we just take the post-Second World War years, there were political leaders, especially in my political movement, dreaming about a Nordic defence alliance. We could come together and be some kind of a group, on the Scandinavian peninsula, to defend ourselves. That did not work.

They did not manage to create a common currency. They did not manage to create a common market. But they did great on making cross-border circulation easier, passport free travel.

But it took the European dimension to create a market and it took a European dimension to create a currency, for the time being for Finland, part of that, and it took the Euro-Atlantic structure to bring us together in one alliance. And of course, this is the immediate result of the war in Ukraine.

I think it has been some of the most memorable experiences of my two and a half years as Prime Minister to work with my Finnish and Swedish colleagues in a very open, transparent way: What does it mean to be NATO member and Nordic? What does it mean, what are the obligations?

And I think the trust we have had in that cooperation during these historic moments for our neighbours, is something to build on in the future. But now we have an opportunity to look at the whole Scandinavian peninsula as one integral system. Not that this is new. We have worked on defence planning and exercising for the last 15, 20 years, in a good way. Now we can do it with inter-operability under the same rules and we can plan in the same way. We can train, we can purchase, and we can look at the whole geographic area as one.

It will, of course, link the Barents Arctic with the Baltic, but I think the opportunity of using our resources in a more effective way is quite significant. Especially in the air force dimension; 250 very modern planes that can now start to work together and make the most out of each other.

There are 1300 kilometres of border between Finland and Russia. And there are 200 kilometres with Norway on the top. And I believe that this neighbour relationship has to be managed with care. I repeat, as I do in every message, the Nordics are a threat to none. It is a thousand years since we did that kind of business.

Now we want to be a region of stability, and I think it is good for NATO to have another two Nordic countries around the table, also politically, as we need to set the course.

Common values

Then my last point, friends, which is part of this collective security thing, and that is to be more aware of who we are and what are the values that we build on. Because deep down NATO is not only a military alliance, it is a political military alliance.

It has to be a group of countries, in my mind, that look at how we deal with issues, how we develop societies, how we develop inter-relations, by having also the political perspective. There are not obvious military solutions to every outstanding issue on our continent.

So that has to be something we have to contribute to, collectively. Obviously, the toolbox Europe had at its disposal was not enough to avoid this terrible war in Ukraine. But how do we envisage new toolboxes and new elements so that European countries can be secure, be they small or big? And here I talk about all of them.

On Saturday I opened the 2024 European cultural capital of Bodø, up in the north. And normally, had it been five years ago there would have been Russian participation at a cultural event like that. It was not. But perhaps culture will be one element that can help reach out if there comes one day that we can look at things differently. So, we have to be vibrant countries also looking at how we constitute security politically.

And for Norway, let me end on that: Because it is often referred to; we are full capacity member of NATO. We will be contributing. We will be eyes and ears in the north. We will be supporting our Nordic and Baltic friends in our immediate geography. And we will be partnering with our British, German, Dutch, French, North Sea and of course American and Canadian friends across the Atlantic.

We are also working very closely with the European Union. We are not members. But we are security-linked to the European Union through the same rules of the market.

The EEA was never discussed as a security element. But I have always strongly believed that if you are part of the same rules and regulations for how the economy works, you are in a way part of a security infrastructure. And when we are going to deal with China and WTO and other global issues, we are part of that European partnership. And we are sharing the same ideas.

And now we are doing combined work with our European partners on supporting Ukraine. We are part of the same initiatives to strengthen our military ammunition capacity, we are working very closely through different mechanisms.

And we have a very extensive Green Alliance with the European Union, which is part of our energy and climate transition. So, I will end on that. The military dimension will be a key component of securing our national security. But it also has to take a broader perspective, because security in our times is increasingly interconnected with other spheres of society, which makes it no less inspiring and interesting to work on.

Thank you for your attention.