Speech by Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide at the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association Annual Conference

Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide held this speech at the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association Annual Conference "The New Blue" April 7, 2016.

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Dear ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends.

 

Let me begin by thanking Sturla and Lars Peder and the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association for the invitation.

The list of distinguished speakers and guests here today is both a testament to the significance of this venue and the value of the Shipowners’ Association as an international contributor, also beyond its core areas of shipping and offshore.

The Norwegian maritime sector has a long and proud history of supporting our military in times of war and crisis.

Norwegian sailors transported 40 percent of the fuel to allied forces during the war.

In recent years, we have cooperated on a range of issues from logistics to battling piracy, removing Syria’s chemical weapons and saving refugees in the Mediterranean Sea.

From 12 June until yesterday, “Siem Pilot” has rescued 14.862 migrants, either directly from the sea or from other boats.

The Norwegian Society for Sea Rescue also has a vessel present, “Peter Henry von Koss”, that has rescued 12.294 migrants in the same way.

I would like to take the opportunity to pay tribute to all the seamen and –women, and military officers and police officers on board.

They do a remarkable job.

 

But today I am here to give a snapshot of our most important security challenges.

And the situation is more serious than it has been in a long time. In my opinion, it is vital that we as politicians and decision makers see the world as it is – not as we wish it were.

 

And this is the world today:

Russia’s illegal actions against Ukraine were a chilling wake-up call with major implications for European security.

The Middle East is torn by war and conflict.

Violent extremism is finding fertile ground in unstable states along Europe’s southern borders.

ISIL is threatening to throw a whole region into chaos, spreading hate and terror afar.

We have had major terror attacks also in European capitals.

In previous times we could think of geographical distance as a security guarantee. That is no longer possible. It is not even relevant.

Cyber-attacks, organized crime and violent extremism recognize no borders.

Destructive ideologies cannot be stopped in passport controls.

Technologies that unite and enrich, may also be used to divide and destroy.

Old and new threats merge.

Developments turn quickly and set in motion chain reactions that no one knows the full extent of.

The security situation may best be characterized as “unpredictable”.

So what do we make of all this?

 

I think there are no simple answers, but I am worried.

And my reason for worrying is not primarily related to any of these challenges separately, although they are serious enough, but to their combined complexity and our ability to meet them together.

 

Take the migration crisis as one example.

Let me be very clear on one thing: I do not consider people escaping hardship and war a security challenge, so my worry lies elsewhere.

But the situation has revealed that we, as Europeans, may not be as united as we thought we were.

This is a development with potentially serious consequences for our cooperation and decision making ability also in other areas, including security policy.

When countries disagree, it’s often easier to re-nationalise policy and decisions rather than to use the international frameworks. Add to that often polarized political debates in many countries, and the lack of trust in democratic institutions.

 

Norway sees ISIL as a threat to international stability, and we contribute in the fight against violent extremism.

But located where we are, on NATO’s northern flank as a neighbour to Russia, we have a special responsibility both to ourselves and to the alliance to ensure stability in the High North. We have the world’s second largest coastline and a sea territory six times as big as our land territory.

This is an area where NATO and Russian interests meet.

 

From a security policy standpoint, this perspective is an eye opener to many.

Countries we think of as far apart are in fact neighbours.

In an area of vast natural resources and indisputable strategic importance – also military strategic importance.

And with climate change, we must prepare for more commercial activity over a larger area than before.

Now, I don’t consider increased commercial activity in itself a security challenge.

In fact, the High North is a great example of how nations can work together within international legal frameworks to promote stability and predictability.

 

But it is also an area where both nature and humans are vulnerable.

Where we have a great need for safety and security, and where military assets play an important role in surveillance and search and rescue.

A predictable military presence in the High North ensures stability.

 

We have a long history of cooperating with Russia in the High North, coming from a position of firmness and predictability.

We maintained stability even during the most chilling periods of the Cold War.

Even despite the lack of defined borders at sea.

In wasn’t until 2010 that Norway and Russia finally agreed to the maritime delimitation and cooperation treaty for the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

It was the result of forty years of negotiation from several governments and generations of bureaucrats in the foreign ministry, and its significance cannot be emphasised enough.

 

While we still believe Russia shares our goal of avoiding tension in the High North, we have to be realistic.

Because Russia is also the country that violated international law by invading Georgia in 2008, annexing Crimea in 2014 and continuing to destabilize Eastern Ukraine today.

The Russian leadership has proven that they are both willing and capable of using military force to reach their goals.

That’s why we have been forced to view Russia through a different set of lenses. We have to think differently.

 

And what we see is an unpredictable, more assertive Russia spending huge resources on ramping up their armed forces and military activity in all domains.

Flight patterns have become more complex and more aggressive.

Allied and non-allied countries alike have experienced airspace violations.

Russia is prioritizing weapons systems and strategic capacities in the High North.

They are modernizing the Northern Fleet, building new bases and establishing Arctic Brigades. Russia is revitalizing the Bastion defence concept.

The Russian Ministry of Defence has announced that they will carry out more than 4000 military exercises this year alone.

That’s ten times as many as NATO.

We can say with certainty that the strategic balance in the High North has shifted in favour of Russia.

And at the same time, the trust between Russia and the West has weakened.

 

So what do we do…

Well, stability in the North is not a matter for Norway alone.

As with all security challenges, unity is key.

We stand together with our NATO allies and our EU partners in condemning Russia’s violations of international law. We contribute substantially to NATOs assurance measures, and we support EU’s sanctions. We have also suspended our bilateral military cooperation with Russia as part of a broad, international response to their illegal actions against Ukraine.

However, in this tense situation it is paramount that we safeguard security and stability in the High North. Both countries operate in an area with scarce infrastructure.

That is why we have kept the Incidents at Sea Agreement, including Search and Rescue. A recent example illustrates this: on 28 March, the Norwegian coast guard vessel “KV Sortland” rescued a Russian trawler and its 36-man-crew in a terrible storm off the coast of Nordland.

Our coastguard collaboration continues, as does our border cooperation.

And we have kept the direct hotline between our Military Headquarters and the Russian Northern Fleet. This is crucial to avoid misunderstandings and unintended escalations.

These are examples of how we combine a clear and predictable stance on security policy with strategic patience and sensible cooperation.

 

 

Of course, NATO remains the cornerstone of our security.

Strengthening the deterrence and defence capabilities in the maritime domain, especially in the North Atlantic, is an important part of the alliance’s approach to allied security. We have launched an initiative, together with close allies, to refocus the Alliance om the re-emerged challenges in the maritime domain.

Keeping a close eye on the developments in the High North is a key priority.

That is why we have increased our surveillance and intelligence efforts.

This year we will fly more and longer sorties with our Maritime Patrol Aircraft.

We are maintaining and sailing more with our vessels and submarines.

These are passive, but necessary, measures we take to monitor our backyard.

To preserve stability and predictability in our immediate region.

In addition, we have significantly strengthened our Military Intelligence Service to improve our ability to analyse and understand the increasingly complex security situation around us.

In the High North, as well as in other parts of the world.

We believe this is crucial for being able to make wise decisions.

 

And the need to make wise decisions is greater today than in a long time.

 

Because, going back to the big picture, the stability we have enjoyed can no longer be taken for granted.

The developments in and around Europe cause concern:

A destabilizing Russia has showed its global ambitions through its operations in Syria.

The seed of hope planted in the Arab spring has been crushed by conflict, violence and hatred.

By brutal terror organizations that have proven their willingness to murder innocent people – even in the heart of Europe;

A Europe already struggling with migration, economic turmoil, social difficulties, radicalization and declining trust in democratic institutions.

I am concerned about a political and social climate that may threaten the common values of our European and transatlantic partnership.

 

Because when the world around us is unstable, we need to stand together.

Face our challenges as one.

That is the purpose of NATO.

And the idea of the EU.

 

Because the scope and complexity of the security situation demand broad, international, collective efforts.

Strength in unity has rarely been more true and relevant than it is today.

Thank you.