Speech: Europe’s Strategic Choices: Building Prosperity and Security

Berlin, 6 November 2015: “Europe’s Strategic Choices: Building Prosperity and Security”. Key Conversation by Ine Eriksen Søreide, Minister of Defence, Norway.

The Norwegian Defence Minister at a Chatham House Conference in Berlin
Norwegian Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide at a Chatham House Conference in Berlin Credit: Chatham House

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Good afternoon!

It is a great honour for me to be invited to this conference covering a range of current policy issues in Europe. We are at a critical juncture when it comes to Europe’s ability to shape tomorrow’s international agenda. I welcome the opportunity to share Norway’s perspective on security policy developments with you.

I truly can’t think of a better place to have these discussions than in Berlin, the city that 25 years ago became a symbol of European unity and commitment to European integration. What took place here triggered a political wave that fundamentally changed this continent. This is where the Cold War ended, and where the new era of a united Europe began.

I do not want to reveal my age, but I can share with you that I experienced my political awakening with the fall of the Berlin Wall. This historical event had a major imprint on my political views. Most of all it instilled in me an enduring belief in “a Europe whole, free and at peace”, solidly anchored in the transatlantic community of shared values.   

For years, we as Europeans have analysed and discussed the condition of other regions and parts of the world. We have discussed this from a position of strength, as a continent that successfully has made it through difficult times. Others have looked to Europe with expectation and hope. The European Union has grown, driven by the dreams and desires of millions of people wanting to be part of our European community of democratic values.

Today, in the emerging new security environment, we must recognize that the position of Europe is significantly altered. Our economic and political influence is challenged by emerging powers. Economic hardship in Europe has had lasting effects on social and political affairs.

Europe’s demise in international politics is however greatly exaggerated. But nevertheless, we are facing a more unpredictable and less secure world. We are witnessing fundamental divisions in terms of ideology, interests and values.

Europe needs not only to adapt, but to actively seek to influence and shape our common future. A vital part of this is to stay firm in our commitment to the indivisibility of European security and accept that security comes at a cost. 


Europe is changing

Distinguished guests and friends,

Europe is changing. This is well-illustrated by an issue that we, as European policymakers, are now facing: an issue that demands our attention right now.

We are now experiencing the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. The sheer scale, scope and acuteness of the crisis is staggering. Millions of men, women and children are fleeing their homes to escape violence, armed conflict and extremism in Syria, Libya and other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Many are in dire need of protection. Others may be driven by economic hardship and a wish for a better future.

In Europe we have so far not been able to address this crisis in a coherent way. If not handled correctly the refugee crisis could lead to further fragmentation in Europe.

Let me be clear: I do in no way consider people escaping hardship and war a threat to European security. But unfortunately, the refugee crisis seems to serve as a catalyst for a political polarity that could damage European cohesion and our ability to act together. This is a development with potentially detrimental consequences for our cooperation and decision making ability also in other areas, including security policy. An increasingly polarized and fragmented Europe could damage or undermine European and transatlantic unity.

I am concerned about the current health of European politics. The combination of migration, economic turmoil and social difficulties challenge Europe in a fundamental way. Adding to this we are witnessing radicalization and extremism, combined with violent means, disrespect for the rule of law and violation of human rights in our region. Trust in political and democratic institutions, including the EU and NATO, is diminishing. Radical movements – both on the left and right – are gaining momentum in several European countries. Some of the radical European political parties – from both sides of the political spectrum – openly admire Putin and Putinism. Anti-establishment and anti-modernity are common features of these movements. The changing security environment in Europe is thus a part of a greater trend in European politics.

We see pressure for introvert actions from governments when the exact opposite is needed. We must be able to make the necessary political decisions together. The institutions, relations and values that constitute our political freedom and stability must be preserved, protected and most importantly be put to use. The internal and external challenges I am mentioning have implications for our collective decision-making ability and in turn for transatlantic relations and regional security. Our first line of defence is to have resilient societies. We must have open, but robust societies based on democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. When we show or use military force it is to protect these core values. And mind you, our electorate expects leadership, responsibility and accountability when we address these challenges.


Security challenges

If we turn to the security challenges of today, I think there are many parallels to how we handle the refugee crisis. We do not seem to agree fully on the precise nature of the challenges, their implications for our continent and least of all, how to address them. In some cases, the differences of opinion and focus may be drawn between regions or nation states as a matter of geography.

The complexity of these issues – the security landscape combined with the refugee crisis – demands a coherent, consistent and comprehensive approach. But rarely has the saying “where you stand depends on where you sit” been more fitting. Across Europe, we are affected in different ways by as diverse things as the threat from ISIL, Russia’s aggressions in the East, as well as the influx of refugees.

We must stand united when faced with challenges and threats. The EU’s restrictive measures against Russia, which Norway has fully adopted and implemented, serve as a good example. Perhaps as important as the specific measures themselves, is the fact that we stand united supporting them. This sends a strong and important message: You cannot bully your way to influence or power. Our values are democracy, individual freedom and the rule of law. Might over right is unacceptable. That is the fundamental principle of international law. It is the main pillar of NATO and transatlantic security.

When we look around us, we see a security environment that has changed fundamentally in a relatively short time. To the east, Russia is upgrading its military capabilities significantly, and they have demonstrated both willingness and ability to use force to achieve their strategic goals. The Russian annexation of Crimea and the ongoing destabilization of Eastern Ukraine violate international law – the very foundation of the security structure that was built on the ruins of two devastating world wars. While we do not see a military threat against Norway at this point in time, the situation is uncertain and unpredictable.

Located as we are on NATO’s northern flank, Norway puts special emphasis on the need for predictability and stability in our relations with Russia. This is an area where NATO and Russian interests meet – with consequences for Norway and the Norwegian Armed Forces. We have a common interest in keeping the High North peaceful.

While we have suspended our bilateral military cooperation, we continue to work together in certain areas such as search and rescue, border control, Incidents at Sea and coastguard collaboration. Last week, the Arctic Coast Guard Forum was established with 8 Arctic states, including the United States, Russia and Norway. And, maybe as important, we are maintaining our direct line between the Norwegian Joint Headquarters and the Russian Northern Fleet. This is especially important to avoid misunderstandings and miscalculations in tense times, and to make sure contact is not an escalation. Confidence building is in our interest.

But the Russian combination of military capability and a demonstrated political will to use military force, is a concern. Our allied partners in Eastern Europe are witnessing increased military activity along their borders and around the Baltic Sea. Russian flights across the Baltic Sea increased threefold in 2014 compared to 2013. Allied and non-allied countries alike have experienced border violations.

In the High North we have so far not seen a significant increase in the number of Russian flights, but we see a different complexity and quality of their overall military activity. We are seeing the introduction of high-end new maritime capabilities, both surface and sub-surface. Warning time is reduced to little or no time.

To the south of NATO, unstable states and ongoing conflicts have created fertile ground for the brutal extremist rampage of ISIL in Iraq and Syria. This is not only a threat to the region, but to international and European security and stability.


Meeting the challenges

At the summit in Wales we agreed to take important steps of reassurance to our Eastern allies. We remain committed to strengthening NATO’s collective defence and the transatlantic security community. While the US will remain the indisputably largest military contributor to the alliance, it is clear that we – the European allies – must take a larger part of the responsibility for our own future.

For our part, it is clear that while the Norwegian Armed Forces hold a high standard, the current structure was designed for a different security situation than what we have today. It was not designed for the demands to response time and endurance needed to meet this era of complex threats, unpredictability, short to no warning time, and long-term uncertainty. There will be changes, and a need to increase our defence budgets.

Earlier this fall, the Norwegian government presented our annual budget to parliament, suggesting a 9.6 % increase in our 2016 defence budget. In real terms, this represents close to 500 million Euros. The share of the budget allocated for investments is 26.2 %, well above NATO’s target of 20 %. Our focus is on high-end capability investments, especially the F-35 and the Joint Strike Missile, as well as a considerable strengthening of our intelligence service and increased naval and air presence in the High North.

Next year we will present a new Long Term Plan for the defence sector, where we seek to adapt to the new reality. My job is to ensure that our Armed Forces are able to defend our people and actively contribute to NATO’s collective defence.

Norway’s commitment to NATO stands firm. At the NATO Summit in Warsaw next year we must take new concrete steps to further advance the long-term revitalization of our Alliance. Strengthening our Alliance’s deterrence and collective defence capability is a key priority for us.

In preparing ourselves militarily for the future we could think in terms of a musical analogy, “a concerto.” NATO works on a series of contingency plans. It composes a play for different scenarios. However good the piano, the violin and the flute players are separately, there needs to be coordination and integration – we call it interoperability. If not, it is a bad performance, it causes disharmony and leaves both the composer and conductor in deep distress. Moreover, it does not help the conductor to have six excellent drummers when what he really needs is a guitarist.

What I am trying to say here is that we need to think of NATO as a collective whole of military forces so that NATO can conduct a full orchestra of military power. As we invest in our national defence we must also think how these capabilities fit with NATO’s overall collective defence mission and ability to conduct crisis management. And I would be remiss if I did not point out that we need to exercise and train more to be better prepared. On that note, the Trident Juncture in Portugal, Spain and Italy ends today.

And progress has been made. Germany, the Netherlands and Norway are for example contributing substantially to the Readiness Action Plan (RAP), especially through our contribution to establish the VJTF this year. Norway has decided to contribute troops also to the VJTF both in 2016 and 2017 and we are currently considering contribution in 2019.

Ladies and gentlemen, in the time leading up to the next summit, Norway will concentrate its efforts on several specific areas of importance. I would like to briefly mention three of them here.

Firstly, I believe we need to revisit our maritime strategy. The introduction of Russian new high-end maritime capabilities, both surface and sub-surface with high-precision long-range strike capabilities puts NATO’s maritime strategy on the agenda for the Warsaw Summit. Given the strategic importance of Russian capabilities in the High North, this area will be highly relevant in any potential crisis or conflict involving Russia.

You need to look no longer than to their Bastion Defence concept. As a result of recent developments we could potentially face a resurrected threat to the sea lines of communication across the Atlantic. Therefore this challenge is not limited to the North Atlantic, but concerns all of Europe and the North America. Securing NATO’s freedom of movement and operation in this area is crucial for Allied reinforcement of Europe.

Secondly, I believe NATO needs to make more fundamental and structural changes. The re-assurance initiatives that have been put in place in the East have been important and have had a stabilizing effect. Notably, NATO was able to act swiftly. I have no doubt that assurance activities are important and valuable. But they will not have a lasting effect unless we develop a strategic framework that guides what we do as an alliance. We can not only do “deterrence on a rotational basis”, when a situation occurs. We need long term commitment.

We need to dispel the notion that these initiatives are temporary, only in place until the current situation is resolved. I am of the opinion that we need a long-term strategy that addresses the enduring changes in our security environment. Part of this would be to re-examine the current command and control structure and our planning processes. Situational awareness and ability to command and control forces during a time of crisis are prerequisites for our ability to respond quickly and operate efficiently.

And thirdly, we need more strategically focused Allied training and exercises: We need to train smart together within the alliance and prioritize exercises of strategic relevance.

That is what makes us a team. NATO must be able to meet the threats to allied security wherever they may arise. Exercises and training are not only important for the collective military capability of the Alliance. These are also key tools in NATO´s toolbox.  We will continue to provide a 360 degree approach to deter potential aggressors and reassure our allied friends that the Article V commitment is unwavering. From a Norwegian perspective, it requires training and exercise in the High North. I am delighted that we get to host the High Visibility Exercise in 2018, and importantly the exercise will focus on collective defence. We have not focused on such an Article 5 exercise since “Strong Resolve” in 2002.

To sum up, we need to make necessary changes to prepare the Alliance to meet a security environment that is changing fundamentally and strategically. This should be the main theme for Warsaw.

Developing relevant capabilities and robust structures are as important as ever.  Making wise military decisions are more important still. But in times like these we should never forget that the strength of NATO and the transatlantic partnership is not just of military nature. NATO is first and foremost a political alliance.

This is why we need to straighten our backs and rise to the occasion to be the community of shared values that we aspire to be. As we are facing various threats now and in the time to come, I believe it is of paramount importance that we, NATO-members and European allies, stand together. Ensuring a strong and complementary relationship between NATO and the EU is crucial for our ability to do so.

I am an advocate of dialogue and partnership. I am also a firm believer in our combined strength as a united Euro-Atlantic community – the custodians of the idea of a Europe whole, free and at peace. But as with any relationship, we cannot take it for granted: it requires mutual commitment. We must act together in order to make the transatlantic project prosperous again. 

US leadership in Europe and NATO is needed – and wanted. But European nations must be willing to invest in developing relevant military capabilities and robust structures.  

We must do what we can to identify, understand, prioritize and meet common challenges together. Because the orchestra of NATO is only as strong and capable as we make it. This is especially important to remember in a time where different forces and domestic developments are pulling us apart.


Dear friends,

Jean Monnet once said that “Europe will be forged by crises, and will be the sum of those solutions adopted for those crises”. Indeed, we have risen to the occasion before. We have demonstrated resolve and we have made our way out of dire straits. Let us do it again.

In these challenging times we will have to make some difficult choices. So let us make sure we choose wisely. Because the choices we make today will have consequences not just for us, but for the generations to come.

Thank you.