Sustainable security - The transatlantic community and global challenges

Speech by Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the Prominent Leaders Forum at Brookings in Washington DC, 10 January 2018.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg at Brookings in Washington, DC.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg at The Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. Credit: Trude Måseide/Office of the Prime Minister

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Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

Thank you, and thank you for the invitation. It is a great honour for me to be here at Brookings.

President Roosevelt once told the world to look to Norway. Maybe it is only we who remember it.

We, for our part, have always tended to look to the US.

A century ago, we looked to the US for new opportunities.

And thousands of Norwegians crossed the Atlantic, in pursuit of their dreams.

During the Second World War, we looked to the US for refuge and support.

And we found an ally to count on in the darkest hours of our nation’s history.

And when the dust of that war settled, we would once again look to the United States.

For help to rebuild our country, restore our economy and keep us safe.

But, more than anything else, the greatness of this country is the power of its ideals and the courage of its citizens.

And the world has looked to the US for inspiration and leadership.

The founding fathers of modern Norway did just that in 1814 when they drew up our constitution.

They looked to the principles enshrined in the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Principles of liberty, freedom and individual rights.

Of free speech, democracy and the rule of law.

Principles that laid the ground for free trade, free men (and women) and free markets.

Principles that would make the US prosper in so many areas.

No wonder Europeans migrated to America.

We might still be doing so, had it not been for visionary US leadership after the Second Word War.

In fact, a series of long-term political investments would forever transform Europe and carry the ideals of the founding fathers far beyond US borders:

Investments in international law and robust multilateral systems.

Investments in a new European security architecture, with a strong NATO at its heart.

And not least, investments in European reconstruction with the Marshall Plan as the main instrument.

In hindsight, it is easy to take these efforts for granted.

Yet few at the time could have imagined that the benefits would surpass the costs to the extent that they have.

Once a liability, Europe became an asset for the US. One of the most stable and prosperous regions in the world.

A huge export market. A staunch ally, a humanitarian giant and a net contributor to peace and security across the globe.

Today we face greater uncertainty than we have done for decades.

Turmoil and instability in the belt extending from the Sahel region via Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan has given rise to terrorism and new waves of migration.

To the east, we see a more assertive Russia.

A Russia that is increasing its military capabilities and reducing the democratic space at home.

A Russia that shook the foundations of the international architecture by illegally annexing parts of a neighbouring country in 2014. 

In the Far East, North Korea is quickly progressing towards nuclear capabilities that could threaten targets across the globe.

Creating serious concerns about further proliferation, rising tensions and the risk of a major crisis.

Universal values are coming under increasing pressure in several countries – values that the founding fathers considered self-evident: democracy, the rule of law, and basic human rights.

The situation in the Western world may seem less dire.

Yet, in the face of rapid change, feelings of uncertainty are taking root.

We sense a growing distrust in international cooperation and commitments.

Democracy comes under pressure in such circumstances.

It would make little sense to dismantle the structures and principles that have brought us the wealth, security, welfare and technology that we enjoy today.

But the growing distrust and lack of confidence must be taken seriously, as they can threaten political stability, cooperation and our ability to take collective action.

So how is Norway navigating through these uncertain waters?

I believe it is now more important than ever that we stick to our fundamental principles.

Firstly, we mustuphold international law and the international legal order that has shaped the world since the Second World War, and that has brought unprecedented wealth and security to an unprecedented number of people across the globe.

Including in our societies. Indeed, the defence of these principles is not only valuable in its own right; it is also a defence of Norway, the US, our citizens, and our welfare. Furthermore, it is by far the most cost-effective form of defence.

Secondly, we need close international cooperation, including a strong transatlantic bond.

International cooperation may seem cumbersome and inefficient at times.

But history has demonstrated that the alternatives are far worse.

We are safer and stronger when we stand together with other countries.

That is why we must make sure that international organisations remain relevant and fit for purpose.

The UN is the most important international meeting place.

No other organisation has the same legitimacy when it comes to developing international law, global norms and joint solutions.

However, the UN needs to adapt to a world that is facing new challenges and new power constellations.

The UN must continually revise and renew its approach to be able to function effectively and retain its relevance.

Likewise, we need a strong NATO that can adapt to the changing security landscape, and defend and deter against any threats that emerge.

And we need a European Union that stands together, that can sustain growth, protect borders, tackle migration, and remain a driver for fundamental values in Europe.

International institutions and organisations are only as strong as we make them.

Thirdly, our engagement has to extend beyond our own neighbourhood.

At times, we may feel like islands of peace in a stormy sea.

Many Americans probably felt that way in 1945 when Europe and Asia lay in ruins.

Yet disengagement was not an option then.

Nor should it be today.

Problems in countries far away, such as lack of development, violation of human rights, weak governance, radicalization and unrest, are becoming a security challenge for us all.

We need to be as bold and visionary as the generation before us.

Responding to crises as and when they arise may provide temporary relief.

But there is a high chance that the problems will reappear, at a later stage, in another form and with a higher price tag.

In the long run, the only viable and cost-effective solution is to address the underlying causes so that we can prevent crises from happening in the first place.

This is one of the reasons why Norway, a small country on the outskirts of Europe, remains firmly committed to international development.

Why year after year we give more than 1% of our Gross National Income in development assistance.

Why we engage in countries as far away as Syria, Mali, Iraq and Myanmar.

We must work together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Implementation of the 17 goals, which all UN member states together have decided on, and which I have been tasked by the UN Secretary General, to promote, will  help us address climate change and prevent conflicts as well as forced migration.

And we must strive to achieve the objectives of the Paris climate accord.

In fact, we are the last generation that can prevent irreversible climate change and the first generation in a position to eradicate extreme poverty.

Since 2005 the US has been at the forefront globally in reducing CO2 emissions from the energy sector. Your leadership is still needed.

The US research community, technology base and business community are uniquely positioned, not only to contribute to further reductions, but also to benefit from the opportunities that are arising as the world economy goes green.

Fourthly, protectionism is not the way to go. We have tried that approach in the past. It did not work well.

Globalisation, in contrast, has been very beneficial both for the US and for Norway.

But we need a level playing field.

I believe strengthening multilateral trade agreements and institutions remains the best way to achieve that end and the guarantee of free markets.

Today, products, services and capital are following the route once travelled by poor Norwegian migrants.

Technology transfers across the Atlantic allowed us to develop our nascent oil industry in the 1970s.

Now, substantial revenues from that same sector are being reinvested in the US.

Creating new jobs and new opportunities.

Last year Norwegian companies and investments supported 470 000 jobs in the US.

The US assets of our Government pension fund alone amounted to 325 billion dollars.

This would be unthinkable without free, open and regulated markets.

Ladies and gentlemen,

All this – the world order that has served us both so well for the past 70 years – would not have come about without a firm US leadership.

And US leadership is more important than ever, in order to further and strengthen this world order in these uncertain times.

We may not always agree on all issues.

However, even when there are challenges, we must not forget how crucial the transatlantic bond has been on both sides of the Atlantic.

And that brings me to the topic of defence.

In no area is the transatlantic bond more important.

NATO remains the bedrock of our security and the US is by far our most important ally.

But to tackle the challenges of the future, NATO also must continue to adapt. 

President Trump has called for fairer burden sharing.

That is a very legitimate demand.

Europe faces major security challenges and clearly needs to spend more on security and defence.

Norway is committed to doing its part.

Security is one of the main priorities of my Government.

Every year since 2012 our defence budget has increased.

Our long-term defence plan involves substantial increases in defence spending in the coming years that will also keep us well above the 20 % guideline for defence investments.

We are investing heavily in modern capabilities that are both deployable and interoperable, including high-end capabilities.

These include new F-35 fighter aircraft, submarines, long-range air defence systems and strategic intelligence capabilities.

We will enhance our cooperation with the US on maritime surveillance of the North Atlantic, and we are in the process of acquiring five new P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft from Boeing for this purpose.

We will also make sure that our military vessels, planes and army units are able to sail more, fly more, and train more.

In the north, Russia is re-introducing a forward defence concept for its strategic nuclear assets, the so-called bastion defence.

This increases Russia’s ability to disrupt the transatlantic sea lines of communication in situations of crisis or war.

In many ways, Norway is NATO’s gatekeeper in the north.

We are working actively to increase NATO’s focus on strategic development in the North Atlantic.

We have in-depth knowledge of developments in the region and we are committed to following the situation closely and keeping allies informed on an ongoing basis.

Norway remains a solid and reliable troop contributor, firmly invested in the fight against terrorism.

Our troops have served in numerous of allied and coalition operations since 2001 in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq, and we contribute along all lines of effort in the fight against ISIS.

When President Roosevelt looked to Norway in 1942, he saw a country under occupation.

Today he would have seen a free, prosperous and stable democracy. A strong ally.

A country whose men and women serve alongside US personnel in international operations.

A country firmly committed to free and open markets, international development, and international law and institutions.

And he would have seen a country that still looks to the US.

In gratitude, but also in hope and expectation that the US will continue to protect the world order that has brought so much progress for so many; keep the transatlantic bond strong; and take leadership in the efforts to address the major challenges of our generation, such as security, development and climate change.

The world is changing.

Universal values are under pressure.

Power relations are shifting.

Uncertainty is running high.

It is precisely in times like these that we need to renew our commitment to our common values.

Not only because they are universal.

Not only out of a sense of moral duty.

Also because upholding these values has proved to be the best way to ensure security, prosperity and freedom for people on both sides of the Atlantic, and beyond.