Transatlantic Unity in Times of War

State Secretary Eivind Vad Petersson's keynote address at Leangkollen Security Conference 2022.

Thank you,

My grandparents experienced World War II. I vividly remember the rallying cry of their generation: “Never again”. Much to their joy, that dream came true. They lived to see their children and grandchildren grow up in a Norway at deep peace.

Now war is back in Europe. And Russia’s attack on Ukraine fades in comparison to anything we have seen since 1945. In scale, in its brutality, in its senselessness. 5,5 million Ukrainians have fled the war. That is more than the entire population of Norway.

We may have neglected the lessons from 1945, and underestimated the security implications of Russia’s descent into totalitarianism. But we have not forgotten who we are.

Ukraine is fighting for its freedom, democracy and right to exist. And we – Europe, North America and countries far beyond our region – are standing firmly by their side.

We cannot allow tyranny to prevail.

  • Not in Europe.
  • Not in this generation.  
  • Not on our watch.


Prediction is fraught with uncertainty, and we are still in the early days of this war. But allow me to share some preliminary take-aways, in quick succession, as a basis for further discussion:

Firstly, Ukraine will need our support for the long haul. We may have been quick to respond. But that is not enough. Now we need to stay the course. During the war, but also when it comes to an end. All strands of work matter. We must keep up our political, military, economic and humanitarian assistance.

Secondly, Putin may have underestimated Euro-Atlantic unity in the short term. But we should not underestimate the challenge of preserving it in the long term. In my mind, addressing the repercussions of the crisis on the European and American economies will be key. Inflation is now rapidly increasing across the globe, adding to pressures caused by the post-covid recovery. This is not sustainable in the long run. By experience we know that it may fuel isolationism and populism. It may undermine our cohesion. It may destabilize fragile states and divert our attention. Hence, we have to address it.

Third take-away: The war has demonstrated the effectiveness of Nato’s deterrence. But there can be no going back to business as usual when it comes to our deterrence posture in the East. The war will leave Russia weaker, but possibly also more errant and unpredictable. Even in the best-case scenarios. Whatever the outcome, Nato will need to strengthen its posture in the East, notably in the Baltic states, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria  and in a way that we can sustain beyond this crisis.

In summary, in the coming years, along the Eastern flank we can expect more military activity both from Nato and Russia. To avoid misunderstandings and unintended escalation, we need to keep political and military channels of communication open with Moscow. We need to manage risks. A more unpredictable Russia makes this critically important. Norway will support efforts to this end at the upcoming summit, and in the strategic concept.

Fourthly, Norway’s defence concept remains robust and has proven its merits during the initial stages of the crisis. Indeed, tension in the Arctic has remained low, despite the ongoing war. Our defence concept continues to rely on reinforcements in crisis or war, not on permanent basing in peacetime. To keep it viable though, we have to continue to train and exercise with our allies, and make sure our infrastructure is fit for purpose. To this end we will in a few weeks time, ratify a supplementary defence agreement with the U.S, and we remain committed to strengthening our national defence. Earlier this year we hosted the exercise Cold Response, and a few weeks ago we allocated a supplementary grant of 3 billion kroner to our armed forces. Much remains to be done, but I am confident that we are on the right track.

Fifth take-away: Sweden and Finland will become Nato-members, and for our region this is a game changer. 73 years ago, we gave up the dream of a Nordic security alliance. Now we will be united, within the Nato-framework, and that opens a range of new possibilities. Sweden and Finland will make Nato stronger and Scandinavia more secure. And in the North their membership paves the way for more integrated defence planning, across the Nordic and possibly also the Baltic region.

In December the government appointed a Defence Commission to provide advice on the long-term development of our defence. I am looking forward to their conclusions on Nordic cooperation. The future potential is huge.

Sixth take-away: The war in Ukraine has laid bare the risk that Russian expansionism poses to Nato partners, and especially those who aspire for membership. Our Open Door policy is not credible if Russia is ready to close the door at any time. Now, the Alliance cannot extend security guarantees to non-members. But we can tailor our partnerships to this new reality, by putting more emphasis on defence and interoperability. Enabling partners to better protect themselves. And I see no reason why we shouldn’t resort to more common funding to achieve this end. We need to be more agile, and we must be able to muster the necessary resources on short notice.

Finally, but importantly, none of us knows what Russia will look like in one, two or ten years. Nor what its relations with the West might be. One crisis can lead to another. But crises can also foster surprising opportunities. Indeed, much of the security architecture of the past 70 years was born on the ashes of previous crises. And we must be ready to grasp opportunities if they emerge.

We are not there today, however. And we will not be there as long as Russia pursues its current course. Russia must end its senseless war, and reengage with the outside world on normal terms. But we should not give up the long-term vision of normal relationship. An unstable and imperialistic neighbour is in no one’s interest, and Russia is too large be ignored.

As for Norway, we have aligned ourselves closely with the EU when it comes to sanctions. And we maintain a limited practical cooperation with Russia in the North, focused on matters that neighbours have to handle together whatever the state of their relations. Such as the management of fishery resources, environmental issues and search and rescue.


I often wonder what my grandfather would have said in the current situation had he still been alive. I suspect he would have said “never again”. And while that certainly is good advice, planning for the future based on the latest crisis can leave us myopic and unprepared.

Indeed, Russia’s war against Ukraine does not stop the emergence of new and disruptive technologies. It does not slow down China’s emergence as a superpower. Nor does it put an end to the militarization of space and cyber space. Deep, tectonic shifts continue, and we have to adapt.

But whatever it takes, I am convinced that we stand a better chance to succeed if we stand together. That is why Norway remains deeply committed not only to Nato, but also to building strong relations with individual allies, with the European Union and with our Nordic neighbours.

And this is also where Ukraine belongs. In the heart of the Euro-Atlantic family.