Meld. St. 36 (2016–2017)

Setting the course for Norwegian foreign and security policy

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1 Background and summary

Norway’s current security situation is more challenging than it has been for a long time. Unpredictability has become the new normal. The world as we know it is changing. Cooperation is being put to the test.

Eight years ago, a white paper on the main features of Norwegian foreign policy was presented to the Storting (Norwegian parliament).1 Many of the conclusions reached in 2009 are still valid today. But the security environment has changed dramatically, and this has implications for Norwegian policy. In autumn 2015, the Government launched a project entitled ‘Setting the course for Norwegian foreign and security policy’ to review all aspects of Norway’s security policy.

Over a period of 18 months, the project held a series of events bringing people together for a broad debate on the main contours of Norwegian foreign and security policy. Input was also gathered from research groups at home and abroad. The project culminated in the launch of this white paper, which presents the Government’s views on the course Norway should follow to ensure that we are as well equipped as possible to tackle today’s more challenging and unpredictable security situation.

The policy choices described are based on the Government’s political platform, which states that: ‘In terms of shared interests and values, Norway will continue to be closest to the Atlantic, European and Nordic communities. The Government will actively seek to cooperate with new partners and take part in global activities. At the same time, changes in the political, economic and military balance of power make it essential to maintain an even stronger basis in the values and political orientation of our Western community of neighbours, allies and trading partners.2


Norway’s security and economic stability are dependent on alliances and cooperation with other countries. Changes in the political and military priorities of close allies, in the EU, in Russia’s economic and political situation and in the framework for international trade have significant consequences for Norway.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea in spring 2014 and the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine have changed the security landscape in Europe. State security is being challenged once again. As a result, NATO is turning its attention back to collective defence, and expectations of the EU in the area of security are increasing. In the north, Russia is strengthening its military capabilities and presence. This has implications for Norway.

To the south of Europe, a long belt of instability has developed near the EU’s external border. This is having far-reaching and direct consequences for Norwegian security. The number of refugees and other migrants is higher today than was envisaged a few years ago, and there are strong indications that migratory pressure on Europe will increase. Climate change is exacerbating risks and unpredictability, particularly in fragile states and regions.

In Europe, cohesion within and between countries is being challenged. The UK’s decision to leave the EU highlights this. At the same time, the need for European leadership is greater than it has been for a long time. Security threats are moving closer to Europe, and are not felt as strongly on the other side of the Atlantic.

We are now seeing major changes in US foreign and security policy. This is affecting transatlantic relations.

Competing interests and disagreements between major powers are undermining joint efforts to promote international peace and security. The UN is the world’s most important body for conflict management. However, in certain key areas the members of the UN Security Council are not managing to uphold their responsibilities under the UN Charter. Shifts in the balance of power are undermining support for international norms such as respect for human rights. Increased polarisation is making it difficult to develop new international agreements and common solutions.

The ability and willingness of states to pursue their goals through conventional military force, covert operations and cooperation with non-state actors is increasing. The vast array of information sources combined with targeted disinformation activities can create uncertainty and sow doubt among the population. This is making crisis management more difficult than it was in the past.

Globalisation is continuing, and its impact on our societies is far-reaching. At the same time, forces opposed to globalisation have gained strength. In several countries, political protest parties are competing for power. Several of these are advocating nationalist and inward-looking policies. In a position of power, they could pose a threat to our foreign and security policy interests and could make binding international cooperation and trade more difficult.

The unpredictable nature of the world today and the increasingly complex challenges we are facing make targeted and coordinated efforts at the national, European and international levels essential. The objective of this white paper is to contribute to these efforts. Together with the Long-term Defence Plan3 and the white paper on public security,4 it forms part of the Government’s work to strengthen security and emergency preparedness.

Policy choices

Norway has a long tradition of continuity in foreign and security policy, and there is broad consensus on the values that underpin our policy: democracy, human rights, and respect for international law. But our policy cannot be static. We must adapt to the changing security environment and make conscious choices in order to safeguard Norwegian interests and defend the values we believe in. The Government has identified the following three main courses of action as crucial for safeguarding Norwegian security in these times of change:

Maintaining and building on the well-established principles of Norwegian security policy by:

  • seeking to maintain our close transatlantic ties and further developing our long-term security policy cooperation with the US.

  • supporting NATO adaptation with a view to strengthening the Alliance’s collective defence against both old and new security threats.

  • strengthening Norway’s defence capabilities and facilitating a greater Allied presence and more frequent Allied exercises in the north.

  • further developing cooperation with Russia on the basis of common interests and a consistent and predictable policy.

  • seeking to maintain and further develop the international legal order and to strengthen the UN and other international institutions; promoting human rights, the rule of law and democracy; responding to serious violations of international law.

  • working to promote balanced, mutual, irreversible and verifiable nuclear disarmament and prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Strengthening the European and Nordic dimension in Norwegian security policy by:

  • developing closer security policy cooperation with selected European allies.

  • helping to enhance European civilian and military crisis management capacity, and promoting effective control of external borders, close police and intelligence cooperation, and anti-radicalisation and integration measures.

  • promoting closer cooperation between NATO and the EU.

  • intensifying security policy dialogue and cooperation in the Nordic region.

  • safeguarding and strengthening multilateral institutions and conventions that promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Intensifying Norway’s efforts in Europe’s unstable southern neighbourhood by:

  • implementing our strategy for efforts in fragile states and regions.

  • increasing aid to the unstable areas in the Middle East, North Africa and the Sahel.

Part I of this white paper provides an analysis of security policy trends. Part II answers two key questions: How are these trends affecting Norwegian security? And what consequences should this have for Norwegian security policy?



Report No. 15 (2008–2009) to the Storting: Interests, Responsibilities and Opportunities. The main features of Norwegian foreign policy


Political platform for a government formed by the Conservative Party and the Progress Party. Sundvolden, 7 October 2013


Capable and sustainable. Long-term Defence Plan,17 June 2016


Meld. St. 10 (2016–2017) Risk in a safe and secure society.

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