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Historical archive

From the High North to terrorism – Norwegian Perspectives

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Defence

The Norwegian government has pointed out the High North as a key priority, State Secretary Roger Ingebrigtsen said in his address.

State Secretary Roger Ingebrigtsen
Ottawa, 24 November 2011

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Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today as part of my visit here in Canada. I am very excited to be in Ottawa to discuss security issues of common interest with Canadian colleagues.

Before I turn to the main topic of my address, let me start with an event which took place a hundred years ago, in 1911. Roald Amundsen is an important historic figure and dear to many Norwegians. In two weeks from now we will be celebrating that it is 100 years since Amundsen was the first man to reach the South Pole in December 1911. It is an incredible story of courage and adventurous spirit. But it is also a story of great preparations and well-considered decisions. It is actually said that the careful preparations he made prior to the expedition led to his success. Before embarking upon his expedition to the Antarctic, he spent two winters in northern Canada, in Gjoa. There he was studying the Inuit’s way of life under extreme weather conditions, especially their clothing and use of dogs. His later application of this knowledge is said to have been instrumental for winning the race to the South Pole. This story illustrates that Norwegian-Canadian relations have deep roots. We have mutually benefited from sharing experiences in the past. I believe it should inspire us to also co-operate more on Arctic questions in the time to come.  

Now turning to my main topic today: I would like to address some issues of great interest to both Canada and Norway: The strategic challenges in the High North.

The High North has always been important to Norwegians. We have long traditions of exploring and using this area. The Norwegian government has pointed out the High North as a key priority.   

Obviously our focus on the North has to do with our geographic location and thereby our strategic interests. Norway, including Spitsbergen, is bordering not only the North Atlantic and the Barents Sea, but also the Arctic Ocean. We have the longest coastline in Europe. Although Norwegians are few in numbers, we are the world’s second largest fish exporter, third in energy, and we have one of the world’s most extensive merchant fleets. The development in the High North is therefore of key importance to us.

I was born and grew up in Tromsø, the capital of Northern Norway, located 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. I still live there with my family. To me the High North is not just a distant place with incredible opportunities and challenges. Yes, the region is one of the iciest, coldest and untouched places on earth. But it is also my home. No wonder this region is of special interest to me.

One of the driving forces of the renewed focus of the High North is climate change. As the polar ice is melting and the icecap is receding, the region is becoming more accessible. We are faced with new opportunities for commercial activity in the High North.

Less ice opens up for new and shorter transportation routes between East and West. New sea lines of communication have already opened up through the North East passage. We will also see routes straight across the North Pole. In a few years the shortest passage for sea transport from Asia to Europe will go via the Barents Sea. This will reduce the distance between Asia and the Western world by more than 7000 kilometres, and significantly reduce the sailing time. And on top of that, there are no pirates in this part of the world!

When the icecap is receding, new possibilities will also emerge for exploiting the rich energy reserves hidden under the Arctic Sea. According to some studies, the Arctic has one of the largest unexplored petroleum resources in the world. There are some uncertainties about the actual figures, but the relative importance of the High North as an energy supplier is growing.

There are also substantial mineral resources on shore in the Arctic region, and we will probably see considerable increase in transportation in and out of the Arctic. The climate change could generate more economic activity in the whole region.

In addition to oil, gas and mineral resources, The High North contains one of the largest fish stocks in the world. We believe that one of the most important issues in the High North is to maintain sustainable fisheries. We do not know how climate change will impact fisheries, but changing sea temperature could have an effect and cause large fish stocks to migrate. 

These changes have strategic consequences. After the end of the Cold War, the High North has not received a high level of attention. This is changing. The strategic importance of the High North is now recognized not only by the Arctic countries, but in the EU and Asia as well.

Norway welcomes the commercial opportunities in the High North. We must take advantage of these new prospects. At the same time we must be realistic.

Commercial activity implies enhanced risk for accidents that could harm people, fisheries and the environment. Especially, exploitation of oil and gas must be balanced against the need to preserve and protect the environment. The eco-systems in the Arctic are very fragile, and large spill-outs could have grave and long lasting consequences. Last year’s accident in the Gulf of Mexico was a serious reminder. In an effort to meet these risks, we have increased our maritime presence, surveillance and our search and rescue capacity in the region.

An appropriate legal framework is vital for co-operation in the region. All five countries bordering the Arctic Sea have agreed that the United Nation Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) should constitute the legal basis for activities in the region. Several boundary issues have been solved in the last couple of years. There is no reason to expect that individual nations will act without regard to international law. Nevertheless, we should maintain a continued focus on strengthening legal regulations in areas in which existing regulations may not be sufficient.

Most of the identified challenges in the High North can be described as soft security challenges. These are related to climate change, management of resources, migration of fish stocks, pollution and search and rescue. Increased commercial activity does not necessarily create more tension and rivalry, and should not in itself be considered a security policy challenge.

At the same time, we believe that enhanced commercial activity increases the need for military presence as a stabilising factor. It is in everyone’s interest to maintain stability and safety. Military assets are a central capacity with regard to surveillance and support to search and rescue operations. Military forces should therefore be considered a natural actor in the High North. Military presence in itself is not a sign of tension. Provided it is held at an appropriate level it contributes to predictability and stability.

Norway sees no threats to its territorial integrity, neither in the High North nor on Norwegian soil. But we have strong interests we need to secure and guarantee. There is also an element of insecurity in today’s geostrategic environment. We cannot rule out that once again our sovereignty might be threatened. Norway wishes to be a guarantor of security and stability in this area. Military presence is one important element in this endeavour.       

The Norwegian Armed Forces play an important role in the High North. They provide intelligence and surveillance, exercise sovereignty and contribute to crisis management in the region. We must be sure that we have armed forces capable of preventing and managing incidents and limited crisis on Norwegian territory and adjacent areas. Hence, we are constantly investing in our defence. Since we are controlling an ocean area 6-7 times the size of our mainland, we have especially focused on our Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard. We have recently invested in both new frigates and new coast guard vessels. In fact, Norway continuously exercises authority in the High North. We will shortly start the process of evaluating our submarines post 2020. Our acquisition of new fighter aircraft, the F-35, is a part of this overall investment. We have also moved our joint operational headquarters from the South to Bodø in North Norway.

The High North region is currently stable and the tension is low. It has not always been that way. I was born in the mid 1960s and grew up during the Cold War. In 1968 Soviet tanks were lined up at our Northern border. All through the 1970s we were constantly reminded of the dangers from the East. Our armed forces trained to stop an attack from Soviet forces while waiting for assistance from NATO. The border between Norway and the Soviet Union represented NATO’s frontline on the northern flank. The Soviet Union was more than the potential enemy. The security threat was very real!

Today our relationship with Russia is very good. For several years the main drivers have been the common opportunities and challenges we share in the High North. We have recently resolved the one remaining border issue in the Barents Sea. The recent ratification of the delimitation agreement between Russia and Norway is perhaps the single most important achievement in Norwegian foreign policy in recent years. It took 40 years of negotiation, but is an excellent example of the co-operative spirit in the High North. It has removed a potential source of conflict between Norway and Russia. Having previously resolved the delimitation issues with Denmark – over the Faroe Island and Greenland – and with Iceland, we have now resolved all the border disagreements in the region. 

Russia and Norway have also established efficient fishery control regimes in our respective national waters. Still, we disagree on the status of the protection zone surrounding the Arctic island of Spitsbergen. This has recently led to a few incidents over fishing rights between our coastguards. Despite the disagreement, these incidents have not spilled over onto other areas and not escalated into more serious disputes. To me this is a good example of a healthy relationship, based on mutual respect and constructive co-operation.

Good neighbours co-operate. We work closely with Russia in a number of areas. Since 1996 we have signed annual bilateral military plans. We conduct joint military exercises.

During my visit to Russia a few months ago, we agreed to further develop military co-operation, particularly training and exercise activities. We believe that co-operation and increased transparency and insight build trust. Trust that will help us to avoid unnecessary misunderstanding and tension in the North. Common training and exercises are also important if we want our forces to be able to work together in a crisis.

This being said, the High North is an area of considerable strategic importance to Russia. It is the main testing ground for new weapons systems and frequently used for training and exercises. Also, it contains huge port areas which have access to ice free waters all year around. Russia’s sea-based nuclear weapons are located here. When looking at our large neighbour today, I see a country with significant military potential. Some of this is located only a few kilometres from our common border.

The Russian armed forces are undergoing major modernization. Like most countries in the West, the Russian armed forces are being transformed to meet new security challenges. Russia plans large increases in defence spending in the coming years. The budget has increased by 19 percent from 2010 to 2011, and there are plans to add more than 60 percent by 2013. The main bulk will be spent on acquisition of new vessels and modernization of existing equipment. Russia is also planning an Arctic Brigade close to the Norwegian border. All of this indicates increased interest and ambitions for Russian presence in the High North in the future.

In the High North we have seen that Russia has taken up old habits of flying along our coast with long-range bombers. Our F-16 fighter planes have regularly been alerted to identify them along the Norwegian borders. We do not regard this activity as directed towards Norway. However, when planning for our future defence it is a part of the overall picture.

We see a tendency that the Russians favour bilateral security agreements and are generally sceptical to making binding agreements with multinational organisations like NATO. The Alliance remains the cornerstone of our security. Although we have a good bilateral relationship with Russia, we believe that our relationship is best ensured within a wider multilateral framework. NATO needs to develop its co-operation with Russia. Allied presence in the High North is an essential part of this. It is also a precondition for our continued close co-operation with Russia.

Of the five Arctic countries, four are NATO Allies; the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway. Russia is a NATO-partner. Today NATO activities in the region are quite limited. Norway and Canada have had somewhat different approaches to the involvement of NATO in the High North. From the Norwegian perspective, I particularly would like to stress that NATO’s presence in the region is legitimate and not targeted at any particular nation. The territory of Allies stretches to the North Pole. NATO presence on the territory of Allies should not contribute to increased tension. On the contrary, it should contribute to stability. NATO presence will strengthen the Alliance’s credibility in dealing with security challenges of its members. Hence, visibility will have a deterrent effect.

Situational awareness and understanding is key to manage a crisis. NATO must therefore be familiar with relevant political-military issues also in the High North. In the process of shaping the new Command Structure in NATO, Norway has taken an initiative to connect national operational headquarters closer to the NATO Command Structure. We believe this is good use of national resources in a time when we seek to uphold the level of ambition while reducing the number of headquarters and personnel. As a pilot case, we have offered to formally link our joint operational headquarters in Bodø– free of cost – to the NATO Command Structure. As a consequence, the Alliance will benefit from our situation awareness, critical competence and regional expertise in a crisis situation, as well as in peace time.

Training and exercises are important elements of increased NATO involvement in the High North. We highly appreciate the participation of Allied and partner forces in exercising and training in Norway. In dialogue with my Russian colleagues I have been very clear to underline Norway and NATO’s right to train and exercise on the territory of Allies. The Russian reply has been that they respect this view. By involving Russia more in common regional activities, we will counter expected negative rhetoric that NATO presence represents a threat to Russia.

The geostrategic reality has changed several times since the end of the Cold War. This has implications for how we plan for our defence and for NATO. 20 years ago, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US was the only superpower in the world. In recent years, we see emerging powers, such as China, Russia and India, but also countries in Africa and South-America. With new emerging powers, conflicts of interest between countries could again become a dominant feature of international relations. The US will remain the main military superpower in the foreseeable future, but economically we see a shift towards Asia.

The current financial crisis hitting Europe and North-America has strengthened this trend. History shows that rise in economic power is followed by increased political and military influence. There is reason to believe that we must expect the same in the future from the BRIC-countries. As China’s military power is rising, the US will focus more of its attention towards Asia. Handling of this development will be a challenge for European nations in the coming years.

NATO needs to take these changes into account. But I am confident that the Alliance will manage the adjustment. NATO has over the past 20 years shown that it has a remarkable way of adapting to new security realities.

In order to remain relevant to its 28 members, it is vital that NATO possesses relevant capabilities to defend the territorial integrity and strategic interests of its member states. In addition, the sum of the capacities must be reliable and match our level of ambition.

This calls for continued investment and prioritising of national defence capabilities. This is a challenge in the current financial situation in Europe and North-America. Many, in fact most of our Allies, have had to reduce their defence budget due to financial difficulties. And in many countries, bigger cuts are expected in the time to come. Also the US is forced to take big cuts.

With reduced national budgets, we need to increase military co-operation. Many multinational defence initiatives have been launched in order to do more with less. However, it is easy to do the talk, much harder to do the walk.

Co-operation in a 28-setting is challenging. We therefore believe that joint efforts between like-minded and geographically close allies and partners will be the most fruitful way ahead. Norway has increased military activities with fellow Nordic countries and neighbours around the North Sea Basin. Some countries have feared that these regional forms of co-operation risk undermining the Alliance. I will say on the contrary – if these regional structures can contribute to improved capacities and better interoperability, it will benefit NATO as a whole. We should therefore encourage these forms of regional co-operation.

So far I have mostly spoken about traditional security threats. These are the threats we are mainly concerned about when are planning our national defence. This summer, Norway was forced to learn to deal with a new type of threat.

I would like to switch gear now and use the last part of my address to talk about the terrorist attacks in Norway on 22 July. Our idyllic nation, at the northern periphery, was attacked by a sole perpetrator.  In a double attack, carried out within hours, 77 people were brutally murdered.  In an instant, it radically changed the lives of many, including me.

Large portions of our government quarters were blown up in a single homemade bomb. It could have killed hundreds. But the bomb struck on a Friday afternoon at the peak of the holiday season. 8 people were killed, but dozens critically injured. It virtually destroyed the Prime Minister’s office, the Supreme Court and several ministries. The physical destruction was massive, affecting the lives of hundreds.

But it did not end there. Approximately 90 minutes later, 25 miles away, Utøya Island was savagely attacked by the same perpetrator. At Utøya, the youth organization of the Labour Party was gathered for their annual summer camp. For more than one hour the heavily armed gunman, disguised as a police officer, shot and killed 69 young people in the most sinister and cynical manner. He was able to wound almost as many, and attempted to kill everyone on the spot before being disarmed by the police.

During these dreadful afternoon hours, my life was directly affected, both professionally and personally. As state secretary, I serve at the government level, taking part in decision-making important to the lives and prospects of many. But as a father, I was even more directly hit. My step-daughter Ylva was one of the victims at Utøya, shot four times. For nearly 24 hours we thought we had lost her. But then her name appeared on a list of the victims that were likely alive, but in critical condition. Ylva has had a miraculous recovery and is now back in school.  Politics is even dearer to her now, and she is even more preoccupied with democracy than before.

The perpetrator is a 32 year old Norwegian, a Christian and Caucasian male. Upon committing his acts, he published his Manifesto, 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence, a lengthy and incoherent document, drawing upon influences of cultural conservatism, right-wing populism, ultra-Nationalism, Islamofobia and right-wing Zionism. He views Islam and what he labels «cultural Marxism» as the enemy, and calls for the defeat of «Eurabia» and multi-Culturalism in order to preserve a Christian Europe. He wanted to attack the government and the Labour Party in particular, who in his view, had betrayed and failed the Norwegian people by allowing multiculturalism in the Norwegian society. 

It goes without saying that this was an attack going beyond anything our small nation have experienced - or even imagined - could happen.  There are many questions and not quite as many good answers. One question we should ask is: what is the Norwegian government doing to prevent something like this from ever occurring again?

The Government has appointed a special commission to analyze and evaluate the handling of the attacks. It will be in session until next August. It will undertake a comprehensive effort covering every aspect of the incidents; nothing is to be left unchecked.

We have entered into a debate about how the armed forces should support the police and civilian society and define when it should be applicable. Cleary co-ordination is important. The armed forces must have guidelines on how, when and to what extent it gives a hand to the police, be it natural disasters or terrorist attacks.

In the aftermath of such a tremendous national trauma, it is critical that society does not alter its open and free ways.  In Norway we are proud of our open and free democracy. It is inclusive and strong.  In this dreadful crime justice must be served, the rule of law upheld and government must not limit the freedoms of its citizens. There is always a balance that needs to be struck between security and freedom.

Against this background, it would seem appropriate to ask if Norway, as a modern western society, has passed the democratic test in managing the aftermath of this horrific day?  I do think, and many observers at home and abroad have argued, that our society has not lost its ways.  We must apply the mechanisms of rule of law and use our existing institutions to manage also situations such as this.

Our society has been rigorously tested, but we could have been held to an even higher standard. Were the perpetrator not one of our own, but rather an Islamic aggressor or a terrorist network; - would we have responded in the same way? That, of course, we cannot answer with certainty.  I want to say that our response would be yes, but it cannot be guaranteed. But it would have been the ultimate test of the strength and maturity of our democracy.

So how can I draw the link from the terrorist attacks and back to the main topic of this address? The common denominator is security challenges. As a state secretary for defence it is my responsibility to make sure that we have the appropriate armed forces and capabilities to manage limited crisis in Norway and adjacent areas. And a multinational security framework for bigger crises.

We see the international attention towards the High North as positive. What happens in the High North is important to those of us who live there, to Norway and the other Arctic countries, and to many other countries in the world. Increased activity and harvest of renewable resources could be beneficial for all of us. But only if it takes place within an agreed legal framework and respects the environment. We are therefore encouraging multinational solutions and co-operation to make sure that this resourceful region stays stable and secure.

Thank you for your attention.

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