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Nordic Defence Cooperation – A mini-NATO to the North?

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Defence

- The ambition is to arrive at more cost-effective solutions, and enable the countries to provide appropriate units and capabilities to NATO-, EU- or UN-led activities, State Secretary Ingebrigtsen said.

State Secretary Roger Ingebrigtsen, Ministry of Defence
Tromsø, 24 June 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends,
I am pleased to be here – and to see all of you – in my home town of Tromsø. I will offer my views on whether Norway’s security relations to our Nordic neighbours represent a NATO in miniature. My answer is No. Let me, therefore, explain why defence cooperation within the Nordic context must be seen as an important and welcome supplement, but no alternative, to Norway’s membership in NATO.

Key Messages
Since the early 1990s, NATO has established partnerships with a number of countries. This process has resulted in enhanced security and stability. These partners represent an important part of the basis for Alliance security. At the same time, the Alliance provides a basis for adapting to a changing world. It is in this particular context we ought to see Norway’s increased cooperation with Nordic neighbours and Russia.

Our relations to Sweden and Finland are excellent. However, only NATO can provide the necessary deterrence and reassurance. Therefore, to Norway, NATO is the essential source of security and stability in an unpredictable world.

Norway’s security is strengthened by the fact that we actively contribute to common security, as witnessed in Afghanistan and Libya as well as the Gulf of Aden. We will honour our commitments and responsibilities. We will to see these missions successfully through.

The importance of the Alliance’s ability to ensure collective defence and safeguard its member countries’ security is a key part of the new Strategic Concept. This is of great importance to us.

The financial and debt crises have resulted in defence cuts in many Allied countries, and many are no longer able to uphold a full range of military capabilities. This invites increased multilateral cooperation. Norway fully supports the concept of “smart defence”, and will actively contribute to more cost-efficient solutions. Nordic defence cooperation should be seen in this context, - “more bang for the buck”.

The need for a more equitable Alliance burdensharing is of great importance. Norway is spending its fair share on defence, and was number three within the Alliance last year (after the US and UK) in terms of defence expenditures per capita. I share the concern expressed by Washington that lack of a fair burdensharing might lead to negative effects for the Alliance.

Norway is located in the High North, at the crossroads between the Atlantic and the Barents Sea, between the North Sea and the Baltic, and between the European continent and the Arctic. Our defence requirements remain subject to this geo-strategic location.

International setting
The world is rapidly changing and becoming increasingly globalised. This also affects the High North. 25 years ago, the region was linked to the rivalry between the West and the Soviet Union. Today, the High North offers rich opportunities, in oil, gas, economy and shipping.

Our national day-to-day (24/7) military activities in the High North contribute to regional security, stability and predictability, military presence, border guard and air policing and provide a basis for deployment of military units, such as F-16s, to NATO-led operations outside Alliance territory.

Norway’s activities in the High North include search & rescue, surveillance, and operating Coast Guard vessels. Moreover, our armed forces exercise sovereignty and contribute to crisis management in the region. These activities also contribute significantly to Alliance security and stability.

The High North – the continued need for Alliance attention and military presence
The High North and Russia have always been important to Norway. Our relationship with Russia has varied considerably over the last centuries. We have never been at war but we have benefited from periods of good relations, and also endured times of instability and mistrust. When we plan for the future we must keep this in mind.

Today our relationship with Russia is good. We cooperate closely on a number of areas. A bilateral military exercise (Pomor) was conducted last month, starting in Russia and ending here in Tromsø. The two countries share common possibilities and challenges in the Arctic. The recent ratification of the delimitation agreement between Russia and Norway has removed a potential source of conflict between our two countries. At the same time, we must bear in mind that the High North remains an area of considerable strategic importance to Russia.

Russia’s armed forces are undergoing major modernization. Russia’s military activity in our region is considerable. Alliance presence in the High North is, therefore, an essential precondition for our continued cooperation with Russia.

There is no race for the Arctic. Economic activity is developing slowly. However, the importance of the Arctic will increase in the wake of climate change. Enhanced commercial activity increases the need for military presence to maintain stability. Military forces, therefore, have an important role in the High North.

NATO should have a more visible profile in the High North, and national Military Headquarters should be affiliated to NATO’s new command structure. We must keep in mind that NATO territory stretches to the North Pole. There is room for increased level of Alliance and Partner cooperation in the High North.

A broader Northern European context
Multinational cooperation plays an important role in securing capabilities that might be beyond the reach or unsustainable in the longer term for individual countries. NATO and the EU, preferably in coordination, can act as helpful organisational frameworks for realising such cooperation.

Last November, a Ministerial Meeting was held in Oslo, at which the British, German, Polish as well as the Nordic and Baltic Ministers of Defence participated. This meeting was important in its own right, symbolising the will and need to explore the scope and potential for further cooperation. The Netherlands is also included in this group. This Northern Group brings together countries which share a number of common interests and security challenges.

Nordic defence cooperation
During the last 15 years or so, Sweden and Finland have been actively pursuing a close partnership with NATO. This has enhanced their ability to participate effectively in NATO-led activity, as witnessed in ISAF. Norway is assessing further cooperative measures with our Nordic neighbours. One of these is a Swedish/Norwegian project on procuring a new artillery system (ARCHER). I am pleased that Finland has decided to procure the Norwegian land-based air defence system NASAMS II.

This year, we plan to complete the process of linking Sweden and Finland to NATO’s air surveillance and control system, providing the two partner countries with access to NATO’s real time air picture. This contributes to NATO’s capabilities. Also, a programme on Nordic cross-border training with combat aircraft between the two Nordic partner countries and the two NATO countries Denmark and Norway is being carried out, and illustrates the potential for synergy and cost-efficiency. It has also proven some of its worth within the recent Libyan context.  

Our cooperation with Nordic neighbours is conducted within the framework structure of NORDEFCO. The ambition is to arrive at more cost-effective solutions, and enable the countries to provide appropriate units and capabilities to NATO-, EU- or UN-led activities. The Northern Group and NORDEFCO should supplement each other, and not be considered as separate alternatives. Within both formats, possible areas of cooperation might be training, education, capability development, exercises and operations. We have issued a joint Declaration of Solidarity between the Nordic countries. This Declaration covers civilian support to consequence management, and not military support. Norway’s responsibility and commitment in relation to NATO is not altered by the Nordic Declaration.

Concluding remarks
NATO’s role and function remains fundamentally important. Norway will continue to play its role in contributing to a positive development in the Northern region, in updating Alliance cooperation, and in forging improved and modern partnerships and cooperation with non-Allied countries. Closer cooperation with Sweden and Finland, linked to Norway’s close relations to Allied countries in North-Western Europe, is also intended to improve NATO’s relevance as a tool for security and stability, and do not represent an end in itself.

So, let me conclude where I started: Norway’s defence and security relations to our Nordic neighbours do not represent a NATO in miniature, and have never been intended as such. As the world changes, so does Nordic defence cooperation.

Thank you for your kind attention.

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