Historical archive

“The nature of war, the role of the soldier – constant or changing?”

Historical archive

Published under: Solberg's Government

Publisher Ministry of Defence

Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide held this speech at The Army Summit 2014, September 23, Akershus festning, Oslo. “The nature of war, the role of the soldier – constant or changing?”

Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide held this speech at The Army Summit 2014, September 23, Akershus festning, Oslo. “The nature of war, the role of the soldier – constant or changing?”

Ine Eriksen Søreide, Army Summit 2014, Oslo.
Ine Eriksen Søreide, Army Summit 2014, Oslo (photo: Ole-Sverre Haugli, Hæren).


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Excellences, Generals, dear colleagues and friends,

My first speech as chairman of the foreign affairs and defence committee in 2009 was here at the Army Summit.

As a “regular”, I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to speak once again at the Summit. This is the 6th consecutive year I enter this podium, and it is always a great honor to address this distinguished audience.

For the first time I am here as minister of defence. I’ve been building up to this Summit through several meetings over the past years with army soldiers serving at their home base, on exercises and in international operations.

One thing that continues to strike me in all these meetings is the dedication and professionalism of our soldiers. It is a highly skilled and trained army. It is a capable army that has embarked on new tasks as we wind down our forces in ISAF. And it is an army that is making progress with regard to finding the right balance of conscripted and enlisted soldiers – bearing in mind the continuous professionalization of our armed forces.

A special “thank you” goes to our hosts, Secretary General Kate Hansen-Bundt and commanding general of the Norwegian Army, Major General Rune Jakobsen. You were also our host when I had the pleasure of accompanying our prime minister to Bardufoss/Indre Troms in August, actually the first visit of a prime minister to this base in seven years. To let the prime minister see the huge span in your capacities, from heavy battle tanks to your ability to assist civil society in crisis management, was very valuable.

As a huge fan of the both the Army and the Troms region, it was almost an emotional moment when I saw the prime minister drive off in an armoured infantry fighting vehicle, the CV 90, supported by my political advisor and me in two main-battle tanks, the Leopard 2. This was simply a good day at work for a minister of defence.

On a more serious note, I have always strongly believed such visits are vital in making us as politicians more aware of an organization that continues to play a key role in our defence policy. Knowing its structure, its equipment, traditions and values will greatly benefit us in making the right choice of policy. 

You have chosen an exciting theme for this year’s Army Summit. Last year we were discussing the issue of predicting the unpredictable. We were thinking aloud, I recall, from where challenges to our security and values might emerge, and also how to train and prepare for the unknown.  

I think this year, however, you make an interesting choice when introducing the title:  “The nature of war, the role of the soldier – constant or changing?”

And I don’t say interesting because of the originality. After all military scholars and philosophers have puzzled with this question as long as war has been waged. You know your Sun Tzu and Clausewitz by heart. And I am also sure there will be one or two references to them at this particular conference.

I find it interesting mainly because it captures some important changes in our security environment. It refers to the emergence of a more volatile situation, pointing also to the nature of current conflicts in close proximity to NATO’s territory.  

First, we must acknowledge that security on our own continent has been shaken. The actual use of military force, not only in the sense of deterrence, is revisiting Europe. Second, we are faced with a growing instability emanating from the Middle East which has a particular impact on NATO’s southern flank.

Sending soldiers to international operations is the most difficult decisions you make as defence minister. As politicians we will therefore always strive to resolve conflicts without the use of military force.

At the same time it would be irresponsible not to take necessary steps when international security and stability is at stake. Needless to say, this was also the main point of entry of the recent NATO Summit in Wales. And it is also very much part of the recent decision to commit Norwegian military staff officers to the planning and preparation for a possible Norwegian military contribution in the operation in support of the Iraqi government.   

As politicians, it is our obligation to understand war and warfare – and also the limits of military force – in order to make the right strategic decisions. Or to put differently, it is our duty to understand war and warfare to maintain peace and stability. At the same time this raises important questions and dilemmas related to future conflicts and the conduct of war. And it raises questions as to how we train and educate our soldiers.

The Army Summit provides a good arena for discussing both tools and dilemmas from a political point of view. And it is an opportunity to address some of the key deliverables from the NATO Summit, which I believe are important for the future military and political posture of NATO and Norway.

Changes in warfare and its dilemmas

You often hear that warfare has changed. War has not. The statement implies that we are almost condemned to languish in a Hobbesian state of nature. And that greed and neighbourly disputes will continue to be used as a pretext for war.

The character of war, however, is evolving. The means and methods are constantly changing. The introduction of new technology such as drones, information and cyber, reminds us how this ultimately affect the role of the soldier.

Even in the 14th century, the pope wanted to ban the use of bow and arrow, because it would change the way wars traditionally had been fought. Or take the introduction of the stirrup – it would make it easier to stay in the saddle and therefore give one side an advantage.

Some of the most serious security challenges we encounter today follow the pattern of hybrid warfare. The nature of hybridity refers to a mixture of conventional warfare, irregular warfare, cyber and information warfare. This concept is not new, but it has evolved and taken on new features.

Russian aggression towards Ukraine carries every characteristics of hybrid warfare. It is a well-crafted blend of state and non-state actors, conventional and unconventional means.   The irregular warfighting inside Ukraine is made possible by a clear and credible conventional military capability massed on the border of Ukraine. In addition, state-controlled media and a massive disinformation campaign ensure a narrative in support of the overall campaign.

On NATO’s southern flank, we may also see hybrid warfare rise in prominence, but in a different fashion. We see a kind of conflict that is a mixture of war in the traditional sense, derived from large-scale organized crime, and grave violations of human rights.

We come short of words to describe the brutality of ISIL. It is a destructive mix of medieval barbarity and modern communication technology. ISIL’s objective is well known and it will continue to use unconventional warfare to achieve territorial gains. This is a scenario we know all too well. We have learned the hard way what a global terrorist organization with a territorial safe haven can achieve.    

Unquestionably conflicts and warfare remain dynamic. So you adapt accordingly. It sounds easy, but we all know it is not. There are obstacles and dilemmas which you encounter. Let me in this context briefly mention two, related to technology and ethics.

First; obviously technological progress has always had an impact on warfare. This is why you always strive to have the cutting edge technology in your tool box. Being second best is never an option.  Influence in today’s world still requires a robust military capacity.

To maintain a technological superiority, is however not an easy task. In light of the economic downturn, this has been a painful lesson for Europe. Reduced defence budgets and increasing cost development within military weapon systems simply do not fit. The result is nations struggling to retain their purchasing power.

Furthermore, the Western model and our view on welfare follow certain principles with regard to public spending. We maintain a model that puts emphasis on personal well-being and creating opportunities for every citizen to choose their way of life.

Many of the new economic and military powers outside Europe have a different starting point. They do not necessarily share our view with respect to public spending on schools, health and welfare. As such they are more inclined to spend what is necessary to move to the forefront of military technology.

That makes it even more important for us to make investments in defence and continue modernizing our capabilities. It is essential that defence cuts are reversed, and that we Europeans carry our fair share of the burden.

We know Russia from 2011 to 2020 is planning to increase their military budget with 4,000 billion Norwegian kroner. The modernization of the Russian Armed Forces has already proven very effective.

Previously, the Russian military capacity could best be described as a “sledge hammer”: Capable of a massive blow, but both imprecise and took a long time to prepare. The Russian modernization program has made its military forces a more precise and versatile tool, which can be employed at far quicker notice. In simple terms: It has given Russia more military options. Even more important, is the fact that Russia has shown both capability and willingness to use military means.

This leads me to my point on ethics. As liberal democracies we adhere to certain values and principles. These are fundamentally linked with the conduct of war and the use of military power. Every Norwegian soldier is trained in ethics and the rule of law.

Professional attitude and ethical awareness is an essential part of the role of the soldier. Later today I will address our Chaplain Corps at their annual conference at Bæreia veteran center. They play a key role in promoting ethical awareness among our soldiers. They also encourage soldiers to reflect on their professional identity; who we are and how we solve our mission in often demanding operations.  


This is tremendously important in a situation where we encounter irregular opponents that take advantage of the very same rules and principles we try to adhere to. The ISAF-operation has taught us valuable lessons in this regard. We must also realize that tactics such as blurring the distinction between civilian and military targets, is very much part and parcel of the new hybridity.

In Syria and Iraq, we are witnessing a war without rules, a war with terrorists without morality. It is a perverted logic of violence which takes advantage of fragile states and people in despair. ISIL is threatening all civilized values. They reject freedom, modernity and the rule of law. This makes it even more important for us to stress and decisively defend our shared values of individual liberty, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

In Ukraine, it started with the sudden mobilization of men in Crimea wearing uniforms without insignia. Thousands of troops armed with the latest of Russian weaponry suddenly appeared, simply labeled as “green men”. It was forcefully accompanied by intimidation through display of military strength. As it turned out, the main battlefield became heavily populated areas. Again, the distinction is becoming blurred and the victims are innocent civilians.  

The way in which military force has been applied by Russia is causing grave concern. It is a major setback for principles and law regulating warfare and the role of soldiers. The Geneva conventions and rules of war were both hard won. I remind everyone that it took us 200 years and two devastating wars to establish these important yardsticks in international law.

The NATO-summit and its outcome

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have spoken about changes in warfare and also some dilemmas this raise. And I have talked about a new reality taking shape. The German philosopher Hegel was criticized for having ideas with too great a distance to reality. “Poor reality,” was his reply. As defence minister such an answer is no option.

And equally NATO cannot afford any complacency. Given the very profound changes in our security landscape, I think it therefore makes fully sense to characterize the recent NATO Summit in Wales as one of great importance.

In my view the Summit gave a clear response to current challenges, and it also came out strongly and united in its condemnation of those who disregard the rule of law. Furthermore, it demonstrated a convergence in strategic assessment and that all allies are on the same page when it comes to priorities for the Alliance.

There is a saying that the military is always responding to the last war. To the extent that was ever true, I believe we have moved beyond a point where that is enough. Individual countries, as well as NATO as an organization, must think differently and prepare for an ever more multifaceted set of challenges and conflicts. The only thing we know is that the next war most likely will be different from the last one.

The military-strategic dilemma for Western states has changed. Obviously, we are no longer discussing scenarios involving massive battles with tanks on the plains. Today, a potential aggressor has greater freedom of choice for attacks, in terms of time, type, and place. And there is no longer an extended period of warning, at least it is dramatically reduced.

Looking at the hybrid warfare model, it is also characterized by clandestine infiltration happening in real time. The role of the military as a security-policy tool in this context is still of direct relevance. Nevertheless, military force is just one of several instruments in order to achieve overall security policy goals. In this respect I believe there was a common understanding of that each nation, and NATO together, must address these challenges in a coherent way.

The most important message from Wales is the refocus on collective defence, and the decision to improve our readiness and responsiveness. Norway has long argued the need for this. We strongly support the Readiness Action Plan, which emphasizes both preparedness and responsiveness.


Another important component is the reassurance measures, including air-, land-, and maritime presence and meaningful military activity in the eastern part of the Alliance - on a rotational basis.

Norway takes our share, and later this week we will send a mechanized infantry company from our Telemark battalion to Latvia for training and exercise, in exercise “Silver Arrow” and preparations for their NRF-rotation in 2015. The decision to deploy allied forces to Latvia is a strong and united message about the Alliance’s solidarity and collective will to assure and deter.

This is about establishing predictability and firmness. And it is about acknowledging that multinational rotational presence in NATO’s East is the new baseline for deterrence.

I also believe the NATO Summit made important decisions with regard to the multiple battlefields we are encountering. It is essential that the Alliance possesses the necessary tools and procedures required to deter and respond effectively to hybrid warfare threats. Key in this regard is capabilities to reinforce national forces. This will also include developing exercise scenarios in light of hybrid threats and getting our strategic communication right.

At the end of the day, however, any strategies and any policy will come short if we not recognize the role of the soldier. Our collective security ultimately depends on their skills and level of competence. To quote the previous Commanding General of the Army, Per Sverre Opedal: “We educate and train our soldiers, we don’t man the equipment”.

In my view the complexity and range of emerging challenges require soldiers who can quickly adapt to be ready to solve the most pressing tasks. Part of this is to exercise the whole range of missions and tasks, including collective defence. Norway will contribute to this, and has offered to host NATO’s High Visibility Exercise in 2018. It is also my aim that Norwegian forces will participate actively in training and exercises outside of Norway.

Inherent in every operation we decide to deploy our soldiers, is the uncertainty. It is the unpredictable nature of conflict and the risks involved. Our soldiers are the ones representing our nations and governments. They are the ones facing danger and risking death in the course of their duty. And they are the ones putting themselves on the line for the rest of us to be safe.

In Wales we signed up to a veteran policy aiming at a closer co-operation with regard to the recognition and follow-up of veterans. Another important step for us as an alliance, and very relevant for us on a national level, were we continually aim to improve our national policy.

As minister of defence my number one priority will always be the well-being of our soldiers. I will continue the efforts to ensure that our veterans are respected, valued and treated fairly. In this regard there is a clear link between this Army Summit and the National veteran conference that you, Rune, and the Army will be hosting in less than a month. I look forward to meeting you again in one of my favorite cities, Tromsø.

Concluding remarks

To conclude, we live in a very different world than just a few months ago. And to be honest, I don’t believe in a swift return to the climate predating the illegal Russian intervention into Ukraine.

We have to realize, that even when the dust settles, even when the aggression in Ukraine comes to an end, our relations with Russia will be of a different character.  We have an enduring new security situation in Europe.

The NATO Summit again reminded us of NATO’s strength and its relevance in upholding the common values and principles on which the Alliance was created. But it also reminded us that this does not come for free.

NATO’s political credibility in a more volatile security situation rests on the willingness to continue investing in military capabilities and the need to continue strengthening the readiness and responsiveness of the military component. As such the Wales Summit gave each and every ally clear homework when it comes to their own constituencies. In this regard Norway is no exception.

I look forward to joining you for dinner!

Thank you for your attention.