Historical archive

Speech at the 51st annual security conference at Leangkollen:

“NATO’s Southern Flank: Great Powers, Jihadists, and Refugees”

Historical archive

Published under: Solberg's Government

Publisher Ministry of Defence

Norway's Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide held this speech at the 51st annual security conference at Leangkollen, 1 February 2016. The conference's title was “NATO’s Southern Flank: Great Powers, Jihadists, and Refugees” and the speech was about standing together in today’s security environment.

*check against delivery*

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,

It is an honour and a pleasure to address you this morning. The Norwegian Atlantic Committee may be small, but it wields great influence – thanks to Kate and her associates. Your hard efforts, and the audience that returns year after year, make the Leangkollen conference an institution in itself. An annual event – a happening for the security policy geeks that we have to admit that we are. Leangkollen manages to stay relevant because it examines key security issues. That is also the case this year. Developments in the Middle East and North Africa have taken several turns to the worse over the last few years. Not least, they have become more complex and violent. In 2015, we increasingly came to understand how this also affects us in Europe. NATO’s southern flank is as such an important topic, relevant to all of us.

The Middle East and North Africa have seen dramatic and rapid change in the five years that have passed since the beginning of the Arab spring. Sadly, however, the hopes for the rise of democracy and individual freedom across the region, have not come to fruition. The Middle East is in flames. Our hopes, and the hopes of millions of people, have been destroyed by devastating civil wars. They have been crushed by ruthless terror organizations.

The situation along NATO’s southern flank concerns us directly. Volatility on the doorstep to NATO member states is a potential threat to the security of the Euro-Atlantic area. My colleague, the Foreign Minister, has already described terrorism as a global phenomenon that knows no borders. Terror has hit Paris, Copenhagen and Istanbul, as well as Beirut, Burkina Faso and Cairo – and many more places. Geographic distance to conflict areas is no longer a security guarantee as extremism and terrorism spreads in new ways. The lack of government control in the region is part of the challenge, as terrorists carve out areas that become de facto safe havens.

The Syrian civil war has had a destabilizing effect on the whole region. In Yemen, a new civil war erupted in 2015. Al-Qaida has managed to recruit supporters throughout the Arab Peninsula. In Iraq, sectarian developments threaten the political order. The civil war in Libya gave ISIL and other terror groups an opportunity to recruit more fighters still. ISIL has expanded its presence. The December peace deal in Libya was sorely needed good news, but implementation remains uncertain.

The developments have caused a severe humanitarian situation. It is the largest refugee crisis since 1945. Millions have fled. Many are in dire need of protection. Others are driven by economic hardship and an understandable wish for a better future. The sheer scale, scope and acuteness of the crisis is staggering. If not handled correctly the refugee crisis could lead to fragmentation of Europe.

Let me be clear: I do not consider people escaping hardship and war a threat to European security. But unfortunately, the refugee crisis seems to serve as a catalyst for a political polarization that can damage European cohesion and our ability to act together. This is a development with potentially detrimental consequences for our cooperation and decision-making, also when it comes to security and defence policy. An increasingly polarized and fragmented Europe would damage and undermine European and transatlantic unity. I am concerned for the health condition of European politics, ultimately with the trust in democratic institutions in the balance.

It is important that we acknowledge that ISIL and the conflicts in Iraq and Syria constitute threats to international and European security and stability. Weak states, and the destabilization of the region, have created fertile ground for terror organizations. In 2015 we experienced several terror attacks in Europe with links to terror organizations in the Middle East. Foreign fighters who had returned to France took part in the Paris attacks. The past year ISIL and ISIL sympathizers conducted several terror attacks outside its core areas in Iraq and Syria. This shows that terrorist threats to both Europe and the rest of the Middle East are serious and far-reaching. We all need to rise to the occasion rather than look the other way.

In addition to the important work on humanitarian support for Syria that Børge Brende mentioned, Norway is also contributing to the fight against ISIL through capacity building. The Norwegian Armed Forces are training Iraqi security forces to enable them to defend against and overcome ISIL. They are making progress. Our contributions are highly appreciated by our allies and not least by the Iraqi authorities who requested our assistance. As recently announced, we have decided to prolong our contribution in Iraq. We are now considering the US and French requests for further contributions to the fight against ISIL.

That said, the military contributions are one part: the civil wars in Syria and Iraq demand political solutions. A cease-fire is necessary, and we need to establish a credible and enduring political process. The UN Security Council resolution, urging all member states to do more, is a significant step in the right direction. Such international cooperation is important, not least because of the tense relationship between Russia and Western states. We must seek coordination between all parties involved in Syria and Iraq to avoid misunderstandings and unintended escalations in the region.

The Russian actions in Syria also affect NATO as an alliance. Russia is conducting a military operation close to the border of NATO member states. This further underlines the importance of clear agreements to avoid incidents.

In our fight against militant extremism and terrorism, we also need to look beyond the Middle East. We are still committed to Afghanistan. Norway is still present through the Resolute Support Mission where we support the Afghan authorities in what remains a challenging situation. Norway is part of this NATO-led mission that provides further training, advice and assistance for the Afghan security forces and institutions. We stand together with our allies in prolonging the presence.

The increasingly interlinked and co-dependent security environment has obvious implications for the way we conduct international operations, both in a NATO and UN context. Take Mali, for example. Mali and the Sahel region has become a hub for international terrorism, gun smuggling and human trafficking. During 9 months in 2012-13, when the Islamist extremists were in control of Northern Mali, music was forbidden, historical mausoleums where torn down and libraries where burned. Today, the combination of the UN operation (MINUSMA), the French operation (Barkane) and the EU training mission (EUTM) are working to prevent extremist groups from regaining a strong foothold in Northern Mali. We see that locally, the UN plays a vital role in contributing to stability and sustainable peace. At the same time, the mission is an important part of the fight against violent extremism internationally.

In fact, today’s international operations show that NATO, the UN and EU are complimentary organizations. We must work to strengthen these institutions, and improve coordination between them in conflict prone areas of the world. NATO, the UN and EU stand for values that we treasure and promote – democracy, individual liberty, the rule of law and human rights. A collective, responsible and comprehensive approach to terrorist organizations is the only way forward. There are no quick fixes.

We see the Norwegian contribution to the UN mission in Mali as a contribution to combating violent extremism. In Mali, Norwegian analysts have taken part in establishing the first modern intelligence unit in UN peacekeeping. Such capacities are key to keeping peacekeepers and civilians safe from deadly attacks, and they strengthen the mission’s ability to do the job more safely and effectively. The last week we deployed a C-130 Hercules to Mali for ten months. The transport aircraft is critical for the mission’s ability to fulfil its mandate enhancing the security for UN-personnel in the mission by reducing the necessity of high-risk logistic convoys from South- to North-Mali. By sending our C-130, we have more than tripled our contribution to MINUSMA. Norway is also considering other capabilities to the UN, preferably to Mali in 2017. Norway highly appreciates the new efforts to strengthening UN operations through mobilizing more troops, resources and new capabilities. We have played an active role in the initiatives to reform UN operation and also make it possible for smaller countries to give relevant contributions.

The threat to NATO’s southern flank is serious, no doubt, but from a NATO perspective, it is not the only challenge. Looking to the east, Russian aggression in Ukraine, and the demonstrated Russian will and ability to use military force is a great concern. In the High North, the strategic interests of NATO meet those of Russia, and consequently, any potential conflict between NATO and Russia could affect Norway directly.

NATO members must stand together and provide a 360 degree approach to Allied security. Political unity and the will to defend Allies against any adversary applies to threats from any direction, and in different geographic areas. The key to ensuring credible deterrence and defence is to be able to address the full spectrum of challenges and threats that could confront the Alliance.

Consequently, Norway must focus on NATO’s northern flank. There is an increase in maritime activities across NATO’s area of responsibility, from the North Atlantic to the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Mediterranean. We are facing military-strategic changes with potentially far-reaching long-term consequences also in the North. Russia has developed new high-end military capabilities, including strategic submarines and aircraft, and long-range high-precision missiles. Russia has also expanded its military infrastructure in the Arctic. While Norway does not consider Russia a military threat today, we cannot discount that these military capabilities can pose a challenge to transatlantic security in the future.

We need to raise NATO’s profile in the maritime domain. This requires maritime power and presence. Regular training and exercises are also necessary to give us the knowledge and skills we need to operate in this domain. NATO’s maritime forces need to be able to establish sea control in NATO’s area of responsibility to ensure freedom of navigation. They also need to ensure that sea lines of communication are open for supply and reinforcements in crisis or war. To this end, we need high-end maritime capabilities, situational awareness, updated contingency plans, and collective contributions to NATO forces in the Atlantic. Given the new security environment, we need to be able to operate in air, on land, and at sea.

I make this point to illustrate that NATO members face a series of challenges, from several directions and of various kinds, conventional and asymmetric threats are combined and interwoven, presenting us with a complex and unpredictable security landscape.  

This new, complex and unpredictable security landscape is the point of departure for the Long Term Plan for the defence sector that I will present to parliament this spring. My goal is to strengthen our national defence, in the air, on land and at sea. We will continue our active endeavours to reinforce defence capabilities to strengthen NATO’s collective defence. We will also maintain our ability to contribute to international operations. The need to contribute “out-of-area” will probably increase rather than decrease over the next few years. We remain committed because international security is increasingly interlinked. It is also the responsible thing to do.


Dear friends,

We must not forget that the strength of NATO and the transatlantic partnership is not just of military nature. NATO is first and foremost a political alliance. We need to straighten our backs and be the community of shared values that we are. As we are facing various threats now, and in the time to come, I believe it is paramount that we, NATO-members and European allies, stand together.

As we prepare for the 2016 NATO summit in Warsaw, we must assess the new security environment as it is, not as we wish it were; we must think strategically at the same time as we act immediately; and we must revitalize the transatlantic link in both political and military terms. In short, NATO needs a coherent and robust long-term strategy to deal with the new security environment. We must do what we can to identify, understand, prioritize and meet common challenges together. NATO is only as strong and capable as we make it. This is especially important to remember in a time where different forces and domestic developments are pulling us apart.

Thank you for listening. I would be happy to hear your thoughts and take a few questions.