Speech at Chatham House, London: “Norway, NATO and the Crisis in Ukraine”

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide held this speech at Chatham House, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, 29 April 2014. The title was “Norway, NATO and the Crisis in Ukraine”.

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide held this speech at Chatham House, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, 29 April 2014. The title of the speech was “Norway, NATO and the Crisis in Ukraine”.

*check against delivery*

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide speaking at Chatham House, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, 29 April 2014.
Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide speaking at Chatham House, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, 29 April 2014 (photo: Ann Kristin Salbuvik, FD).


Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues and friends,

It is a great pleasure for me to be with you this afternoon, here at the world-renowned Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs.

The UK and Norway have a long-standing relationship. We can trace this relationship far back. For some peculiar reason we have the habit of bringing up the ravaging Vikings to exemplify these long lasting relations.

I am however somewhat reluctant in granting our forefathers too much credit for the good relations we enjoy to today. At least, they obviously had a very different notion of bilateral relations than what has surfaced in more recent history.

One thing is certain: Norway and the UK shared close defence and security links even before  the Second World War and the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in April 1949. 

After independence from Sweden in 1905, Norway looked to Britain as its natural security guarantor.  During the First World War, Norway had become what a Norwegian professor of history has deemed ”The Neutral Ally” of the UK.

During the Second World War our two nations came together in solidarity and mutual trust. Norwegian Radio Broadcast – the voice from London – was the voice of hope throughout the war. The resilience of the British people kept spirits up all over occupied Norway. The unwavering support we enjoyed from the United Kingdom was crucial, and for this we remain ever thankful.

I cannot resist mentioning one of the least known parts of our two countries’ shared history. In the early 1950ties when Norway was looking for an appropriate mechanism to ensure inflow of capital and investments, an attempt was made at joining the Commonwealth. Considerations on governmental level were also made with regard to adopting the Pound Sterling as Norway’s official currency.

Informal proceedings were opened, but they reportedly stranded because of monetary issues. Rumour has it though, that also protocol issues played a part in this, as the Commonwealth could not have two separate royal heads of state among its members.

Fortunately, this did not reduce our ambition to further develop our security and defence co-operation. On the contrary, let me be very clear on this – Norway places great importance on our bilateral relationship with the UK.

We are natural partners given history and geography, as well as a shared outlook on strategic issues.

Today, in my bilateral discussions with Defence Secretary Hammond, we agreed on working closely together in the preparations for the NATO Summit in Wales. The ongoing crisis in Ukraine makes developing NATO further more important than ever. We also had a constructive dialogue on possible Norwegian contributions to the Joint Expeditionary Force. We took stock of our cooperation on the future operation of the F-35 fighter aircraft in Europe in areas such as technical maintenance and sustainment, as well as training of pilots and technical personnel.

Turning to the agenda of this afternoon, I am very pleased to have the opportunity to offer some perspectives on NATO and the transatlantic relationship, as well as some thoughts on security and defence cooperation in Northern Europe. I look forward to engage in dialogue and discussion with you.

Let me now start by outlining some of my views on the future NATO and the situation in Ukraine.

The future of NATO and the transatlantic relationship are at the very top of my government’s agenda. Since I took office last October, I have argued that the fundamental challenge is to ensure a credible, capable and cohesive Alliance for the 21st century – a NATO that can perform its full range of tasks, including collective defence.  

In order to achieve this, all Allies must re-invest in NATO and the transatlantic relationship. As Europeans, we need to take a hard look at burden-sharing, and Europe needs to contribute our share to our common security.

NATO is far more than a military Alliance – it is a transatlantic political community of shared values. At its centre lies Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. For NATO’s political role to be effective, we need a strong and militarily capable Alliance.

I have cautioned against taking NATO and the transatlantic link for granted, and I have also cautioned against the idea that NATO has become less relevant because Europe is whole and free, and that our continent has entered a post-conflict area.

I think the current situation is an obvious reminder that security concerns remain in Europe, and in our neighbourhood. Today, we are facing a very dangerous and dynamic situation, in and around Ukraine, a situation of deep unrest and concern.  


A deeply worrying situation in Ukraine

Russia’s use of force to redraw borders and destabilize a fragile situation is unacceptable and must have consequences.

Currently we are experiencing a serious and deteriorating situation in Eastern Ukraine. There are similarities between what is happening here and the situation we saw in Crimea in the beginning of March. Apparently Russia is willing to exert pressure on Ukraine through a strong military presence at the border.

Regrettably the Geneva accord has not been successfully implemented by all parts. Instead, we have seen a further escalation of the conflict. Pro-Russian militias have not been disarmed and continue to pose a threat to both international observes as well as stability inside Ukraine. 

Unfortunately, Russia so far has chosen the path of escalation accompanied by a very sharp media campaign. The level of rhetoric is not very conducive to the general atmosphere in Russian and Ukraine.  I am deeply concerned with the way the Russian leadership is currently shaping its domestic audience. 

We are faced with a situation in which the post-cold war security order in Europe is challenged. The need for real dialogue is now greater than ever before in order to prevent a further deterioration of the situation. A real dialogue with Russia now, requires that we do so from a position of strength.

Norway has condemned Russia’s actions. My Government is determined to follow up if new restrictive measures are being adopted. We call upon Russia to stand down its troops present at the borders of Ukraine and to act on its commitments within the Geneva-agreement.

In the current situation, NATO has shown its relevance as a political, consultative forum, based on common values - values that foster cohesion and solidarity in time of crisis. NATO's quick, coordinated and relevant response to the crisis in Ukraine is possible because we share these common values and principles.

The common response both from the EU, NATO and the US sends a powerful message. We respond from a position of strength because we represent a common vision of a just political order and shared values.

Furthermore, NATO has already taken immediate reassurance measures that demonstrate the credibility of our collective defence capability and deterrence posture. We have deployed capabilities at sea, in the air and on land, enhanced exercises and re-enforced defence plans.

This shows NATO’s resolve and ability to provide reassurance to Allies. As follow-up measures we are considering how NATO can further bolster its deterrence posture, increase its preparedness and readiness and further develop credible operational capabilities.

No one can say with certainty what will be the outcome of the current situation. To me, there is no doubt that the developments in Ukraine are causing serious security challenges.

As we are preparing for the NATO Summit in Wales and also beyond, the question is what are the implications for NATO, the transatlantic relationship and the security of the Euro-Atlantic area?

Let me offer you some thoughts on this.


Implications for NATO and transatlantic relations
First of all, we must reinforce the transatlantic bond. The transatlantic relationship – the crucial partnership between North America and Europe – provides not only security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area, but also contributes to global stability. The need for a transatlantic security partnership, as well as a partnership in the area of economy and trade– based both on common values and common interests – is as great as ever.

We live in a highly volatile world, where threats are increasing in number and complexity. We are faced with numerous, and interconnected threats, such as terrorism and other asymmetric challenges, as well as failed states and cyber-attacks.

We also see a growing risk of symmetric challenges, with emerging and resurgent powers challenging us – a return of geopolitics with potential rivalry among increasingly capable major powers.

The current situation is an important reminder for Europe as well. We should not take the peaceful state of our continent for granted.

These challenges make a strong argument for strengthening the transatlantic partnership.

This partnership as it exists today would not have been possible had it not been institutionalised through NATO.

What makes NATO truly unique is the combination of its integrated military structures, collective capabilities, and its permanent political decision-making mechanisms.

This makes it the only multinational entity which can carry out high-intensity operations on short notice, both for Collective Defence and Crisis Response Operations. This ability must be maintained and developed. This requires serious, sustained, long-term political and financial commitment from Allies.

It requires a US that remains engaged in European security interests and participates fully in the Alliance as a political and military organization. Credible US engagement and leadership is vital.

From our side of the Atlantic it requires a Europe that looks beyond its own borders in order to take co-responsibility for global security in a changing landscape. In NATO parlance, Europe needs to assume more of the burden of providing collective security.

Recognising that many European countries are still burdened by the grip of austerity, we still need to maintain credible defenses.

And I do realise Norway is in a better economic situation than many of our European Allies, and that increased spending on defence is very challenging in today’s economic climate.

We will do our share. We will make use of our relatively favorable economic situation and continue the level of spending on defence. I can however assure you this doesn’t come easily. We also have had to make some tough choices and we continue to make them every day.

We see from today’s security climate that it is more vital than ever to invest in modern capabilities and training and exercises for our forces. We see our see our significant investments in our own defense as a both serving our national needs. But we also see them as contributions to NATO’s ability to execute collective defense and security within Europe and across the Atlantic, as well as out-of-area crisis response operations.

We cannot expect the US to invest in European security when we are not willing to make necessary investments ourselves.

We also need to demonstrate that we stand ready to support the US in addressing its security concerns – as we depend on their support in our own. That is the essence of transatlantic collective security.

“A NATO prepared”

This leads me to my second point, which is that NATO needs to be a capable alliance able to perform the full spectrum of the tasks laid out in the Strategic Concept.

The three core tasks we have agreed on for NATO is:

  1. Collective Defence
  2. Crisis management, meaning the ability to operate in high-intensity conflicts beyond NATO’s border.
  3. Cooperative security, in other words strengthening security partnerships with other nations and actors – leading to increased collective security and stability.

I believe we need a balanced approach – ensuring NATO’s ability to perform all its core tasks. In fact, the three tasks are linked. For example, it is our ability to meet potential threats against our own territories and populations which makes it possible for us to conduct operations beyond our borders.

At the same time, the interoperability we gain from operating together out of area increases our ability to provide collective defence at home.

Furthermore, a significant challenge is to make sure that Allies invest in relevant, deployable high-end capabilities to conduct the task we have agreed on. These will serve both national needs, as well as contribute to NATO’s ability to execute collective defence and out-of-area crisis response operations.

Our concern, however, is that the ability to conduct collective defence activities has received less focus for some time, and we therefore need to make sure that this is given priority in the time to come.

NATO’s most important task is to prevent an attack against Allied nations - to deter and dissuade a potential aggressor from contemplating military action against NATO’s territory and populations. Deterrence, in its many forms, must therefore be at the core of NATO’s political and military efforts.

The credibility of NATO’s ability to conduct collective defence will also be important for public support, as well as for the willingness of many Allies to continue to invest in the Alliance.

In order to achieve this, a number of steps need to be taken.

Firstly, NATO must improve its geographical expertise and situational awareness.  This requires deep knowledge about military forces and activities, as well as more unconventional threats, in its vicinity.

Recent events have shown how NATO is dependent on updated knowledge and situational understanding of the security challenges in our close vicinity. The crisis in Ukraine is not an exclusive example, something illustrated by experiences from Georgia, Libya and Syria.

Secondly, we need a robust command structure that is credible and able to conduct its tasks. The command structure is the glue that binds NATO nations and military forces together in a way that is truly unique. We need to ensure a Regional Focus in the NATO Command Structure (NCS). A well-developed Regional Focus will improve insight into relevant security challenges in different parts of NATO and its periphery.

A more clearly defined geographical Area of Responsibility (AOR) for the two Joint Force Commands would strengthen the Command Structure as a whole. In addition, we should continue work on how to better link the Command Structure to national headquarters.  

Thirdly, Norway would like to see a renewed focus on NATO’s planning for contingencies, taking into account the full spectrum of missions. We believe that there is a need both to review existing NATO plans as well as considering developing new ones.

Planning and preparation is a question of increasing the ability of the Alliance to perform its core missions.

Fourthly, as we wind down in Afghanistan, NATO needs to maintain interoperability between allies and with partners. To achieve this we need to do more and better training and exercises. Training and exercises is a crucial component of NATO’s so-called Connected Forces Initiative, work that is already well under way and showing considerable promise.

We believe that NATO’s training and exercises component will be further enhanced by updating, developing and exercising NATO’s contingency plans. Updated relevant plans will provide the framework required to ensure that training and exercises are conducted as realistically as possible – that is “train as you fight”.

The success of the Connected Forces Initiative rests on the active participation of all Allies. Norway has a long history of hosting allied training and exercises; and we will continue to do so. Last year, international military units collectively spent more than 85 000 days training in Norway, of which more than 28 000 days were spent by British forces.

Norway stands ready to host NATO’s High Visibility Exercise in 2018.  It is also my aim that Norwegian forces shall participate actively in training and exercises outside of Norway. We are also exploring the possibility of co-hosting the exercise with allies.

Fifth, a credible defence posture depends on preparedness and responsiveness. This entails having the right kind of forces available, deployable and sustainable when and where needed.

Investment in flexible capabilities that can provide assurance and situational awareness, such as Air Policing and Airborne Early Warning should be encouraged, as should investment in forces that can deploy quickly and enable rapid reinforcement when and where necessary.

Furthermore, we want to see a NATO Response Force (NRF) with more emphasis on collective defence and ability to provide deterrence and reassurance.  Also, we need to continue to work on enhancing the relevance and usability of our Standing Naval Forces.  Maritime resources will be a vital element of the Alliance’s future deterrence posture.

My final point is that we would like to see NATO’s Political Guidance used as a vehicle for genuine political discussion in the Alliance about its future priorities and direction. Important elements in such a discussion should be finding the right Level of Ambition and focus for NATO post-2014.

In conclusion, as we prepare for the Wales Summit, we need to adapt to changing circumstances, and develop a NATO that responds to present and also future challenges. This entails a change in the mind-set of our organisation – with a premium on preparedness and prevention.

With the Summit agenda in mind, we would suggest preparing a “modern defence compact”, a recommitment to NATOs core-tasks, underlining our commitment to Article 5 and collective defence. A Transatlantic declaration could also be linked to such a package. All in all this would demonstrate an Alliance with a clear purpose of mind – prepared for any future challenge. 

Revitalising Northern European security and defence cooperation

Let me end my remarks by sharing some of my thoughts on the Northern European context.  It is the aim of my government to strengthen our security and defence relationship with our closest allies located around the North Sea.

Already in 2002, Norway launched the so-called North Sea Strategy, which aims to enhance bilateral and multinational security and defence co-operation with the UK, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. These are nations with many shared interests and values, arising from geographical proximity, and with long standing political, economic and military cooperation.

Over the years, we have seen revitalised interest in the northern areas of Europe.  Norway has in recent times reinforced cooperation with several of our northern European allies through formalised frameworks, the most significant being the signing of an Memorandum of Understanding with the UK in 2012. This demonstrates a clear desire to developing and enhancing bilateral cooperation and relations in defence and security matters, including strengthening the long-standing links between our armed forces.

The aim is to develop closer security and defence co-operation, encompassing capability development to achieve more cost-efficient and more available and more useable capabilities.

This will enhance the operational capabilities of all the nations and ensure a higher degree of interoperability, and will respond to national defence requirements as well as benefit NATO, UN and the EU.

I am very pleased to see that momentum is building through the Northern Group – UK-initiated, with potential to deepen bilateral and multilateral relations between neighbours in the North. This is a non-institutional forum that brings together all the Nordic and the Baltic countries, as well as Germany, the Netherlands, Poland and the UK.

The development of such a framework, or cooperation between smaller groups of nations, is fully compliant with NATO thinking and rooted in the continued relevance of NATO and the transatlantic partnership.

For instance, recently Germany initiated the so-called Framework Nations Concept, a concept which has now been developed and endorsed in NATO. The idea is to create capability clusters, led by a framework nation. This has the potential to create effective, coherent capabilities, as well as increased interoperability.

The same rationale – i.e. regional groupings and framework nation approaches – lies behind the Joint Expeditionary Force Concept, initiated by the UK – the so-called JEF. The JEF aims to create effective, coherent capabilities that are relevant to both collective defence and crisis management, and which can be made available to NATO, the EU and other operations. Norway fully supports the JEF-initiative, and we are now looking into potential contributions. 

Concluding remarks

Ladies and gentlemen,
Since I was appointed defence minister I have been stressing the need for a re-investment in the transatlantic relationship. I have cautioned against taking NATO and the US for granted.

I have also cautioned against the idea that NATO has become less relevant because Europe is whole and free.

And I have strived to remind people that real security challenges remain in Europe, and in our neighbourhood.

Today we no longer have to look for empirical evidence. And we no longer deal with hypothetical issues.

Now, more than in years, not to say decades, we have a shared responsibility in developing an Alliance that continues to serve our common interests.

To do this we need to pick up on one of the very fundamental ideas of NATO, namely our ability to maintain a credible collective defence.

This constitutes the very reason why we once decided to become members of this Alliance: To guarantee the Member States’ autonomy and security.

For Norway, our relationship with the UK remains a cornerstone in this regard – as it has throughout history.

Thank you for your attention.