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Speech at DNAK meeting, Nordic and Central European Perspectives

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide held this speech March 20, 2014 at the Norwegian Atlantic Committee meeting, marking 15 years of NATO membership for Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary. NATO 1999-2014 and beyond: Nordic and Central European Perspectives “NATO’s role after Afghanistan – adaptations to new challenges”

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide held this speech March 20, 2014 at
the Norwegian Atlantic Committee meeting, marking 15 years of NATO membership for Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary.

NATO 1999-2014 and beyond: Nordic and Central European Perspectives “NATO’s role after Afghanistan – adaptations to new challenges”

NATO 1999-2014 and beyond: Nordic and Central European Perspectives, DNAK, 20. March

*check against delivery*


Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues and friends,

It is a great privilege for me to address you on this very special occasion. 15 years ago a very wise and visionary decision was made.

With the accession of three former Warsaw pact countries, a giant leap was made in developing and sustaining a united, peaceful and prosperous Europe. 

The brave decision of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, should not be underestimated. Not only did you become a model for other countries aspiring to NATO membership.

You also send a very strong message that nations should be free to choose their own future. 

In the words of Vaclav Havel when signing the accession protocol in 1999: ”The enlargement of the Alliance (…) signifies the real and definitive end of the imposed division of Europe and the world, the real and definitive fall of the Iron Curtain”.  

Integration of former adversaries to NATO is unquestionably one of the success-stories of the Alliance.  

It is a timely reminder of transforming a post-cold war Europe by political means, and not by the use of force.

It is a powerful demonstration of how stability, democracy, and prosperity can be widened through integration into the Euro Atlantic community.

And it also reminds us that membership does not come for free. On the contrary, it requires relentless hard work in order to complete the political and military reform program. You were the first to walk this path.

Your choice was NATO because you believed that your security was best ensured in close cooperation with and mutual obligation to others.

NATO, 16 allies at that time, chose to accept you as new members because this would strengthen our security. It would strengthen the very idea of a whole and united Europe.

Together we decided to base our co-operation on certain fundamental ideas, principles and values - liberal democracy, the rule of law and individual freedom.

It is precisely these common values put forward by the Washington Treaty in 1949 that today unite 28 Allied nations.

It is these values that continue to shape our common outlook and guide our efforts.  

And it is exactly these values we share with a range of partners in promoting peace and stability in Afghanistan and elsewhere NATO is involved.

Your 15 years as NATO-members are unprecedented. There is no comparable period in NATO's 65 years long history.

First as partners, then as allies you took on challenging tasks at a time when not integration, but rather disintegration surfaced in the Western Balkans.   

As committed members you supported the decision to invoke Article 5 for the first time in NATO’s history following the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

And as trustworthy allies you have shouldered great responsibility in several high intensity operations.

Sending your men and women to engage in battle is perhaps the most crucial test.

It is an act of Allied solidarity.

Today we therefore pay tribute to all those having made the ultimate sacrifice in Allied operations.

We have a shared past and a shared future. We have to define it, frame it, and build it - together. We have a shared responsibility in developing an Alliance that continues to serve our common interests.     

The fundamental challenge is to ensure a capable and credible Alliance for the 21st century. This holds true at any given time. It is however worth reflecting upon how the views on NATO have evolved, sometimes in a cyclical manner.

My government has stressed the need for a re-investment in the transatlantic relationship. I have spoken about this since assuming office in October, including during my last visit to DC in January. 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 that our continent has entered a post-conflict era.

I have strived to remind people that it remains real security concerns in Europe, and in our neighbourhood. I have argued that we need a capable, cohesive alliance that can perform the full spectrum of NATO’s tasks, including collective defence, collective security, deterrence and assurance.

This morning I will predominantly be looking in to the future of NATO. However at this very juncture, the situation currently unfolding in Ukraine is almost a given point of entry. 

And for those of you who participated yesterday in a different seminar on NATO’s future, and I can at least see some faces in the audiences, I beg your indulgence for repeating my remarks. But I do think these remarks are still valid even today.

A situation of deep unrest

As NATO draws down from its mission in Afghanistan and enters a new chapter in its history, we find ourselves challenged by a deteriorating security situation at the gates of Europe. 

Developments in Ukraine have been high on the international agenda throughout the winter. However, the game changed fundamentally with Russia’s unacceptable actions in the Crimea.

Today we face a situation where one nation is not only violating international law. It is also challenging the post-cold war security order in Europe by preventing a nation from choosing her own future. And it is using military power to achieve this.

In the current situation, NATO has shown its relevance as a political, consultative forum. Some might charge that NATO is too cumbersome and slow to act. In my view, though, we now see the value of an alliance that is based on common values - values that foster cohesion and solidarity in time of crisis.

Convening a meeting in NATO at basis of Article 4 of the Washington Treaty is in itself sending a very powerful message. The article is invoked when one or several Allies consider their territorial integrity, political independence or security threatened. And indeed: The Russian military posture close to several Allies raises legitimate concern. 

A quick, coordinated and relevant response such as this is possible because we share common values and principles. In a dynamic and increasingly unpredictable security environment, we need something solid to hold on to.

The political role that NATO plays is of great value to Norway. We are fully part of NATO’s collective approach. We strongly defend the right of every nation to decide its own future.

A viable long-term solution to the current crisis can only be found through political and diplomatic tools. Measures taken by the UN, EU and the OSCE are important and should be supported by all involved, including Russia and Ukraine. We call upon Russia to withdraw its Armed Forces which continue to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  

I know there are discussions on a stronger role of NATO, a military role. If threats were to emerge towards NATO allies, we could easily find ourselves in an article 5 situation.   

No one can say with certainty what will be the outcome of the current impasse. To me, there is no doubt that the developments in Ukraine are causing serious concern for the security and stability of the Euro-Atlantic area.

The question is what does it mean for NATO, and for the member states?

Implications for NATO
First of all, it reminds us of the significance of the transatlantic bonds. European integration enshrined within solid transatlantic bonds, is the formula that has allowed Europe to prosper and grow.

We have a shared responsibility in passing this successful formula to the next generation in equally good condition. As NATO moves forward, we need to maintain and strengthen the political and value-based dimension of the Alliance.

This requires hard work and that we vigorously defend the core values of NATO.

It requires a NATO that continues nourishing common solutions to common challenges.

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

From our sides 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 common security.

In times like these our value-based transatlantic partnership is a counterbalance to a world that sometimes can seem adrift. It is these very values and principles that strengthen our open societies and sustain the global order.

But we cannot take these values for granted. Emerging and resurgent powers are challenging these values. The combined thrust of the relative decline of the West and the return of geopolitics is actually a strong argument for strengthening the transatlantic partnership based on common values, norms and principles.

Secondly, we have a clearer understanding now of what the new security landscape looks like. And as mentioned, in this landscape the role of geopolitics should not be discounted. 

Geopolitics as a term may incorporate many different features. In some situations we avoid using it, as it may reveal some difficult truths we hoped had vanished from our security agenda, at least in our part of the world. On other hand, it would be irresponsible not addressing issues that may have a direct impact on our security.

Strong economies and rising defence expenditures, linked with unresolved territorial disputes are dangerous if left unattended. Such combination may breed nationalism and unilateralism at the expense of a collective approach.

If conflict was to emerge as a result, for example in East Asia, this would challenge global peace and security. It will affect Norway, Europe and NATO. That is why Asia/Pacific will continue to be centrepiece of our emerging security environment, and as such is key in understanding the rebalancing efforts of the US.    

Again the classic forces latent in geography, history and culture have re-emerged. In this context Europe is no exception. We can never take the current peaceful state of our continent for granted.

Therefore we need an alliance that can address these challenges in a coherent and credible way.

This leads me to my third point, which is that NATO needs to be a capable alliance that can perform the whole spectrum of the tasks that are laid out in the Strategic Concept from 2010.

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

  1. Collective Defence
  2. Crisis management. That is, 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.

Our concern is that we have not focused enough on our ability to do the collective defence and deterrence mission. NATO’s most important task is to prevent an attack against Allied nations.

It is to deter and dissuade a potential aggressor from contemplating any military action against NATO’s territory and populations. Our deterrence posture is closely linked with the credibility of our collective defence.

In order to achieve this, a number of steps need to be taken. These steps are not aimed at any particular threat, but are measures that NATO generically needs to take in order to fulfill its missions.

Allow me to share with you more in detail what these steps may contain.

Revisiting the Core Area Initiative

Firstly, NATO must continue to follow closely developments in its own neighbourhood.  This is our policy line at any given moment, but has been more outspoken in recent years.

Norway has over the past six years made the argument that NATO must be more than an organization that does crisis management in far-away places.  Don’t get me wrong. NATO’s operations at strategic distance are important for our common security. We live in a world in which geographical distance does not automatically constitute security. Threats emerging far away may affect us profoundly.

My fear is rather that NATO too single minded has focused on these tasks. As a result we have not emphasized key knowledge, capabilities and important experience on planning for and conducting operations on both Allied territory and its periphery.

For two decades, NATO has to a large degree focused on international crisis management operations. Returning from over a decade of operations in Afghanistan, we face a different world with a more complex security situation than when the operation in Afghanistan started.

Through the Core Area Initiative we have advocated the need for a regional focus in NATO’s Command Structure. We have argued that NATO must be able to address emerging security challenges closer to home.

This holds true for all areas of NATO territory and immediate surroundings. The Black Sea, Northern Africa, the Baltic Sea Area and the High North present different challenges. They have in common that NATO has an important role to play which needs to be reflected in daily business.

This implies a NATO with increased situational awareness and knowledge about military forces and activities, as well as more unconventional threats, in its vicinity. Linking relevant national structures to NATO’s Command Structure will contribute to this objective.

Secondly, we need to take a close look at the NATO command structure. The command structure is the glue that binds NATO nations and military forces together in a way that is truly unique.

I cannot think of any other example in history where militaries from various nations have been linked in a standing military cooperation in this way. In addition, the command structure forms the backbone of our collective defence.  We need a robust command structure that is credible, and able to conduct its tasks.

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 consider future needs.

This is not because we fear imminent military conflict. Rather, 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, and maintain a credible force posture, we need to do more and better training and exercises.

The Connected Forces Initiative (CFI) will help maintain NATO’s readiness and combat effectiveness through expanded education and training, increased exercises and better use of technology.

Exercises are not only imperative for ensuring interoperability; it is also a vital element in showing alliance cohesion and will – thus contributing to the Alliance’s deterrence and reassurance.

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.

Currently, 16 allies and partners, almost 16000 troops, are packing their bags, tents and equipment. They have been participating in the Norwegian led bi-annual winter exercise Cold Response. In the north they are exercising high intensity operations in winter conditions.

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.

My fifth and 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.

Concluding remarks
Ladies and gentlemen,

We find ourselves in challenging times. Stability and order on our own continent has been shaken. I will not at this stage enter in to a discussion on whether it is history or the historians themselves that go in circles. I rather leave that to others.

I believe mankind can learn from its mistakes and that this current crisis can be prevented from escalating into armed conflict.

Regardless, one valid conclusion is that Europe is not solved once and for all.

Ukraine has focussed our minds. It is now our obligation to make sure NATO makes the right choices, and that we make the right choices to maintain and develop the Alliance.

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

Thank you for your attention.