Speech at Nordic Defence Industry Seminar, Sundvolden, May 20th 2014

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide held this speech at Nordic Defence Industry Seminar, Sundvolden, May 20th 2014.

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide held this speech at Nordic Defence Industry Seminar, Sundvolden, May 20th 2014.

*check against delivery*

At the Nordic Defence Industry Seminar 2014 at Sundvolden, Norway.
At the Nordic Defence Industry Seminar 2014 at Sundvolden, Norway (photo: MoD).

Ladies and gentlemen, dear friends and colleagues

It is a great pleasure for me to be invited to address this distinguished audience tonight.

Speaking before the food is served is always a risky affair. How can words compete with the very basic needs of human nature? You kind of know what each and every one has on their mind and you are the only one stopping them from having it. 

With this in mind, I can promise you that my remarks will go straight to the point, they will be very timely and accurate, and of course short.

I am very grateful for the venue you have chosen. Last fall I spend some unforgettable days in this hotel when the political platform of my government was being finalized.  

I recall some obstacles and also the need for compromises. In fact I also remember postponed dinners due to protracted discussions.

Most of all though I remember the strong will to build consensus and common ground. It was two parties sharing a strong desire to make political change. 

I am not revealing any secrets from our internal discussions when I say that Nordic defence and security cooperation is a key deliverable for this government.

Moreover our aim is to intensify this cooperation, especially in terms of practical military strength. This is our starting point.

As chair of NORDEFCO we have broken this into several objectives.  I am not going to go through them one by one. I would however briefly like to mention one overarching goal.

That is the need for improved cost-efficiency and increased operational effect. Among other things this entails developing a close dialogue between NORDEFCO and Nordic defence industry.

We need such a strong relationship in order to ensure timely deliveries of materiel to the armed forces and maintain a competitive defence industrial base.

I strongly believe this conference will benefit this cause. The overall purpose of this conference is to promote network building, exchange of information and collaboration between the defence industries of the Nordic countries as well as between defence industries and governments.

Having said this, I also value the sense of self-assessment reflected in the title of this conference. Since I took office I have spoken at length about the need for more open and candid discussions in our domestic debate on defence policy.

Shedding more light on those issues we know are problematic, I think gives greater credibility when we talk about all those elements that are succeeding.

This simple but sometimes difficult logic, especially for us politicians, I believe will foster greater realism and fewer disappointments down the road.  It will help us in setting realistic goals and determine the potential in our joint efforts.  

Furthermore, I think posing the question “NORDEFCO - Success or failure?” illustrates something which is rather unique in international relations.

It shows the maturity in our relationship. It reflects the longstanding cooperation within the field of security and defence policy. And it mirrors a group of countries with a shared political outlook.

As this is the very beginning of conference I will avoid pre-empting any conclusions. What I would like to do however, is to lay out a few key features that determine the scope of Nordic defence co-operation. 

First of all I think any multilateral formation which includes sovereign nations automatically entails some limitations. The important thing is, however, how we work to overcome them.  

Factors like differences in security policy, decision making procedures, national laws and regulations and defence industry policies represent challenges which affect and might limit Nordic cooperation. This is neither a secret nor a surprise to you.

We have differences among our nations, but equally important, we have over the years learned to work with them or around them in a constructive manner.

We cannot and will not achieve everything together. Nordic Defence Cooperation is a supplement to our existing national and international commitments. It is pragmatic and flexible. This is our strength. It is not there to solve all our needs, but it serves a very specific and valuable purpose nonetheless.

Nordic pragmatism and our result-oriented approach, present us with great opportunities. I think one important feature defining our cooperation is that we spend less time on long and tireless negotiation, and much more on actual projects generated between our Armed Forces.

We know that key to our success is the bottom-up initiatives based on practical needs.

Cross Border Training with fighter aircrafts is a sparkling example of an initiative that has been developed from the branches themselves, based on their needs for cooperation.

On Sunday I returned from Mazar-e Sharif in Afghanistan. I met with members of The Nordic-Baltic Transition Support Unit which spoke warmly of this unit which recently was terminated.

Unquestionably the ISAF-operation which now is coming to an end has been instrumental in further developing our co-operation within a range of areas.  As for Finland and Sweden it has also greatly improved their ability to co-operate in a NATO-led operation. 

The flexibility of Nordic framework allows us to make effective force contributions. This go way back and remain so today. The removal of chemical agents from Syria, air transport to South-Sudan and force contributions to Mali take place in this vein. 

The Nordic countries’ ability to operate together requires not only experience from the field. It requires that we increasingly do our homework together, including through joint training, joint education, joint procurement and joint maintenance.

But then again, the litmus test should always be improved operational effectiveness at a better price. The desired end result must be greater effect – either operational: More bang for the same bucks, or economic: more bucks with which to bang.

Today, this recipe encompasses endeavours which Europe as a whole is struggling with. Multinational co-operation is increasingly necessary to ensure access to critical capabilities for European states.

In this sense NORDEFCO is part of a trend towards more regional defence cooperation in Europe. And, furthermore, it serves as role model for the extended Northern Group and also for other regions. 

So how does defence industry fit into this? Well, you know the situation very well. The significant reduction in defence spending among allies and partners, particularly in Europe, is already leading to structural cuts and reduced investments in upgrades or new systems.

Quite predictably, developments have led to a more demanding market, in which nations increasingly favour their own industry. It appears that two trends are colliding; on the one hand, the need for cheaper and more accessible materiel. On the other hand, we see signs of increased protectionism and a push to secure a national defence industrial base sufficient to maintain required security of supply.

We are also witnessing technological developments leading to steady cost increase for modern defence systems. This has made the industry increasingly pool and share their resources. A restructuring of the industry across national borders is also taking place.

The Nordic industry is no exception. You have seized this as an opportunity to develop the competitiveness of the Nordic defence industry in the Nordic home market as well as globally, the Joint Nordic Defence Industry Cooperation Group (JNDICG) being a case in point.

This group allow for a common Nordic industry interface towards the Nordic governments. Equally all NORDEFCO levels are entitled to provide industry with information relevant to national plans and strategies at an early stage.

We are currently in a situation calling for new ways to secure our defence industry. But we are also in a situation calling for co-operation. In this demanding environment, an important task will be to ensure a “level playing field” in the defence market.

Fair competition and best value are key factors in this context. As we all know, competition is a prerequisite for technology development – as much as it is a key driver in keeping costs down.  

Close governmental cooperation goes hand in hand with closer industrial co-operation. As Norway this year is chairing the Nordic Defence Cooperation, we wish to further improve the efficiency and output of the cooperation. We will do this while keeping with the flexibility and pragmatism as important characteristics.

I am confident that this conference is a step in that direction, and that it will continue in this well-known Nordic spirit.

Thank you for your attention.