“The security situation in Europe and the future of NATO – a Norwegian perspective” - YATA – NORSEC conference

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide held the speech “The security situation in Europe and the future of NATO – a Norwegian perspective” during the YATA – NORSEC conference, “Security Perspectives: Colliding and Corresponding interests”, April 25th in Oslo.

Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide held the speech “The security situation in Europe and the future of NATO – a Norwegian perspective” during the YATA – NORSEC conference, “Security Perspectives: Colliding and Corresponding interests”, April 25th in Oslo.

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Speech at YATA – NORSEC conference
Speech at YATA – NORSEC conference (photo: Julie Sandness).


Youth Atlantic Treaty Association and NORSEC delegates, dear cadets,  

Thank you for this opportunity to address such a young and dynamic audience. First of all I like to congratulate you with this excellent initiative. It is a great setting for discussions and reflections across professions, nationalities and opinions.

I am a true YATA fan. I don’t say this to be polite with my political adviser Audun Halvorsen who from 2003-06 was greatly involved in YATA and also served as Norwegian vice president.  In fact I believe in our Ministry, we have about a dozen with a YATA background, and I can say to you that they all very valuable colleagues.

I do also say this because YATA to me embodies a genuine transatlantic community. It is an organization that promotes dialogue and exchange of views on issues of common concern, and I have to say we have some of them at the moment.

You participate actively also in the public debate. Recently our Norwegian YATA leader Ragnhild Holmås published a very interesting article on “the new world disorder”, which reached a number of readers.

Through this YATA contributes in raising greater awareness of security and defence matters. Even more importantly, you ensure that a new generation of opinions leaders, politicians and decision makers across the Atlantic continue to see the relevance of a strong transatlantic Alliance.

And you are also in the position where you reach young people within the transatlantic community and beyond. In traditional ways, and equally in what I would phrase less traditional ways. For instance, YATA Norway has invited its members to post a picture on Facebook that answers the question “What is foreign policy?”

The winner will be richly rewarded and he or she will be participating in the upcoming Danish Atlantic Youth Seminar.

I am unfortunately not eligible to participate in this competition. This of course has nothing to do with the age limit. It is simply because I am one of the few dinosaurs left on mother earth that does not have a Facebook account. 

In any case, I believe the title of this conference, is a very timely one. “Security Perspectives: Colliding and Corresponding interests”, mirrors a world which is rapidly changing. The power and influence of countries outside Europe and North America is increasing.

And regrettably, we are confronted with a completely new security situation in Europe, and what might result in a protracted period of international standoff.

One conclusion seems valid. Today there is there is no longer a need to talk hypothetically and convincingly on why we should pay interest in security and defence policy issues. We have an ongoing crisis internationally.

My perspective this morning will be a European and transatlantic one.  Firstly I like to offer a brief account of the current situation in Ukraine. Secondly, I would like to touch upon the wider implications for NATO towards the Summit in Wales this fall.

A situation of deep unrest

For all those puzzling with European history, these are indeed intriguing and most challenging times. You might almost get the impression that history haunts Europe, making an unexpected U-turn and take us back to a condition we hoped were left at the dustbin of history. 

The situation in Ukraine has undoubtedly focussed our minds. So has the rhetoric of the Russian political leadership.

“I’d like that translated, if I may”, exclaimed British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s when Nikita Khrushchev started yelling and banging his shoe on the desk in protest at something in Macmillan's speech in the United Nations General Assembly

Our world is also becoming more blurry and incomprehensible. So is the rhetoric of president Putin. Translation, perhaps, in the wider sense of the word, seems to be in greater demand.

Putin has the habit of talking tough. What is perhaps more disturbing is his nostalgia towards certain less favorable features of our past. His statements made in a number of well-orchestrated press conferences, has not been very helpful in reducing the tension.  

Furthermore, his deliberations during a four-hour televised appearance this Easter holiday revealed a choice of words and a reading of history which again calls for translation.

References to the Russian people as superior to others, is in my view nourishing ideas and ideologies which never have brought Europe any good. It is cultivating rather than diminishing differences.  In the same vein is his notion of a distinct and powerful Russian ethnic code. It is encouraging a kind of exceptionalism which could easily breed nationalism.

Today we face a situation where Russia 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.

But pay attention to the fact that using military power doesn’t always entail moving the battle tanks in. It can be equally effective positioning, in this case of 40 000 troops at the borders of Ukraine.  

Russia appears to be reinventing a sphere of influence by seizing a part of Ukraine, maintaining large numbers of forces on its borders, and demanding as, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has stated, that “Ukraine cannot be part of any bloc”. 

And no one seems to be talking anymore about the Crimea.

In the current situation, NATO has taken steps to increase its situational awareness. Furthermore, NATO has taken 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.

And equally important, NATO has from the very beginning shown its relevance as a political, consultative forum in a time of crisis.

This was also very clear when I met with my German colleague Ursula Von der Leyen in Berlin earlier this week. We much share the same outlook and the importance of a unified line in this question. In her view the West must use its democratic and economic strength in order to find a solution to this crisis.

I agree. The common response both from the EU, NATO and the US is sending a very powerful message. We come from a position of strength because we represent a common vision of a just political order and shared values.

As for NATO I can’t think of any other group of nations that is equally ready, willing and able to uphold these values when they are under threat.

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, as you know, 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 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, the EU, the US and the OSCE are important and should be supported by all involved, including Russia and Ukraine.

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. Conditions for cooperation with Russia have changed fundamentally. This will also have consequences for the NATO-Russia Council.

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.

But keep in mind that our strength as a political alliance rests on our ability to act as a credible military 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.

We need to see Europe take responsibility for our own security. I was in the US in the beginning of January. I spoke with Congress representatives from both side of the aisle. They conveyed the very same message: “Why should we invest in European security when Europeans are not interested in investing in their own security”. I think this is sending a very strong signal across the Atlantic.  

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 absolutely no exception. We can never take the current peaceful state of our continent for granted. The current events show that Europe is not fixed once and for all.

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.

My 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 territory.  

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 must 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 a bit 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 on this. 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. Head of the Security policy department, Mr Henning Vaglum, will elaborate on this topic later this morning.

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 to 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 number of 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.

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.  And to go back to what I said earlier on the Asia/Pacific, Norway will participate with one frigate in the world’s largest naval exercise, RIMPAC, this summer.

Concluding remarks
Since I took office last October 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 becomes less relevant because Europe is whole and free.

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

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

Stability and order on our own continent has been shaken. What is happening right now, as we speak, is extremely worrying for all parties. It will of course be a vital element in our discussions leading up to the NATO Summit in September.

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.

I wish you all a very successful conference. Thank you for your attention.