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Defending the security architecture in Europe

Utenriksminister Ine Eriksen Søreides innledning på Leangkollen-konferansen 4. februar.

Ladies and gentlemen,
excellencies,
dear friends,
Rose, Kate, Anne-Grete,

International law is our first line of defence.

But how effective would it be without the institutions and practices that make up our security architecture? Institutions such as Nato, the EU, the OSCE and the Council of Europe?

Last year we commemorated the end of World War I. A war of immense and unspeakable human suffering.

Interestingly though, the period before the war was a rich era in European history. An era that even bears some resemblance to our world today.

A period when, at least for a long time, economic liberalism thrived.

A period of growth and innovation.

A period of technological breakthroughs that connected the world in new ways.

A period of advances in international law.

And, last but not least, a period when alliances were formed.

But the security architecture of 1914 was also mired with weaknesses and ambiguities that amplified distrust, fueled escalation and led to war.

The experiences from this era and the interwar period provide a useful vantage point for our topic here today.

They remind us how subtle the differences between success and disaster can be. And how finely tuned our security architecture must be in order to be both effective and sustainable.

The system we have built in Europe since 1945 is unique in that sense. A system built on the ruins of two devastiting world wars.

It has certainly ensured security and stability. But, in contrast to other ways of organising international relations, it has also produced prosperity, liberty and democracy. And it has given small states a say in international affairs that previously they had rarely had in European history.

So when our security architecture is under pressure, much more is at stake than security and stability alone.

And when we address these challenges, the devil is in the details. Moral arguments are not enough. We have to come up with concrete solutions, both abroad and at home.

***

Transatlantic relations are at the heart of this year’s conference.

A strong transatlantic bond is essential to our security architecture. It is one of the main factors that separates our current order from previous failures.

It is true that the US was also engaged in Europe before 1945, but on a temporary basis, in order to deal with crises. The long-term effort that started in 1945 and endures to this day has been crucial. In making Europe pull in the same direction. In ensuring the participation of other great powers. And in creating a level playing field.

Another critical factor, which is closely linked to US leadership, has been our ability to adapt. Historically, changes in the European security architecture have followed in the wake of war.

The current architecture, however, has to a great extent evolved in peacetime, in response to specific challenges that arose in the 20th century. Such as the risk of Soviet aggression, of nuclear attacks and proliferation, and of uncontrolled rearmament, or the risks posed by new technologies, by misunderstandings, as well as emerging threats, such as terrorism.

Last but not least, the architecture has also evolved as a result of positive aspirations: our aspirations to build trust and confidence, to reconcile countries, to manage and prevent conflicts.

And to build a democratic Europe, whole, free and at peace, as the late President Bush once put it.

This would not have been possible without a visionary generation of Europeans, including the likes of Schumann, Monnet and Adenauer, who saw the potential of European integration as a means of building peace in Europe.

The result is an architecture that strikes a delicate balance between different and sometimes opposing concerns.

Between defence and deterrence on the one hand, and confidence building on the other.

Between idealism and realism.

Between a Europe of nations and a Europe of great powers.

Between institutional approaches and bilateral solutions.

***

So what are the main challenges to the security architecture in Europe?

I see at least five challenges that distinguish the current era from previous periods:

First, uncertainty about future US leadership in Europe and great power participation.

On some scores, the record is very positive. The US has strengthened its presence in Europe, spearheaded important reforms in Nato, and mobilised Allies to spend more on defence.

We are seeing a US that is committed to the full spectrum of Allied missions and operations. A US that participated in the Trident Juncture exercise here in Norway last year with more personnel and equipment than it has done for years. I see, and experience, a remarkable continuity in the pratical security policy, despite the impression we get from Twitter.

However, we are also seeing a US that questions international cooperation on a more fundamental level. A US that has pulled out of certain international institutions and agreements. That occasionally questions the value of key institutions. And that increasingly treats international relations, and at times even strategic matters, in transactional terms.

Such developments are a source of concern.

On a theoretical level, one can entertain ideas of other ways of organising European security, including visions of strategic autonomy, a European army or a Nordic defence union for that matter. Such ideas have been around since the 1950s.

The fact of the matter is that no country or arrangement can replace the US in Europe. US military power is unparalleled. In addition, no other country has the same political determination and power to make countries rally around common values and pull in the same direction.

The US fostered the European security architecture. And, for better or worse, it remains vital in upholding it.

But we also need to keep other great powers engaged, including Russia.

Russia’s violations of international law and the shrinking democratic space inside Russia are serious reasons for concern.

Short-term gains from pulling out of structured international cooperation have always been a temptation for great powers. In the long term, however, a Europe without a strong Nato, OSCE and Council of Europe is unlikely to be a good place for anyone.

Small countries like Norway would see our security and role in the world diminished.

For the US, it could mean having to deal with new crises in Europe.

For Russia, it could mean having to deal with an arms race that it is unable to keep up with.

Indeed, the main lesson from two world wars and the interwar period is that we need strong institutions, and that they will only be strong if we manage to keep the great powers onboard.

The League of Nations did not fail because of insufficient regulation or faltering ideals. It failed primarily because of a lack of great power commitment. If great powers are not onboard, our efforts will at best be ineffective, at worst counterproductive.

***

My second concern is the scale and extent of challenges to the security architecture.

Our architecture has always evolved in response to the security climate. Even in difficult periods, we have been able to move forward at least in some areas.

Today, though, we seem to have challenges in several areas at the same time:

In terms of international law, with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ongoing war in Ukraine.

And in terms of basic principles, with Russia’s emphasis on the old-fashioned concept of spheres of influence. A concept reminiscent of the security architectures of the 19th century. Perhaps stable under certain conditions, but in most cases at the expense of liberty, prosperity and sovereignty.

Furthermore, we barely have a functioning conventional arms regime.

The INF Treaty is failing due to repeated violations by Russia.

The future of New Start seems uncertain

The Vienna Document is being undermined by creative ways of staging and counting exercises

And I could go on.

Nato is materially stronger than before. But its internal cohesion is under pressure. The issue of burden sharing is one of several challenges that could drive us further apart if we do not resolve them in time.

***

My third concern is the pace of technological changes.

The erosion of our security architecture is happening in a period that some has been labeled the ‘fourth industrial revolution’.

A time of tremendous advances in cyber capabilities, artificial intelligence, missile technology and autonomous weapons. These developments may lead to changes in power distribution, and they are already affecting the way many countries think about defence and deterrence.

Our security architecture has always been able to respond to such challenges. Today, however, we are caught up in an effort to save existing structures and that leaves us little room for foresight or for addressing new strategic challenges.

***

My fourth concern is growing fragmentation.

In recent years, we have seen an impressive development of defence cooperation in smaller groups. The combination of financial constraints and growing security needs have drawn us all together in new ways.

In many ways,, this is a positive development. Norway supports it, takes part in several initiatives. Not only does it save money. It creates a solidarity that does not just rely on treaty obligations or common values. And it creates a level of integration of military value chains that make collective defence unavoidable, in the event of an attack.

However, this also depends on a strong Alliance. Under a more fragmented security order, interdependence can produce very different results. In fact, conflicts can escalate in new and unpredictable ways. In 1914, complex military and political affiliations helped to set Europe ablaze, although the initial spark arose in a small country on the outskirts of Europe.

***

My fifth concern, is the growing pressure on democracy itself.

The success of our Alliance has been its ability to provide not only peace and stability, but also liberty, prosperity and democracy.

All these factors are interlinked and mutually sustaining.

Freedom in Europe would not have survived the 1950s and 1960s without the protection of the US.

The EU could not have developed without Nato.

Nato would not have flourished without the prosperity brought about by European integration.

And our democratic aspirations would not have been as successful as they have been without institutions such as the Council of Europe.

Today, the very type of cooperation that brought forth these institutions is under pressure, not only in flawed democracies, but also in certain Nato and EU member states.

***

So how can we preserve the security architecture in the face of such immense challenges?

I will make three suggestions for the way forward.

First, we need to keep the great powers in, and above all the US.

The US is the best bulwark against fragmentation and multi-polarity in Europe. And it remains the sole guarantor of a level Russian-European playing field.

Keeping all member states in requires something I discussed at length last year, namely Allied patience.

We may not agree on all issues, but we have to work together and mobilise the same sort of pragmatism that enabled the Alliance to navigate through difficult waters in the past.

Moral indignation dominates much of the public discourse between Europe and the US these days. Focusing on concrete results is often a more constructive path forward.

A strong and stable Europe is also very much in the interests of the US.

Europe is the largest export market for the US.

A stable, friendly Europe allows the US to engage more in other regions, such as the Asia-Pacific region.

A stable Europe has institutions and agreements that stand in the way of an arms race that would be vastly more expensive in the current climate of technological change than in previous periods.

Avoiding an arms race is not just in the US’s interest. It is also in Russia’s interest. The economic burden of the Cold War arms race was one of the factors that brought down the Soviet Union.

Indeed, military spending has a bearing on other public services: on pensions, social security, infrastructure and development. Last year’s pension reform in Russia is a stark reminder of how sensitive these issues are – also with the Russian public.

Second, we have to meet these challenges with reforms and with engagement.

This has always been part of our answer. We do not get rid of architecture. We keep it. And we reform it.

Our institutions are only as strong as we make them.

That is why reform will be high on our agenda if we are elected to a non-permanent seat on the Security Council, and that is also why the Government is preparing a white paper on reforming and upholding multilateral cooperation.

Norway has often been at the forefront of efforts to reform Nato. From the 1960s, when we made the case for strengthening Nato’s civilian profile, and up to recent years when we have called for reform of the command structure, to better deal with challenges in Nato’s core areas. The reforms implemented since Wales, including the latest establishment of a maritime and logistics command, are important steps in ensuring that Nato remains fit for purpose and has in part been initiatied and driven by Norway.

But the single most important deliverable to keep the US engaged in the short term is burden sharing.

Burden sharing is not a minor challenge. Meeting the targets will take time. But Allied patience has to be a two-way street in this area as well.

While we have not reached our objectives yet, years of cuts have been turned into substantial growth. Today all Nato members are beefing up their budgets. Indeed, between 2015 and 2017 the combined increases in Allied spending amounted to almost the size of the whole military budget of Russia.

Norway has increased its defence budget by 30 % in real terms since 2013. We are well above the 20% investment pledge – currently at about 27 % and increasing.

With the next Long-term Defence Plan we aim to move further towards the 2 % goal.

In the face of pressure against Nato, we are not abandoning ship by nationalising our capabilities. We are investing even more in capabilities that will strengthen the Alliance. That is high-end strategic capabilities that are deployable and interoperable - uch as submarines, F-35 fighter jets, P-8 maritime patrol aircrafts, and intelligence capabilities – to name but a few.

We are following the same approach in other areas.

In a challenging time for Europe, we are continuing to meet our political and financial obligations in the OSCE and the Council of Europe. Both these organisations are severely challenged by the current political developments.

Norway’s financial contributions to the OSCE area and the OSCE institutions have increased significantly over the last couple of years with the aim of strengthening the OSCE’s impact in terms of conflict prevention, as well as in terms of capacity-building and democratisation in the East.

***

Third, we have to ‘bilateralise’ wisely.

Cooperation in groups of two or more countries can strengthen the security architecture in Europe. But it can also weaken it. A complex web of formats, like the one we have in Europe today, is only viable if it builds on strong transatlantic bonds.

At the beginning of my presentation, I said that if you leave the US out of the European equation, you are left with a Europe without an adequate collective defence.

Likewise, if you leave Nato out of the equation, you are left with a fragmented Europe.

In a time of scarce resources, transatlantic frictions and the emergence of new defence initiatives, we should not underestimate the risk of fragmentation.

We have to make sure that whatever we do in other settings, be it in Nordefco, in Pesco projects, in the EDF or in the European Intervention Initiative, does not undermine, but strengthens Nato. Clear roles and clarity about where our forces and capabilities are committed are critical. Duplication and uncertainty is not the way forward.

Norway will continue to engage in European cooperation. We intend to take part in the European Intervention Initiative. We are also assessing whether and how Norway can take part in new EU initiatives, such as the European Defence Fund and Pesco. We are doing so because we believe it can reinforce the existing European security architecture, and will not undermine it.

We do not believe in a new security architecture. We believe in a reformed one.

***

Finally, in exactly 60 days, on 4 April, I will be in Washington DC.

Together with the foreign ministers from all the other Nato countries, we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the organisation.

And in 55 days, the UK is scheduled to leave the EU…

In 1949, the founding members of Nato promised not only to defend each other, but also to defend the values we share.

Our Alliance has stood the test of time, because we have been able to adapt to new challenges.

Our Alliance has stood the test of time, because each member has built societies that value and uphold the solidarity and shared responsibility that the Alliance was founded on.

And our Alliance has stood the test of time, because the bonds that bind us together are strong.

We have seen challenging times before – and we have overcome those challenges.

And, I’m sure that we will overcome our current challenges, as well.

Thank you.

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