Innlegg på Army Summit 2020

Utenriksminister Ine Eriksen Søreides innlegg på “Army Summit 2020 – Land Power past the Pandemic”, under bolken “Resilience and uncertainty” i regi av Den norske atlanterhavskomite.

Generals, admirals, distinguished listeners and viewers.
Dear friends,

As Chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense committee and then as Defense Minister, the Army Summit was one of the absolute highlights of my calendar every year, so I am delighted to be invited back as Foreign Minister. I have been listening in on parts of the program, including the engaged and insightful speech by my good friend and former colleague as Defense Minister, Jim Mattis, on Monday.


The Covid-19 pandemic has caused disruption on a global scale – to health systems, to our economies, our daily lives and our short-term plans for everything from travels to political processes, and conferences such as this. The boxer Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody has a plan ‘till they get punched in the mouth.”  These days, it is maybe more relevant to say “everybody has a plan ‘till they get a sore throat”…

But this year’s Army Summit invites us not to contemplate the phase before the punch, but to look past it. Or in today’s terms: To look “past the pandemic”.

And I think we are right to do so. Because it remains to be seen what the long term effects of Covid-19 will be geopolitically. It is not a given that the world of tomorrow will look drastically different from what it would have done without the pandemic. As professor Joseph Nye has reminded us, the Spanish flu of 1918 to 1919 killed more people than World War I. Yet it was the war, not the flu, that changed the world. 

Land power

The security environment was highly complex and evolving even before the pandemic – often with headlines that drew attention away from traditional land power.

New, complex security challenges are becoming more prevalent. Cyber threats, hybrid warfare and disinformation campaigns require new capabilities. Contours of a protracted, deep, strategic rivalry between the US and China draw resources eastward and seems to put more emphasis on naval power.

But it would be completely wrong to think that the days of strong and relevant land power are behind us. Land power will remain a cornerstone of defense and security policy also in the future.

It constitutes the spine of Norwegian contributions to international peace and security efforts – and has done so since World War II. From the Independent Norway Brigade Group in Germany, via Lebanon to present day contributions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Nato’s Enhanced Forward Presence in Lithuania. And land power has constituted the core of Norwegian contributions to the UN over several years.

But a strong land power is not least important in our relations with Russia. Balancing deterrence and reassurance towards Russia is a mainstay of Norwegian foreign policy. We have ramped up allied training in Norway. Staying firmly in the driver’s seat requires a solid national defense, and we started the necessary and significant turnaraound of defense spending from the moment we took office in 2013. From then until today, we have increased Norway’s defense spending by about 30% - and it gives operational effects. We have also increased investments significantly. We are currently at a 30% investment share of our budget – well above the Nato target of 20%. 

Security policy beyond defense

So we are strengthening our defense. Yet defense is only one of many components of a robust security policy – even though it is a vital component. We are also ramping up our broader foreign and security policy apparatus in order to maintain Norway’s space for maneuver. I will touch on three areas today that warrant special attention. 

First, maintaining a rules based global order is essential. No defense budget can buy us security and prosperity if the fundamentals of the multilateral system break down.

There are reasons for concern regarding the security architecture in Europe, in light of developments in recent years concerning the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE), the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), and the Open Skies Treaty.

Preserving, strengthening and reforming the multilateral system is a main foreign policy interest for Norway. Binding international cooperation has always been vital to our security and economy. I always use Nato as the example: In Nato, we commit beyond our own – sometimes narrow – self-interest. We are willing to send our women and men in uniform into harm’s way to protect others. That is the ultimate commitment.

When we serve as a member of the UN Security Council the next two years, we will do so in pursuit of not only peaceful, effective resolution of the various conflicts and situations on the Council’s agenda, but also with a firm eye on the overarching interest of maintaining a strong, effective UN. And the best recipe for safeguarding and strengthening the multilateral system is relevance and reform.

At the same time, we will continue to take responsibility through our own actions across the security policy spectrum.

We are increasing our defense budget. We contribute to all of Natos core tasks. And we play a role in disarmament with our international leadership on nuclear disarmament verification.

Rivalry and weakening of multilateral cooperation has historically been a precursor for protectionism and conflict. We have to keep this from defining our time.

Secondly, reform is also required in light of new threats, including new missile technology, cyber and hybrid. The latter constitute some particular challenges, since adversaries can employ them quickly, to considerable effect, yet attribution can be difficult. The basic idea is to create uncertainty in decision making processes, for instance whether a situation is above or below the threshold of an Article V situation. Hybrid threats are not new – they have always existed in some shape or form - but they are now also being employed by the strong part in a situation. Historically, it has been a weapon for the military inferior part.

The use of hybrid means challenges our space for maneuver, as it leaves less time for consultation and response among our allies.

One response must be more effective decision making.

Third, strategic rivalry between the US and China will shape international politics for years to come. It reflects political and strategic fundamentals, has bipartisan support in the United States, and is not a short-term blip.

While much attention is paid to the risk of conflict in the Asia-Pacific, for Norway the most immediate consequence of the rivalry is felt domestically and in the civilian sphere. It plays out in the areas of trade, including vulnerabilities in value chains that affect Norwegian companies. It plays out on foreign investment, research, technology, and critical infrastructure. These trends are reinforced by the global pandemic.

Norway is not facing a situation where we are choosing sides in the domain of security policy. We made that choice in 1949.

At the same time, it is important to safeguard all political aspects that contribute to our prosperity, stability and political room for maneuver. An important task is to differentiate between what is a genuine security concern and what is not, and promote cooperation over conflict where that is possible.

Norway’s response

Confronted with these challenges, it is more important than ever to maintain good situational awareness, conduct independent analyses, and root our policy-making in the long-standing fundamentals of Norwegian security policy.

Also, our policy choices amount to little if we do not have the capabilities to carry them out. The changing security situation is a reminder that a capable and credible national defense is essential not only to security and stability, but also to conducting a sovereign and predictable foreign policy.

We need to enhance the political dialogue in Nato, in order to deny others the opportunity to drive a wedge between Allies. Political cooperation can complement the strengthening of the collective defence and deterrence of the Alliance since 2014. Political will to come to the aid of allies makes military capability credible. But the opposite is also true: Military capability creates political maneuvering space.

And we need to continue pragmatic cooperation between countries that differ from us, but that share important interests. 


Dear friends, I have tried today to stay true to the task of looking past the pandemic. But I would like to conclude by drawing on one obvious parallel between pandemic response and more traditional security challenges.

The first duty of any government is protecting its citizens. But a pandemic, like many other threats, does not respect borders. No one is safe until everyone is safe. Isolationism may be tempting, but is maybe the least good idea of all when the threat itself cannot be isolated or confined.

We are stronger together.

No country is in a position to effectively and successfully take control of all aspects of pandemic response and control alone. To do research, to develop and to produce vaccines in order to safeguard its own population well enough, or quickly enough – is not something any country can do alone.

Again, I revert to using Nato as an example, this time to challenge the false dichotomy between international cooperation and national sovereignty.

If sovereignty is the power to influence one’s own course, this is surely weakened without international cooperation and alliances. For Norway’s part, our room for maneuver in foreign and security policy has always been determined by our ability and willingness to shape and join alliances. As Jim Mattis said very directly: “I don’t know how to defend the US without our allies”.

International cooperation is both exercise of sovereignty in practice as well as strengthening of our sovereign control. Even when – or actually precisely because – we commit ourselves beyond our most narrow self interest.

So in the broader security policy as well as faced with a pandemic:

Alone is not an advantage, solitude is not sovereignty.


Dear friends,

Like Mike Tyson, We will have our plans disrupted, by plenty more punches thrown our way, over the coming years. But we plan to stay in the best possible shape, and go as many rounds as it takes.