Opening Speech at Oslo Peace Center

Speech at Annual Conference at Oslo Peace Center.

Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here for the annual conference of The Oslo Center, and to be able to engage in a discussion on foreign policy.

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The security landscape has undoubtedly become more unpredictable and complex than it was a few years ago.

To the south of Europe, a belt of instability has emerged, extending from the Sahel region via Syria and Iraq to Afghanistan. This belt of instability is fuelling war and human tragedy, and it has the potential to undermine progress in neighbouring countries and negatively affect the security of Europe.

To the east, we are seeing the emergence of a more assertive Russia. A Russia that has annexed part of a neighbouring country, thus shaking the very foundations of the international security architecture we have built up since 1945.

Universal values and human rights are coming under increasing pressure. We have been used to seeing this outside the Euro-Atlantic area. Today, however, we are also seeing it in countries closer to home.

There is growing support for parties that harbour a deep sense of distrust of the political system and of international cooperation and commitments. This could have a negative impact on cooperation in Europe and undermine our ability to take collective action.

The international community is struggling to find solutions.

However, the situation is not altogether sombre.

We have seen extreme poverty more than halved. Literacy rates have risen. People are living longer. Child mortality rates are falling. People are getting a better education and have better health. There are emerging economies in all regions. And most countries are less belligerent than before.

Last but not least, the international community has agreed on how to tackle some of the key challenges of our time, by adopting the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change.

So how can we deal with this picture, which is so full of contrasts?

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Firstly, we must stand firm on the fundamental values that underpin Norwegian foreign policy. For Norway, there are no alternatives to international law, international cooperation, open and regulated markets and persistent efforts to bring about change in developing countries.

Secondly, our foreign and security policy starts at home. Future crises may develop quickly and without warning. They may be quite unlike anything we anticipated.

We therefore have to enhance national crisis management and coordination. We must be as well-equipped as possible to detect, understand and deal with threats, risks and vulnerability.

That is why security in day-to-day life and better emergency preparedness is a key priority area for the Government. That is why we have intensified our efforts when it comes to countering violent extremism.

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But measures at home will have little impact without international cooperation. We must therefore refine our existing foreign policy tools and develop new ones.

Let me underline that Norway is in a good position. We have strong allies and partners, and Norway is considered a reliable ally and partner on a wide range of issues. Our tradition of consensus on the fundamental issues of foreign policy serves our national interests well.

NATO remains the cornerstone of Norwegian security and defence policy. The transatlantic bond remains vital for our security.

Over the last years, Norway has been working with key allies to adapt NATO to current and future threats.

I share the view that we need to see more reasonable transatlantic burden-sharing. European allies must come closer to the target of spending 2 % of their GDP on defence. This is important if we are to be able to address the major security challenges in Europe’s neighbouring areas. Through our increased budgets, heavy investments and important operational contributions, we are showing that Norway takes this responsibility seriously.

Our relationship with Russia is an abiding and important element of Norwegian foreign policy. Although our relations have changed since 2014, we must continue to deal with Russia in a pragmatic, consistent and predictable way.

It has therefore been important for us to continue bilateral cooperation in areas where this is in the interests of both our countries. This applies both to institutional cooperation and to informal people-to-people cooperation.   

We have also maintained cooperation in areas such as coast guard and border control activities, and search and rescue. And we continue to cooperate through the mechanisms under the Incidents at Sea Agreement.

Our cooperation in all these areas is an important contribution to security, stability and predictability. Not least in the Arctic, which remains our most important foreign policy priority.

With its new Arctic strategy, the Government is stepping up its overall efforts in the north, with a view to making North Norway one of our most innovative and sustainable regions.

We have managed to maintain the Arctic as a peaceful region where cooperation is the norm. We remain committed to investing heavily in international cooperation in the region.

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However, the constantly changing security landscape also requires that we make adjustments to our course. In the interest of brevity, let me concentrate on three areas of change:

Firstly, we must improve our ability to deal effectively with the growing threat posed by non-state actors. Not only in our domestic policy, but also in our foreign policy. This was the backdrop for our 2015 white paper on global security challenges, which ensures that our foreign policy will also deal effectively with challenges such as cyber threats and international organised crime.

Secondly, we are committed to cultivating closer relations with selected allies and Nordic partners. Countries that can reinforce Norway in a crisis, such as the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands. This is not an alternative to our special relations with the US, but a supplement.

As outlined in our new foreign and security white paper, we are committed to taking an even more strategic approach to this cooperation in the future, focusing not only on defence, but also on deepening our dialogue on foreign and security policy issues in a more general sense. 

Thirdly, it is important, both for Europe and for the affected areas, to promote stability in the volatile belt of instability extending from the Sahel to Afghanistan.

To that end, we are drawing up a separate strategy for Norway’s efforts in fragile states and regions. We must ensure that we take a coherent approach to our efforts in a range of areas, including long-term development assistance, business development, institutional capacity-building, military contributions and support for civil society.

We will remain engaged in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq. We are opening new embassies in Tunis and Bamako. And we plan to double our assistance to the Western Balkans.

Last but not least, stabilisation on its own will not be enough. A lack of development in countries far away is increasingly becoming a security challenge for us. The 2014 Ebola outbreak is a compelling example of this.

We must therefore remain steadfast in our endeavours to help other countries meet the SDGs. To fight poverty, secure good health services and education for more people, and to protect the environment. This is not only a moral imperative. It is also good security policy.

Thank you. I look forward to a lively debate.