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Opening speech at The Leangkollen Conference

The Atlantic Committee's annual conference.

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Ladies and gentlemen,

Peace and security are of fundamental importance to a free society. What particularly worries me about today’s new security challenges is that they are posing a threat to the fundamental democratic values we uphold:

  • Our belief in international law.
  • Universal human rights.
  • The rule of law.
  • Free trade.
  • Cooperation.
  • Freedom of speech.

Today, we are witnessing fundamental divisions in terms of ideology, interests, values and world views, on a scale we have not seen since the end of the Cold War. These divisions are becoming increasingly evident in many areas, and recently we have seen them clearly in two contexts:

  • Russia’s aggression and violations of international law in Ukraine, and
  • ISIL’s brutal onslaught in Syria and Iraq.

These two challenges dominated our international agenda in 2014.  Although they are very different, they have one thing in common. They are both diametrically opposed to our fundamental values.

So far, 2015 has started out on a grim note:

  • Russia is continuing and intensifying its policy of destabilisation in Eastern Ukraine.
  • The terrorist attack against the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris stands out as another horrifying example of the increasing reach of terrorism. 

Last week, I took part in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. This was a stark reminder of the horrors of our European history, which also has relevance today.

We are experiencing how an ideology of hatred and extremism can transcend borders, and threaten security in the heart of Europe.

We are also seeing other serious and alarming trends. Nationalist forces in Europe are gaining strength. At a time when international cooperation is needed more than ever, we are seeing faith in multilateral solutions diminishing.

Globalisation has lifted millions out of poverty and increased trade, which has benefitted us all. But globalisation also brings with it its own set of challenges:

  • Climate change.
  • Migration and growing numbers of refugees from wars and conflicts.
  • The threat of global pandemics.
  • Greater vulnerability to financial crises.
  • And links between terrorism, organised crime and cyber-crime.

Now that the threats and challenges we face are global, our responses must be based on cooperation and a common platform – of interests and values.

We have seen some clear trends emerging over the past year. Security challenges have become more serious. And they are now closer to home.


Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me start with the challenges closest to home.

The collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe marked the dawn of a new security environment in Europe; a European continent characterised by low tension and new partnerships. The old East–West divide was replaced by the vision of a united continent, founded on liberal ideas and the principles of human rights and democracy.

To a great extent our vision has come true. Former foes have become friends and allies. Countries previously under the thumb of repressive regimes are now part of a European community of democracies.

But now - this development has come to a halt. We hoped that all of Europe – Russia included –would eventually embrace a liberal democratic model.

We have gradually had to accept that, unfortunately, this is not the case.

  • Russia’s commitment in 1999 to pull its troops out of Moldova by 2003 was never met.
  • Russian troops still remain in parts of Georgia after the invasion in 2008.
  • In Russia itself, human rights are being violated, and the space for civil society and opposition in the country has been substantially reduced.

One of the main challenges we are facing today is a Russia that is more assertive on the international stage. Its military actions in Ukraine have altered the security situation in Europe. Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea is without precedent in Europe since the end of the Second World War. Its destabilisation campaign in Eastern Ukraine is continuing. Propaganda, indirect interventions and maintaining deniability are key elements of Russia’s approach.

Although the threat remains low, we are seeing increased military activity along NATO’s borders and around the Baltic Sea. Allied and non-allied countries alike have experienced border violations.

Norway will maintain a predictable and stabilising military presence in the High North.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine have caused legitimate concerns in several other countries. The Russian concept of ‘spheres of influence’ is especially worrying for neighbouring countries with Russian-speaking minorities – some of which are among our eastern NATO allies.

Every country has the right to decide its own future. The principle of sovereignty is enshrined in international law. We will not accept the Russian concept of ‘spheres of influence’.

In response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Norway stands firmly together with our partners and allies. We have implemented the EU’s restrictive measures against Russia. Our military-to-military cooperation has been suspended.

We cannot and will not compromise when universal values are at stake.

At the same time, Russia is still a neighbouring country. We have common interests and common tasks that have to be addressed. Together with Russia we must manage our living marine resources; protect the environment and ensure safety at sea in Arctic waters.

Regional people-to-people cooperation should be encouraged, even in difficult times.

Over the past 25 years, Norway and Russia have gradually expanded our contacts and cooperation based on mutual interests and international law. Tensions have been reduced and trust has been built. However, Russia’s actions in and around Ukraine have undermined these positive developments.

We have to be realistic. The current crisis in Ukraine is not a temporary one, and there is no quick fix. We want Russia to be a real partner for the EU and NATO. Russia’s actions make this harder to attain. We will continue to work to resolve the current challenges in our relations with Russia.

At the same time we need to be prepared for a situation that may last a long time. 


Let me now turn to our southern borders. The security challenge posed by instability in the region south of NATO’s borders is very different from those emanating from the east. The ‘belt of insecurity’ that stretches from the Sahel through the Middle East is of profound and fundamental concern.

Despite geographical differences, many of the developments we are seeing in this belt of insecurity are the same:

  • Failed states are providing safe havens and breeding grounds for terrorists.
  • Poverty and feelings of exclusion are making young people easy targets for extremist ideas.
  • And there is a lack of effective and inclusive political leadership.

The Arab Spring in 2011 created hopes of democracy and increased cooperation in the Arab world. These hopes have not yet been realised, except, perhaps, in Tunisia.

ISIL’s rapid advance and capture of territory inside Iraq and Syria took many by surprise. We have been shocked and appalled by their acts of cruelty.

For nearly four years, a bloody conflict has raged in Syria. What started off as young people demonstrating against a dictator has turned into a proxy war in which regional powers support different parties in a brutal civil war.

The Security Council has failed to agree on a course of action that could have stopped the bloodshed at an earlier stage and possibly reduced the potential for ISIL’s growth. As political leaders, we must take responsibility for the consequences when the international community fails to act.

Norway has responded to the Iraqi appeal for help in the fight against ISIL. We are getting ready to deploy soldiers to assist in capacity-building. We are part of a broad international coalition consisting of more than 60 countries. Iraqi ownership is vital, as is regional support and engagement.

The situation in the Middle East and North Africa has clear security implications for Europe, as the recent terrorist attack in France so horrifically showed us.


Let me now turn to how we intend to meet these challenges.

Firstly, we need to invest in our own security. We need to ensure that we have the right capabilities to meet the broad range of current and future security challenges.

Many of the challenges I have described cannot be solved with military means alone. A holistic approach is needed.

In hindsight, experience has shown that it might be difficult to achieve success with military means alone. The international community must often show long-term commitment when agreement is reached on intervention. Libya is one example of this. This could be a lesson to be learned for future situations.

Violence born of religious extremism is one case in point. More than 15 000 foreign fighters have travelled to Syria and Iraq, including 3000 from Europe.

We have recently launched a new action plan to counter radicalisation and violent extremism. We must promote tolerance and prevent marginalisation. We must build a strong and inclusive society. Let us invest in education and encourage critical thinking to combat extremism. We also need stronger international cooperation between intelligence services and police to stop the flow of foreign fighters.

We have launched a number of initiatives aimed at improving coordination between different government entities, for example in the area of counter-terrorism. Norway has established a joint counter-terrorism centre, enabling our domestic and foreign intelligence services to share information and produce joint threat assessments.

Cyberspace allows us to communicate, cooperate and prosper. But it has also brought upon us new and alarming threats and vulnerabilities, from states and non-state actors alike. Norway will intensify its efforts to prevent and combat asymmetric threats such as cyber-attacks and organised crime. Closer international cooperation and respect for the rule of law are key to fighting transnational threats and challenges.

The military has played and will continue to play an important part in safeguarding our national security. Our highly capable armed forces are doing an outstanding job.

At the same time, we need to take a look at our defence structure and determine what further adjustments are necessary in light of the changing security environment. Reduced warning requires reduced response time. The Chief of Defence has been tasked to conduct a thorough review of our armed forces. Based on his advice, we will make decisions on further improving our military capacity and capabilities.

The changed strategic environment in Europe must have consequences for our approach to defence and security. Security comes at a cost.

We will continue to increase our defence budgets in the years to come.

Secondly, Norway is committed to engaging in international cooperation as a means of ensuring security. 

NATO remains the cornerstone of Norwegian security policy. The current security situation in Europe has demonstrated the value of collective defence and collective security. In the current situation, NATO reassurance – demonstrating that we stand together – has been vital. 

I would argue that in the aftermath of Ukraine the Alliance reacted effectively.  At the summit in Wales we decided on measures to further increase our capabilities and ability to react quickly. NATO’s Readiness Action Plan is an important roadmap. We are now more focused on collective defence and collective security. This is a development I welcome.

At the same time, there are still significant security challenges emanating from outside the NATO area. Failed states outside of Europe will inevitably have an impact on our security.

Sometimes, threats must be addressed at their source.

Building collective security at home means taking collective responsibility abroad.

Also, our willingness and ability to operate together with allies and partners improves our ability to operate at home. Operations abroad are important for providing regional peace and stability, but they are also important for our national security.

The NATO operation in Afghanistan illustrated the importance and success of NATO’s partnerships. We must strengthen and build on these partnerships, also after the operation in Afghanistan has ended.

The forces NATO has at its disposal are formidable. However, NATO is far more than just military hardware. No other international security organisation compares to NATO.

It is a political alliance, based on shared values. It has a permanent collective command and force structure, and a standing mechanism for political decision-making.

NATO is as relevant as ever. But we cannot take the Alliance for granted. All allies – Norway included – need to do their share. Norway has contributed significantly to reassurance measures in NATO. For instance, last autumn we deployed a company from our Telemark Battalion to exercise in Latvia. In 2015 Norway will contribute substantially to the NATO Response Force. Our forces will – together with Netherlands and Germany – test the newly-adopted Very High Readiness concept for the NATO Response Force. 

Strong US leadership has been crucial in managing fundamental transitions in Europe. We are now facing another fundamental transition in Europe. I believe the need for US leadership in NATO is as great as ever. But the health of the transatlantic security relationship requires an investment from both sides. If we want the engagement of the US in Europe to be sustained, we also need to demonstrate that we are willing to invest in our own security.

Europe has been hard hit by the financial crisis, and this has taken its toll on defence budgets both in Europe and in the US.

We are seeing global shifts in power, with strong economies emerging elsewhere. This also diverts attention from Europe and our security challenges.

Over the past decade the EU has steadily increased its role in safeguarding European security. The EU has historically played a central role in providing stability in Europe, not least through integrating former Warsaw Pact countries.

As I have touched upon already, today’s security challenges are complex. They cannot be met by military means alone. The EU has an important role to play in coordinating political and economic efforts to deal with security challenges. 

It is in our interest to engage with the EU on these issues. Let’s not forget that the outer borders of the EU are also Norway’s borders. Our participation in Schengen opens the door to broader cooperation with our European partners.

We are cooperating closely with the EU on security and defence. Norway seeks to play an active part in EU efforts to develop and strengthen military capabilities.

Norway actively supports cooperation between international organisations, particularly the EU and NATO. Our efforts carry more weight if they are coordinated.

It is important to respond once conflicts break out, and we have the tools to do so. But preventing conflicts from occurring in the first place is an even better use of our resources. Conflict and crisis prevention are important tools for international security. Building capacity is also important – ensuring that our partners have the capabilities to safeguard their own security.

It is in our interest that the UN’s legitimacy and universality is respected and that the UN is able to uphold its key role in the maintenance of international peace and security. The UN is essential to our shared response to threats to international peace and security. Never before has the interdependence between the three pillars of the UN – peace and security, development, and human rights – been more obvious.

I am afraid I may have drawn a rather gloomy picture so far. But we are also seeing some developments in the right direction. My sincere hope is that 2015 will be a milestone year for development and climate. If we succeed in reaching agreement in these areas, it could have a long-term and positive impact on our security. Sustainable development and inclusive growth are prerequisites for building stable and democratic societies. We need to continue to support these positive developments.


To conclude,

We see our security increasingly being challenged. The democratic values we uphold are at risk.

Human rights. Democracy. The rule of law. Cooperation. Freedom of speech. International law. These are values we still have to fight for. They are not European or Western values. They are universal values.

To do this we need to invest in our own security. And we need to engage in international cooperation as a means of ensuring security. We must build our security – together.

Thank you.