State secretary Øystein Bø’s speech on Norwegian Security and Defense Policy at MSPO 2015 in Poland

MSPO is the 22nd International Defence Industry Exhibition. State secretary Øystein Bø in Norway's Ministry of Defence held this speech on Norwegian Security and Defense Policy at MSPO 2015 in Poland.

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Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests;

76 years ago (1 September 1939) Poland experienced its worst nightmare. It was invaded from the West. And, two weeks later, from the East. For the duration of the war Poland, as a country, essentially seized to exist.

A few months later, in April of 1940, Polish soldiers along with British, French and Norwegians fought shoulder to shoulder to successfully recapture the town of Narvik from the advancing Nazi-German forces. The enemy was defeated, and for a while, lost control over Narvik. This was the first battle we fought side by side as allies. And, it was the first time during the 2nd World War that Hitler´s Forces were defeated, showing that they were, in fact, not unbeatable.

These historic events signify two important lessons: First, that we cannot safeguard  our security solely on our own. And, as a consequence, that security can best be upheld in close cooperation with nations sharing values and ideas.

Today, both Norway and Poland are members of NATO, the largest and most succesful military alliance in the world. Norway has been a NATO-member since 1949. We have ourselves experienced how the Alliance over more than 65 years has guaranteed European and Trans-Atlantic security and stability. Today NATO´s siginificance is as great as ever.

I will share with you some views on how of how Norway perceives the changing European security landscape. I will also touch on what Norway considers as the most important priorities and focus for the Alliance, in order to maintain peace, security and stability in Europe.

Unrest and conflict is nothing new in Europe’s periphery. But, over the last decades we have all shared a vision of a Europe whole and free. That vision is again being challenged.

In Ukraine, one European country has, for the first time since the end of the Second World War, used armed forces to annex a part of a neighbouring country. Through her actions, Russia has demonstrated a will to use military means to achieve political goals. This is a behaviour we all had hoped we would not again see in Europe. One consequense of these actions is increased tension between Russia and the West.

Norway is located at NATO’s northern flank, and is a neighbour of Russia. No surprise then that we are concerned with the need for predictability and stability,  particularly in our relations with our neighbour.

We have a long-standing historical relationship with Russia, based on peace and neighbourly relations. We have common interests in maintaining the High North as an area of stability, transparency and international cooperation. We have, in many aspects, also been successful at working together in this region.

Norway has jurisdiction of maritime areas covering more than 2 million square kilometers, almost seven times the Norwegian mainland, or slightly smaller than the Mediterranean. More that 80 percent of this is north of the Arctic circle.

We shoulder a great responsibility in managing these areas and resources. Historically, maritime resources have always been at the core of the Norwegian economy. With 5 million people, we are few in numbers, but we are, nonetheless, the world's second largest fish exporter, the third-largest exporter of gas globally, and we are also in the major league when it comes to oil exports (7th).

We will continue to seek constructive cooperation with Russia, but as other Allies, we have suspended most of our bilateral military cooperation. We are, however, continuing our coast guard and border guard cooperation, our cooperation on search and resque, and, in order to avoid any misunderstandings, we have an open line between the Norwegian Joint Operational Head Quarter and the Northern Fleet.

We see no direct threat to Norwegian sovereignty in the North today. Looking at the map from a polar projection we see that about 50 % of the circum polar areas are Russian. Hence, Russia clearly has legitimate interests in this area.


Having said that, we must of course take account of the new security landscape in Europe.  A “new normal”has been introduced, which strongly affects how we address our security and defence policy.

What we see is a Russia that is more assertive in its foreign policy. Increased Russian military capability, combined with a demonstrated political will to use that capability, creates a new uncertainty as to the intentions of Russia.

In the High North, the modernized Russian Northern Fleet has increased its control of the Russian coastline, the adjacent waters and beyond.  In the air, we do not see  a significant increase of the number of Russian flights, but the pattern of activity is characterized by a higher level of complexity. And, on land, we see a highly increased strategic mobility. Taken together, this tells us that Russia’s military forces are increasingly capable.

We are also witnessing increased military activity in the Baltic Sea area. Russian flights across the Baltic Sea increased threefold in 2014, compared to 2013. Both allied and non-allied countries have experienced violation of their territory.

So, what does this "new normal" mean to us and to the Alliance?

First, we, of course, have to take the shift in the European security landscape into account, when we calibrate our responses and policies.

The challenges around us are increasing, and they are moving closer to NATO territory.

As Norway has experienced since 1949, stability in our area, and in the High North, is best secured through NATO. If serious threats or incidents were to occur, these must be handled within the framework of NATO.

The Wales Summit last year gave a clear and united response to these challenges. One important message was to refocus on collective defense.

Together, Norway and Poland have for many years argued for the importance of strengthening this core task. Following years of strong focus on crisis management operations, collective defense is again coming to the forefront. This includes a greater emphasis on both assurance and deterrence. However, we must maintain the holistic approach of NATOs strategic concept. Increased ability to plan, conduct and sustain Article 5 operations, should not come at the cost of NATOs ability to conduct crisis response operations, or our work on cooperative security.

Another important message from the Wales Summit was the  need to improve the readiness and responsiveness of the Alliance. Successful implementation of the Readiness Action Plan (RAP) is vital for NATO’s credibility and responsiveness. The Readiness Action Plan provides a comprehensive package of measures. As such, it is both a response to the changed situation in Europe, as well as to threats emanating from the Middle East and North Africa.

Equally important for enhancing our robustness and agility is the adapted NATO Response Force and the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF). At the end of the day, they will both display political resolve and constitute a credible military capability.

NATO has implemented a range of assurance measures. The Alliance is currently implementing the largest reinforcement of its collective security since the end of the Cold War. And Norway is doing its part. We, of course, fully support NATO´s increased activity in the Eastern Part of the Alliance. We are offering staff officers to the NATO Forces Integration Units (NFIU) and to the Headquarters Multinational Corps North-East (HQ MNC NE) in Poland. We have participated in excercises in Poland and in the Baltic states, and we have carried out Air-Policing from Lithuania. We have also, together with Germany, the Netherlands and others, taken on the task to develop and refine the VJTF concept. 

Norway recognizes the need for better burden sharing within the Alliance. We also acknowledge that, even if we have made many important decisions on rapid reaction forces, a credible collective defense also depends on the quality and quantities of our force structures. It is not enough to have rapid reaction forces, if force structures in our countries are incapable or not properly manned.

Poland is a role model when it comes to the level of defence investment. But, many allies are facing pressure on their defense budgets. We, therefore, have to find more cost-effective ways of moving forward.

One obvious solution is to increase and optimize multinational cooperation. The economic rationale for deeper cross-national defense cooperation is clear.

Working together give us more "bang for the bucks". This goes for all aspects of cooperation; from procurement, via maintenance, training, and exercises, to operations. One could also foresee a situation in which allies provide different capabilities, avoiding overlap between them. That would be well into the future, but over time, it may be required for NATO to maintain its full-spectrum of capabilities.

Needless to say, there are tough decisions ahead of us, also in Norway. We are currently carrying out a thourogh defense review (LTP) for the Norwegian Armed Forces. The Chief of Defence will submit his independent Military Advisory Report by October 1, to be followed by hard and difficult political work, pulling many elements together, ahead of the presentation to Parliament in the spring of 2016. It will be hard to strike the right balance between the level of ambition and current structure on one hand, and the resources available on the other.

One element in this work has been the appointment, by the Norwegian Minister of Defence, of the Expert Commission on Norwegian Security and Defense Policy. Last April, the Commission submitted its analysis and recommendations on the Norwegian Armed Forces’ability to solve the most demanding tasks in crisis and war. This is one of the first in-depth analysis of the new security landscape in Europe, and as such an interesting report.

For those interested I have a brought with me a few copies of the report and its recommendations.

We have an obligation to develop our military forces so that they can meet existing and future security challenges. Last year’s developments have taught us  that defense planning must take into account an increasingly complex and unpredictable future. This is, in essence, a key lesson for NATO and its partners.  

The issues I have raised here today will be the matter of careful deliberations in the coming months, and some will be deliverables to the Warsaw Summit in July of next year. We will, no doubt, need to make some difficult, but also crucial, decisions and priorities. At the same time it is absolutely necessary to continue modernizing and enhancing our armed forces in order to be able to meet new challenges.

This we owe to our citizens, and, not least, to our soldiers. They should, in the best possible way, be prepared for any crisis situation. They are our must important asset. At a venue like this, I believe it appropriate that we remind ourselves that what we do is not about manning the equipment, but about equipping our soldiers. 

Thank you for your attention.