Defense build-up also involves cuts

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The Norwegian government finally unveiled its plans on Friday to raise defense spending by an extra NOK 165 billion (USD 19 billion) over the next 20 years, but not all military personnel are pleased. Along with the budget boost comes the shutdown of 11 military bases including the large Andøya air station in Northern Norway.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg claimed the government's new long-term plan for the military would "renew and strengthen" Norway's defense. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party claimed the government’s new long-term plan for the military would “renew and strengthen” Norway’s defense. At left, Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, and at right, Fisheries Minister Per Sandberg, who also is deputy leader of Solberg’s government partner, the Progress Party. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

“We see that the military has three major challenges,” Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide said at a press conference when the government released its long-term plans for Norwegian defense forces Friday afternoon. She identified them as reaction time (to a crisis), stamina and a large backlog of operational and maintenance needs.

Søreide and Prime Minister Erna Solberg claimed the new plans were aimed at making the military better able to do its job. Solberg said it also aimed to meet goals set by NATO, of which Norway is a member. Both NATO and its largest contributing member, the US, have been complaining that European members need to provide a larger share of NATO’s defense needs. They want defense spending to equal around 2 percent of gross national product.

The Norwegian government’s new long-term plans won’t quite reach that, but Solberg said she was “proud” of what she called Norway’s largest defense spending boost since the end of the Cold War. Critics claim it will move Norway away from a “balanced” defense and put it more on the offense, with an emphasis on new equipment coming at the cost of the army and civil defense, sacrificing widespread military facilities scattered around the country.

“We’re staking out a new course today,” Solberg declared. “The military as it is today is not suited for the challenges we face.” Work will begin already this year, she said, “so that we can again build up a foundation for a stronger defense. We’re taking a major step towards meeting NATO’s goals.” Solberg further claimed that the new long-term plan “will renew and strengthen our armed forces.”

‘Answering the call’
Norway’s defense chief, Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, said he felt the government had largely responded to his call for more funding, and was following his advice. He had asked for more money, at least NOK 175 million, but claimed he still believed the government was providing the means for “economically sustainable development.” It also seemed likely to win support in Parliament, with the opposition Labour Party already saying it would seek a “broad agreement’ on the new long-term plan.

Local politicians in areas where military bases are due to be cut as part of making the military more efficient were not so positive. “This is a dark day for Troms,” said county council leader Cecilie Myrseth. She and other colleagues around the county face losing major military installations like Andøya, now the base for Norway’s fleet of Orion aircraft. Other facilities due to be shut down or merged with others include Kjeller at Lillestrøm northeast of Oslo, Setnesmoen, Harstad Syd, Kjevik, Karljohansvern i Horten, Hovermoen, Nærøysund, Trondenes and Åsegården.

Bruun-Hanssen said he understood that it’s been “extremely demanding” for the government to handle the military advice it received, which also involved consolidation and shutdowns. At the same time, however, the government will maintain the Telemark Battalion at Rena, the Panser Battalion at Setermoen and the 2nd Battalion at Skjold. The government will move all its Bell 412-helicopters to the Rygge airport south of Moss, which recently announced it will be shutting down its civilian aviation operations.

New subs and jets
The military will initially reduce its number of submarines from six to four, but acquire four new submarines between 2025 and 2030. The government also is moving ahead with plans to acquire as many as 52 new fighter jets.

In addition to the extra NOK 165 billion in funding, the long-term plan involves savings expected to liberate another NOK 40 billion. Defense Minister Søreide has stressed before that it’s most important how the money is used. “It’s better to spend 1.5 percent (of GNP) on the right things that give the alliance (NATO) better defense capability, than 2 percent that won’t,” she told newspaper Aftenposten earlier this week.

There’s no question Solberg and her government’s proposals are a response to heavy pressure from NATO, the US and the military itself, at a time when Russia is once again posing a threat. Some military officials remained critical: “Defense capability will be reduced under the government’s proposal,” claimed Egil Andre Aas, leader of the Norwegian Officers Federation. He also complained that Norway was not fully meeting NATO’s 2 percent goal.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund