Trump sends chill through defense

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Of all the issues worrying Norwegian officials the most, as they come to grips with a Trump Administration in the US, defense policy tops the list. Trade and relations with Russia are close behind, along with a host of other concerns, but Trump’s earlier criticism of NATO and his suggestions that he won’t recognize NATO’s premise of “all for one and one for all” are sending chills through the country.

Joint Viking exercises, March 2015

Norway has raised defense spending up to the levels demanded by NATO and has just approved a new long-term defense plan, but concerns are running high over US President-Elect Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of NATO. This photo was taken during training exercises in Northern Norway, where the country shares a border with Russia. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Mats Tveraaen

Norwegians woke up Thursday to all their newspapers’ catch-up coverage and analysis of the results of the US elections that rolled in Wednesday. Not only were the papers speculating about how the “unpredictable” Republican Donald J Trump will rule, they warned about how he’ll be able to do so with Republican majorities in both the Senate and the US House of Representatives. “We are all scared now,” wrote Aftenposten, Norway’s major morning daily, on its front page.

“No one likes experiments in the administration of the world’s most powerful country,” wrote Aftenposten commentator Harald Stanghelle. “The White House is not the place for a political laboratory. And President (!) Trump is one big experiment himself.”

Another national newspaper, Dagbladet, editorialized that “we think that with Trump as president, there is great probability that we will have more and more dangerous conflicts in the world.” The paper branded Trump “dangerous” as well, because “he’s a mix of an ignoramus, a revolutionary and one who acts on impulse.” Newspaper VG editorialized that the world can only hope that Trump comes to understand the enormous responsibility he now has: “Our politicians will have to relate to Trump. Their most important job is to secure Norwegian interests.”

Norway’s defense is primary among them, and both government ministers and Members of Parliament in Oslo were discussing just how to ensure it while uncertainty over Trump and whether he’ll honor the US’ commitment to NATO was flying. One defense expert, senior researcher Svein Melby at Norway’s Institute for Defense Studies, went so far as to suggest that NATO would land in an “existential crisis” if Trump follows through on what he’s said during the election campaign.

“Norway is dependent on the NATO system and the US’ guarantees,” Melby told newspaper Dagsavisen. “I think it’s important that (Norwegian officials) now begin to think about formulating a security policy Plan B, in which we no longer take it for granted that the US will be a pillar of NATO.”

NATO's secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg is a former Norwegian prime minister who is acutely aware of Norway's situation, and concerns. He has said he looks forward to work with Trump, and already has reminded him of NATO members' obligations. PHOTO: NATO

NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg is a former Norwegian prime minister who is acutely aware of Norway’s situation, and concerns. He has said he looks forward to work with Trump, and already has reminded him of NATO members’ obligations. PHOTO: NATO

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, who now leads NATO, was quick to congratulate Trump on his election victory and he’s acutely aware of Norway’s situation both as a member of NATO and a neighbour to Russia. Stoltenberg reminded Trump that all NATO allies are obligated to defend one another, but he also agrees that NATO’s European members need to foot much more of NATO’s defense bill than they have in the past. Stoltenberg has also been urging NATO’s European member nations to boost their own defense budgets since he assumed his post, long before Trump started complaining that the US was covering too much of the defense costs. “I look forward to working with him (Trump), and it’s important that the trans-Atlantic ties remain strong,” Stoltenberg told reporters.

Brende puts on a brave face
It was still up to Foreign Minister Børge Brende to try to reassure his government colleagues and Members of Parliament on the day after Trump’s election. Commentator Kjetil B Alstadheim in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) wrote that Brende, who earlier had voiced concerns about Trump himself, spoke as calmly as he could and claimed that “we must separate the Candidate Trump and what he’s written on Twitter, from what in fact will be the policy of the new US administration.” Brende, unwittingly referring to how politicians’ campaign promises aren’t always carried out once they win office, also noted that “it was good that Donald Trump stressed so strongly that he will be a president for all Americans.”

Other party leaders weren’t convinced, nor were they completely satisfied with Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s reaction to Trump’s election victory. “The (Norwegian) government isn’t taking seriously the unease that folks are feeling,” complained Audun Lysbakken, leader of the Socialist Left party (SV). That prompted Astadheim to jokingly question what Brende should do: “Set fire to a toupé in front of the US Embassy in Oslo?”

The defense concerns, though, are no joking matter, and Liberals leader Trine Skei Grande, who supports the conservative government coalition, wondered whether Norway, which has just boosted defense spending and agreed on a new long-term defense plan, “must take a new look at the way we organize our defense now.”

Brende stressed that the most important thing now, is to work closely and consciously with the new US administration, something which the US Embassy in Oslo, has already stressed as well. “This is all about our close security cooperation,” Brende said. “The collective security is important.”

Melby agreed, also noting that “it can well happen that we’ll come to see another Trump as president than what we saw during the campaign.” And for all the attention paid to how Russian President Vladimir Putin was celebrating Trump’s election, Melby suggested Trump may also prove “a tough nut to crack” for Putin, too. Better relations between the US and Russia, though, and more cooperation can also be a good thing for Norway, along with an easing of current tensions.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund