US’ NATO envoy challenges Norway

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UPDATED: Not only has US President Donald Trump pitted his country against its longtime allies in the G7, there’s also rising discord between the US and its allies in NATO. Norway is caught in the cross-fire once again, with Trump’s ambassador to NATO now claiming Norway should be among the first to reach NATO’s own defense-spending goals.

The US’ Permanent Representative to NATO Kay Bailey Hutchison, shown here with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on a visit to the US in April, is calling on Norway to take the lead in boosting its defense budget to 2 percent of GNP. PHOTO: NATO

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Thursday that Kay Bailey Hutchison, a lawyer and Republican politician from Texas, doesn’t think it’s enough that Norway already spends more on defense per capita than other NATO countries. That’s largely the result of Norway’s strong economy, fueled by its offshore oil industry, and a small population of just over 5 million.

Nor is it enough that the Norwegian government has steadily boosted its defense spending in recent years. Hutchison conceded that Norway is moving “in the right direction,” but she told NRK that since Norway has a strong economy, it should soon reach the goal agreed by NATO members in 2016, that defense spending should equal 2 percent of gross national product.

“That’s what we expect of our strongest countries,” Hutchison told NRK. Hutchison, a former US Senator from Texas who had a seat on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, was appointed as Trump’s envoy to NATO last August. The US can also point to Norway’s huge sovereign wealth fund known as the Oil Fund, although that was set up specifically to secure pensions for future generations of Norwegians, not military budgets.

Kay Bailey Hutchison is US President Donald Trump’s envoy to NATO. PHOTO: NATO

Norway’s defense spending amounted to just over 1.5 percent as of last year while its actual defense budget is bigger than ever before. Hutchison, speaking on behalf of Trump, is not satisfied. She told NRK she wants Norway to take on a leadership role within NATO. Her remarks follow the uncertainty Trump created himself at last year’s NATO summit, when he reportedly stunned NATO allies by calling on them to boost their defense budgets by as much as 50 percent.

Aftenposten reported on Friday that only eight NATO countries devote 2 percent of the GNP to defense spending: Great Britain, Greece, Romania, Poland, the US, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The 20 others are supposed to reach that goal by 2024 and more than half have plans to do so. Norway does not, nor does Germany, which has such a large economy that its defense budget would be bigger than Russia’s if it met the 2 percent goal. That’s not entirely popular, either within Germany or outside it.

At the same time, debate continues to fly in Norway over its defense spending, which isn’t always viewed as being as effective as it could be. Newspaper Dagsavisen reported on Friday, for example, that the troops are restless over a lack of Army brigades within Norway and fears that the Army has been the loser in recent reorganizations of military forces.

Latest US offensive
Hutchison’s offensive directed at Norway, meanwhile, is the latest launched by the administration in Washington that’s challenging and even angering its allies. The trade war Trump launched against China has already spread to Canada, Mexico, the EU and many other countries including Norway. That’s dramatically raised tensions heading into the G7 meeting that begins in Canada on Friday, to which Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg has also been invited. She made it clear after meetings with EU leaders in Brussels earlier this week that Trump’s trade war, expected to damage the economies of all involved, is creating uncertainty that can also influence other international issues.

Among them are tensions also launched by Trump after he pulled the US out of an international agreement with Iran aimed at restricting Iran’s nuclear program. Norway, which had helped negotiate the Iran agreement, was deeply disappointed by Trump’s pull-out and wants the agreement to survive. Now the US is also demanding, however, that all other countries go along with the US’ renewed sanctions against Iran and making threats if they don’t. That has further enraged European allies, especially those that already have invested in Iran.

Defense ministers meeting in Brussels
NATO was also holding a meeting with defense ministers from all the 28 NATO countries this week, attended by Norway’s Frank Bakke Jensen. It was expected that several will air their frustration over how Trump continues to pressure his allies to spend more on defense at the same time he imposes punitive fees on steel and aluminum that can harm the economies of EU countries and Norway.

Hutchison acknowledged that relations between the US and its allies in Europe are tense, but she seemed confident a solution would be found. She told NRK that NATO members can “never” put economic concerns ahead of security. At the same time, G7 members that also are members of NATO have expressed deep offense that Trump has slapped his punitive import fees on EU countries, Norway, Canada and Mexico in an alleged effort to boost the US’ national security. By doing so, according to some allied leaders, Trump has effectively categorized the US’ own allies as posing a threat to US security.

Conflicts worry Stoltenberg
Norwegian news bureau NTB reported that all the conflicts between the US and its allies in NATO are worrying NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister. At a press meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, he pointed to Trump’s new import fees on steel and aluminum and his withdrawals from the UN climate agreement in Paris and the Iran nuclear deal as sources of conflict.

Stoltenberg said it would “of course” be best if the conflicts were resolved. As long as they’re not, he said he had to concentrate on “reducing and limiting the negative consequences for NATO.” He confirmed that there is “now deep disagreement among NATO allies on serious issues.”

Stoltenberg noted, however, that NATO members have been in conflict before, like when the US invaded Iraq in 2003 over the strong objections of many NATO countries including Norway. He stressed that NATO members have repeatedly shown they can cooperate despite disagreements among them.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund