Norway goes wrong way on NATO goal

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Norway generally gets good marks for its NATO participation, but new statistics show its defense spending is not on course towards the defense alliance’s agreed spending goal. As the leaders of NATO countries gather in Brussels on Wednesday, Norway’s top politicians will need to be on the defense themselves.

Norway often hosts NATO exercises, is relied upon for being the defense alliance’s “eyes and ears” in the Arctic and patrols the Norwegian and Barents seas. Actual defense spending, however, now appears to be slightly declining as a percentage of GNP. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen and Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide are all attending the annual NATO summit, with tensions running high over how US President Donald Trump will behave. Instead of being assured of the US’ support and solidarity with its NATO allies, Trump has created confusion and uncertainty. No one wants a repeat of his behaviour at the recent G7 summit, where he even withdrew support from a joint declaration he and all other members had signed.

Now Trump is demanding that all NATO members quickly meet the goal they agreed to even before he declared his candidacy for the US presidency: to bring defense spending up to 2 percent of gross national product (GNP). New statistics released by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister himself, show that five of NATO’s 29 member countries met the goal in 2017 and eight are expected to do so this year: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Greece, Great Britain, Romania and the US.

Norway is noticeably not among them, and NATO’s statistics suggest Norway is moving backwards on the 2 percent spending goal instead of towards it. Newspaper Aftenposten reported on Wednesday that instead of spending 1.62 percent of GNP on defense last year, updated figures put the number at 1.55 percent. This year’s defense spending is expected to amount to 1.61 percent of GNP.

‘Very unfair’
That cost Norway its spot in the “Top 10” NATO countries ranked by defense spending. Norway ranked seventh from 2014 to 2016, but will likely fall to 11th place this year. It may fall farther down the list, since fully two-thirds of NATO countries have put forth plans for meeting the 2 percent goal. Norway is not among them.

That may explain why Solberg was among NATO leaders receiving what some viewed as being “threatening” letters from Trump last month. In them he chided fellow members for failing to move towards the goal and made it clear he expected them to fulfill their obligations. He set another demanding tone in recent “tweets” on the social media site Twitter, writing in capital letters that NATO members must use “MORE” money on defense while the US must use “LESS.” He once again called the current situation, in which the US has been spending the most of all, “very unfair.”

Stoltenberg said at a pre-summit press conference in Brussels that he wanted to “thank President Trump for his leadership” regarding the NATO members’ defense spending. “It’s clear he’s had an effect,” said Stoltenberg with reference to the numbers of countries that have followed through and boosted defense spending.

Norway’s defense
Norway is also spending more on defense than ever before, with Solberg, Bakke-Jensen and Søreide armed with their own clarifications of Norway’s less-than-impressive actual numbers. Bakke-Jensen, in preparing for his first NATO summit, has claimed that it’s not as important how much is spent, as how the money is put to use. Norway has also allowed the US to expand its physical presence in Norway, over the strong objections of Russia, and often is considered NATO’s eyes and ears in the far north. Norway has also long been of strategic importance to NATO because of its border to Russia.

The Norwegian delegation, led by Solberg, stressed the need for “strong allied solidarity” and claimed Norway absolutely was taking its share of responsibility for “our joint security.” She was already citing, even before departure for Brussels, that her government has raised defense budets by 24 percent and claims it will have the 2 percent goal as a “premise” in its “next long-term plan.” Her defense minister Bakke-Jensen claimed Norway played a major role in efforts to strengthen NATO’s maritime abilities, especially in the Arctic region.

Stoltenberg said he expected “robust discussions” at the summit. Some are likely as the Norwegian leaders try to explain why they’re now farther from the spending goal instead of closer. In addition come all the other conflicts between the vast majority of NATO members (including Norway) and Trump, on many of his controversial decisions on Iran and the climate, for example, and not least trade.

Stoltenberg was doing his best to downplay those conflicts, claiming that it was “normal” for friends and allies to have differing opinions. He claimed the higher spending goals were in the best interests of all members, not just Trump’s and the US’.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund