Defense Minister: 'Bring NATO home'

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New Norwegian Defense Minister Grete Faremo gave her first speech to a major military organization in Oslo Monday evening and her message was clear: NATO needs to return to its “core values” of protecting its members on home turf. She said Norway is stressing this as NATO itself revises its strategic concept.

With King Harald V in attendance, along with other high-profile officials at a meeting of the 175-year-old Oslo Militære Samfund, Faremo said she plans to continue to “steer the same course” as her prececessor and to boost efforts to strengthen Norway’s own military.

But Faremo wants to see some changes in NATO, as the military alliance itself goes through what she called a “reflection process” tied to a revision of the “strategic concept” that’s steered it since 1999.

Norway, Faremo said, has been “active from the start” in trying to influence the current reform process that she predicts will get lots of political attention throughout 2010. Norway’s goal, she said, is to get NATO to focus on its core assignment of being able to give member countries the security that lies in collective defense, with sufficient, relevant and credible military capacity at home.

“This can sound like something we should take for granted, but it isn’t for everyone,” Faremo said. “In recent years the alliance has had such a large military and political focus ‘out of area’ that the core assignments have been somewhat in the background.”She said NATO should be able to take on “out of area” international operations (like those in Afghanistan) as long as they’re anchored in a clear UN mandate. The Afghanistan operation has been largely tied to the security of the US, as a NATO member, and to all the members’ defense against terrorism.

“But the balance between (operations) ‘at home” and ‘out there’ should be reviewed,” she said, adding that it’s one of the most important issues in NATO’s strategic discussions. “There is little doubt that we have contributed to put this high on the agenda.”

Norway, she said, is promoting an initiative (nærområdetinitiativet) to bring NATO’s focus back home. It calls for efforts to strengthen NATO’s credibility in ensuring member countries’ security, strengthening its intelligence cooperation, increasing military exercises on NATO home turf and ensuring that NATO’s structure and defense planning reflect these priorities.

Keeping an eye on Russia

Faremo said support for NATO in Norway was “strong and growing,” but the military alliance needs to better balance its ambitions, missions and resources. Norway’s own military, she claimed, remains committed to NATO while trying to boost operations at home as well, especially in northern Norway where “we’ve had almost orchestra seats” in watching Russia resume its “military activity in our northern areas. Even though we don’t view this as a threat directed at Norway, we much follow this development very closely. Norway’s political security is greatly influenced by developments in Russia — that’s why it’s so important that we strengthen cooperation with Russia, also in defense areas.”

Faremo claimed Norway’s own military presence in its northern areas was “even more important than before.” Ironically, her comments came on the eve of Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reports that Norwegian submarine activity is challenged by the closure last year of a maintenance base near Tromsø. Norwegian submarines now must travel south to Bergen for needed repairs. Military officers in other areas earlier have complained of inadequate resources as well.