New defense plan targets home turf

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Norwegian Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide has unveiled a new long-term plan for the defense sector that wraps up 10 years of military reorganization and includes a special new unit for the Arctic areas. A Stavanger newspaper reported Thursday that it also includes personnel for the new NATO missile defense system that the US wants to set up.

Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide talking about Norway's long-term defense plan, which is being billed as "defense for our times." PHOTO: Forsvaret

That’s not highlighted in the summaries made public on Wednesday, but Aftenbladet in Stavanger reports that Norwegian military personnel will contribute on both an operational level and in the decision-making process for setting up the system. The US wants to set up what the Norwegians call rakettskjold (literally, rocket shields) in Romania, Turkey and eventually Bulgaria, to fend off medium-range missiles.

NATO approved the missile defense system at its summit meeting in Lisbon in 2010, to prevent missile threats that several NATO countries expect to meet in the years ahead. Russia has long opposed the need for such missile defense systems and Norway has been rather stuck in the middle, keen to keep both Russia and the US happy despite recent comments from the new leader of government coalition partner SV, who wants to distance Norway from US politics.

More attention on home territory
The new defense plan may appease SV in another manner, however, by turning Norwegian military attention and presence back to home territory after years of maintaining troops overseas, not least in Afghanistan. Eide stressed that the Norwegian military’s foremost duty is to prevent attack on Norwegian territory. Norway’s membership in NATO will continue to play a critical role, but claimed “an aggressor shall be aware that an attack on Norway will be met with resolute defense power and have an unacceptably high price.”

He told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Wednesday night that a new defense unit will be set up to patrol Arctic territory, as Norway’s northern areas take on increasing importance. Again, though, Norway is working with foreign allies such as the UK, which has recognized that Norway is one of few NATO countries that hasn’t been cutting its defense budgets.

Eide, from Norway’s Labour Party, was in London earlier this month and met with British Defense Minister Philip Hammond of the Conservatives, who told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that a new defense pact between Norway and the UK will help British defense forces “get more out the money” that’s available.  He said relations between Norway and the UK are “very strong” and he promoted “willing coalitions” between or among individual nations.

Eide claimed that relations between Norway and the UK are stronger than they’ve been in years, a “paradox” of sorts, given that Norway’s government is left-center and the UK’s is currently conservative. But that, Eide said, has more to do with the earlier policies of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Even though he was from Labour, Eide noted that Blair’s support for US President George Bush and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan put British policy at the time at odds with Norway’s.

Now the UK will be part of a defense alliance including Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark aimed at coordinating military cooperation in the Arctic areas, he told DN.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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