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Stoltenberg wants to beef up NATO

As Europe struggles through its worst economic crisis in decades, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg wants to strengthen NATO. He led Norway’s delegation to the NATO summit in Chicago, and said he wants to boost Norway’s support to the alliance, both financially and otherwise.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (center) meeting US President Barack Obama and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the NATO summit in Chicago. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

“It’s unsettling to hear about the big cuts in European defense budgets that many countries are talking about, ” Stoltenberg told news bureau NTB. “I’m afraid defense abilities can be drastically weakened if, for example, 20 percent is cut out of a military budget.”

The prospective defense cuts come at a time when budgets are being cut dramatically in other areas, and social unrest and unemployment are rising. Stoltenberg said that makes it especially important to have a strong NATO.

“NATO can be a stabilizing force also within Europe,” Stoltenberg told news bureau NTB. “We’re now seeing a positive development, where NATO is turning attention back to Europe.” Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre agrees that NATO’s attention should return to its own member nations.

Stoltenberg (center) also has Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (left) and Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide with him at the NATO summit in Chicago. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

“NATO will boost its concentration on core areas and its members’ security,” said Støre, who, along with Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide, has been in Chicago for the NATO summit along with Stoltenberg.

Stoltenberg confirmed Monday that NATO won’t be pulling completely out of Afghanistan and that Norway will contribute to ongoing training and advisory programs for Afghan troops. Stoltenberg said Norway will boost its economic contribution from around NOK 100 million to NOK 150 million but noted Norway will save around NOK 1 billion in the pullout of some troops set for later this year.

Meanwhile, as Chicago deals with demonstrations and a massive security program around the NATO summit, which has drawn leaders of around 60 countries to the Windy City, it’s unlikely Norway will ever host a NATO summit itself. They’ve simply become too big for a small country like Norway to handle, despite Norway’s relative wealth.

“If we get a formal request (to host a summit), it’s something we must evaluate,” Støre told newspaper Aftenposten. “Our attitude is that it’s ‘open house’ for NATO in Norway, but we’d have to study the magnitude of a top meeting.”

Norway is one of the founding members of NATO but has never hosted a summit. “We did host NATO’s foreign ministers’ meeting in 2007,” Støre recalled, “and that was a big operation. Summits have become a gigantic arrangement. It’s not a given that Oslo would be the right place for such a meeting.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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