NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and members of the North Atlantic Council were making the rounds of Norwegian military installations, Arctic research centers, government ministers’ offices and the Royal Palace this week, on an official visit that included Liberation- and Veterans’ Day ceremonies on Wednesday. Climate change and military preparedness were on the agenda.
While Norway is not a member of the European Union, it’s a longtime member of the NATO military alliance. Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide was keen to guide Rasmussen around Norway’s Main Air Station at Bodø on Tuesday before also visiting the Norwegian military’s Joint Headquarters in Northern Norway and then heading south for a full day of meeting and events in Oslo on Wednesday.
After a demonstration of Norway’s Quick Reaction Alert for Norwegian F16 fighter jets, Rasmussen and Eide had talks that included joint concerns over climate change and the melting of Arctic ice. The receding ice can open new maritime routes and present new economic opportunities, Rasmussen noted, but can also present new defense challenges and territorial conflicts.
“Therefore it’s important that we avoid conflicts and secure peaceful use of these new opportunities,” Rasmussen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). He stressed that NATO has no plans to increase its military presence in the Arctic, but noted that Norway along with all other NATO members could expect that NATO’s “collective (defense) responsibility” covers all parts of NATO members’ territory, “including the northern territories of Norway.”
NATO ambassadors from 28 countries who make up the North Atlantic Council have also been along on the trip, which began with meetings in Norway’s northern city of Tromsø on Monday, where Eide and State Secretary Torgeir Larsen were their hosts. Tromsø is the home of the High North Research Centre for Climate and the Environment (Fram Centre), where council members were briefed by the head of the Norwegian Polar Institute and a state secretary from Norway’s ministry for oil and energy, before moving on to a seminar on security challenges at the University of Tromsø.
Rasmussen ate breakfast with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday before the two headed for the historic Akershus Fortress and Castle on Oslo’s waterfront for the Liberation Day ceremonies always held on May 8th. The day is not an official holiday in Norway but May 8th is a flag day and recently was also designated as Veterans’ Day in Norway, when the government honours the roughly 100,000 Norwegians who have served in 100 international operations in more than 40 countries over the years.
King Harald V was also firmly in place for the ceremonies this year, following criticism that he was left out of the new Veterans’ Day recognition initiated by Stoltenberg in 2011. After fighter jets roared overhead, the king was due to lay down a wreath at the National Monument shortly after 10am, listen to speeches by both Stoltenberg and Rasmussen and award medals of honour to selected veterans. Then he would receive Rasmussen in a special audience at the Royal Palace at 12:30pm.
Afterwards Rasmussen was due to have a “working lunch” with Foreign Minister Eide, meet Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen and give a lecture at a foreign affairs conference on Europe at the University of Oslo, organized by the Foreign Ministry.
Meanwhile, Norwegians who had a day off could enjoy an “open day” at Akershus on Wednesday and go on board a naval ship at the harbour. A wreath-laying on Bygdøy at the new monument to merchant marine veterans (krigsseilere) during World War II was scheduled for 2pm, part of efforts to better recognize their contribution after decades of harshly criticized official neglect. Family activities were planned at Akershus after work and school, beginning at 4:30pm.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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