Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide said on Wednesday that Norway’s conservative government has asked the chief of the country’s defense forces for a thorough re-evaluation of the military in light of Russia’s “aggression against Ukraine.” She thinks Europe has become more insecure following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for separatists in Ukraine.
Norway’s former left-center government, headed by the man who’s now secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, last evaluated the military and Norway’s defense capability in 2011 and 2012, and put forth a new long-term strategy. Now the current government already wants a new thorough evaluation because of Russia’s recent aggression. That includes full re-evaluation of the military cooperation and partnerships that have been built up since the end of the Cold War between Norway and Russia.
“For the first time since World War II, a European state (Russia) has conquered part of a neighbouring country with force,” Søreide stated in remarks prepared for her formal call for “professional military guidance” from Norway’s defense chief, Haakon Bruun-Hanssen. Such “aggression against Ukraine,” Søreide continued, has led to “an uncertainty that we haven’t seen in Europe for several decades. Along with the authoritarian development in Russia, this has changed the picture for a security policy partnership.” Such a partnership, she said, must be built on mutual confidence.
Søreide worries that “we see a demonstrated willingness combined with a considerably improved Russian ability to use military force.” Recent comprehensive military reform in Russia has greatly strengthened the Russian military, Søreide noted, giving it more power and more options. Norway shares a border with Russia in the far north and she noted how the entire Arctic, much of which lies in Norwegian territory, is strategically important both for economic and defense reasons.
“Even though we see no direct military threat against Norway, we have over time seen increasing Russian military activity and exercises in the north,” she said, adding that there’s also been “considerably more military activity in the Baltic area.”
Søreide stressed that Norway’s current long-term plan for its defense forces “shall be followed up,” but noted that “important conditions” have changed “considerably” since the last plan was approved in June 2012. In addition to the situation regarding Russia and Ukraine, Søreide pointed to “future challenges tied to technology, investment and the economy.” The recently heightened terrorist threats are also of grave concern and already have involved the military working with the police.
Gearing for ‘greater demands’ from NATO
Her call for a new evaluation “of the entire foundation for the structure and composition of Norwegian defense” came on the very day Stoltenberg was taking over his new job at NATO, and just a week before her government will present its first full state budget for the year ahead. Speculation is high that the defense portion of the budget will rise once again, in keeping with calls from the US for increased military spending among its fellow NATO members. Budget cuts made by other NATO countries during the euro crisis have made Norway a “relatively large state” in NATO, Søreide claimed, and that carries with it an obligation.
“We must expect that greater demands will be made of Norway to contribute to its own and its allies’ security,” she said. While Norway has wound down most of its presence in the US- and NATO-led operations in Afghanistan, Norwegian special forces are still there training Afghan security troops in Kabul and that operation may be continued, not least since the country’s new president signed agreements this week for US and NATO troops to remain.
Eriksen gave Bruun-Hanssen and his staff a year to formulate their new evaluation. She urged public debate in the meantime on defense priorities. “These have become great questions of our time,” she said. “Norway’s security and defense affects us all.”