Norway’s defense ministry is clamping down on sales and auctions of military equipment, after surplus Navy vessels and other military hardware wound up under the control of paramilitary forces in Nigeria. Defense officials are under intense pressure to sharpen routines, not least after hearing their credibility questioned at a tough parliamentary hearing late last week.
Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide insisted that her ministry and the military establishment was taking the criticism seriously. She also said authorization for any pending sales of military equipment has been transferred from the defense department’s much-criticized logistics operation and over to the office of the defense chief. Auctions of military material have also been halted until defense officials can be assured that rules are being followed.
Several of those testifying at Friday’s hearing before the parliament’s supervisory committee claimed they couldn’t remember how disputed sales had come about, or claimed they’d relied on export approvals granted by the foreign ministry. Members of Parliament were unusually harsh in their questioning, often suggesting they were dissatisfied with the response they got or simply didn’t believe the answers given.
Defense Chief Haakon Bruun-Hanssen was pounded with questions himself, and he and his colleagues denied there were any efforts to trick the ministry. Most likely, one involved broker testified, lower-ranked military staff were simply anxious to complete sales to interested buyers and unload the equipment up for sale, without paying close enough attention to where it might end up. Bruun-Hanssen also tried to downplay the importance of some of the vessels sold, admitting they were in Nigeria now but that “they are no longer battleships, they 25- to 35-year-old hulls,” best capable of merely carrying passengers.
The scandal around the sales to Nigeria is not over yet, with investigations and a major audit of sales procedures underway. “I am taking the situation seriously,” Søreide testified.