The recent wave of deadly terrorist attacks on civilians in Europe, coming as Norway marks the fifth anniversary of its own terrorist attacks this week, has raised new questions over whether Norway’s state police force should continue to be unarmed. The government isn’t making any immediate changes, though, pending receipt of an expert evaluation due next spring.
Alarm has risen following the attacks in Brussels, Paris and, most recently, in Nice. Some Members of Parliament have expressed concern that Norwegian police, if faced with a suddenly dangerous situation, would need to run and fetch weapons from locked cases before they could respond.
Peter Christian Frølich, an MP from the Conservative Party, said he was representing fellow party members when he called last week for new permanent arming of Norwegian police. The arming would be restricted, though, to police on patrol in places deemed to be terror targets, such as train stations and airports.
Commission studying the issue
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, also from the Conservatives, set up an expert commission in May to study and evaluate Norway’s practice and long tradition of having unarmed police. They were armed for a relatively lengthy period from 2014 through most of 2015 and briefly earlier this year, following evaluations of a heightened terror threat against Norway by the state police intelligence unit PST (Politiets sikkerhetstjeneste).
They’ve been unarmed again since late March. Justice Minister Anders Anundsen of the conservative Progress Party has long favoured having armed police in Norway, and welcomes the proposal from Frølich.
“Based on my party’s standpoint and the government’s platform, I would say that this is a proposal that lies close to my heart,” Anundsen told newspaper Dagsavisen over the weekend. “But right now it’s sensible to wait for the work on this to be done by the commission.”
Anundsen noted that the Parliament has formally expressed that it wants Norway’s police to be unarmed as a general rule, “and I must go along with that,” he said. He had faced ongoing protests from Members of Parliament opposed to having an armed police in Norway, not least from the Labour Party. They had complained that Anundsen had been unnecessarily extending the arming order last year, and were relieved when police were ordered to drop their arms earlier this year.
“The government has nonetheless set up the commission to study the arming question,” Anundsen added. “I hope the report they deliver will give us a solid and professional basis for a new political debate on this.”
Accepting the risk in the meantime
Lt Col Palle Ydstebø, who heads the division for military strategy and doctrine at Norway’s National Defense College, suggested that Norway has seemed willing to accept the risk and pay the price of having an open and democratic society. “We have to accept that risk, as long as someone wants to destroy it,” he told Dagsavisen. He said that one way of hindering further terrorist attacks is continuing to “live as before,” and that would include maintaining an unarmed police.
Terrorists, Ydstebø said, “will steadily look for new methods of exploiting weaknesses in preparedness. You can never completely guard yourself against attacks.” He said the most important think Norwegian authorities can do, is to follow suspected terrorist groups tightly through intelligence gathering.
“At the same time, you can have visible police patrols,” he added, “but not necessarily armed police.”