Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg was firm in her convictions this week that NATO members in Europe are already making a major contribution to the defense alliance’s strength and the fight against terrorism. She made it clear that pleasing US President Donald Trump shouldn’t be the most important motivation for NATO taking on its new role in the fight against the Islamic extremist group IS.
“That must first and foremost be based on our desire to efficiently do something about terrorism and extremism in the world,” Solberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “Then it can be good that NATO takes part in the same discussions where all the NATO countries are already involved, and not sit on the sidelines.”
Solberg was among the 26 NATO members’ government leaders and heads of state who met Thursday evening on what’s otherwise a holiday in most European countries. Instead of enjoying a long Ascension Day weekend at home, though, they all met over a three-hour dinner at NATO’s new headquarters that was attended, for the first time, by the US’ new president. Trump has been highly critical of both the EU and NATO, even going so far as to call the alliance “obsolete.”
He continued to scold his fellow NATO allies, while all of them stood at attention and listened, for not spending enough money on defense. They voted themselves four years ago ago to boost spending to 2 percent of their gross national products (GNP), but Trump pointed out that only a handful of them have actually done so.
Norway is not among them, currently spending 1.55 percent of GNP. That’s more than many other NATO countries but still a long way from the goal. One challenge for Norway is its large GNP (fueled by its oil industry) based on a small and spread-out population.
Solberg claims she still supports the 2 percent goal and points to an “enormous increase” in Norwegian defense spending, but she can’t guarantee Norway will meet the goal. “What we all agreed to was reversing the negative trend (of declines in defense spending since the break-up of the Soviet Union) and to work towards meeting the 2 percent goal,” Solberg told newspaper Aftenposten. “That’s important to remember. I think we’ll be seeing all countries in Europe increasing their defense spending.”
That’s probably not enough to satisfy Trump, but Solberg countered that it was important for him to also listen to the Europeans’ version of the situation, and acknowledge everything Europe has done to tackle the migrant and refugee crisis and fight terrorism. Jens Stoltenberg, the NATO secretary general who formerly held Solberg’s job in Norway, confirmed that NATO will become an official member of the coaliton against IS and Solberg applauded that. “NATO has intelligence capacity, through surveillance, for example, that the individual countries can’t necessarily offer,” she said. “NATO already has a system for that.”
Trump, meanwhile, was expected to do some listening of his own, this week and in the future. “It’s always important to have a first meeting like this with a new American president,” Solberg said. “He’ll hear from our collective choir how we see things. He’ll see that the contributions many countries, like Norway, make are already large.”
Solberg doesn’t think that NATO’s membership in the coalition against IS will put any new pressure on Norway, which already is involved with the coalition and has had soldiers training, advising and supporting local soldiers in Iraq and Syrian groups in the fight against IS. “The most important thing,” Solberg said, “is to fight IS at its roots, where they started to organize their work, in Syria and Iraq.” NATO isn’t planning to send any ground forces, though. “We will contribute through these niches, where we have something to special to contribute,” Solberg said.