Norway’s defense under attack itself

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Norway’s military and defense establishment was under attack on a variety of fronts this week. Not only is NATO stepping up demands as calls increase for much more defense spending and preparedness by Norway, a new report reveals widespread sexual harassment and even rape among Norwegian troops.

Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, Norway’s Chief of Defense, is angry about ongoing sexual harassment and even rape within the Norwegian military, and frustrated by Norway’s lack of its own credible defense. PHOTO; Mats Grimsæth/Forsvarets Mediesenter

Defense chief Haakon Bruun-Hanssen was angry and he let it be known, after receiving the report based on a survey of bullying and sexual harassment among defense personnel within the last 12 months. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Tuesday that more than 160 employees have been subjected to rape or attempted rape. Of that, 44 actual rapes were reported in the survey, by 24 women and 20 men.

“We are many people working closely together, we have lots of regulations and we have put a string of (anti-harassment) measures into place,” Bruun-Hanssen told NRK. “So the fact that we’ve had so many incidents both on- and off-duty surprises me and makes me extra furious.”

Asked how there could be so much harassment and even rapes among military personnel, Bruun-Hanssen was candid: “There’s been given enough room and acceptance for that type of behaviour.” As a result, he said, employees have to look out for each other and “avoid getting into these situations. We also have to make sure our young leaders step in early and set an example so that type of behaviour isn’t allowed to develop.”

Only two of the rape cases have been reported to police, prompting Bruun-Hanssen to encourage all defense employees to report both rapes and attempted rapes to the police. “We can’t fight this problem without clear warnings,” he said. “Otherwise nothing happens.”

More defense demands loom
He and others in charge of Norway’s defense, not least Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen of the Conservative Party, were facing other battles this week as well, in the wake of last week’s NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels that was followed by the Munich Security Conference. NATO, led by former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg from the Labour Party, is losing patience with Norway’s delays in bringing defense spending up to 2 percent of GNP and now also has some specific demands.

Newspaper Aftenposten reported Tuesday that Norway’s NATO allies want Norway to build up a “credible” army, replace the frigate KMN Helge Ingstad that sunk last fall after its crew collided with a tanker not far from homeport in Bergen, and buy the country’s own fleet of tanker planes to refuel Norway’s new F35 fighter jets.

Norway’s lack of its own credible defense came to light during recent NATO exercises that simulated an invasion just outside Trondheim last fall. PHOTO: NRK screen grab

NATO’s concrete demands come just a month after Bruun-Hanssen himself, a Navy admiral who formerly commanded submarines, publicly admitted that Norway’s defense apparatus is too small. He’s backed by Vice Admiral Ketil Olsen, Norway’s top military liaison to NATO, who’s now delivering NATO’s demands to those in charge of Norway’s defense budget in Oslo.

“It’s important for me to pass on how NATO views Norway and what NATO expects,” Olsen told Aftenposten before he also publicized demands in a speech in Oslo Monday evening.

He also disclosed that many of Norway’s shortcomings became glaringly apparent during NATO’s huge Trident Juncture military exercise that was held in Norway last autumn. Olsen said that Norway’s “lack of endurance” was documented when most of the country’s military capacity was exhausted in just receiving NATO forces before the exercises began.

“We had little left to fight with,” Olsen said. “We must become more robust, show ourselves to be a credible force and make the population feel secure.”

Needs on many fronts
His nearly embarrassing openness about Norwegian defense inadequcy is a result of the needs that have cropped up as both Norway and NATO make defense plans for the next four years. “Then you see the needs,” Olsen said.

Right now they include an increase in batallions ready to be called upon. NATO is not pleased that Norwegian batallions were recently cut from three to two. “Norway must have the capacity to both take care of itself and, at the same time, take part in NATO assignments abroad,” Olsen told Aftenposten. “Norway needs a credible defense, and that doesn’t apply only to Norway.”

Norway’s sunken frigate has been another embarrassment, coming at a time when the country’s defense capacity is already inadequate. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Replacing the sunken frigate will cost around NOK 5 billion, and Prime Minister Erna Solberg has been criticized, not least by the Labour Party, for proposing that the money be found outside the state budget. That means dipping into Norway’s oil revenues that are set aside to fund future generations’ pensions. Solberg thinks the need is great enough to make an “extraordinary” exception to the rules over how oil money is spent, not least in an effort to get the sunken frigate replaced as quickly as possible.

Now she’s also being asked to buy aircraft that can refuel Norway’s new fighter jets, which proved unable to respond to the second wave of a simulated Russian attack because of refueling needs. NATO also wonders whether four submarines that Norway plans to order will be enough and is skeptical to Norway’s decision to scrap its so-called MTB vessels that can be faster than its frigates with many of the same weapons on board.

‘Hundreds of billions needed’                                 
A commission appointed by Solberg’s Conservative Party concluded earlier this week that its own government simply must boost defending spending, and quickly, based on demands from both NATO and the US in particular. “The 2 percent spending goal is a politial reality, whether you like it or not,” the commission’s leader Hårek Elvenes told news bureau NTB on Monday. He’s a Member of Parliament who sits on the Parliament’s foreign and defense committee. That means boosting the defense budget by at least NOK 19 billion over what’s planned for 2020. The 2 percent goal must be met by 2024, with Norwegian officials claiming they’re making progress and will meet the goal.

Defense researchers also recently claimed several hundred billion more will be needed by 2040, while also ominously noting that given the level of worldwide tensions at present, an attack on Norway can’t be completely ruled out. The willingness of NATO allies to help Norway can also decline if Norway doesn’t boost its own defense mightily and soon.

While a majority of NATO’s now-29 members have reached or will soon reach the alliance’s defense spending goal, Norway is lagging behind, currently spending just under 1.6 percent of its GNP on defense. Not even Norway’s plan for meeting the goal will be available until 2021, reports newspaper VG, after Parliament has approved a new long-term plan for defense.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund