The Norwegian government announced more plans on Monday to strengthen defense preparedness, after another rash of criticism over a lack thereof. Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre claimed to be following “professional advice” from Defense Chief Eirik Kristoffersen, who has publicly complained about insufficient defense spending.
Even though Norway’s proposed defense budget stands to jump by 10 percent next year, it’s far from enough. Kristoffersen told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) last week that he needs, among other things, maritime helicopters, operative anti-aircraft systems and, not least, more soldiers. Long-term plans for such defense improvements have not been financed, Kristoffersen said.
It may look like defense emerged as the winner in next year’s proposed state budget, but most of the money is earmarked for weapons for Ukraine (not Norway itself) and funds to cover costs of the weak krone and higher prices and wages in general. There’s no big increase in spending on actual defense material or troops.
Kristoffersen pointed to how other NATO allies, especially those who also share a border with Russia like Estonia, Lithuania and Poland, have greatly increased their defense spending. Norway, meanwhile, remains the only Russian neighbour that hasn’t fulfilled NATO’s goal of spending at least 2 percent of GNP on defense.
“It’s difficult to explain how a country that’s earning so much money on gas and energy prices (as Norway is) can’t spend enough money on defense,” Kristoffersen told DN. He and many others worry that Norway is getting a bad reputation for not doing its share as a NATO ally. Poland, in contrast, has already been spending 3 percent of GNP on defense and likely to raise it to 5 percent.
The former US ambassador to Norway, who went on to serve as Secretary of the Navy under former US President Donald Trump, seemed to prove Kristoffersen right in another DN report over the weekend. Former fleet commander Kenneth Braithwaite, who now has new business and academic pursuits in Norway, said he was disappointed when he recently saw Norway’s proposed defense budget for 2023, and how Norway remains far from meeting the 2 percent NATO spending goal.
“It’s sad,” Braithwaite told DN. “All other countries have built up their defense after Russia’s invasion and war, but Norway holds back despite the past half-year’s enormous (gas and oil) revenues” pouring into the country. He predicted Norway’s reputation will be tarnished “because you’re not taking responsibility for the rest of the alliance.” He called Norway’s defense spending “irresponsibly low,” and that Norway will lose respect because of the government’s failure to fund what’s needed.
Newspaper Aftenposten editorialized on Monday that not all problems will be solved by raising Norwegian defense spending to 2 percent of GNP, but the overall goal of strengthening Norway’s own defense capability is not being met. “It’s worth listening to the defense chief when he says that Norway is not well enough prepared for war or crisis,” wrote Aftenposten.
‘Most serious security situation in several decades’
Prime Minister Støre seems to have taken notice of the criticism. He called a press conference on Monday to announce that the government had decided that Norwegian defense must raise it’s preparedness “and head into a new phase” of its plan from November 1. “It means that defense activity will be in line with the serious security situation Europe is in,” he said.
He called it “the most serious security situation in several decades,” flanked by both Kristoffersen and Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram. “There are no indications Russia will expand its war to other countries,” Støre stressed, but he said high tensions “mean we are more exposed to threats” as well as to illegal intelligence gathering and attempts by foreign countries to gain influence in Norway.
“That makes it necessary for all NATO countries to be more on guard, also Norway,” Støre said. Naval vessels have increased their presence and patrols around offshore oil and gas installations, Støre noted, and the Home Guard will continue to protect “critical infrastructure” on land.
Defense Minister Gram called it “a development over time that will put defense into a new phase of its plan,” adding that “not everything being done can be seen and we can’t speak openly about all of it.” He said defense forces “have a good overview of the situation, and we’re making our defense forces able to handle this situation over time.”
Kristoffersen stressed that the defense forces’ “most important job is to preserve peace and security, and hinder conflict. In order to do that, we must adapt our activity to the situation we’re in at any given time.” He said forces under his command will thus “shift some priorities … to strengthen our preparedness, our operative ability and our endurance.”
Støre warned that since Russia is meeting “great resistance” in Ukraine, it can mean that its leaders will resort to other means. He doesn’t think Russia will directly target Norway, “but we must be on guard.” Exact means of being so are confidential, and being carried out in coordination with NATO. More surveillance flights are likely, along with nuclear preparedness.
“There’s a rhetoric about the use of nuclear weapons that we haven’t heard before,” Kristoffersen said. “There was a gas explosion in the Baltic Sea and we have had drones flying around platforms in the North Sea. Our allies are strengthening their presence along the borders to Russia in Eastern Europe.” He said he couldn’t be more concrete about what Norway is doing, “but we’re increasing our preparedness, the availability of our defense forces and our ability to respond better.”