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Sunday, May 26, 2024

Defense build-up takes shape

NEWS ANALYSIS: First came news this week that far more young Norwegians face an expanded military draft. Then came confirmation that the Andøya air station in Northern Norway will be revived as a base for long-range surveillance drones, before cakes were cut to celebrate the 75th anniversary of NATO, of which Norway was a founding member. It was all a suitable run-up to Friday’s unveiling of Norway’s highly anticipated long-term defense plan, which the government described as an “historic boost” that will strengthen all branches of the military.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre was flanked by both his finance and defense ministers when he unveiled his government’s “historic” plans to build up Norway’s defense. At left, Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum and at right, Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Torbjørn Kjosvold

“Ensuring security for people in Norway is the government’s most fundamental assignment,” said Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre at a midday press conference. “We need defense that suits today’s situation and threat level.”

That includes an aggressive and unpredictable neighour in the far north, where Norway shares a border with Russia. Its full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago changed everything, and has forced both Norway and the rest of its fellow NATO members to end years of military decline and rebuild its own defense forces as quickly as possible.

Støre is now proposing an additional defense investment of NOK 600 billion (USD 60 billion) over the next 12 years. That means Norway intends to invest a total of NOK 1,624 billion on defense between now and 2036, when annual defense budgets will be double what they are today.

The money will be spent on new frigates, submarines and other military vessels to shore up Norwegian naval forces. Norway already has a new fleet of F35 fighter jets but now needs to dramatically boost its air defense systems. Army forces on the ground will also see a major increase with two new brigades and expansion of the home guard to include a total of 45,000 soldiers.

Norway’s current frigate fleet numbers just four, after an embarrassing collision and sinking of a fifth frigate in 2018. There wasn’t enough political support to replace it, but now there is. PHOTO: Forsvaret

“When the world is uneasy, we must use more of our resources on defense and national preparedness,” said Finance Minister Trygve Slagsvold Vedum. He noted that Norway has both the natural and financial resources needed to do just that.

Priority will be given to improving today’s defense by boosting stores of ammunition and other defense material, renovating military property that declined or was even shut down when the Cold War was thought to have ended, and to increase capacity for receiving fellow NATO allies. Recruitment to the armed forces will also be a high priority, not only to bring in far more soldiers, sailors, pilots and other military personnel but also to retain them.

Among other proposed projects is a new Finnmark Brigade for Northern Norway.  (external link to the Barents Observer).

The Norwegian Navy is being promised a minimum of five new frigates, more than doubling its current fleet of just four. The willingness to invest in frigates illustrates the huge change in political sentiment from just over five years ago, when the former Conservatives’ led government wanted to pull money out of Norway’s huge sovereign wealth fund to replace a frigate that sunk after an embarrassing collision with an oil tanker off Bergen. The current government was in opposition at the time and it collectively blocked the investment. Now Støre’s Labour Party and Vedum’s Center Party are willing to more than double the existing fleet.

There’s also a new willingness to invest in more submarines, anti-sub helicopters and up to 28 other naval vessels. In addition come plans for acquisition of more tanks, helicopters, ammunition, Norway’s own NASAMs air defense systems and what’s needed to patrol Norway’s huge offshores areas that also border on Russia’s.

Støre stressed, like he did in his New Year’s address to the nation, that neither Norway nor NATO “are threatening anyone, but we must have the ability to defend ourselves” in the event of “crisis and war.” He claimed that stronger defense “here at home” can scare off anyone “who wants to threaten our sovereignty.”

Norway’s own surface to air missile defense equipment (NASAMs) is highly acclaimed and been sent to Ukraine, but now more of it is needed at home as well, like here in Oslo. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram said that Norway “must have defense forces to prevent conflict every day, and which is prepared that conflict can erupt after all.” What’s most needed is more people capable of using and servicing all the new equipment that’s set to be acquired: “Defense forces will be strengthened with more than 20,000 draft-eligible solders, employees and those in the reserves.”

Norway is also keen to be able to work well and swiftly with its two new NATO allies, Finland and Sweden. Both countries have arguably better defense forces than Norway, another reason why Norway needs lots of military improvements. “The ability to receive allied forces and operate together with our allied forces, including Sweden and Finland, is extremely important for Norwegian security,” Gram said.

Norway simply needs to meet NATO standards and demands, with the build-up already set to finally bring Norway into compliance with NATO’s defense spending goal equal to at least 2 percent of GNP. The non-socialist opposition in Parliament seems to understand that as well. It will likely feel a political need to challenge some of the government’s long-term plan, but support in Parliament is expected, much to Støre’s relief: “It’s of great importance that we stand together on securing Norway.” Berglund



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