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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Norway issues new warnings about Russia and China, and a call to arms

NEWS ANALYSIS: Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre doesn’t want to scare his fellow citizens, but his message in a special address to Parliament on Thursday was clear: “The world has become more dangerous, more unpredictable and more complex,” he said, making national security and defense the government’s top priorities.

Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, during a recent visit to Norway’s main air force base at Ørland, where its new fleet of F35 fighter jets is based. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Ole Andreas Vekve

The “more dangerous world” is behind the government’s latest plan for huge investments in defense, and prompted Støre to send out new warnings about China’s intentions as well as those of Russia. He stressed how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its “brutal war” against its neighbour marked a “sense of before and after” and created a “deep security policy crisis” in Europe, while tensions also keep rising among the US, China and Russia. That creates consequences for Norway.

Støre said Russia’s scorn for “The West” includes Norway, and it’s already using “a broad spectrum of destructive means,” including more frequent cyber attacks and attempts to spread its influence, raising the risk of infiltration and sabotage. The Financial Times has reported that western intelligence agencies have already warned about extensive Russian sabotage, targeting infrastructure all over Europe. Norway’s offshore oil and gas installations have long been deemed a target, along with the country’s pipelines and power plants. Norway’s own police intelligence agency PST and military intelligence agency Etterretningstjeneste have long pointed to both Russia and China as among countries posing the biggest threats to Norway’s national security.

Norway has already been patrolling offshore oil and gas installations, in efforts to ward off any attacks, and will continue to do so. PHOTO: Forsvaret

“This is goal-oriented activity to undermine our interests and values, and they’re not alone,” Støre told Parliament. Criminals and other countries also use these methods, he believes, including China, which he thinks has “the greatest capacity” for trying to gain influence through desinformation campaigns, commercial pressure, threats or strategic acquisitions (of businesses or infrastructure), all aimed at “abusing freedom of speech and free markets to threaten or weaken our security.”

“Like other European countries,” Støre said, “we therefore see a need for being more careful in our relations with China. Risk reduction will have to be part of our approach to China and Chinese players.”

Prime Minister Støre, who served as foreign minister under Jens Stoltenberg and has a long diplomatic career behind him, stressed that his government wants to cooperate with China regarding trade, climate issues “and solving global problems,” but no longer in “sensitive areas.” In those where Norway and China do work together, “we must pay more attention to risk and how it can be reduced,” Støre warned. He added that his government is “intensifying dialogue” with Norwegian companies, the academic community and other organizations about the risk tied to cooepration with China and other countries.

The Norwegian prime minister’s warnings come after his government also has proposed and won full support for an unprecedented military build-up, and after several other political parties in Norway already have issued dire warnings of their own, especially regarding Russia. Centuries of cooperation in the far northern areas of both Norway and Russia ground to a halt after Russia invaded another of its other neighbours, raising real concerns about the ambitions of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“If we don’t stop Russia now, Norwegian youth can be the next to have to sacrifice their lives,” stated the former leader of the Greens Party and Member of Parliament Rasmus Hansson earlier this spring. Such strong statements are unusual among Norwegian politicians, but it’s also unusual times, editorialized newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). “If Russia wins (its war on Ukraine), it will raise the threat against our own security,” wrote DN. That’s also why Norway has been among the major donors of financial, military and civilian aid to Ukraine.

Norway’s Andøya Air base at Andenes in Vesterålen is among those being revived, not least with US presence. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Onar Digernes Aase

There’s also been unusually full support for the new base policy that’s allowed American and other NATO allies ongoing presence that earlier was highly controversial. Newspaper Aftenposten reported recently that US military units will now have unimpeded access to fully 47 military bases in the Nordic area, compared to just four in Norway earlier. US forces, now with parliamentary approval, can use at least 12 bases in Norway, including Rygge, Evenes, Ramsund, Sola, Andøya, Ørland, Haakonsvern, Værnes, Bardufoss, Setermoen, Osmarka and Namsen.

That’s a major change from Norway’s decision back in 1949, when it was among the founding members of NATO, not to allow foreign military presence on bases in Norway during peacetime. The decision served Norway well during the Cold War, as did its decision not to have military bases or conduct military exercises close to its border to Russia.

Now it’s not so controversial, especially since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine makes it more difficult to rely on Putin’s regime. “New times demand new base policy,” editorialized DN just last week. “This isn’t about threatening Russia, but rather just making sure that our NATO membership is a deterrent and not an opening to attack us.”

Støre’s address to Parliament and his government’s new defense investment plans thus met strong, multilateral support: “There won’t be any new deep peace,” wrote former defense- and foreign minister Ine Eriksen Søreide of the Conservative Party, usually Støre’s arch rival in Parliament. “Our defense must be strengthened.”

There’s also lots of support for Støre’s attempts, as he said, to “strengthen the public’s ability to understand the seriousness of the situation.” Now the challenge is to carry out the military build-up. “We must all share responsibility for financing it,” Støre said, over the next 12 years. “We must secure better control of spending in a sector that often presents challenges.”

Perhaps most importantly, Støre said, “we need to speak well about the military, and contribute towards getting people to join in and stay with it.” The military already has campaigns underway aimed at attracting both recruits and civilian employees, as needs grow for thousands of new personnel.

There’s little doubt Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre is deeply worried about the high level of tension at present. He’s shown here during a visit to the base for Norway’s new fighter jet fleet at Ørland. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Ole Andreas Vekve

Inspired by his attendance at last week’s D-Day ceremonies in Normandy, Støre also called upon the public in general to ready, willing and able to serve in the case of a national emergency. “Defense capability is about more than soldiers and weapons,” Støre said. “It’s about how society comes together to defend the country, to support a war effort and keep us going. We all have an individual responsibility for that.”

Civilian preparedness, he said, “must also adapt to a new era, and new threats. We must, in fact, be prepared for the worst, for crisis and war and the unexpected.” That includes everything from an actual attack to digital disruption and more extreme weather. Norway’s ongoing efforts at “total defense,” in which  the military works with police, civil defense and emergency response teams.

Støre also stressed the importance of working with Norway’s allies, especially those in NATO and the EU. He noted how NATO has been the anchor of Norway’s defense systems for 75 years and will continue to be. He has also invited the leaders of NATO’s two newest members, Finland and Sweden, to a meeting next week in Bodø, which also is in the midst of celebrations as a “cultural capital” of Europe. “It will be a historic meeting,” Støre said, with the goal of highlighting their new roles in NATO that “increase security and cooperation for all three of us.”

Støre, known for his diplomacy skills, stresses the need for strengthening cooperation with allies. He’s shown here with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at a recent NATO meetiing. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Torbjørn Kjosvold

Before that, Støre will be attending a meeting in Switzerland aimed at ending Russia’s war and “securing peace” that’s acceptable to Ukraine and can boost security and stability on the European continent. He noted that there’s also “dialogue” with China about the war in Ukraine: “China has close ties to Russia, and we know that China is providing considerable support to the Russia offensive in Ukraine. Norway’s clear message to China is that such support is destructive for its reputation and position in Europe. It weakens confidence (in China), it makes it difficult to cooperate. We urge China in the strongest of terms to contribute towards an end to the war.”

He repeated a line from his annual televised address to the nation on New Year’s Day: “Norway isn’t threatening anyone. Neither we nor NATO have any aggressive intentions towards Russia. We respect the Russian Federation’s internationally accepted borders, but Russia chose to attack a neighour. That fundamentally weakens confidence in Russia. Our bilateral relation has gone from cooperation to simply manging it.” He noted, though, that Norway’s embassy in Moscow has remained open.

Støre also expressed concern over the domestic situation within both Russia and China, whose citizens live under increasingly authoritarian rule that won’t or can’t tolerate criticism. Norway’s own freedom and democracy becomes increasingly important given the situation cross the border, all the more reason that the D-Day ceremonies took on new relevance.

Støre spoke of how some of the remaining and now very elderly survivors of D-Day spoke of their own fear and determination under the dramatic landings on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944. It led to the strongest ties ever between North America and Europe, united in “the values they fought for: Democracy, human rights and security against attack,” Støre noted

He even cited the late conservative Republican US president Ronald Reagan, who spoke exactly 40 years ago about the battle against tyranny, and how the US ultimately opted against isolationism and contributed towards saving Europe during World War II.

“In our times, with dark clouds on the horizon, it’s a speech worth remembering,” Støre said. “We must be prepared to defend ourselves, ready to fight for freedom and democracy and always search for the path that can lead to peace.”

NewsinEnglish.no/Nina Berglund

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