“…NATO is turning its attention back to collective defence, and expectations of the EU in the area of security are increasing. In the north, Russia is strengthening its military capabilities and presence. This has implications for Norway”.
Setting the Course for Norwegian Foreign and Security Policy
Leangkollen, Norway, 7 February, 2018. Can Norway defend itself? The snow rolls down to the spectacular Oslo Fjord. Comfortable houses dot the landscape like raisins on a giant Christmas cake. Norway is one of the most beautiful and wealthiest countries on Earth. Over the past couple of days I have had the honour to attend and speak at one of the great security policy conferences here. The 53rd Leangkollen Conference has been organised brilliantly (as ever) by my dear friend Kate Hansen Bundt and her outstanding team at the Norwegian Atlantic Committee.
And yet I come away from Leangkollen uneasy. Norway is yet another small European country dancing on the head of a strategic pin to justify why it does not meet the NATO Defence Investment Pledge of 2% GDP. Yes, Oslo has increased its defence budget over the past couple of years by an impressive 9.8%, but still only spends 1.6% of GDP on defence. And, although Norway now spends some 25% each year on new equipment, easily surpassing the 20% the Alliance called for at the 2014 NATO Wales Summit, the Norwegian Armed Forces are simply too small for the country’s Defence Plan to work in an emergency. So, here is why Norway must again increase defence expenditure.
The Threat to Norway’s North: Examine Russia’s massive military exercise Zapad 2017 closely and one vital aim becomes clear - the decapitation of Norway’s North, North Cape and the Finmark along a line from Tromso via Kirkenes to just over the Norwegian-Russian border at Pechenga. The reason can be found in Severomorsk, the headquarters of the increasingly powerful Russian North Fleet. In a war Moscow would seize both Moscow’s North Cape and the island of Svalbard to protect the ingress and egress of Russian ships and nuclear-powered attack submarines. Russia would also move to strengthen the so-called ‘bastions’ from which Russian ‘boomers’ could fire submarine-launched ballistic missiles at North America and the rest of NATO Europe.
Russia’s growing pressure on the North Atlantic: Russian air and maritime forces are also exerting growing pressure on the so-called Greenland-Iceland-UK gap in an effort to exclude NATO forces from a vital North Atlantic area of operations. These include regular and provocative flights either close to or within Norwegian air space. It is prevent such Russian ambitions why NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg is calling for a new/old Atlantic Command.
Russia’s Militarisation of the Arctic: Whilst Norway claims to have a co-operative relationship with Russia over the Arctic Moscow is also steadily militarising the region. Russian air bases at Naguskoye, Rogachevo, Sredny Ostrov, Temp, and Zvyozdny are being modernised and strengthened, along with Russian ‘Naval Infantry’ (marines). Such bases not only threaten Northern Norway, Finland and Sweden, but also Norwegian territory in the Arctic.
The Norwegian Sovereign Wealth Fund: The Fund is designed to help Norway cope with a ‘rainy day’ when the oil and gas revenues decline. In September 2017 the Fund passed $1 trillion, which is roughly the size of Mexico’s entire economy. Norway’s armed forces are also a form of ‘insurance’. Of all the NATO European allies Norway can spend 2% GDP on defence. Such a level of defence expenditure would still be historically low and would hardly represent the militarisation of Norwegian society. Norway is free-riding and it needs to stop – for its own sake and that of the Alliance collective defence upon which the defence of the country depends.
NATO has a Norwegian Secretary-General: Jens Stoltenberg also spoke at the conference. During the Afghanistan Campaign the Dutch sent forces into Uruzgan, one of the more testing provinces partly because the then ‘Sec-Gen’ was Dutch. It is hard for Stoltenberg to insist that other NATO members spend 2% GDP on defence when his own rich country, of which he was once prime minister, does not.
Norway’s nonsensical Base Policy: Norway’s Long-Term Defence Plan is based on the need to “…strengthen the basis for receiving Allied support”. And yet Norway permits “…no permanent bases for foreign combat forces in Norwegian soil”. Indeed, even though the US Marines Corps has pre-positioned equipment in Norway Oslo refuses to permit the permanent basing of such forces, even if they are from NATO allies. This is dangerous nonsense. Even if the US (or even the UK) could reinforce Norwegian forces it would clearly take far longer than the current Norwegian Army could hold out.
The question I posed at the conference is one I now regularly pose to leaders: what if conventional deterrence fails? In fact, the answer is staring right back at me. The Leangkollen Conference takes place in a complex of buildings that were once called the “Eagle’s Nest”. They were built for the traitor Vidkun Quisling who in 1940 helped facilitate the Nazi invasion of Norway. If deterrence is going to fail one of the most likely places for it to fail is Norway and NATO's Northern Flank. And yet, there is a big snow-hole right in the midst of Norwegian defence policy. Whilst it talks about the importance of Allied support the politics of Norwegian defence still seem to be based on the principle that Norway can defend itself, even when it is clear it cannot.
Can Norway defend itself? No. Can NATO defend Norway? No, not unless Oslo changes its defence policy, which brings me to one final thought. During the conference a leading Norwegian politician welcomed European solidarity against ‘Brexit’. Let me be clear; people who want my country to defend them should be careful not to attack it. Clear?