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Prime Minister Erna Solberg on the Security Policy Challenges Facing Norway and Europe today
In her address, Prime Minister Solberg reflected on some of the key security policy challenges facing Norway and Europe today, including relations with Russia and the role of NATO. She touched upon the future UK-Norway relationship, and the need for continued close cooperation.
Your Excellencies, My Lords, ladies and gentlemen.
Thank you to RUSI and particularly Dr Karin von Hippel, Director-General for making this event possible. Also thank you to Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former British Foreign Secretary, for chairing the event.
It is a great honour for me to be here in Whitehall at the Royal United Services Institute. For two centuries, RUSI has provided a stable vantage point for viewing the changing global scene.
On my way here, I drove through Trafalgar Square. A place that reminds us of difficult times – when the Napoleonic Wars were being fought between the major powers in Europe. And for Norway specifically, it reminds us that we were just a pawn in that game.
But Trafalgar Square is also a symbol of hope and unity. It makes me think of the summer of 1940. Nazi forces had invaded Norway. And our King and Government sought refuge here in London. In fact, the Norwegian Minister of Defence set up office in Cockspur Street – just off Trafalgar Square.
As Winston Churchill once said: One always measures friendships by how they show up in bad weather.
Still the most important accomplishments were the things we did together. A close-knit community rose out of our joint war effort. A community of allies that has stood the test of time. That has made Europe safer, stronger and more secure. A community that is still vibrant and very much alive 70 years later.
Together, out of the ruins of the old Europe, we built a new security architecture that has served us well ever since. A new world order grew up, based on international law and strong international institutions.
Today we are facing greater uncertainty than we have for decades. The individual threats are serious enough. But, to me, there is an even greater concern: the way these threats seem to be combining to challenge the values and principles we have built on for the past 70 years. There is even a risk that, eventually, they could erode the world order that has brought us so much progress.
Right on our doorstep, we have seen the emergence of a more assertive Russia. A Russia where the democratic space at home is shrinking. But even more disturbingly, a Russia that has shown itself willing to violate international law in order to attain its objectives. This is deeply worrying, and even more so given Russia’s size. Indeed, the chemical attack in Salisbury gives us an idea of the consequences that may follow if respect for international law is undermined.
Throughout the last decade, Russia has significantly modernised its military capabilities – both nuclear and conventional. Its increasing military power is manifested through greater mobility, more flexibility, longer range, stronger firepower and higher precision. Russia is becoming capable of threatening Europe without entering European territory.
However, we do not consider Russia’s military posturing to be a direct threat to Norway. Most of its military activity in our immediate proximity is strategic. It is more a question Russian force projection. At the same time, it is vital for us that the transatlantic lines of communication remain open. Furthermore, we all have an interest in making sure that the Arctic and the North Atlantic remain areas of low tension and high predictability.
Our NATO membership is essential when it comes to our relations with Russia. Whenever we have to deal with difficult security issues, we are stronger and more secure as part of the Alliance. We are stronger together. At the same time, it has been important for us to continue our bilateral cooperation with Russia in areas where it is in the interests of both our countries. This applies both to institutional cooperation and to informal people-to-people contact. These are important soft security measures. The Norwegian model is to deter and defend on one hand, and to ensure dialogue and engagement in areas of common interest on the other.
To the south of Europe, vast areas are lawless and ungoverned. Instability has taken hold of a belt that stretches from the Sahel to Afghanistan. In many places, the authorities are unable to assert their authority. And the international community is struggling to resolve the conflicts, protect basic human rights, and provide humanitarian relief.
In the past, instability in areas such as these would have had little direct impact on Europe’s security. Today, that is no longer the case. Indeed, terrorist and other criminal networks that thrive in countries affected by conflict and fragility can cause death and destruction far beyond their safe havens. The growing list of European cities that have been hit by terrorism is a sad testimony to the global reach of these groups.
But we are not just facing regional challenges; we are also facing global challenges.
In the cyber domain, we need to strengthen international cooperation to protect our societies against serious digital threats from both state and non-state actors. While most countries would agree that international law applies in cyberspace, we still need clearer international agreement on how and when international law applies.
Developments in the field of disarmament and nuclear proliferation also give cause for concern. North Korea is progressing rapidly towards nuclear capabilities. And in the Middle East, the uncertainty surrounding the Iran deal could further destabilise an already volatile region. We are concerned about how this development will affect the future of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the international community’s ability to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons.
At the same time, we face challenges when it comes to how we deal with international issues. More than ever, the international community feels a responsibility to protect human life, but far too often it is unable to reach agreement in the UN Security Council. And there are actors that are all too willing to take advantage of our inability to take action.
The ‘unipolar moment’ may be coming to an end. A growing partial paralysis may well follow. But in any case, a revival of America’s traditionally strong leadership and staunch defence of the liberal order would greatly welcomed.
The challenges we face are not only external. They also come from within our countries.
Across Europe, parties that harbour a deep sense of distrust of the political system are growing. If they are given further opportunity to implement their policies, cooperation in NATO and the EU could be affected. This could undermine our ability to take collective action. It could also weaken the EU’s position as a driver of democratic change in Europe and beyond.
While the worst-case scenarios have been avoided so far, it is disturbing to note that only 11 countries in Europe were classified as ‘full democracies’ in the 2017 Economist Democracy Index. Fundamental human rights – such as freedom of press, the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly – have come under pressure even in our part of the world.
As for NATO, keeping the transatlantic bond strong has always required hard work. In fact, the unity that the Allies have demonstrated in recent years, with regard to Russia, Ukraine and NATO reforms, has been quite remarkable. But we cannot take it for granted. In fact, we will probably have to work even harder in the years ahead in order to keep the Alliance together – as it becomes more diverse. As threat perceptions differ more. As differences in political culture run deeper. And as political positions vary, as has already been the case on issues such as trade, climate change, the Middle East and Iran.
Furthermore, we must succeed in addressing the issue of transatlantic burden-sharing. Fortunately, European defence budgets are now growing. But the output in terms of capabilities still leaves much to be desired. Years of decline have taken their toll. Just keeping up with maintenance is a challenge for many countries. Let alone maintaining our competitive edge compared to rising powers.
So how do we deal with this complex patchwork of internal and external challenges? How do we tackle greater diversity among our allies? How do we defend and uphold the basic principles of international law in a climate of growing pressure?
I believe in the wisdom of Churchill’s words that I quoted earlier. I believe in the importance of deepening our relations with our closest friends and allies as the security landscape becomes more challenging. That is why Norway is stepping up its cooperation with the US, with key allies in Europe and with our Nordic partners.
I would like to see even closer UK-Norwegian security cooperation on all levels: bilaterally, in NATO, in Europe and in the common efforts to address global issues.
Firstly, we must stand together in a strong and principled defence of international law and institutions. The UK and Norway share a global outlook. For centuries, our merchant ships have crossed the oceans in pursuit of new opportunities. We have experienced first-hand the value of free navigation, open and regulated markets and a rules-based world order. These are not only important principles for us. They are the basis of our wealth, the backbone of our foreign policy, and our first line of defence.
That is why Norway cannot give in to protectionism. That is why we remain a tireless supporter of international law. That is why we are unwavering in our support of the UN, the WTO, the IAEA, the OPCW, the OSCE, and the numerous other international organisations that make our world safer, more prosperous and more secure.
And that is also why we had to react to the incident in Salisbury. In solidarity with a close ally? Certainly. In condemnation of a despicable act? Absolutely. But also in defence of the very values and principles that set us apart. That stand between the world, as we know it, and lawlessness.
In the years to come, we may find that a strong and principled defence of international law and institutions will cost us more than before. At times, we may even find ourselves at odds with some of our allies. But I believe the alternatives will always be more costly in the long run.
Norway is a candidate for a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council in 2021-2022. Norway takes a solution-oriented approach to international issues. We are reliable and effective. And we have extensive experience in the fields of conflict resolution, peacebuilding and humanitarian response. We attach great importance to strengthening the UN’s ability to address the global challenges facing the international community. As a member of the Council, Norway would seek to build bridges and find solutions that win broad support. We will demonstrate leadership and take on difficult questions.
We have a global outlook. This is one of the reasons why we are so deeply engaged in international development. Why we contribute to joint military operations. Why we have drawn up a strategy for our efforts in states and regions affected by conflict and fragility. And year after year, we allocate more than 1 % of our Gross National Income to development assistance.
In fact, helping other countries to meet the SDGs is not just a moral imperative. It is also good security policy. Our prosperity, welfare and security depend on development in other parts of the world. Together with our partners, we must succeed in our efforts to fight poverty, and secure good health services and education for more people.
Secondly, the UK and Norway must work together to keep the transatlantic bond strong. Europe and the US may not agree on all issues. But we must not forget how crucial the transatlantic bond has been on both sides of the Atlantic. NATO remains the bedrock of our security. It is the only framework that can provide credible collective security guarantees in Europe.
We should not underestimate the importance of political cohesion for transatlantic relations. Nor the negative effects that can follow when cohesion erodes. But in the history of the Alliance, relevance has mattered more. As long as NATO remains relevant to its members’ security concerns, I am confident that it will still have a role to play.
This is why adaptation is so important. We must ensure that NATO remains relevant to all members and fit for purpose. At the upcoming NATO summit in July, the Alliance will once again agree on important deliverables, despite the growing diversity of its member states. The establishment of a new maritime command and a logistics command is a case in point. This is an important achievement for the UK and Norway. We have been working together to increase NATO’s focus on the North Atlantic, and to modernise and adapt NATO’s command structure to the changing security reality.
We are also strengthening the transatlantic bonds by contributing to a better burden-sharing. This includes assisting other members. This is why my Government has decided to invest more heavily in the Norwegian Armed Forces. We want to ensure that our national defence is adequate for these uncertain and unpredictable times. We strive to be a good ally.
Since 2015 we have increased our defence spending by 25 % in real terms. Our long-term defence plan involves further substantial increases in the coming years to upgrade our capabilities. These include deployable, interoperable and sustainable equipment, such as high-end capabilities like a significant number of F-35 fighter aircrafts, first-class maritime patrol aircraft, new submarines, modern long-range air defence systems, and relevant strategic intelligence capabilities.
Thirdly, Europeancooperation on defence and security is crucial for our common security. Together the UK and Norway should develop this cooperation further.
I very much welcome Prime Minister May’s clear message of a continuing British engagement in European security. The EU plays an important role in dealing with terrorism, hybrid threats, natural disasters, and in civil emergency planning. Our collaboration with the EU in these areas is strong and comprehensive.
The EU members are also aiming at stronger defence cooperation. Norway welcomes this ambition. Stronger cooperation in developing capabilities, for instance, can give us better value for our money. It can also contribute to a better transatlantic burden sharing. In addition, there are areas, such as military mobility, where work in the EU can directly support and strengthen NATO’s defence concepts.
As the European security architecture evolves, it is critically important that NATO and the EU continue to play complementary and mutually reinforcing roles. None of us can – or should – spread our resources more thinly through duplication. Complementarity is also vital for our ability to address the full spectrum of threats – from small-scale hybrid campaigns to large-scale cyber operations and high-end military conflict.
Another key priority for my Government in our relations with the EU is early involvement. NATO has set an example in recent years, by showing remarkable openness to key partners such as Finland and Sweden. I believe the EU stands to gain from being more inclusive. If we are to deal with crises effectively, the EU’s close partners must be involved at an early stage. This will enable us to quickly establish common situational awareness, coordinate our positions, and identify what contributions we should make.
Likewise, the future European defence market may benefit from being more open to other partners. Both in terms of capabilities and in terms of economies of scale. The opportunity to draw on the advanced technology and expertise of the Norwegian and British defence industries would obviously be advantageous for future capability development in Europe.
Fourthly, the UK and Norway should continue to strengthen their bilateral defence and security cooperation and their political ties.
Bilateral arrangements cannot – and should not – replace broader institutions. This applies to trade, as it does to security. However, cooperation in smaller groups of like-minded nations can strengthen organisations such as NATO, by allowing faster progress and bringing down costs. Our cooperation with close allies such as the UK is a case point, as it enhances NATO’s capabilities and strengthens our national defence.
Norway therefore remains committed to cultivating closer cooperation with selected allies and Nordic partners. The UK is one of the allies with which we have been deepening our defence cooperation over time. The others are Germany, France and the Netherlands. All these countries are in a position to reinforce each other in a crisis, and their cooperation can also make the Alliance stronger.
In the case of the United Kingdom, we are building on proud and long-standing traditions. Since World War II, our men and women have served shoulder to shoulder in operations and missions across the globe. Now, we are strengthening our cooperation at home. Indeed, the UK is our most important ally in Europe. We welcomed the British Northern Group initiative from 2011 and we appreciate the British-led Joint Expeditionary Force. This is yet another mechanism to deepen our cooperation. We appreciate the cooperation with your Royal Marines and its cold weather skillset is exceptionally important. Later this year the UK Armed Forces will take part in the Trident Juncture exercise in Norway. This will be the largest NATO exercise in years. Our cooperation is far reaching. It includes areas such as intelligence, maritime surveillance, special forces, training, exercises and operations. Our acquisition of high-end capabilities, such as F-35 fighter jets and P8 maritime patrol aircraft, will provide even more opportunities for cooperation, including in the North Atlantic. It will also be a test for military reinforcement and host nation support.
Defence cooperation is important, but the very backbone of our cooperation will always be our strong political ties. When Norway was invaded in 1940, it was the friendship of your people that rallied to support us. Selfless British soldiers who left the safety of their homeland to help defend a foreign country. Courageous British decision makers who spared no effort to help a friend in need. This we will always remember. You showed up in ‘bad weather’, literally and metaphorically.
Strong political bonds must continue to underpin our practical cooperation. This is why I believe we should meet and consult one another even more often. Why we should share more information than we do today. On the North Atlantic, on Russia, on cyber threats, on joint operations, on terrorism and on energy security. But also on current affairs.
Security policy discussions often develop into discussions on tools and capabilities. But more than anything else, security policy challenges the way we think. Our ability to assess whether information is reliable, to weigh the evidence, and to make quick decisions in difficult circumstances. Honestly and critically. That is how friends talk.
We meet here at Whitehall, a place charged with history. Our countries have a long shared history, which testifies to the value of accurate information, thorough research and free debate. We know how important these are for making good decisions, developing sound policies and building thriving societies.
In recent years, very concept of truth has come under fire. Fake news, covert information and propaganda campaigns by external actors has become a major challenge. Campaigns of this kind are a threat to the cohesion of our societies and our ability to take action. They can make even the strongest and best prepared societies appear weak.
It is precisely in times like these that we are reminded of the foresight that people like Lord Wellington showed when they founded institutions such as RUSI. Indeed, in the face of false information, we are all called to action: decision-makers and members of the general public, young and old, men and women, students and professors alike. We must seek reliable information, assess sources critically, and make sure that our voices are heard.
These times may seem particularly challenging. But the tasks we need to fulfil are the same as those of previous generations. Now it is our turn to safeguard our values and interests. Our turn to speak up for free and open societies based on democracy, the rule of law, human rights and an open market economy.
We cannot take our social models for granted. We must all work to make the world we want a reality.
Her Excellency Mrs Erna Solberg is the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Norway. She served as Minister of Local Government and Regional Development from 2001 to 2005 in Kjell Magne Bondevik's second government. She has represented the Conservative Party in the County of Hordaland at the Storting (Parliament) since 1989. At the change of government she was the Conservative Party's parliamentary leader. During the Storting period from October 2009 to September 2013, she was a member of the Standing Committee on Health and Care Services Affairs, the Standing Committee on Foreign and Defence Affairs and the Electoral Committee. Prime Minister Solberg has previously been a member of the Standing Committees on Finance and Local Government, and head of the Storting's delegation to NATO's Parliamentary Assembly. She has been Leader of the Conservative Party since 2004 and has served as Prime Minister since 2013.
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