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Working together - defence & Norwegian societal security

The Norwegian Ministry of Defence intensified efforts in the 1990s to lessen the gaps between security policy and defence policy. The tragic events of September 2001 then provided an additional impetus for a transformation of the Norwegian Armed Forces – aimed at achieving and maintaining a higher level of readiness, preparedness and flexibility in operations in order to be prepared to handle new threats.

This process has been a success, bringing the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces closer together to central civilian resources on practical, operational and strategic levels. The road to the current high level of flexible readiness has it roots in the Cold War period, when the concept of ‘Total Defence’ was the guiding doctrine, based on the mobilization of all national resources in support of an all-out military struggle. For Norway, the Soviet threat during the Cold War represented “existential defence” – truly homeland defence in a fight for survival.

During this period of time, civilian resources supporting military action in times of war or serious crises was an integrated part of operational planning, while focusing on potential crises outside country borders such as peacekeeping operations and stability missions was given much lower priority than today. The fundamental transformation of Norway’s Armed Forces that started in earnest in 2001 represented a change from a predominant focus on territorial defence based on mobilization and a mass army to a more integrated, flexible and readily available military.
Societal Security
As a result, the focus of “Total Defence” changed. A new focus on societal security – called “homeland security” in the United States – redefined the old Cold War concept into a more mutual and reciprocal relationship between the Armed Forces and civil society. The main direction of support changed from “civil resources in support of the military” to “military resources in support of civil society”. This redefined concept was integrated into the Norwegian Government’s long-term 2005–2008 plan to put into operational terms the ability to handle all major dimensions of security – state security, societal security and human security.
The concept of total defence has changed, now with a focus on societal security.
© Jon Anders Skau
“Total Defence” is now a two-way street. Civilian resources are earmarked to provide support in the time of military crises, and the military operationally prepared to assist the civilian environment in times of need, whether man-made or natural disasters. According to Bård Bredrup Knudsen, Head of Policy Planning in the Department for Security Policy, Norway’s Ministry of Defence, “Securing domestic interests, utilizing a higher degree of coordination between government, industry and private sectors has increased the ability for Norwegian Defence to maintain a proactive state of readiness in a national and international environment that is becoming increasingly more complex.”
Preparedness on all Levels
In Norway, societal security is defined as safeguarding the population and key societal functions and infrastructure against attack or damage where the existence of the country is not threatened. The basic concept is using all available national resources and capabilities – civilian as well as military. The country has made great progress during the past decade in repositioning its military posture and security policy to reflect this modern environment. As a larger degree of military flexibility is essential, a hard look at the roles of the various parts of the military has been necessary.

The result has been an altered focus on the use of military resources in a selected number of areas within the Norwegian regional environment – including the Coast Guard as well as the Russian frontier Border Guard – the goal being the highest level possible integration of support within the country. This strong cooperative network lends itself to better operational results both nationally as well as in support of international operations related to NATO and the United Nations.
Emergency training is an important part of preparing to support civilian society in a number of functions.
© Arne Flaaten
Supporting Society
The Norwegian Armed Forces are now seen in a new light, often working side-by-side with civilians in tackling a number of assignments. For the Norwegian Coast Guard, these assignments include working on behalf of civilian authorities in supporting immigration policy on the high seas as well as support related to customs activities. The Coast Guard is also active in enforcing Norwegian public regulations in Norway’s Exclusive Economic Zone and other ocean areas in which Norway enjoys certain sovereign rights – areas more than seven times larger than the Norwegian mainland.
During the Cold War, the 196-kilometre border between Norway and Russia (then the Soviet Union) was in essence a “trip-wire” guarded by relatively small military units on the Norwegian side. There were few cross-border incidents, and the border was guarded by important Soviet forces far into the Soviet Union. The opening of the border resulted in immense changes, and there are now bustling cross-border activities. Operational responsibilities outside of the main border crossing fall upon the Norwegian Army, working closely with police authorities in the role of patrol and border guards.
Although the Norwegian Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopter service falls under the responsibility of the Minister of Justice, it is operated by the Norwegian Air Force, yet another example of the positive results that close cooperation produces. The Norwegian Navy is certainly not left out of the mix when it comes to societal security. Navy Special Force Seals as well as other Special Force units have operational responsibilities in regards to offshore activities in the North Sea, including situations related to terrorist attacks against oil and natural gas installations.
In the modern world of societal security, planning and training is conducted with the understanding that even a minor incident that may be a police matter may quickly escalate into a larger crisis having to do with national sovereignty, where the Ministry of Defence assumes responsibility. Finally, international cooperation continues to be of great importance, including NATO alliance, U.N. and peacekeeping operations as well as many other activities. Societal security cannot be seen in a purely national context – for Norway and its Armed Forces, the focus is global.

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