(Extract of speech based on a direct transcript of an audiovisual recording)
Thank you very much for that kind introduction. Let me extend a warm welcome to the NATO Council that has been here today. I will be with them for the rest of their stay.
It is quite a unique happening that the NATO Council is here in Tromsø – and that they are in the Northern Norway, or in the Arctic, for two days. It is an important visit. We worked a lot to convince them that it was a good idea for them to come here. So I hope they are enjoying their stay.
The reason we want to see the North Atlantic Council (NAC) in Northern Norway is that we believe that we have some very interesting perspectives to share. Perspectives that are relevant to many of our allies: How we have been managing, and how we are, managing our neighbourhood to the north and to the east. And we want to show the strong Norwegian commitment to the alliance.
We want to use the visit also as a backdrop for the discussion we are currently having in the alliance about what the alliance should do, where it should go, and what it should prioritise and what we think it should concentrate on in the post-Afghanistan era. Because as we all know we are now approaching the end of the ISAF-operation as we know it. This meeting is not going to be about Afghanistan, but just as a backdrop: NATO has been operating quite intensively for almost two decades now. First in the Balkans from the mid- 90s, Bosnia-Hercegovina and then Kosovo, and then 9/11 and Afghanistan. Many of us believe that while we do not know exactly what the future will bring, it seems to be less NATO operations. The future for NATO seems to be less focus on faraway operations and maybe more refocusing on the pure purpose of the alliance.
Norway has been promoting that idea for many years. We are supporters of our deployed operations. We went in with our allies, and remain there with our allies as we have been in the previous operations. We think that it is important to be balanced between the original purpose and the more enquired purpose of participating in operations in faraway places. The reality is probably still both, but the balance might be different. So in that sense, what we are doing here, how we are managing long term the predictability and stability of NATO`s Northern flank should be and could be an interesting theme also for the NATO Council to discuss in the North and not only in Brussels.
Let us try to use this opportunity to provide a few perspectives on NATO’s past, present and future.
The first point is that Norway was among the founding fathers of NATO. We were one of the countries that after the experience of the Second World War understood that we needed to anchor our security in a broader framework.
It has been important for us to make clear the following points: Classical security policy is not first and foremost to prevent wars, but to prevent war from happening by creating clarity and creating a kind of clear understanding among ourselves, neighbours, potential adversaries and friends that we are here. This is the security framework and that clarity has been important both during the Cold War days and in the post-Cold war days, because based on that platform it was possible to reach out and link up and establish much better relations with Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I keep insisting that the classic security policy purpose of NATO remains relevant even when it is not so visible. I think many of the new members in NATO who joined in from late 90s and early 2000 joined NATO to take part in that clarity and stability which makes clear where borders are. That is good for everyone.
NATO was also able to provide collective framework for the management of Russia, as Russia was in transition from the Soviet Union to a modern Russia. Eventually it also went beyond the European borders into the mission to Afghanistan. These missions were right. I supported them then and I support them today. We did the right thing. Although we have learned things under way about how difficult some of these operations are.
The second point is that the alliance is undergoing fundamental changes right now. One of the reasons is that the world is changing. What’s more: We are changing.
We as an alliance have to adapt to that. One of our arguments over the years that we have had in this debate in NATO is that we need to remember that future treats are not necessarily only asymmetrical. There is a re-emergence of the understanding of symmetry.
We are changing. One of the main reasons is that economic crises are putting a lot of strain on the member state because of budget constraints. I come from a member state, which is still able to increase the defence spending. That is something we can afford because our economy is relatively better off than many others. But the majority of the member states perfectly understand the reason for why you have to cut defence spending.
So how do we make sure that we respond to this duel- challenge, a more difficult world and less money, in a way that we are actually strengthening what we have maybe been doing in the past. It has allowed our troops and our armed forces to be more connected by being out there together. We have to train more together.
We are living in a very interesting era. NATO is alive and developing, but the organization might be in an identity crisis. Our success so far has been our ability to adapt to changing world orders. Now we are changing again.