The Defense in a Time of Upheaval

By | October 20, 2021

Unlike most other European countries, Norway struggles with both “old” and “new” security challenges. The old ones are about uncertainty about the ownership of the sea areas in the north, so they are territorial. The new ones are about Norwegian dependence on a strong and healthy international society that can be threatened by terrorism, state collapse, regional wars or by strong states choosing to go it alone. This places great demands on how the Norwegian defense is designed. The Armed Forces must be able to meet both types of challenges, both of which are too important to be ignored. The tasks are thus increasing, but the defense budget is “frozen”, and the forces are becoming fewer and fewer. This is the Norwegian defense dilemma.

  • What underlying conditions underlie the restructuring of the Armed Forces?
  • How has the Norwegian defense traditionally been set up?
  • How well equipped is the Norwegian Armed Forces to solve their tasks?

2: Need for changes in the Armed Forces

For the Norwegian Armed Forces – the state’s most important security policy instrument – the changed security conditions mean restructuring – a different emphasis and competence than before. Norwegian security cannot be safeguarded through a unilateral focus on conventional defense of Norwegian territory. On the contrary, our security needs are best met by contributing to peace, stability and favorable international development through efforts for the international community. At the same time, it must also be acknowledged that in Norwegian neighboring areas there are also challenges that the international community has not yet been able to solve. Norway may risk having to deal with these challenges on its own.

3: The Norwegian defense tradition

Norwegian military thinking is based on a tradition that was established in the decades around 1905 and strengthened after 1945. This tradition praised the general conscription as a bond between country and people, between the nation and the territory.

The defense represented the nation, and its task was to defend the state’s borders against external enemies. At the same time, conscription became an instrument for strengthening Norwegian internal unity, self-esteem and nationalism. This way of thinking about defense was compatible with NATO membership because Norway was a frontline state during the Cold War. The Norwegian defense was largely still only to defend the country’s borders and persevere until Allied aid came to the rescue. The strong defense tradition and its location as a frontline state contributed greatly to the changes after the Cold War coming later in Norway than in many other European countries.

4: Transformation

In military parlance, the term modernization has in recent years been replaced by transformation . Modernization is understood as a gradual – most often technological – improvement of elements within a particular system. Transformation , on the other hand, means that the whole system changes – that is, the whole way of thinking.

It took more than ten years from the end of the Cold War (ca. 1990) until radical / large-scale changes in the Norwegian defense were implemented. From 1990 to 2001, significant reductions were made in the Armed Forces. The staffing decreased significantly, and units and defense installations were completely or partially closed down. However, these changes were adjustments to the economic reality – lower defense allocations – rather than as a result of the new geostrategic situation – the new security policy reality. Norwegian armed forces were still primarily an invasion defense aimed at invasion from the east and a defense based on the mobilization of civilians who had completed military service.. The fact that Norway has for so long held on to such outdated defense thinking, led to enormous mistakes being made in the training of crews, the purchase of equipment and the construction of facilities. It soon became apparent that the new investments did not correspond to new security policy needs.

In 2001, the Storting (in Storting Bill 45 (2000-2001)) announced a request for radical changes. Only after showing an inability to participate with relevant forces during the crisis in Kosovo, international operations were really taken seriously by the Norwegian authorities. Thus, the Armed Forces’ task force was established. However, a large part of the forces – especially in the Army – were still based on the mobilization of civilians. The distinction was also made between those that could be used outdoors and those that could only be used at home.

This changed after a few years. In Storting Proposition 42 (2003-04) – The further modernization of the Armed Forces in the period 2005-2008 – the Storting decided as a main principle that all forces could be used both at home and abroad . The forces that were still only to be used at home now represented the exception – not the rule. Now, high preparedness and almost immediate availability (grip) were prioritized over the ability to deploy larger forces over a longer period. Thus, the reserve forces (mobilization forces) virtually disappeared from Norwegian defense planning.

Although the Army formally comprises two brigades, in practice it consists of only one, which will hardly become operational until 2008. In addition, there are small but important and very good departments for intelligence and targeting and special forces. In 2010, the navy will consist of five frigates, six submarines, six demining vessels and six missile torpedo boats, as well as some support vessels and the coastal hunters’ small battleships. The Air Force consists of 48 fighter jets, two batteries with anti-aircraft missiles, six maritime surveillance aircraft, six old transport aircraft and some aircraft for electronic warfare. The Air Force will also operate about forty helicopters, including machines for the rescue service, the Coast Guard and the Navy’s frigates.

5: Decentralized military integration

Defense equipment increases far more in price than other goods. Thus, it also becomes increasingly expensive to maintain a first-class defense. Most European countries have reduced the size of the individual defense components, but at the same time tried to preserve the breadth because this is necessary to maintain a national ability to act on their own. This is a very expensive way of adapting because each state then has to maintain a wide range of expertise – more schools, more workshops, etc. In the long run, such a breadth is very difficult for the Armed Forces to maintain.

At the same time, the vast majority of Western European countries have therefore also chosen to cooperate with each other to reduce costs. Every time the countries decide on such cooperation projects, the dependence between them also increases a little more. Hundreds of decisions on collaboration have been made in the last 15 years. There are many multinational forces, but there is no overarching political decision to establish a common European military or any overall plan for what the cooperation will result in. We can therefore say that a decentralized military integration has begun – a defense cooperation from below , so to speak.

In practice, the Europeans are in the process of replacing the old nationally divided military system with a military concept that no one yet fully knows the content of. Norway is also heavily involved in this process. The Chief of Defense, General Sverre Diesen, has long pointed out that integration into a larger whole – to merge into a larger unit – is the only viable path for small European countries within today’s military way of thinking. But how does this rhyme with Norway’s security challenges?

6: The tasks

In Norwegian defense policy, a distinction is made between tasks that the Armed Forces must be able to perform alone and tasks that must be solved together with allies. The defense alone must be able to

  • ensure a national decision basis through timely monitoring and intelligence
  • enforce Norwegian sovereignty
  • take care of the exercise of Norwegian authority in limited areas
  • prevent and deal with episodes and security policy crises in Norway and Norwegian areas.

The defense together with allies must be able to

  • contribute to collective defense of Norway and other parts of NATO against threats, attacks and attacks including the use of weapons of mass destruction
  • contribute to multinational crisis management, including multinational peace operations.

The biggest problem in this lineup lies in the borderland between the two main types of tasks. What happens if a dispute over disputed sea areas in the north leads to a crisis in relations with Russia turning into a conflict? These areas are not unequivocally – not finally clarified – Norwegian territory, and it is not a given that they will be covered by NATO’s article five (the security guarantee – an attack on one member state, is considered an attack on all and obliges all member states to stand up) .

Norwegian demands in the sea areas around Svalbard have not been accepted, even by our closest and most important allies. Given the unresolved border issues in the north, it is therefore still an important question whether military use of force between Russia and Norway is conceivable. If the answer to the question is “yes” or “maybe”, there are clear limits to how far Norway can go in integrating the Armed Forces into a loose European defense community, then Norwegian forces must, if necessary, be able to fight on their own. The potential conflicts that may now be in question are not about invasion or existential war as was the case during the Cold War. Rather, they will be about control and ownership of territory and resources. This means that a return to a defense concept from the Cold War cannot meet the new challenges in the north.

Many believe that the transformation of the Armed Forces means that large forces have been moved from national to international activities. Rather, the focus has shifted from large and cheap forces for mobilization, to small, expensive and standing forces on high alert and which are far more high-tech equipped than before. And such a high level of preparedness will also be crucial in a national crisis.

But if such use of force can really be ruled out once and for all, then Norwegian defense tasks in the north can be reduced to exercising authority . In that case, the majority of the Armed Forces can be dimensioned solely for Norwegian efforts in international peace operations. Here, too, the Armed Forces needs greater resources.

7: First line of defense

The answer to the Norwegian defense dilemma – whether we should scale the Armed Forces to be able to fight alone or not – is not to re-prioritize from participation in international operations to protection of Norwegian borders. It is first and foremost the emergence of an international legal community – of international law and international law – that has made it possible for Norway to assert sovereignty over enormous, resource-rich sea areas. The small state of Norway would never be able to do such a thing with military power alone. For a small country like Norway, the first line of defense is therefore to support and contribute to the institutions that strengthen international law and justice – the UN and international law.

8: Crisis outside

In 2005, Norway contributed with fewer forces / soldiers in international operations than ever since 1978. Here, too, ambitions have been greatly reduced. Nevertheless, the military personnel that Norway has contributed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo in recent years have been of very high quality.

Despite the high quality, the size of the Armed Forces does not correspond to the goals adopted by the Storting. According to USAERS, tn The further modernization of the Armed Forces in the period 2005–2008, the Storting has decided that the main goal for the Army shall be to be able to deploy a brigade for operations at home or abroad within 180 days. In addition, there is a department for intelligence and targeting of battalion size (see margin) and a mobile tactical land command for operations both at home and abroad. With the same forces, the Army will also be able to quickly deploy a battalion for international operations and maintain a commitment over 3-5 years. At the same time, the Army must be able to maintain a force at a high level of preparedness at home for national assignments, or in the case of escalation internationally.

How much strength does Norway really need to be able to solve the defense tasks decided by the Storting? Norway is thus making a battalion available to the NATO Task Force (NRF). Parts of this will also participate in one of the EU’s battle groups. These Norwegian contributions will be on high alert, ready to move out, for six months every three years. Then another force takes over, so that the three-year cycle in the NRF in total requires six groups of ground forces, each of around 5,000 men. In the spring of 2005, the Telemark battalion joined a Dutch brigade alongside German, Danish and French forces. Preparations, emergency preparedness or any efforts and retrieval afterwards will tie up the department approx. one and a half years in each three-year period. The same will probably apply to forces assigned to EU battle groups.

If the Norwegian army is to be able to carry out the mentioned missions according to such a setup, it must therefore be twice as large. A faster pace of operations means that conditions for personnel become difficult: divorce rates rise, experienced personnel leave the service and recruitment becomes more problematic. The US Army has experienced this to its advantage after having completely overpowered itself in the occupation of Iraq.

Since 2001, the Telemark battalion , the Norwegian army’s spearhead, or larger parts of it, has been in operations every two months for four years – more often than the standard mentioned above. The battalion has participated in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, and in addition it has been made available to NATO’s Response Force in the autumn of 2004 and the spring of 2005. This is an unusually high and probably harmful pace of operations. This has already led to the goal that the soldiers should be able to take education alongside the service, has been abandoned.

Between 1998 and 2005, Norway’s once-large contribution to UN peacekeeping operations was reduced to almost zero. As of 1 January 2006, 525 Norwegian military personnel are participating in operations abroad, 42 of them in UN operations. It is true that Norway participated in NATO operations, which also eventually received a UN mandate, but not in operations led by the UN itself. The Stoltenberg government has promised to change this, especially quieting larger Norwegian forces for UN operations in Africa. But the sharply reduced defense structure – the reduced size of the Armed Forces – and political agreement that the defense budget should not be increased, means that the Armed Forces will have great difficulty in providing large forces for the UN. Thus, Norwegian contributions, if they are to be of any significance, must be of high quality and adapted so that they pay off as much as possible both politically and in the field.

9: No way back?

The Norwegian defense is struggling. It has too many tasks and too few people. The only realistic solution – given today’s military mindset and the size of the defense budget – seems to be the gradual military integration in Europe. But this solution is not necessarily the answer to all Norwegian security challenges. If the Armed Forces is to maintain a national ability to fight alone, there are therefore only two possibilities: increase the defense budget and the size of the Armed Forces, or break completely with the existing military paradigm and think of military power in completely different ways.

The Defense NATO