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Interview
Kristin Krohn Devold: Norwegian defence minister
 

( NATO)


Kristin Krohn Devold became Norway's
minister of defence in October 2001. As
such, she has taken a hands-on approach to
security and become extremely popular with
service men and women by joining in many
of their activities. A member of the
Conservative Party, she is overseeing major
restructuring of the Norwegian armed forces
and a historically unprecedented increase in
defence spending.

 

How have the terrorist attacks against the United States of 11 September 2001 influenced security thinking in Norway?

The attack had a profound impact on our threat assessment and security framework. Already in June 2001, we had decided to restructure our armed forces. At the time, however, people did not fully understand why. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September, the reasons became clear and the restructuring got much broader support in parliament, among our officers and with the general public.

In terms of population, Norway is one of the smaller Allies, yet it often gives the impression of being one of the largest through its actions. How has Norway contributed to the US-led war on terrorism?

Our first move was to send six staff officers to the US command centre in Tampa, Florida. That was important to coordinate the rest of our engagement. We then contributed personnel to the AWACS aircraft sent from Europe to patrol US airspace. Indeed, I think that Norwegians made up about 12 per cent of the AWACS crews. And from 1 January 2002 our special forces deployed in Afghanistan. We also sent mine-clearing personnel to Afghanistan and they cleared both Bagram and Kandahar airports of mines. In addition, Norway has been the framework nation for the C130 air-transport operation run jointly by Norway, Denmark and Netherlands at Manas airbase in Kyrgyzstan. And we have deployed six F16 fighters there, together with six from Denmark and six from the Netherlands since 1 October of this year. In addition, a Norwegian frigate and a Norwegian submarine are participating in Active Endeavour. We also have personnel in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and have donated equipment - including uniforms for one battalion and medical supplies - to the Afghan national army.

Norway is restructuring its armed forces to meet contemporary security challenges. How is this process developing and where will it lead?

Restructuring is proceeding according to plan and schedule. The overall aim is to have armed forces capable of carrying out more complex missions together with Allied forces more rapidly and more effectively than is currently possible.

Norway is increasing the proportion of national wealth devoted to defence, even though it is already a big defence spender in comparison with other Alliance members. How can Norway afford such expenditure and how has the government made the case for increasing the defence budget to the electorate?

Parliament has earmarked 118 billion Norwegian Kroner, that is $16 billion, for the period 2002 to 2005. This implies a real net increase over the four-year period of approximately 11.7 per cent compared to the previous four years. This is the largest defence budget for many years and may be the largest ever. We worked hard to ensure cross-party support for this settlement and succeeded in getting agreement among all three parties that make up the government as well as the Labour Party, the principal opposition party. In this way, four parties back the settlement and this should ensure that a majority in parliament will continue to support defence spending of this magnitude, even if there is a change of government. This is one important step. The second important step was the decision to integrate the top level of the chiefs of defence staff into the ministry of defence. This makes for a much closer link between defence policy and planning. We now know precisely what resources we will have every year for the next four years because of the broad agreement of the parliament. This is an unprecedented situation.

Norway is not a member of the European Union, but has been supportive of efforts to build EU military capabilities. What kind of security relationship is Norway seeking to build with the European Union?

Norway firmly supports EU efforts to establish a European security and defence policy. However, we want this to be in close cooperation with NATO because we want to make sure that existing and future structures are not duplicated. We believe that this will strengthen the European pillar within NATO, improve European nations' defence capabilities and contribute to more even transatlantic burden-sharing. For us, ESDP is also a process to make sure that Europe carries its part of the defence burden. As we are a European country, we need to work together with the European Union on this, even if we are not an EU member. In practice, we have pledged up to 3,500 personnel to help meet the EU Headline Goal. In the event, therefore, of an EU-led operation, Norway will be prepared to participate in the same way that we participate in NATO-led operations. But it is important that these two organisations do not duplicate capabilities and that there is a clear division between roles. The European Union should focus on peacekeeping operations and NATO on the full spectrum of missions that the Alliance takes care of today.

Norway shares a border with Russia and clearly has a vested interest in cooperation with that country. How do you evaluate prospects for the new NATO-Russia Council?

I am encouraged by the creation of the NATO-Russia Council and think it should gradually evolve into a real consensus-building body with decision-making authority in a number of areas. For us, it is above all important to involve Russia in practical activities. We think that structures should follow substance. This means that we have to identify more projects in which we can involve Russia. Since Norway's coastline is immediately next to Russia's and there is a lot of activity in these waters, cooperation in search and rescue at sea is important to us. Another area in which we see great potential for cooperation is defence-related environmental cooperation. We see a close linkage between the fight against terrorism and cooperation with Russia in environmental matters. This is because the issue of the spread of nuclear waste, for example, is important both to the fight against terrorism and the environment.

As more countries join the Alliance, many of them with populations smaller than that of Norway, issues like defence cooperation and role specialisation will increasingly come to the fore. What can potential new members learn from the Norwegian experience?

The most important lesson is that it is essential for small members to be able to make effective contributions. That means that we need to develop special expertise, so-called niche capabilities. Norway has focused on developing capabilities like special forces and mine-clearing teams. In this way, Norway is able to contribute capabilities to operations like Enduring Freedom that are really needed and can play an important role even in a large multinational operation. Another example I would like to point to is cooperation between Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands on C130 transport aircraft and F16 fighters. By working together, these three countries have been able to contribute capabilities in Afghanistan that normally only large countries can deliver. One solution for smaller countries, therefore, is to identify strategic partners and to work together with them to maximise capabilities. Another is to identify niche capacities in areas where they already possess special expertise. In Norway, we have ideal natural conditions to develop expertise in winter training for special forces. I'm sure that other small countries can identify areas in which they have special expertise in which they can develop niche capabilities.

In contrast to most NATO members, Norway appears wedded to the concept of conscription. Why is this and might this policy change in the coming years?

The main reason for retaining conscription is the size of the force structure. If we, a nation of four million citizens, wish to maintain armed forces with some 150,000 personnel, we need conscription. Nevertheless, the conscription system is evolving. We actually have a combination of conscription and a professional military. For example, the contingents we sent to participate in Enduring Freedom and ISAF consisted mainly of professional soldiers. By contrast, the Norwegian contribution to KFOR, consists largely of soldiers who have been conscripts for one year and who then volunteered for the assignment. Indeed, the reason that we are able to make so large a contribution to the peacekeeping operations in Kosovo is because we have conscription. At the same time, because we have developed special capabilities, we are also able to contribute relevant capabilities to the international operations in Afghanistan. The combination of conscription and a professional military works particularly well in Norway with the result that we will continue to develop both.

Norway's armed forces are among the most progressive in NATO in terms of the employment of women. What targets exist for the recruitment of women and how are women encouraged to pursue military careers?

The single most important factor as far as female recruitment is concerned is that all military functions are open for women and have been since 1985. This means that we have had a female submarine commander, we have serving pilots, and we have women in combat units. It is important to identify women who hold these positions and hold them up as role models to encourage more young women to aspire to military careers. We believe that having a broad representation of gender and ethnic backgrounds in any modern organisation will improve its ability to fulfil its duties. We have special campaigns to recruit women into the armed forces. For example, in addition to general information on the internet, we use targeted e-mails and SMS messages. We also send female officers around schools and colleges to discuss career opportunities in the armed forces. And we organise winter camps where young women are given a practical introduction to military training and a taste of what a military career could be like. I suspect that the fact that many young women in Norway are involved in sport also contributes to making a military career appealing. The armed forces offer active, young women the kind of physical and mental challenge that they like.

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