The Defence Commission’s report, presented by Knut Storberget to the government on 3 May, represents a milestone. It is a break of over 20 years of escapism and flight from reality in Norwegian defence and security policy.
The report is late, it is long overdue. But that it has come at all is good and now allows for the acceptance of reality. Something that Storting and changing governments have long sought to displace and explain away with reference to “tight economics”.
Now it remains to be seen whether the government and the Storting will finally be able to accept the realities and re-prioritise according to what is the most important task and responsibility of the elected representatives: to safeguard the security of the country and its people.
There are many indications, however, that the government is going to drag its feet, if it is even able to change course. Probably Støre & co. are all show and no action and will tease but not deliver.
We got a taste of this when the government tried to pre-empt the commission’s recommendations by urgently calling a press conference on 2 May where it proposed to increase the defence budget by 11.4 billion over three years, along with the 75 billion Norway has given to Ukraine already included in the defence budget.
11.4 billion over three years is in reality nothing. Offsetting the money for Ukraine into the Norwegian defence budget is nothing more than a slick accountants trick.
The 75 Ukraine billion helps to keep the war in Ukraine going, but does little to rebuild the Norwegian defence and make up for the shortfall in the defence budget that has been going on for years. This after the mobilisation and invasion defence was shut down as a result of the Defense Reform by the turn of the millennium.
The 11.4 billion the government is actually proposing to increase defence spending by, is a long way from the advice from the Defence Commission. Over the next 10-year period, there is actually more than NOK 430 billion away!
The commission proposes an immediate increase in the defence budget of NOK 30 billion, plus an extra NOK 40 billion a year over a 10-year period. In addition the commission recommends an annual increase of the budget by an extra 10 billion for operating funds after the period of extra appropriations is over.
The 11.4 billion is also miles away from the 86.4 billion the defence budget required if Norway is to fulfil the 2% commitment in NATO.
With 1.57% of GDP, Norway is one of three countries which, a full 9 years after it was adopted into NATO in 2014, that has not yet met the 2% requirement. This despite the fact that Norway is among the countries most exposed as a result of our location at one of the world’s most strategically important geopolitical crossroads, as well as our role as an oil and gas producer.
But with the Defence Commission’s report, the security policy analysis has finally come into line with security policy developments in Europe. It is high time.
The recommendation for greatly increased defence appropriations, modernisation and reconstruction of the Defence’s volume reflects, for the first time in several decades, the actual security policy needs and not a financial framework that has been given in advance by the government. It has been a long time since that was last the case.
Now the map finally matches the terrain. It obviously took another look from more independent forces, from outside the established security policy circles, to get there.
For the FD, UD, FFI, NUPI, together with the military advisers and with the good help of the economists in the Ministry of Finance, had until recently mostly produced what the politicians wanted to hear in order to keep the defence budget down. This was often with a quasi-professional veneer and a rose-painted presentation of the strength and relevance of the Armed Forces. This has at times bordered on disinformation and pure propaganda.The actual situation in the Armed Forces is, as the commission quite rightly points out, quite different. The defence capability is greatly weakened. The situation is serious.
Staffing is at a minimum in many places. Stocks of ammunition, weapons and medical equipment are kept to a minimum. Material that has long since been scrapped is being reused and necessary new acquisitions are postponed by the Storting and left to ever-new governments, with reference to a tight economic situation.
This applies to the F-35 fighters, P-8 surveillance aircraft, the purchase of new submarines, new tanks, helicopters for the Navy which are missing, missile defence which is missing, renewal of the radar chain, etc.
In reality, as the commission rightly points out, Storting and successive governments have chosen to take the risk by reducing defence capabilities in order to save money.
This irresponsibility appears in a particularly glaring light with the treasury full of money and with repeated governments that have generously distributed taxpayers’ money for all other possible and impossible purposes especially abroad.
“In the current situation, such a policy appears directly irresponsible”, writes the commission. But this is not only irresponsible in “today’s” situation. It has been irresponsible for a long time.
Norway’s exposed geopolitical location never takes a break. Norway and Norwegian territory are still objects of the interests of the great powers. Russia has been continuously rearming with rising oil prices for over twenty years. At the same time, Norway and the European NATO countries have unilaterally disarmed. It has created a power vacuum that Russia is now trying to fill.
“The armed forces lack a balance between tasks, structure and finances and are unable to implement important parts of the adopted policy”, writes the commission.
It estimates that there is currently a gap of at least NOK 24 billion just to finance the already adopted long-term plan for the period 2022–2028. It again garnered criticism as the cheapest minimum alternative the defence chief came up with.
The operational capacity of the Coast Guard’s and the Norwegian Navy’s helicopter-carrying vessels has been significantly reduced for almost ten years as a result of the helicopter scandal and the lack of delivery of maritime helicopters. The same applies to the F-35 fighters, which take time to get in place and which lack ammunition and adequate protection. The land force has been reduced to a fraction of what it was, and the Army is “barely big enough to defend a district in Oslo”.
There are also significant shortages within the Armed Forces’ contingency stores for weapons, ammunition, fuel, medical equipment and food.
New public management and order-based warehousing may have contributed to saving money, but of course does not work in a sector such as the Armed Forces, which is dependent on having immediate access to critical input factors at all times. Of particular concern is the lack of weapons and ammunition.
Civil preparedness has weathered and is significantly undersized, and the “investment” in total defence appears fragmented.
Serious and systemic weaknesses have been identified in the Defence’s own capacity, which, in the same way as the public sector in general, is weighed down with an insane amount of forms and bureaucracy to requisition equipment and maintenance.
The commission points to fragmentation and a lack of overall strategic management, and that the introduction of integrated defence management in 2003 has led to unclear responsibilities between the Ministry of Defense and the Defense Staff.
The commission concludes that the Armed Forces’ operational capability has been severely weakened in both the short and long term.
It’s serious. It is time for action.
Øystein Steiro Sr.,