Reshaping Norwegian Defense: Meeting 21st Century Challenges


2017-02-23 By Robbin Laird

Prior to attending the Norwegian Airpower Conference in Trondheim, I was able to meet with Mr. Øystein BØ, the State Secretary and Deputy Defense Minister at the Norwegian Ministry of Defense to discuss his perspective on the way ahead for Norway and NATO in the Northern region.

A key point that he underscored was the importance for NATO states to invest in defense and to innovate in delivering new capabilities.

“Article III is the obligation to have a strong national defense and to be able to be a net contributor to security.

There is no free ride in NATO, we’ve all got to do our part to be able to defend each other.”

Put bluntly, the situation facing Norway is challenging as the Russians are modernizing and exhibiting a more assertive and less predictable behavior.

In a conference held in Oslo last year, Norwegian speakers underscored their concern with the need to take Arctic security and defense seriously.

“A strong NATO presence in the North is in the US’ and Norway’s interest”, said Øystein Bø, State Secretary of the Norwegian Ministry of Defense at the event.

Bø specifically pointed to the new security environment in Europe after Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and the increasing human activity in the Arctic. Norway has for a long time pushed to strengthen NATO’s maritime capabilities, especially in the North Atlantic.

Øystein BØ, the State Secretary and Deputy Defense Minister at the Norwegian Ministry of Defense

Ahead of the Warsaw Summit this year, Norwegian Minister of Defense Ine Eriksen Søreide wrote in a statement “NATO needs a coherent and robust long-term strategy to deal with the new security environment. A key element of that strategy must be maritime power and presence in the North”.

State Secretary Bø underlined the need for increase in training, exercises and presence, as well as improving NATO command and control structure..

In our discussion, he both underscored the importance of working with the Russians and deterring them. He argued for the need for predictability but also strengthening one’s deterrent capabilities as well.

It was crucial for both Norwegian defense modernization as well as working effectively with allies in defense of the Norwegian region.

Exercises are an important tool in this effort, within NATO and with other Nordic exercises.

He noted that the Norwegian, Swedes and Finns do joint air exercises and operate from their home bases but work together in shaping collaborative air operations.

“This ensures efficiency in that the logistics are provided at the home bases; but also shaping collaborative capabilities by working together in common areas of interest in the region as well during the exercise.”

He started the conversation by focusing on the F-35 and its potential contributions to Norwegian defense modernization.

“We do not see this just as a replacement aircraft; we see it as contributing to our ground-air-naval force modernization efforts and overall capabilities. It will interact with the Army, with the Navy and will be a platform in many ways that we believe is a game changer for us.

In other words, he sees the F-35 as a strategic asset from the standpoint of extended Norwegian defense capabilities.

An aspect of the F-35 program, which is not generally realized, is the importance of allied investments in capabilities, which can be used across the F-35 global enterprise.

In the Norwegian case, the Joint Strike Missile (JSM), which is considered a crucial asset in providing for maritime defense of Norway, is available to other NATO-allies flying the F-35 as well.

“This is a 21st century aspect of burden sharing as our investments in ‘our’ missile benefits all F-35 users of this missile across the globe, whether in Japan, Australia or in Europe.”

“It is not money that just goes directly into our armed forces, but it’s a lot of money that goes into developing capabilities that the alliance needs. It is about contributing to our joint security as well.”

He focused notably upon the changing nature of Russian capabilities in the North Atlantic and the stronger focus on NATO’s northern maritime flank, including the Greenland-Iceland-UK gap.

“History has returned but with new technologies necessary to deal with the challenge. Joint operation of the P-8 is certainly part of our joint response working with the US and the UK as we establish a joint operating capability.”

Clearly, the goal is to maintain stability, but doing so is not simply sitting on one’s hands hoping for a favorable outcome.

“We are working hard on defense modernization with our allies and at the same time clearly working for dynamic stability in the region.

But this is an evolving process.”

Norway is in a crucial position. “If you look at the map, we are in a crucial position in the north.

But we are a small country, with a large geography and only five million people.

So we need to truly focus on a smart defense strategy.”

And as the State Secretary made clear throughout, the Norwegian government sees defense modernization, indeed interactive transformation with core NATO allies as well as partners in the region to provide for an effective role as stewards of the North.

Biography of Øystein BØ, the State Secretary and Deputy Defense Minister at the Norwegian Ministry of Defense

Born: 1959

Mr. Øystein Bø from The Conservative Party (Høyre) was appointed October 16th 2013 to state secretary in The Ministry of Defence.

On 11 September 2014, Mr. Bø was awarded the United States Departement of the Navy  Distinguished Public Service Award.

Sep. 2010 – Oct. 2013 Head of International Department and Permanent Secretary of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, Stortinget (the Norwegian Parliament)

August 2006 – August 2010 Minister, Deputy Permanent Representative, Permanent Delegation of Norway to NATO

July 2002 – July 2006 Chef de Cabinet of the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Dec. 2001 – July 2002 Deputy Director General, Head of OSCE/CFSP Section, European Department

Sep. 2000 – Dec 2001 Assistant Director General, European Policy Department

June 2000 – Sep. 2000 Assistant Director General, Department of Policy Planning and Evaluation, Head of Stability Pact / OSCE Coordination Unit

June 2000 – July 2002 National Coordinator, Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe

June 1998- – May 2000: Adviser, OSCE Coordination Unit. (Responsible for Kosovo/FRY throughout the Norwegian OSCE Chairmanship 1999)

January 1998 – May 1998: First secretary, Norwegian permanent delegation to NATO

January 1997 – Dec. 1997: Legal adviser, Office of the High Representative, Sarajevo (Seconded by the Norwegian MFA)

August 1995 – January 1997: First secretary, Norwegian Embassy, Tallinn, Estonia (DCM – Chargé d’Affaires a.i. for about 9 months of the period)

August 1992 – July 1995: Second secretary, Norwegian Delegation to the CSCE/OSCE, Vienna

August 1991 – July 1992: Diplomatic trainee, Norwegian MFA

January 1990 – July 1991: Executive Officer, Legal Department, Norwegian MFA

August 1989 – Dec. 1989 Attorney, Business Law firm, Tromsø, Norway

January 1981 – June 1983: 2nd lieutenant, Norwegian Army, Infantry (1st lieutenant reserve)


1989: Cand. Jur., Oslo University (Ph.d. Law equivalent)

1980: Infantry officers’ training school, Norwegian Army