A Norwegian Perspective on Nordic Security: Challenges and Shaping a Way Ahead


2017-10-13 By Robbin Laird

Earlier this year, I visited Norway and conducted a series of interviews with various Norwegian military leaders and specialists.

These interviews led to the publication of a Special Report entitled: Shaping a Way Ahead for Norwegian Defense.


During that visit I had a chance to talk with Keith Eikenes, Director, Department for Security Policy and Operations in the Ministry of Defence of Norway. We focused on the new security environment and the Norwegian way ahead in that interview.


Recently, I have a had an opportunity to follow up with Eikenes in a phone interview during my most recent trip to Scandinavia this Fall and to continue to discuss the evolving strategic environment and shaping a way ahead.

Since we last spoke significant political changes in NATO countries, and in Europe more generally, have occurred as well as continued Russian actions in the Middle East and I Europe, and most recently the conduct of its large ZAPAD 17 exercise with ZAPAD in Russian meaning Western.

And the Swedes have just concluded their largest military exercise in more than 20 years.

Question: What is your current focus of attention in light of the various European developments?

Keith Eikenes: One of the things that we’re looking at within the Nordic-Baltic format is how to strengthen our dialogue and share experiences and views on crisis management in a multilateral setting.

This is one of the focus areas of the Nordic-Baltic cooperation.

Norway will follow up on this further, when we have the chairmanship of the Nordic Defence Cooperation (NORDEFCO) group next year.

Question and Comment: We are not talking about the Soviet Union; we are focused on the Russians.

And what the current leader of Russia has demonstrated is his willingness to use military force as a political instrument in Europe and elsewhere. Your focus then on crisis management and shaping effective tools is really a key element of shaping a realistic way ahead.

And at the end of the day, if the Russians are focused on Arctic development, the only way this will happen because of the fragility of the region is by collaborative engagement.

Does it make sense then to think about crisis management and collaborative engagement at the same time?

Keith Eikenes: That is a good way to put it.

Engagement and deterrence go hand in hand in Norwegian policy.

We have always been able to have firmness and predictability at the same time as engagement and cooperation.

There’s a mutual interest in both in Norway and in Russia to maintain the Arctic as a stable region, and that’s something certainly that has been a Norwegian objective for most of the post-war era and continues to be so.

Question: A Danish colleague has focused recently in an interview on what he sees as the emergence of a Nordic Security Zone, which extends from the Arctic through to the Baltics.

 In your view, how best to work with allies and partners to enhance effectiveness in the Nordic Security Zone?

Keith Eikenes: From the Norwegian point of view, NATO is the framework in which we address these security challenges in northern Europe.

But we are working hard with Sweden and Finland to expand our Nordic cooperation as well.

The Finns and Swedes are paying close attention to what’s going on now with regard to Russian behavior, the Baltic Sea in particular.

There’s an increasingly close dialogue among the Nordic countries now. Some of them are not NATO members obviously.

There is clearly renewed focus on Nordic-Baltic cooperation and working practical ways to enhance interoperability of our forces and as I mentioned earlier ways to shape more effective crisis management.

And we have seen as well an increased U.S. interest in an engagement in the Nordic cooperation and the Nordic-Baltic cooperation as well.

The U.S. plays a key role in the Nordic-Baltic setting.

And the UK has become an important player in the Nordic Security Zone as well.

The UK under then Defence Minister Liam Fox initiated the Northern Group Framework.


This Framework includes in the British perspective, Nordic countries, UK, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands in looking at security situation in Northern Europe.

I think there’s some real potential within that working framework as well to enhance defense and crisis management capabilities.

Question: There is considerable turbulence in Europe ranging from Brexit to the movement for Catalonian independence.

The importance of deterrence and crisis management as you are working it can be an important contribution as well to the next phase of European development.

In other words, even though this is about defense and security, the kind of collaborative interaction you are having with the UK, other Nordics, the Dutch, the Germans and the Balts can contribute as well to a broader European agenda.

How do you see that process?

Keith Eikenes: From a Norwegian perspective, a strong and stable Europe is crucial to our continued security and prosperity.

One of the things that we really need to try to avoid is supporting a narrative now of how Europe is sort of falling apart.

What we need to do is to shape a narrative and way ahead to pursue the next phase of European development within which defense and security are clearly important drivers as well.

An important goal here will be to strengthen the European pillar of the transatlantic security framework, and ensuring a more equitable burden-sharing.

Editor’s Note: If one looks back at the actions of then Minister of Defence Liam Fox, and of the government of which he was part, key elements of what might emerge as Brexit defense policy were already being put in place.

If one reads the press release by MoD issues on November 10, 2010 referred to above with regard to the Northern Europe initiative, the way ahead in shaping a post-Brexit defense policy was already foreshadowed.

The first forum of its kind, consisting of the Nordic and Baltic States plus Germany and Poland, will enable the UK to engage with countries who are not members of both NATO and the EU.

Following last week’s French-Anglo treaty this is a continuation of the UK’s drive to deepen bilateral and multilateral relations with our European neighbours.

Speaking in Oslo, Dr Fox said:

We cannot forget that geographically the United Kingdom is a northern European country. Let me be clear, this is not about carving out spheres of influence; this is about working together on mutual interests. For too long Britain has looked in every direction except its own backyard.

The goal here is to deepen bilateral and multilateral relationships with key regional partners, recognising and respecting sovereignty, but also recognising that today’s world is one of necessary partnership not optional isolation.

In this multipolar world, we need more and different levers to act in the interests of our national and joint security. Therefore, we want to create a new and wider framework that makes it easier for both NATO and non-NATO members to have a closer relationship in the region.

Reflecting on the contributions to the campaign in Afghanistan that the nations in the new forum have made, Dr Fox said:

Collectively the 11 countries participating here today contribute around 19,000 troops to ISAF’s mission in Afghanistan and provide the lead in six Provincial Reconstruction Teams. We are very proud that in Helmand today British troops are serving alongside our Danish and Estonian partners.

Talking about aspects of mutual interest to the new grouping, Dr Fox raised the subject of cyber security:

The UK’s new Defence Cyber Operations Group will seek to form strong international alliances to increase our mutual resilience and joint operational capabilities,” he said.

The Nordic nations have an enduring history of national resilience, rooted in the holistic concept of Total Defence, from which we all can learn; but this concept, developed during the past 50 years, must be remodeled to meet new threats, and here collaboration will be valuable.

Focusing on energy security matters, Dr. Fox said:

Stable bilateral relations will be an insufficient safeguard of our mutual energy security without measures to preserve the physical integrity of supply routes and sources in Europe and beyond.

The scale and complexity of these networks will increasingly require our combined efforts to protect them. For the United Kingdom this isn’t about telling our friends what we will do for them, or what they can do for us. This forum is about seeing what more we can do together.