Norway’s armed forces are not sufficiently prepared to defend their country should it be attacked. This alarming comment from Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, chief of staff of Norway’s defence forces (Forsvaret), appears in the annual report of the country’s armed forces published on 11 April. Bruun-Hanssen warns that the multiplication of missions abroad and successive international exercises have widened the gap between the Norwegian army’s ambitions and its real capacities, both financially and materially.
Security policies in some of Norway’s neighbours changed considerably in 2014, Bruun-Hanssen had already warned in the previous year’s report; he notes that this situation “has not changed a year later […] We have observed a rise of Russian military activity in our immediate neighbourhood.” As a consequence, there have been more NATO exercises, and more Norwegian naval patrols in the Arctic Sea. Added to these new missions are the continuing international operations and peace-keeping missions in Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Mali. “We are not sized for so many simultaneous operations,” worries Bruun-Hanssen. With so many of Norway’s forces scattered around the world, training and equipment maintenance have been pushed into the background.
Yet, the uncertainties arising from the conflict in Ukraine and the growing threat of terrorism urgently require troops to be better prepared inside Norway’s borders. “The most important thing for the Norwegian armed forces is to have a new long term plan that would enable us to take up the major challenges which we could have to face, and by that I mean a military attack against Norway. This is a real problem and we are not sufficiently well prepared to face it,” Bruun-Hanssen stressed during a press conference on 11 April following the report’s publication.
In addition, financing the extra operations has only been achieved by redefining priorities and this has put the whole Norwegian military structure under pressure. “Ensuring our everyday defence is not an option with this financial framework,” warned the chief of staff.
These concerns are not addressed by the 2016 defence budget. Although it will rise 9.8% to €5.3bn (1.54% of GDP), its main priorities are the procurement of the F-35 combat aircraft, reinforcing military intelligence and expanding submarine patrols in the far north. No additional budget is planned to intensify military training within the country or to ensure that existing materiel is maintained, and yet these are two pillars essential for the defence of national borders.