Despite promising lavish expenditure, the long-term plan has been criticised by military professionals, local politicians and the country’s parliamentary opposition alike as “too weak”, “insufficient” and threatening to draw Norway into a superpower struggle.
A revised version of the long-term defence plan has been presented by Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen after the opposition sent it back for refinement earlier this year.
Among others, the government will spend NOK 8.3 billion ($890 billion) more on the Armed Forces until 2021 and NOK 16.5 billion (nearly $1.8 billion) more until 2028.
The government intends to increase staffing with more specialists and crews, strengthen Brigade North with a battalion and increased firepower, acquire new tanks, and continue the development of land defences in the Arctic Circle in Finnmark County, which borders Russia, establish a new task squadron for the special forces, and further continue the modernisation of the Home Guard. On the material level, the plan features the procurement of tanks and long-range precision weapons, as well as the phasing-in of new helicopters to replace the Bell-412.
“The government works purposefully to strengthen both social security and state security. We want to create a safer Norway. Norway must be prepared to handle crises, serious incidents and threats,” Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said, as quoted by national broadcaster NRK.
One of the focal points of the plan is to develop Brigade North into a mechanised brigade with four battalions, with a centre of gravity in Inner Troms.
“The strengthening of Brigade North increases the Armed Forces’ ability to prevent or slow down an opponent in taking control of Norwegian territory until allied forces are in place. It will also enable us to increase Norway’s efforts in NATO’s contingency initiative,” Bakke-Jensen explained.
Chief of Defence Eirik Kristoffersen argued that the merit of the plan is that it strikes a balance between the politicians’ ambitions and desires. At the same time Kristoffersen voiced his concerns about efforts that in his opinion should be made in the High North, including a faster personnel build-up and increased presence.
However, despite its lavish expenditures, the plan has been criticised by the Norwegian Officers’ Union, local politicians and the country’s parliamentary opposition alike.
Torbjørn Bongo, union leader in the Norwegian Officers and Military Specialists Association (NOF), voiced his disappointment with the long-term plan, which he slammed as “too weak”.
“NOF’s main concern is a rather inadequate personnel strengthening, too slow and too little strengthening of the army, unrealistic efficiency cuts, privatisation hidden in strategic cooperation, and no measures to strengthen the incentives for personnel to want to stay in the Armed Forces. We risk weakening the defence over the next 10 years,” he said.
A number of northern Norwegian politicians previously agreed on a joint statement in which they demanded greater military commitment. Bardu’s Mayor Toralf Heimdal, for example, is very disappointed with the revised long-term defence plan. According to him, the increase in staff is too weak, and the purchase of new equipment is too slow.
“I have rarely seen so much hot air in such a little balloon as this plan,” Heimdal told the national broadcaster NRK, suggesting that Norway is “making fun of NATO’s requirements”.
Army union steward Pål Nygaard called the new long-term plan a “slap in the face”, accusing the government of neglect.
“They promise investments in real estate, buildings, facilities, equipment, and an increase in personnel, but they do not realise it in the Army. We always fall short,” Nygaard complained.
“This defence plan seems to be ‘made in the USA’ and corresponds more to Rand Corporation than to Norwegian security interests,” Moxnes told NRK. “This is an American long-term plan to draw Norway deeper into the increasingly dangerous great power rivalry between the United States and Russia. Norway has everything to lose by letting the United States wage that conflict on Norwegian soil,” Moxnes warned.
Centre Party defence policy spokeswoman Liv Signe Navarsete suggested that this plan will weaken Norway’s defence in the long run.
“If we run our defence in line with the government propositions, then we will lose control of our own territory. Our own country,” Navarsete warned.
Norway’s military force in peace time numbers around 23,250 personnel, including military staff and civilian specialists, and over 63,000 in total with the current military personnel, conscripts and the Norwegian Home Guard in full mobilisation.