Professor Kjell Inge Bjerga, Director IFS, opened the seminar by pointing out how Russia could threaten NATO's freedom of movement and contest vital sea lines of communication across the North Atlantic. To meet this potential challenge, allies and partners are boosting their maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare capabilities and strengthening NATO's command structure. The UK and Norway must be leaders in this effort.
After highlighting the two countries' long-standing cooperation and their special relationship, Bjerga left the podium to Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Chief of the UK Defence Staff, who also emphasized the long history of military cooperation, and the special security relations between Norway and the UK.
Existing commitment and new threats
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Chief of the UK Defence Staff
Sir Stuart Peach further addressed the changed security situation, and recent threats that have emerged. He emphasized the need to understand these threats, and to adapt the alliance in order to meet them. Underscoring the need for adaptation, Peach stated the need for allies to remain close, but not to remain static.
Furthermore, Sir Peach emphasized the enduring importance of the North Atlantic for both the UK, Norway, and the Alliance as a whole, hereunder the necessity of securing the transatlantic Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs). Although a lot has changed since the formation of NATO, he continued, geography has not. Sea power and the SLOCs thus remain crucial for the security of the Alliance.
Air Chief Marshal Peach stressed that the allies can form a basis for facing future challenges by reaffirming their commitment to NATO, and to article five, and to be clear on the importance of deterrence. In light of this, a strong UK-Norway relationship can be seen as an expression of allied cohesion. Finally, Sir Peach assured that the UK's commitment to NATO and Norway remains solid, and will not be affected by the upcoming "Brexit".
The importance of the North Atlantic
Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, the Norwegian Chief of Defence.
Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, the Norwegian Chief of Defence, started his introduction by emphasizing the good and long-standing relationship between Norway and the UK. He also emphasized the importance of the North Atlantic by quoting former Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), General Breedlove, who referred to the North Atlantic as the lifeblood of NATO. The vast transatlantic activity makes it crucially important to protect the SLOCs and ensure they are open, he continued.
After a decline in attention to the North Atlantic after the end of the Cold War, increased Russian activity in the region, and Russian willingness to use military power elsewhere, has brought the North Atlantic back on the agenda.
NATO meets the challenges
The Admiral gave a brief outline of what the Alliance is doing to meet current challenges:
- NATO is increasing its focus on deterrence and defence, improving its ability to command and control in the maritime environment, and increasing and improving the capability of MARCOM in the UK.
- The Alliance is also debating whether to establish another joint force command specifically to protect the SLOCs – a decision can be expected in July.
- NATO is also improving its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capability, and looking at developing a new maritime strategy.
- The Alliance is also conducting larger exercises to put emphasize on all the requirements needed if reinforcements across the Atlantic should once again become necessary.
Bruun-Hanssen went on to describe Norway's role within NATO: Norway aims at improving its intelligence service, its maritime capabilities, and its ability to do ASW operations. Norway is also improving its ability to cooperate with other allies in conducting sea control and sea denial operations in the Atlantic Ocean.
Finally, the Admiral drew attention to Norway's traditional dual track policy, combining deterrence with dialogue, which for 70 years has been fundamental in maintaining stability in the High North. We should not demonize Russia, he emphasized, but neither be naive.
Q&A on command, cooperation, and capabilities
Following the two introductions, Professor Bjerga opened the Q & A session, by asking the Air Chief Marshal whether, and how, NATO's command structure review, with a new joint force command, can improve the ability to secure the SLOCs across the Atlantic. Sir Stuart Peach replied that there is a need to adapt the NATO command structure, but he also emphasized that this is nothing new, referring to the former Allied Command Atlantic (ACLANT) in Norfolk, Virginia. He was therefore not worried that the transition would be a problem.
Bjerga then asked how bilateral military cooperation between the UK and Norway contributes to security in the region, and how this cooperation should be developed further in order to supplement NATO's role and force posture. The Air Chief Marshal emphasized the need of sharing information, knowledge and intelligence, in order to have a joint situational awareness, and stressed that friends and allies, such as Norway and the UK, should continue to do so.
From the audience, a question was posed on the future of the Royal Marines amphibious capability, in light of the ongoing defence review. Sir Stuart Peach replied that the UK has embarked on a defence modernization program, not a defence review, and in turn reassured that there is no intention to do away with the Royal Marines.
The next question concerned the information flow across the Atlantic, and how e.g. communication cables can be protected. The Air Chief Marshal emphasized the importance of assessing the potential risks posed to these lines of communication in peacetime, in order to up the resilience.
The last question concerned the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF), and how this has been shaped by recent unforeseen events such as the annexation of Crimea and Brexit. Sir Peach emphasized that JEF-partners acted together to the unforeseen outbreak of disease in West Africa, and that this proved to be a successful way of dealing with common issues. However, he also pointed out that JEF is not an alternative or competitor to NATO, but a force of likeminded friends and allies dealing with problems in a common way.
The Chief of Defence added that a small country like Norway, with limited resources, is interested in participating in various cooperative constellations for pooling and sharing resources, such as NORDEFCO, the VJTF and the JEF.