MADRID — NATO’s expected northward growth expansion will help solidify Nordic military defenses at a time when Moscow is posing a threat to the alliance, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre said on Thursday.
Speaking to POLITICO on the last day of a NATO summit in Madrid, Støre said the security situation in the north is stable but that the regional perception of Russia has changed, prompting an overhaul of how the Nordic area will be defended moving forward.
While Norway has been a NATO member since the military alliance’s founding in 1949, its nearby neighbors, Finland and Sweden, had long preferred to stay unaligned. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed all of that in a matter of months, shifting public opinion and prompting the governments in Helsinki and Stockholm to submit NATO bids.
Getting Finland and Sweden into NATO will “strengthen what I would say is a common approach to security and cooperation inside NATO,” said Støre. “For Norway, being an ocean-oriented country by its geography, it means that we will get greater cohesion with the landmass of the Nordic region.”
De nordiske landene står sammen – både på og bak scenen #WeAreNato pic.twitter.com/ZFD5zXF5Es
— Jonas Gahr Støre (@jonasgahrstore) June 29, 2022
Militarily, the Nordic region has become a crucial NATO focal point as Russia rushes to build up its military presence in the Arctic.
The alliance’s expected expansion will offer “the opportunity to have better interoperability, more common training, planning and link between defense and security,” Støre said, adding that “the broader European cooperation will be enhanced.”
Støre — who previously served in the government of now-NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg — drew a sharp distinction between today and his time as foreign minister in 2010, the last time NATO approved a long-term planning document.
That document, dubbed the “Strategic Concept,” portrayed Russia as a possible partner. Now, in an updated Strategic Concept NATO approved this week, Russia is described as the alliance’s most immediate threat.
“We had the the aspiration of a partnership with Russia,” Støre said. Now, “those days seem to be gone,” he added. “It’s necessary to formulate that Russia is perceived to be a threat” and “nobody doubts the seriousness of the situation.”
The changing dynamic has prompted NATO to approve an overhaul of its defensive posture, aspiring to put 300,000 troops on high readiness by 2023.
Norway, Støre said, will play a role in this new model.
“We will be part of that on a rotational basis,” he said, noting Norway currently has troops in Lithuania, which sits near Russia and has pushed for more NATO support.
“We want to be present in other NATO countries, providing the same security guarantee that we receive,” Støre said. “This is part of the reciprocity of NATO.”
Norway was hit with a cyberattack earlier this week, which officials attributed to a pro-Russian criminal group. Støre declined to give specifics on the perpetrators, but the prime minister emphasized the incident represents the new threats the alliance must tackle.
“It’s an illustration of what we highlight in the Strategic Concept of NATO, that hybrid attacks, cyberattacks are part of the new security landscape and the threats that we need to face, both to prevent but also to deal with when they occur,” he said.
Nevertheless, the Norwegian leader underscored that he does not see the security in the alliance’s north as unstable.
The security landscape, according to the prime minister, “has been marked by what we in Norway call ‘high north – low tension.’ Norway has shared a border with the Soviet Union and then Russia, and while being a member of NATO, managing a balanced relationship of cooperation and also necessary deterrence next to military power.”
NATO’s emphasis on Russia in its new strategic blueprint, he said, is “a balanced message from NATO.”