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Wants more and larger NATO exercises in the north

Defence Ministry State Secretary Roger Ingebrigtsen (without uniform) pointed towards Russia when he last winter visited the Norwegian border guards in the north. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

“I hope we will see even more soldiers coming to northern Norway to participate in exercises. Our ambition is a clear NATO footprint in the north,” says State Secretary Roger Ingebrigtsen in Norway’s Ministry of Defence.

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Roger Ingebrigtsen visited Brussels on Tuesday meeting top officials at both European Defence Agency (EDA) and Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). Speaking with SHAPE’s chief of staff General Manfred Lange, Ingebrigtsen underlined the good possibilities NATO allies have for exercising in Norway, reads a statement posted on the Ministry’s portal.

The two officials discussed the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

“For many years the Alliance has focused on operations outside the member countries, and to a lesser extent on its own core areas. That have been bad news for Norway, but now it’s about to turn back,” says Ingebrigtsen in an interview with Nordlys after his Brussels meetings.

Last winter, more than 16,000 soldiers from 15 countries were involved in Cold Response 2012, the largest military exercise in Norway in ten years. The core area of the exercise was mid-Troms above the Arctic Circle.

NATO allies are according to Nordlys again invited to exercises in northern Norway in both 2013 and 2014.   

“We have got strong signals from NATO allies that they want to participate and in the years to come I hope we will see even more soldiers in northern Norway to participate in exercises,” says Roger Ingebrigtsen.

The State Secretary says this is in Norway interest. “Defence planning is about having a long-term perspective. We must take into account that it is not necessarily always going to be good weather in the north. Should bad weather come, we must be prepared.” He was speaking in a figurative sense.

Norway’s defence spending per capita is together with Greece the highest in Europe, with $1,245. That is nearly twice the spending per capita compared with Sweden or Finland, reads the overview made by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). With the current economical crises, most EU member countries have reduced their defence spendings in the period 2008-2011. Russia, however, increased military spending in the period, reads the SIPRI report.

In March this year, the Norwegian Ministry of Defence released a new White Paper for the military sector covering the period 2013-2016. During the course of this plan, Norway’s defence budget projects a real-term increase of seven percent.

Head of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat, Rune Rafaelsen, welcomes all international cooperation in the north, but warns against a new militarization of the north.

“One thing we don’t need is increased militarization. There are no conflicts in the north. What we need to do is to strengthen the east-west contacts even more, including the armed forces in both Norway and Russia,” says Rafaelsen underlining the good relations that have developed in the course of the last decade between military officials in the two neighboring countries.

“High north - Low tension, is the slogan for the future developments up here in the Arctic,” says Rune Rafaelsen.