Eirik Kristoffersen, Norway’s chief of defense, following an interview in Oslo, Norway, on Monday, June 3, 2024. The NATO alliance has a window of two to three years to prepare before Russia has rebuilt the ability to carry out a conventional attack, Kristoffersen said. Photographer: Naina Helén Jåma/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ahead of the upcoming NATO Summit in Washington, Breaking Defense has collected exclusive opinion pieces from key defense officials along the alliance’s northern border — the Arctic, where Russia and China are increasingly active. Below, Gen. Eirik Kristoffersen, Chief of Defence of Norway, lays out how he views the threat environment in Europe. 

This year marks 75 years since NATO was founded, and it remains a vital alliance that is taking action to ensure the peace and freedom which we must never take for granted. As a founding member of NATO, Norway understands that the alliance is foundational to our security, and that all NATO members strengthen each other.

It is important to remember that allies are more than friends. It was one of the experiences we took with us after five years of war and occupation in Norway during the Second World War: Allies are obliged to support each other. NATO is the sum of all member states, no more and no less.

Those member states include allies in all directions. To our west, of course, is the Atlantic Ocean, and remember that NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization – is a transatlantic organization at its heart. Without the United States as a driving force in the alliance, it wouldn’t have been as strong. NATO was born after the lessons learned after World War II — harsh lessons, the most important of which is that one can never take peace, freedom, and democracy for granted. Through the Marshal Aid packages, the United States helped build a war-torn Europe back to security and peace. We shall never forget how the US contributed to our security in Norway and in Europe. That is still the case, and for that we are very grateful.

In the history of the Alliance, only one country has ever had to invoke Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty: the United States, after it was attacked on 9/11. Norway, like other NATO nations, answered the call, because that is what allies do.

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To our East, the NATO alliance has grown only stronger, with Finland and Sweden now members. That addition is particularly important for Norway, as it opens up a number of operational possibilities if need be. Norway does share a border with Russia, and while we do not see Russia as a direct military threat at the moment, we must keep a close eye on our neighbor – after all, Moscow has proven its willingness to use force against a neighbor with its invasion of Ukraine.

To the North, Norway has major interests in the Arctic – as, increasingly, do Russia and China. Russia has over the last ten years revamped its military bases along its Northern coastline and on Arctic Islands, and we are wise to keep an eye on what Beijing is doing in the Arctic.

Looking South, one finds an easy reminder of the fact that NATOs 75th anniversary takes place in dire times. The war in Ukraine has been going on since 2014, accelerated by Russia´s full-scale attack in February 2022. This massive attack was brutal and reminiscent of scenes Europe had not seen since World War II.

There is one person who can stop this at any time, he who started it all. Russian President Vladimir Putin bears the full responsibility and has led his country into a disaster. He has not achieved his original objectives of occupying Ukraine, replacing a democratically elected Ukrainian leadership and preventing an expansion of NATO. On the contrary, the war has isolated Russia further, the Ukrainian people see absolutely no future with Russia, and NATO is now 32 nations strong and more united than ever.

Ten years after the war started, more than 50 countries stand together in the military support to Ukraine. A support that must and will continue. Norway is one of the countries that has committed its support for years to come. We will support with what Ukraine needs, and right now military support is the most important. Ukraine needs weapons, ammunition, training and education of soldiers and much more to defend their own country and people. The unity in the alliance and the cooperation with our partners and friends is strong. Our support for Ukraine shows a cohesion that is absolutely essential for our common security.

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NATO as an organization has had to adapt throughout the years. In its 75th year we see new defense-plans, new force requirements for the member states and improved management through a more adapted command structure — which all contributes to increased security.

All member states have increased their defense budgets in recent years, an unquestionably good thing. But this trend must continue. Weaknesses and shortcomings across each member state’s military are well known, and it requires prioritization and action to close them. It is the responsibility of all of us – in the Armed Forces, in total defense and all of society and together with allies – to create security in uncertain times.

The threshold for challenging one or more NATO countries remains high, because any contender knows a response will come from the whole of NATO. An attack on one member state is an attack on all NATO countries.

So I say again: It is good to have friends, but Allies are more than friends. We are all in this together, and have been for 75 years.

Gen. Eirik Kristoffersen is the Chief of Defence of Norway.


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