Norway’s Defense Budget: An Uncomfortable Truth…
by Endre Lunde
As “Norway’s Proposed FY 2007 Defense Budget” noted on October 11, 2006, the government has proposed a defence budget for 2007 amounting to NOK 31 billion (about $4.65 billion), with increases in a number of areas. DID has covered their upcoming choice of a new fighter, the new hybrid-power patrol vessels being introduced, and the recent controversies around the Fridtjof Nansen Class AEGIS frigates.
The new budget spotlights increased funding and ongoing investment needs in a number of sectors, including investments for armoured vehicles and soldiers’ equipment, plus increases to help modernize Norway’s navy. More information can be found in the full English release from Norway’s Fordvarsdepartementet.
Despite these apparent budget increases, the financial situation in the Norwegian armed forces remains dire. Many have pointed out the continuing imbalance between mission and resources, and have called for the revision of one or both of these factors to fix this situation. Recently, these issues came to a head…
One figure that has repeatedly demanded such changes is the current Defense Chief (roughly equivalent to a Chief of Staff) General Sverre Diesen. General Sverre Diesen has refused to make explicit requests for additional funding, but he has spoken vocally on the need for change. Recently, while giving his annual speech to the Oslo Military Society he made a point of emphasizing what he called the “imbalance between operational and non-operational structures.”
Since the end of the Cold War, Norway has closed down numerous facilities that were built to support a large mobilization force that would fend off a Soviet invasion. Today, many of these facilities are gone. Many remain, however, leaving the defense force with a support structure that remains completely out of proportion to the number of operational units. Many of these bases remain vital sources of income to smaller rural communities, who will fight ferociously to keep these facilities from being shut down.
When General Diesen then made these comments regarding the support structure, therefore, many people saw that as an indirect announcement that he intended to shut down many of these facilities. In so doing, he managed to simultaneously step on the toes of all three parties currently participating in the coalition government.
- The Socialist Left party sees any further reduction in the traditional defense structure as supportive of a more interventionist international military stance, and hence opposes such changes.
- The Center party is Norway’s agrarian party, and retains strong ties to many of these local communities that might stand to suffer from such closures.
- Finally the Labor party maintains strong links to the officer’s unions that oppose what they call “a reduction of the defense force into an inspections corps.”
Following these statements, it has been rumored that elements within the Norwegian government are agitating for General Diesen’s resignation.
The problem is that this debate is clouding the real problem within the Norwegian defense force.
Norway is making growing defense procurement commitments that are fast approaching $10 billion. In addition to projects like the Nansen Class frigates, armored vehicles, et. al. planned investments include fighters to replace the F-16, search-and-rescue helicopters, transport aircraft, a logistical support ship, new assault rifles, and numerous other minor projects that have been delayed for years. In the imminent future, there will also be a need to prepare for new maritime patrol aircraft and submarines, which could potentially push the investment range even higher.
But as General Diesen pointed out, unless the fundamental imbalances within the defense force are corrected, these investments would land in an environment that is already fiscally unsustainable and unprepared to support them.
Norway has ambitions toward a fully modern military. Given its geography and responsibilities, it needs one. The question is, will it pay for one? Despite all of the brouhaha over General Diesen’s remarks, that question remains unanswered – and largely undiscussed.