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Research Questions

  1. What are the perspectives of key NATO Allies on the strategic issues facing Norwegian and Allied deterrence and defence in the High North region?
  2. How do different NATO Allies or institutions think differently about the challenges and opportunities facing the Alliance on its northern flank?
  3. How might Norway and NATO address these issues in ongoing development of defence strategy, policy and plans?

As a founding member of NATO, Norway supports efforts to enhance deterrence, crisis management and regional security in the North Atlantic and High North — a region commonly understood to include territories in Scandinavia and northern Russia, as well as the surrounding waters of the Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea and North Sea. To help ensure effective delivery of these tasks and inform ongoing strategy and policy development, Norway needs insight into other NATO Allies' perspectives on strategic opportunities and challenges in the region.

Researchers from RAND Europe and the RAND Corporation combined a targeted document review with expert workshops and field visits to gather and analyse evidence in support of the Norwegian Ministry of Defence's (MOD) strategy development, planning and defence policy. Researchers examined the perspectives of defence officials from Denmark, France, Germany, the UK, the US and NATO institutions and this analysis fed into a summary of findings alongside five strategic options for the MOD to consider.

Key Findings

Allied perspectives on NATO in the High North

  • Allies do not anticipate direct threats to Norway in the short term. Instead, the most significant threat is horizontal escalation of a conflict triggered in another region.
  • The High North holds strategic importance to Russia's Bastion Defence in the Barents Sea and Arctic. NATO must plan for possible future operations in an increasingly contested environment.
  • The Bear and GIUK gaps are key to warning of Russian Northern Fleet operations against NATO in any future conflict.
  • The rise of China is seen as a significant issue for NATO, though Allied officials differ over the urgency and scale of this challenge.
  • Allies welcome an enduring role for Norway beyond that nation's immediate neighbourhood, stressing the importance of a 360° approach to security.

Allied perspectives on strategic considerations for Norway

  • NATO forms an indispensable pillar of Norwegian security, and in turn benefits from Norway's active contributions to the Alliance.
  • Allies regard Norway as 'punching above its weight' due to high-end capabilities and its ability to engage all of society in the defence effort ('Total Defence').
  • Despite these perceived strengths, Norway faces pressing challenges. These include the need to manage changing political partnerships as well as to enhance the readiness and resilience of Norwegian forces to deter aggression.
  • Though Norway's Total Defence Concept is ahead of many Allies, it also needs bolstering to counter new threats to society.
  • Norway could use its national defence strategy to shape NATO's thinking on topics such as Russia, societal resilience and innovation.

Norway has five strategic options

  • Strengthen deterrence in Norway by enhancing the capability and readiness of Norwegian Armed Forces.
  • Increase Norway's ability to receive, support and operate alongside large-scale Allied land, air and naval forces.
  • Explore concepts to disrupt any adversary's tempo of operations.
  • Enhance national and societal resilience.
  • Identify and pursue opportunities for Norwegian leadership within NATO.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was prepared for the Norwegian Ministry of Defence and conducted by RAND Europe.

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