Enhancing deterrence and defence on NATO’s northern flank

Norwegian Coast rangers sailing outside of Harstad during exercise Cold Response 2020, photo by Emil Wenaas Larsen / Forsvaret (Norwegian Armed Forces)

Coast rangers sailing outside of Harstad during exercise Cold Response 2020

Emil Wenaas Larsen / Forsvaret (Norwegian Armed Forces)

NATO allies do not anticipate direct threats to Norway in the short term but they agree on the threat posed by improved Russian capabilities in the High North. Key NATO allies regard Norway as being able to ‘punch above its weight’, but Norway does face pressing political, strategic, and military challenges, as well as wider security threats to societal resilience.

What is the issue?

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.

How did we help?

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.

What did we find?

Allied perspectives on NATO in the High North

  • NATO Allies do not anticipate direct threats to Norway in the short term. Instead, the most significant threat is horizontal escalation of a crisis or conflict triggered in another region. For example, the High North holds strategic importance to Russia’s Bastion Defence in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean.
  • MOD and NATO Allies agree on the threat posed by improved Russian capabilities in the High North. Norwegian and NATO strategy must plan for possible future operations in a highly contested environment.
  • The Bear-Island North Cape and GIUK (Greenland, Iceland and UK) gaps in the North Atlantic and Barents Sea are key to warning of Russian Northern Fleet operations and execution of possible sea denial efforts against NATO in any future conflict.
  • While there was common agreement that the ongoing rise of China represents a significant new strategic challenge for NATO, Allied officials differ over the urgency and scale of this challenge.
  • Allies welcome an enduring role for Norway on NATO’s southern flank as well as its northern and eastern flanks, stressing the importance of 360° NATO security.

Allied perspectives on strategic considerations for Norway

  • NATO forms an indispensable pillar of Norwegian defence and security, and in turn benefits from Norway’s active contributions to the Alliance.
  • Key NATO allies regard Norway as being able to ‘punch above its weight’ because of its impressive mix of high-end capabilities for a nation of its size, and a mature Total Defence Concept – its ability to have all of society engaged in the defence effort, both military and civilian.
  • Despite these perceived areas of strength, Norway faces a number of pressing challenges across different levels: political, strategic, military and wider security threats to societal resilience.
  • Political challenges include how to maximise the benefits of Norway’s key defence relationships while hedging against uncertain change; and strategic-military challenges include enhancing the readiness and resilience of Norwegian forces to deter aggression.
  • Though Norway’s Total Defence Concept is ahead of many other Allies, it will need to be bolstered to counter new, non-military threats to society.
  • Norway could use its national defence strategy to shape NATO’s thinking on topics such as Russia, societal resilience and innovation; as well as to leverage Norway’s varied partnerships and promote cooperation among multilateral groups and NATO.

What are Norway’s strategic options?

The report’s strategic options are intended to be mutually reinforcing and scalable, depending on levels of strategic ambition and resources. Plans for the High North must be seen as proportionate and credible by a range of different audiences: national, Allied and potential adversaries.

  • Strengthen deterrence in Norway by enhancing the capability and readiness of Norwegian Armed Forces.
    Supporting actions could include enhancing the protection of bases and forces against air and missile threats; and preparing for operations in contested cyber, space and electromagnetic environments.
  • Increase Norway’s ability to receive, support and operate alongside large-scale Allied land, air and naval forces.
    Possible actions could be increasing the scale and complexity of field exercises; upgrading and expanding infrastructure; and deepening cooperation to enhance military mobility and interoperability.
  • Explore concepts to disrupt any adversary’s tempo of operations.
    Actions include inviting Allies with deep attack systems to deploy to Norway periodically; collaborating with key NATO Allies on littoral and maritime strike concepts; and considering the role for longer-range weapons for Norwegian forces.
  • Enhance national and societal resilience.
    Supporting actions could include refining and bolstering the Total Defence Concept in light of evolving challenges; and continuing to strengthen civil support to the military.
  • Identify and pursue opportunities for Norwegian leadership within NATO.
    This could involve contributing to ongoing efforts to rebalance transatlantic burden sharing; and identifying and pursuing opportunities for Norwegian leadership.