A couple of weeks ago the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, approved the Government's new long-term defense plan. Based on the plan, Norway will increase defense spending and strengthen both our own national defense and our contribution to NATO's collective security.
How is this in the interest of the United States?
Since the creation of NATO in 1949, Norway has been a committed partner within the transatlantic security community. The alliance has provided us with vitally important security guarantees.
At the same time, we are fully aware of the need to maintain the capacity to respond unilaterally to a crisis or conflict -- during the early phases in particular. This ability will now be strengthened.
The Government's defense plan outlines short-term measures as well as long-term investments, such as the purchase of American F-35 fighter jets. The aim is to increase Norway's readiness to respond to - and prevent - threats, aggression and attacks.
Under the plan, we will also increase our contributions to the NATO partnership. These include increased capacity to guard NATO's northern flank, maintaining the Arctic as a peaceful region, and monitoring activity in Norway's close vicinity - including areas of vital importance to Russia's nuclear deterrence.
That being said, it should be clear that Russia is not seen as a military threat to Norway. But we are concerned about the combination of military modernization and a proven will to exert influence through military power.
The Government is planning to maintain a high level of defense spending over the next few years, with a 4.2 percent increase in spending slated for 2017. Norway spends more on security per capita than any other NATO country except the United States.
The United States cannot, and should not, bear sole responsibility for the security of all NATO member states. The Atlantic Treaty is a joint project, where everyone contributes. Security challenges must be met with firmness and predictability, through cooperation between all 28 members.
Norway has a long history of contributing to international security.
We took part in NATO's operations in former Yugoslavia in the 1990s and early 2000s by deploying thousands of men and women in uniform to the NATO Implementation force (IFOR), the subsequent Stabilization Force (SFOR) and the Kosovo Force (KFOR). Norwegian fighter jets also took part in the Kosovo war in 1998-99.
Norway quickly joined Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001, and since 2002 has contributed more than 8,300 uniformed personnel to the International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF) there.
A Norwegian contingent was also part of the multinational forces in Iraq from 2003 to 2005, and Norwegian soldiers are part of the Combined Joint Task Force operating in Syria and Iraq today. In addition, we maintain our contribution to the NATO-led Resolute Support in Afghanistan. And through the UN-led anti-terrorism operations in Mali, Norway contributes a C-130 transport aircraft with crew and support staff.
In the Mediterranean, we take part in Operation Triton, aimed at strengthening border security in Europe and rescuing refugees crossing the open seas in dangerously overcrowded small vessels. And let me also mention that in the Indian Ocean outside of Somalia, Norwegian armed forces took part in the anti-piracy operation a few years ago.
With regard to Syria, Norway has played a key role in transporting chemical weapons safely out of the country.
In spite of the effects of the Government's long-term plan, the United States is and will continue to be an important guarantor for Norway's security. By increasing our own contributions for both our own security and that of our allies, we want to give something back. It is important to Norway that our security cooperation with the U.S. be mutually beneficial.
As I am writing these lines, I am awaiting separate visits to the United States by Foreign Minister Børge Brende and Minister of Defense Ine Søreide Eriksen. In their meetings, they will underline the importance of continuing a strong and friendly relationship between Norway and the United States.
Global security is faced with a complex set of threats, which need to be taken seriously. Norway is ready to shoulder its part of the responsibility for NATO's collective security.
The United States can count on Norway as a trusted and responsible ally.