The Støre government announced rearmament in the north. But Defense Minister Odd Roger Enoksen (SP) also wants to nurture relations with Russia.
On Friday, Enoksen will attend his first meeting of defense ministers in NATO, just a week after the new Labor-Center Party government took office.
In the run-up to the meeting, NATO has expelled eight Russian diplomats who the alliance believes are, in reality, intelligence officers. Russia has responded by shutting down its permanent delegation to NATO and asking NATO to leave its Moscow office.
On his way to Brussels, the newly appointed minister was careful about commenting on the incident. But the hope is that NATO and Russia will soon return to more normal relations.
“It is first and foremost a hope,” Enoksen told NTB.
“But it is a goal for this government to work in that direction.”
From 2005 to 2007, Enoksen was Minister of Petroleum and Energy in the “red-green” government. At that time, the situation was different, he said.
“The last time I was Minister of State, we had a close, frequent and good dialogue with Russia. That situation has changed for several reasons. But I hope that we are over the worst and can come back, because it is quite obvious that it is important for Norway to have a good dialogue with Russia in all policy areas,” he said.
In the Hurdal platform, the Labor Party and the Center Party write that they will “further develop bilateral cooperation with Russia in the north, with particular emphasis on cooperation on the sea, resources, climate, and coastal issues in the Barents Sea and the Arctic.”
At the same time, the two parties promise to “strengthen the foreign and security policy dialogue in the north and establish common meeting places to discuss security policy challenges.”
“We have a regional role to play in NATO in the north. But nurturing relations with Russia and having a dialogue with Russia will also be important,” Enoksen said.
Strengthening in the north
But the Hurdal platform also states that the new government will strengthen its defense capability and “the military presence in northern Norway.”
According to the declaration, the strengthening will take place with relevant contributions from all branches of defense. Specifically, the government also promises to move helicopters to Bardufoss.
Enoksen says he does not think Russia will react negatively. Having a presence in the north, with surveillance aircraft, fighter jets, coastguard, and navy, is the job Norway does in NATO, he pointed out.
“It is to take care of the northern flank. That’s what we have done, and we have done it in a way that Russia has respected. And we have respect for the way Russia works. So, I don’t think it is perceived as any kind of provocation on the Russian side,” Enoksen said.
“It is a completely sensible focus on the Norwegian side to strengthen the defense in the north. We believe it is necessary.”
Continued cooperation with the United States
Another recurring issue is Norway’s defense cooperation with the United States. Russia has been very critical of this cooperation.
The Defense Minister would not go into detail about what policy the new government will pursue with regard to the US military presence in Norway.
“It is simply too early for me to go into it,” Enoksen noted.
“But we are part of NATO, and the United States is our closest ally. The United States should continue to be (our closest ally); there should be no doubt about that. The close military cooperation we have with the United States will continue,” he said.
Source: © NTB Scanpix / #Norway Today / #NorwayTodayNews
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