WORLD: Mr Prime Minister, some observers in Germany believe that the support for Ukraine and the increased defense efforts against Russia are not exactly conducive to stability, but on the contrary can create further tensions. What do you mean, as head of government of a neighboring country of the Russian Federation?
Jonas Gahr Støre: The idea that democracies create tension when they take care of their own security stems from an inferiority complex. The NATO countries threaten nobody. We should carry this message very resolutely. But when you have a neighbor that has turned to all-out war of aggression and conquest, you have to confront these neocolonial policies.
The Russian government believes it has the right to invade and subdue another country. This is a fundamental threat. We must be able to provide adequate security for all members, including those in Eastern Europe. We are also doing this together with Germany, for example by showing a military presence in Lithuania. But these are not troops for any offensive purposes. It is troops that provide stability and security for exposed countries in the face of an aggressive neighbor.
WORLD: Do you think that in the current situation, the current goal of the NATO countries to spend two percent of their gross national product on defense is sufficient? Your compatriot, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, recently told WELT that he could imagine raising this mark.
Støre: The two percent commitment made in 2014 was a necessary target. But the gross national product is a variable that fluctuates. So it can be that we increase our defense expenditures, but their percentage of the gross national product decreases - because the gross national product has increased. So these percentage targets are not very precise, and they say very little about the quality and standard of the military.
For example, in Norway we have a target of investing 20 percent of the defense budget. We're even at 30 percent now and last week we declared that our next generation of tanks will be German Leopard tanks. We have ordered 54 pieces and have the possibility to order another 18. We also buy new submarines. The quality and modernity of the armed forces should be factored into the NATO equation.
WORLD: A debate about quality does not exclude spending targets. What do you think of raising the two percent target?
Støre: We need to spend more money on defense and security, but the two percent target is not the most appropriate tool to achieve the goal. Rather, what we need is a discussion about better coordination between states. This is a lesson from the Ukraine war. I was a former Red Cross Secretary General, and I know from my experience of disasters the importance of sound coordination.
The agreements about deliveries to Ukraine in the Ramstein format were pretty clever. But we also need a debate in NATO about our defense industry, about how we replenish our stockpiles of ammunition and equipment so that they correspond to the current security situation. Due to the deliveries to Ukraine, it will take time for stocks to be replenished. This debate is more important than the ongoing work on percentage targets.
WORLD: Are the deliveries to Ukraine really so well coordinated? Germany hesitated a long time before committing to battle tanks. And the Panzer Alliance forged by Berlin doesn't really deliver what was expected of it. Norway sends just eight leopards to Ukraine. Is that no longer possible?
Støre: I have great respect for Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the way he deals with this complex issue. It is very good that there is a thoughtful chancellor who knows his history and his present and has an eye on the future. I think that's a great strength. Our first question, of course, is: will the deliveries weaken our own security? We must be able to maintain our own defense readiness. Eight tanks is a significant contribution for a country like Norway. That's a full third of our inventory of Leopard tanks. The new devices that we have just ordered in Germany will not be delivered until 2026.
WORLD: The question of a northern expansion of NATO with Finland and Sweden should be particularly important for you. Turkey is currently blocking the admission of Sweden. Did you think it would make sense for only Finland to join first?
Støre: Norway supported the accession of Sweden and Finland from the start. Both meet the criteria for membership. Better than any other candidate of the past. This applies equally to both countries. That means that you can move on to ratification, and 28 out of 30 Member States have already done so. It is legitimate for countries to have different political views on different issues. But this is about security. This is serious business. I expect both countries to be included.
WORLD: But what if the Turks keep up their resistance?
Støre: If all member states ratify Finland's admission, then the country will become a NATO member. Even if Sweden is not included yet. Then that's the way it is. But the message should continue to be that both countries belong in NATO.
WORLD: Do you think NATO's north-eastern flank is particularly vulnerable?
Støre: In our part of NATO territory, Russia poses a threat primarily through intelligence activities, hybrid operations and cyber attacks. But at the moment we don't see any significant change in Russia's military deployment in the north-east. Moscow has moved a significant portion of its ground forces and materiel from the north to Ukraine, and much of it will never return because that equipment was destroyed. But Russian nuclear submarines remain active in our neighborhood.
WORLD: Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there was talk of a new cold war of submarines in the Arctic Ocean. Does this intensified Russian submarine activity continue? Or has Russia reduced its submarine trips in the wake of the Ukraine war?
Støre: We are the eyes and ears of NATO in the north. Only 100 kilometers from our border are the most important ports for Russia's strategic submarine weapon. We are closely following the activities of these naval forces. From ports in the north, Russia is active in many parts of the world's oceans. And I have nothing new to add to the previous coverage. Russia has by no means reduced its submarine activity. We are very sure of that.
WORLD: The American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh claims that the unexplained attack on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline was committed by the USA and that your country supported the Americans. What do you think?
Støre: Now that you've asked the Norwegian Prime Minister, I'll confine myself to Seymour Hersh's claims about Norway. What he claims there is false, null and void. There is absolutely no truth to these claims.
WORLD: Do you have your own intelligence on the background of the attack?
Støre: The incident is being investigated by Sweden and Denmark as they are the countries most affected. And as far as I know, we agree that this was clearly a deliberate action that can be classified as sabotage. But I haven't yet seen any reasonable suspicion of perpetration, and I don't want to make accusations out of suspicions. Even if you can make up your own mind.
But I would say that of course this sabotage draws our attention to the security of our own continental shelf. We have offshore facilities, we have offshore pipelines. That is why Chancellor Scholz and I have started an initiative in NATO to jointly protect the energy infrastructure. We are already patrolling for this together with our allies, Germany, France and Great Britain. But we believe we can do more to coordinate on these issues, because energy security is about security.