Defence Passion

2016-08-01
Author: OLE KÅRE EIDE

Defence Passions
There was one thing that was not quite like Erna Solberg thought it would be when she became prime minister of Norway: the rest of the world.
 
– I had been in government before. So I knew quite a lot about what it would be like to become prime minister. But the international situation changed. We thought it would be quieter after Afghanistan. Instead,
we see a completely different development in areas such as Iraq and Syria as well as Russia and Ukraine.
– The rest of the world has come closer to us. It makes defence policies more important and more on the agenda than they were previously. I have always been passionate about defence policies. And I have always paid close attention when the Conservative Party discussed defence matters.
 
Erna Solberg is shoeless. After all, she is in her own home. She sits at the long table in the prime minister's residence. During the last week, she has been to Stockholm and Karasjok. She has opened fairs
and welcomed Bosnia's prime minister. It's been 20 years since the massacre in Srebrenica. She has greeted Jens Stoltenberg, she's taken part in the parade for gays and lesbians in Bergen, and she was there when the statue of King Olav was unveiled in Oslo. It's Monday night, and we have been granted 30 minutes with the most important person in the country. Our mission: a portrait interview on defence matters. In some ways it feels like a long speed date. We ask, 54-year-old Solberg responds. What has she done today? Attended a government conference. Where? At the office. Then they had an emergency drill. The prime minister was driven home. When is the day finished? In a couple of hours. What is she doing after this interview?
Having a lecture for a local branch of the Conservative Party.
 
– I work a lot. I always have, says Solberg.
Do you ever get tired?
– Everyone gets a bit tired over time. But I don't need much rest until I'm ready again.
What do you do to recharge?
– I empty my head. I go for a walk, spend time with friends or watch a good movie. The important thing is that I do not think about politics.
And you are able to do that?
– I've learned to switch off. If it's something urgent then it's not so easy. But in everyday life, I manage it. I simply have to.
 
We have a hypothesis: Defence matters have become more important in the last couple of years. We have some simple empiricism to prove it. We have searched the media archive for articles about Erna Solberg and defence. Then we compared our findings to cases involving Jens Stoltenberg and defence from the time he was prime minister. And the difference is significant. Solberg gets over 100 more hits. She thinks it’s partly due to Russia. She had been prime minister for half a year when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula. It surprised her that Vladimir Putin would be bold enough to annex part of another country. An area that Russia itself had recognized as belonging to Ukraine as late as 1994.
– Some have said that it was not unexpected, but to put it this way: There are many pundits who are good at analysing afterwards and bad at analysing ahead, she says.
– I am less surprised that Russia would contribute to unrest and support what is happening in eastern Ukraine. We have seen it before, for example in Georgia.
 
Her interest in defence has been constant, according to Solberg. But it increased when she became a member of the Defence Commission of former Prime Minister Kåre Willoch. It was the start of the 90s, the
Berlin-wall was gone and the Warsaw Pact disintegrated. What would happen to the Soviet Union? And how would that affect the Norwegian armed forces? The Commission travelled to other NATO states. The
only NATO capitals Solberg didn't visit were Athens and Madrid.
– We went to Moscow as well, and it was quite an experience, she says.
– I must be one of very few foreign politicians who have been allowed to walk alone in the Ministry of Defence in what was the former Soviet Union. You see, the ladies room was on another floor!
– A few years ago, I read through parts of the recommendations we made. On paper, Norway had 13 brigades, but if we put together all the equipment, we had enough for six and a half. And they were poorly
trained. We recommended major changes. I remember that there were many discussions. And many were angry.
We interviewed you in 2006. You said that if there had been a conservative government in the mid-90s, then the Norwegian armed forces would have been in a different state today?
– The parliament and the government at the time did not dare to follow our recommendations. If they had done so, we would have started the modernization of the Armed Forces earlier. Instead it came ten years
later.
 
Now a new process of restructuring is awaiting. "Norway's freedom and independence is too important for the Conservatives Party to settle down with the defence capability we have today," Erna Solberg said on
the Conservative Party's national convention earlier this year.
Where is it lacking?
– We have a defence which in some areas have a low capacity because we have insufficient stamina. We are short on some types of personnel. And the world around us is changing. That means we must look at what capabilities we have, says Solberg.
She talks about international affairs, but also about new technology, cyber threats and new ways of warfare.
– In total, our armed forces are too small and we lack specialized structures within areas that are developing rapidly.
What happened on 22 July 2011, also plays an important role, says Erna Solberg.
– Today, we have an awareness of contingency that is completely different than it was before, she says.
She remembers the day with dread.
– That a bomb went off in downtown Oslo? That's a scenario you cannot push away. It can happen. What took place on Utøya however, I could never have imagined. That such attacks could happen - and that we
failed to see or prevent it - is puzzling for our society, she said.
– We have thought that yes, it can happen, but it's not so likely. Then comes the unlikely - and it comes from within.
You never appear without a bodyguard. Do you often think about being a target yourself?
– No, I cannot think like that. And I've had a bodyguard before. I lived with it for two and a half years, as Minister for Local Government. Back then there were threats against me as a person.
 
It's been three days since Jens Stoltenberg was visiting.
– Jens knows the Norwegian society, says Solberg.
- Therefore, it is also interesting to hear what he thinks.
After the meeting, they met the press. Solberg promised Norwegian troops to the NATO mission in the Baltics and Poland, and both got questions about missile defences. But what was given most attention, was the «two percentage-issue». At the Nato summit last year, the member states decided that two percent of the gross domestic product should be used for defence matters within 2024. Few countries can do that today, neither can Norway.
Is two percent realistic?
– If I can be frank: I think a percentage goal is nonsense, says Solberg.
Percentage goals depend on both counters and denominators, she explains: The denominator is less in a country without growth. Then it will be easier to reach two percent, even if the same countries cut their
budgets. In countries that are in growth it becomes more difficult.
– It is not a goal in itself to reach two percent. The goal must be to acquire as much defence capability as possible. If we achieve two percent depends on how much the Norwegian economy grows. It's not
impossible, but I'm more concerned about measuring every penny on how it is used, she says.
– If we set a percentage goal, it is quite possible that we pay less attention to areas such as restructuring and change. I think that would be totally wrong. We need to be concerned about how much defence capability we get out of the money we spend.
Erna Solberg talks about a defence budget that is increasing. About big investments. And what she calls an explosive growth in defence appropriations.
– I know that there are some that say the military is being weakened, she says.
– But they don't take the major investments in new aircraft into consideration. And it is obvious that in the period when we buy the new aircraft, there will be other parts of the Armed Forces who will have less
resources. And so it has to be.
In 2006 you said that NATO is Norway's most important security alliance. Since that time, relations with Russia have deteriorated: Does that make NATO even more important?
– It depends on what NATO should be more important than. In 2006, the alliance was more important than the UN. And it still is. But we do not solve the problems in Syria and Iraq by military means alone. We solve them with assistance, financial support and political pressure. And the local population must contribute. The situation is the same in Ukraine. Also there the conflict must be solved politically, says Solberg.
– Physically – in terms of our freedom – the NATO-membership is our main security guarantee. But we must simultaneously work on conflict prevention in other areas.
 
The first memory Erna Solberg has relating to the military is the brass band spearheading the 17th of May processions in Bergen. But she never considered joining the military herself.
– The physical training bit was not for me. In addition, there were few girls who joined, and many careers in the military were still closed, she said.
– Most of these career opportunities are now open. It has been an important goal to achieve equal opportunities.
Who is your role model?
– I have none, she says.
– And I've never had any. I've admired people and attributes, but that is something else. As a young girl in politics, I admired Gro Harlem Brundtland (former prime minister, labour politician), but she was not a role model. However she stood for a lot of what I would fight for. And Kåre Willoch (former prime minister, conservative politician) is a great man, but not a natural role model.
Who have you learned the most from?
– Willoch. And Kaci Kullmann-Five. She was the first female party leader of the Conservative Party. It was much tougher to be a female politician before I started. She went ahead and created a natural tmosphere
for other female politicians. Like me, she says.
 
Erna Solberg is the second female party leader in the Conservative Party. She is the second female prime minister of Norway. And that is fine. She likes being number two.
– It's good for Norway as well. It's not like in some countries where there is only one woman who stands out. In the UK there was Margaret Thatcher, the lady with big L, but there has hardly been a prominent female politicians after her. It's been different in Norway.
Has the climate for female politicians changed much in the years you've been a top politician?
– It's become better in some areas. In other areas we still have a way to go.
What do you mean?
– We live in a more visual society. Films, photos and appearance are more important now than in the 90s. And although in many ways it is unproblematic to be a female politician, there still is a difference between women and men.
How?
– An example is what journalists are inquiring about. Take all the female politicians who have children and who are asked how it is possible to combine work and family life? Then I think: My God! We have not
gotten further than this?
She tends to say that she has an advantage and a disadvantage. The advantage of being prime minister is that she comes closer to people. She is asked about everyday things. The downside – and she especially thinks this affects a number of young women – is that the attention is often related to things other than politics.
– Women are often seen as less interested in politics than their male colleagues. They feel that in order to be heard, they have to talk about feelings and family, she says.
– I know female politicians who want to be more of a politician and less a celebrity.
 
When the children were young, Erna Solberg took them on a holiday to Normandy. The objective: to learn about the Second World War. And she has gone on school trips to concentration camps in Poland.
She is more than willing to brag about those who are young today. In an interview about the Second World War, about how young those who fought for Norway was, Solberg stated that today's young people would have done the same.
– Many of those who have participated in international operations, have also been very young, she says.
– And I think young people today would fight for our country. All had not done it, but it was not like that during the Second World War either. Most did not. Most showed small signs of resistance or adapted to the
situation, she says.
– I think it's too many people that go around and say that younger generations are lazy and too relaxed.
– I do not believe it!
 
30 minutes have elapsed. Our speed-date is over. Norway’s «first lady» has paid homage to the young generation and to female politicians. Now she's of to visit the local branch of the Conservative Party in
Bærum. Does it feel like a homecoming? Yes, but it's from your own that you get the most honest feedback, says Solberg.
– One of the issues that often come up is defence policy, she says.
The driver is waiting. One of the things Erna Solberg liked best before she became prime minister, was driving. Alone. She is not allowed to do that anymore.
– I'm never alone.
Do you miss driving yourself?
– At the start of the 2000s, I had a bodyguard. And as a party leader on business travels I was usually together with an adviser. It was very relaxing the times I had finished my job in Oslo, sat in the car and
drove home to Bergen. All alone, with loud music on the car stereo. I miss that.
What did you listen to then?
– A mixture of pop-music and old Prince songs. And I like hip-hop.
– I prefer something with rhythm!
 
 
OLE KÅRE EIDE oko@fofo.no
Foto: ARNE FLAATEN
Name: Erna Solberg
Age: 54
Born: Bergen
Lives: Oslo/Bergen
Civil status: Married, two children
Job: Prime minister of Norway
Milestones:
10 years : Hyperactive in organizational life, scout leader and played in a marching band.
20 years : Laid-back student, politically active on the side.
30 years : Member of Parliament, passionate about defence policy.
40 years : Mother of small children and Minister of Local Government .
50 years : Party leader. Enjoyed good polls.
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