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Norway's Former Defense Chief Blasts 'Dysfunctional' Conscript-based Military

Sep. 30, 2013 - 04:25PM   |  
By GERARD O’DWYER   |   Comments
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HELSINKI — Norway’s former defense chief, Gen. Sverre Diesen, in a new report has described the country’s conscription-based national defense organization as “dysfunctional.”

Diesen criticizes past and present governments for flawed thinking in favoring the retention of a conscript-based force, and for failing to move toward the creation of a focused, professionalized and career-driven Armed Forces.

Norway’s approach to defense capability-building will continue to be centered on a conscript-based force complemented by soldiers with specialized skills in the operation of sophisticated Army, Navy and Air Force weapon systems, Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen said.

“The only reason the truth about weaknesses in the Norwegian defense forces has not been exposed to date is because the force does not have to offer prove of its capability on a daily basis, unlike the police,” Diesen wrote in a report titled, “Professionalization of the Armed Forces,” which was commissioned by the Oslo-based Civita think tank.

According to Diesen, Norway’s dependence on conscripts to meet the manpower demands of its core combat units means the Armed Forces lacks the weapons operation competence and quality fighting skills to face even limited-scale attacks on Norwegian territory.

“Defense is in a dysfunctional state. We are spending money on advanced weapons systems, but military conscripts only get to train on these systems for short periods. This training period is becoming shorter as it takes increasingly longer to ensure that soldiers are capable of using these modern weapons systems,” Diesen wrote.

The painful reality, Diesen added, is that the shortage of trained military personnel leaves Norway badly exposed to a surprise attack.

“In such a situation, our Armed Forces would be capable of only mobilizing an air-defense response capable of defending a single strategic military base. This is because for long periods each year, we lack sufficient trained personnel to operate all the key weapons systems that we have,” Diesen wrote.

Underlying this inherent weakness, Diesen cited the slow response by specialist police and military units to the bombing and gun attacks mounted by home-grown terrorist Anders Breivik in July 2011, whose attack left 77 people dead.

The government was roundly criticized in the aftermath of the attack for the lack of a credible rapid response, and the fact that no Army special forces or anti-terrorist police helicopter units were mobilized until after the incident.

While the Norwegian government will continue to invest in manpower, equipment and training, the conscript-based model will continue, Strøm-Erichsen told the 2013 Army Summiton Sept.19 in Oslo.

“We need to maintain a strong emphasis on how we recruit, develop and retain the right skills,” Strøm-Erichsen said. “There is a broad political backing for conscription as the basis for our recruitment. Conscription for both men and women will give us a better defense.

“Equally, we should continue balancing the number of conscripts with the number of enlisted personnel and officers. This is how we ensure both continuity and recruitment,” she said.

Norway’s Armed Forces is undergoing a comprehensive modernization and reorganization after a period of neglect, the defense minister said.

“Our Army was in dire straits less than 10 years ago. It had outdated equipment. It lacked personnel,” Strøm-Erichsen said. “Worst of all, it was an Army not designed for the tasks it was expected to solve.

“Today, we have a capable Army with a clear footprint in both the north and south” of the country, she said. “We have an Army that is being equipped with the latest weapon systems. And we have an Army that trains and exercises more frequently and on a larger scale.”

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