HELSINKI — Norway’s newly formed Conservative-led government is under pressure from opposition leaders to raise defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2024.
Opposition leaders fear the lack of an ambitious capital investment plan for Norway’s military organization will lead to spending on defense falling from 1.5 percent of GDP in 2018 to 1.5 percent by 2020.
Norway’s spend on defense is estimated to have corresponded to 1.59 percent of GDP in 2017. Latest indicators suggest that the 1.5 percent ratio might continue until 2024.
A fall in the defense spending-to-GDP ratio is certain to unnerve NATO and the United States, said Anniken Huitfeldt, a lawmaker and the Labor Party’s leader on the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.
During talks with NATO and more recently the White House, Norway signaled its intent to increase spending and meet the 2 percent level sought by NATO, according to Huitfeldt. The Western alliance wants member nations to reach the 2 percent level by 2024.
“It would be very unfortunate if defense spending declined to 1.5 percent. It’s already surprising that we are looking at a slippage in our GDP spend on defense. We have been actively looking to draw closer to NATO’s 2 percent target. We now appear to be moving away from that,” Huitfeld said.
The Norwegian government must provide a “convincing explanation” for the decline in GDP spending, said Huitfeld.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s administration has manifested little desire to substantially increase spending on defense, amid fears that the present coalition government, formed in the wake of mid-January elections, lacks durability and may not serve its full four-year term.
The ruling Conservative administration includes the populist Progress Party and the center-right wing Liberals. Despite the three-party coalition, Solberg rules over a minority government dependent on the support of opposition parties in order to move legislation through parliament.
Defence minister Frank Bakke-Jensen has informed opposition leaders that the future level of spending on defense will be tied to economic developments, including the performance of the domestic economy and Norway’s export earnings.
Other contributing factors, according to Bakke-Jensen, include “decisions ratified by parliament and the fulfillment of current long-term plans, potential new resolutions in individual budgetary years, and other aspects in relation to the implementation of ratified plans.”
The predicted decline in the defense spending goal shadows a series of high-profile spending programs, including the purchase of F-35 fighters, which are intended to shore up Norway’s High North defenses against the backdrop of a military buildup by Russia in the region.
Opposition leaders are critical of “bad planning” and delays in providing the Norwegian Armed Forces with an advanced long-range air-defense system.
The military’s procurement of a long-range air-defense system is still at the planning stage. The eventual system is not expected to be delivered and operational until 2025.
By contrast, Russia has an existing long-range conventional precision weapons capability to hit potential military, state and industrial land and offshore targets across Norway. This threat could come from Russia’s own territory or be delivered from aircraft or naval ships.
The Norwegian Armed Forces must urgently acquire advanced long-range weapons to counter Russia’s capacity to launch precision strikes against Norway, said the military’s former defense chief, Gen. Sverre Diesen.
“We also need to have long-range weapons capable of responding with counter-strikes against Russian targets. We are just only now evaluating the degree of threat posed by Russia’s new weapons systems and the consequences this has for our Armed Forces and defense,” Diesen said.