Norwegian Army Conference 2012

Speech by Lord Astor of Hever, Under Secretary of State.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Lord Astor of Hever DL

Minister, generals, Madam Chair, ambassadors, ladies and gentlemen, god morgen.

I’m delighted to be given the opportunity to speak directly to you.

Allowing me to stress, in person, on behalf of the government of the United Kingdom, how highly we value the defence relationship between our 2 countries.

As an ex-army officer myself, I am doubly delighted to be addressing a Norwegian army audience.

My old regiment used to train in Norway and valued their experience enormously.

I understand how valuable private-to-private, officer-to-officer links are.

So I am particularly keen that our army-to-army relationship flourishes.

Norway is one of the United Kingdom’s closest and most important partners.

For the UK, Norway is the perfect ally: strategically located, reliable and highly capable.

Our geographical proximity and our intertwined history means we share significant cultural bonds.

From Harold Hardrada to Jens Christian Hauge, the Norwegians from the past who have helped shaped the Britain of today, and helped to maintain our freedom, are many.

We developed our constitutional monarchies and our democracies side by side.

This cultural similarity has led us to develop similar national values.

Not just constitutionally with our monarchies and democracies.

But in our shared respect for human rights, freedom of expression and the rule of international law.

These concepts are central to our foreign and defence policies.

We recognise that the globe is interconnected, and that we cannot live free in isolation.

So, when al Qaeda sheltering in Afghanistan, attacked the US, Norway and Britain answered.

When piracy staged from Somalia became rife, Norway and Britain answered.

And, when a brutal dictator was murdering his own people in Libya, Norway and Britain answered.

I have no doubt that, when future crises emerge, which threaten our national interests and our shared values, Norway and Britain will answer again.

All of this recent cooperation has taught Britain that Norway can be relied upon to contribute to international operations, and that you shoulder that burden with the utmost competence.

Your capabilities are world leading.

Your central involvement in the Libya campaign proved this.

With 3000 mission hours flown and 588 bombs dropped you set a pace that Colonel Gaddafi couldn’t keep up with.

These capabilities make you valuable expeditionary allies and trusted guardians of NATO’s north eastern flank.

So when people ask why the UK is so interested in its defence relationship with Norway, I answer them, why wouldn’t we be?

I hope that the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that our 2 defence ministers signed earlier this year has cemented our bilateral relationship, and provided an important springboard to its future development.

In addition to being a statement of intent, this agreement also highlights the central tenets of our view of NATO’s smart defence initiative.

The MoU talks about enhancing interoperability for joint action, coordinating resources to achieve cost-efficiency and sharing knowledge and technology.

In otherwords, working together and saving money.

In essence that is our vision.

For in a world of ever-shifting threats, we simply cannot predict what the next mission will be.

And in a world of tightened resources, we cannot afford to independently maintain all capabilities to face all possible missions.

So smart defence is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

But practically, what does it mean?

What actual capabilities might we sensibly consider sharing?

Well, there is a dialogue going on between our 2 ministries about this putting meat and muscle on the bone.

Let me give you a flavour where collaboration can enhance our combined security and should be explored.

The chair of the standing committee mentioned our maritime patrol aircraft.

The UK is currently looking at options to replace these.

It might make sense for our 2 nations to think about pooling resources with regards to this capability.

We do, after all, patrol some of the same area.

At the very least we should consider maximising interoperability.

Our Royal Marines currently make very good use of your winter training facilities.

Parts of the British Army also take advantage of the facilities and environment you are able to offer.

It might be that this army to army relationship could be developed further by expanding the British Army involvement in this training, particulalry upon the conclusion of the Afghan mission.

Norway and Britain both have highly trained armies. We both understand our responsibilities to the world.

That is why an obvious area for joint working would be capacity building of developing nations’ armies, particularly in some of the coutries of Sub-Saharan Africa, where we have seen the instability that can arise from security vacuums.

To my mind, capacity-building is also smart defence; creating the indigenous capability to prevent problems before they occur, saving lives and money in the long term.

I take on board the general’s reservations about the smart defence initiative. We are determined that it must, at its heart, address practical cooperation in the land domain.

What is true for Norwegian and British cooperation is also true for collaboration within the Northern Group.

This government sees this group of committed and like-minded defence powers as central to our own plans for smart defence.

And I want to take this opportunity to thank Norway for the instrumental role it has played in providing drive and leadership within this group.

I believe that the Northern Group can provide a critical mass for the modernisation agenda within NATO.

By working within this non-institutionally bound framework we can achieve real progress and establish a model for practical cooperation and deployability that others will want to copy.

I also think the Northern Group can be used as a forum for sharing best practice and developing new capabilities.

No country has a monopoly on innovation.

And as we begin to contemplate our drawdown in Afghanistan, the collective memories of the Northern Group can help to maintain the tough lessons we have learned from that battle.

Although, we must sensibly prepare for a post-ISAF environment, we should also think about the future challenges we might be presented with.

Whatever operations we are involved in they are likely to require rapidly deployable capabilities.

It is in this area that I think the Northern Group can also take a lead.

European members of NATO have rightly been criticised for lacking deployable capabilities.

The members of the Northern Group are starting to counter this criticism with deeds.

By developing interoperability and allocating our defence resources in a coordinated fashion, we can ensure that Europe is better able to look after its own security needs and take the lead in operations in our sphere of interest.

In this way, the Northern Group strengthens NATO just as the leading group in a cycle race spurs on the rest of the chasing pack to catch up.

In the future I believe the Northern Group will be central to building coalitions of not just the willing, but also the able.

This aspiration means that the forces of the future must be dynamic and flexible, even if they will possibly be smaller.

And that brings me onto my next topic, the UK’s plans to modernise its armed forces, a project we call Future Force 2020.

And because this is an army conference I will go into a bit more detail on the army specific elements of this, or Army 2020 as we refer to it.

The UK’s 2010 strategic defence and security review set out the blueprint for our Future Force 2020.

It analysed the threats that the UK may face in the future and considered how our military would need to be structured to deal with those threats.

It determined that the UK’s future forces would need to be agile and interoperable across services and with allies.

Fundamentally, however, it also concluded that those forces and the equipment they used would have to be sustainable, in personnel terms, but also in funding terms.

I am pleased to be able to say, that after some very hard decisions, we have now achieved a balanced equipment budget.

That means we can maintain, and with confidence, the powerful, adaptable and agile armed forces that our national security demands, and that our role in the international community requires.

Within that, Army 2020 is the blueprint for our new army.

It will deliver a new structure designed to meet the needs of a smaller, but more flexible army.

Well trained, well equipped, and crucially, fully funded.

Clearly, a smaller army will necessitate some changes in structure, and some units will be merging.

But we have done everything we can to maintain the army’s traditions and sense of its own history.

And we will remain one of the very few countries able to deploy and maintain a brigade-sized force almost anywhere in the world.

The key elements of this new structure are the reaction and adaptable forces.

The ‘reaction forces’ will comprise 3 armoured infantry brigades and 16 Air Assault Brigade, trained and equipped to undertake the full spectrum of intervention tasks.

They will also be responsible for generating a lead armoured infantry battlegroup and lead air assault group, capable of undertaking short notice contingency tasks.

Given the high readiness nature of the ‘reaction force’, it will comprise mainly regular forces with approximately 10 per cent coming from the reserve force.

Reserve forces will play a more important role across our future forces.

Over the last decade some 25,000 members of the reserve have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, including over 18,000 members of the Territorial Army.

We intend to integrate reserve forces more fully into our regular structures, growing reserve capabilities and investing an additional £1.8 billion in over the next 10 years.

All of these changes will take time to implement.

At the end of the process we will have a leaner and formidable army.

We have maintained the ability to act unilaterally, but we also intend, as a matter of priority, to seek opportunities to work with the Norwegian Army and other partners, particulalrly in the areas of training, capability development and resource sharing.

In conclusion, let me say this:

Norway has been a steadfast ally to the United Kingdom.

Brothers in arms on the ground in Afghanistan, at sea off the Horn of Africa, and in the air over Libya.

Trust is at the centre of all strong alliances, and Norway has demonstrated time and time again that it is more than worthy of our trust.

The UK hopes to continue to repay that.

The UK sees Norway as a vital defence partner.

Together, and as members of the wider Northern Group, I believe we can turn smart defence from theory into practice.

And in today’s multipolar world, with unpredictable threats and unpredictable markets, it is essential that we do so.

Thank you.

Updates to this page

Published 2 October 2012