New Chief in the North: The Norwegian Joint Headquarters is Unique in European Context

Fra sjefsskifteseremoni FOH

Change of command at the Norwegian Joint Headquarters in Bodø. From the left: New NJHQ chief Vice Admiral Rune Andersen, Norway's Chief of Defense General Eirik Kristoffersen, and former chief of NJHQ Lt. General Yngve Odlo. (Photo: Hilde Bye / HNN).

Bodø (High North News): Vice Admiral Rune Andersen recently took on the role of Chief of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters. As Norway is placed under NATO's command in Norfolk, USA, the headquarters can assume a larger and more important role in the alliance.

Norsk versjon.

Vice Admiral Rune Andersen has officially taken over as Chief of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters (NJHQ).

The change of command ceremony took place in Bodin Leir in Bodø, Northern Norway, on Friday last week. The Norwegian Chief of Defense, Eirik Kristoffersen, as well as other top military commanders from Norway and abroad, were present. Civilian cooperation partners and guests were also invited.

A time of great changes

Vice Admiral Andersen steps into the role as NJHQ chief at a time of great changes; both regarding security policy, but also in the Armed Forces and within NATO.

"A lot has happened both at home and abroad in the past years; we have withdrawn from Afghanistan, the war in Ukraine broke out, and we have increased preparedness at home and in the sea areas," says Andersen to High North News and adds:

"It is hard to predict what will happen going forward. We must be prepared to handle situations with short notice. And that also underlines the significance of good relations between the actors in the total defense, and in NATO."

Ny sjef for FOH, viseadmiral Rune Andersen

"We have a great staff with solid expertise. I look forward to working with them, as well as the actors that the NJHQ have a relation to; in all the branches of defense, the entire total defense family, and not least NATO," says Vice Admiral Rune Andersen, who comes from the position as chief of the Navy.

Among the biggest changes, we also find Finland and Sweden's applications for NATO membership.

The new chief of the NJHQ says the Nordic cooperation, which has been strengthened significantly over the last years, will continue in full force.

"We will have strengthened cooperation in daily operations and our plans. This is also an opportunity to take another look at how we can operate in the High North in the event of a crisis or war. At the same time, we will not isolate the Nordic region in NATO. Maintaining contact and dialogue with the other nations in NATO, such as the US, the UK, the Netherlands, and Germany, is important," he specifies. 

Fra sjefsskifteseremonien for sjef FOH

The four Nordic chiefs for the countries' respective joint headquarters. From the left: The Danish Chief of Joint Operations, Major General Ulrich Johan Hellebjerg, Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations, Major General Kari Nisula, Chief of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters, Vice Admiral Rune Andersen, and the Swedish Chief of Joint Operations, Lt. General Carl-Johan Edström.

The importance of the Arctic

One of the invited guests at the change of command ceremony was Vice Admiral Daniel Dwyer, Commander of NATOs Joint Force Command Norfolk.

The Joint Force Command is located in the US state of Virginia and is the NATO command that Norway is moved to.

When asked by the media, Dwyer emphasizes that he is present to show support to the NJHQ, which he says is a strong partner for his mission.

"The transatlantic link is key in ensuring that NATO is resupplied and reinforced from North America," he specifies and adds:

"I've been incredibly proud to work alongside Lt. General Odlo the last two years. I think he and I have done a tremendous job together in securing the transatlantic link."

He also highlights that the Arctic is key in ensuring that the transatlantic link remains secure.

"That is why working with Norway, Finland, and our partner Sweden, we can work alongside each other to better understand the challenges in the Arctic and inform our decisions on force structure and military equipment to ensure that we can operate in the region."

Viseadmiral Daniel Dwyer

One of the guests at the ceremony was the American Vice Admiral Daniel Dwyer, who is Commander of the Joint Force Command Norfolk. This is the NATO command that is responsible for the Atlantic Ocean and the High North.

Appreciated in NATO

Vice Admiral Dwyer has been in Norway this week for meetings with the Armed Forces and the Ministry of Defense. He and the Chief of Defense, Eirik Kristoffersen, have discussed the new regional defense plans that were adopted at the NATO summit in Vilnius this summer, among other things.

At the summit, the regional plans for NATO were approved, which entails the development of the Joint Force Command Norfolk.

"We aim for the new headquarters in Norfolk, which will be responsible for our region, to be ready as soon as possible. We have discussed how we will staff this, as well as how we can integrate the plans we have, also together with Nordic countries, into the plans that apply to our area," says Norwegian Chief of Defense Eirik Kristoffersen to HNN.

Fra sjefsskifteseremonien

From the change of command ceremony in Bodø.

This summer, it was revealed that the Norwegian Chief of Defense, Eirik Kristoffersen, and the other Nordic chiefs of defense, are behind a proposal to get an advanced command in Northern Europe. Kristoffersen has presented Bodø and the NJHQ as a possible location for an advanced NATO headquarters, reported Klassekampen.

You recently stated that the NJHQ is playing an important role in NATO today and will do so to a larger degree in the time coming. What does that entail?

"Lately, I and the other Nordic chiefs of defenses have met regularly to, among other things, create a joint Nordic advice for our politicians on how the Nordic region, as a whole, can be part of NATO and the Joint Force Command Norfolk. In this work, we have also looked at all the headquarters we have," says Kristoffersen and continues:

"The NJHQ knowledge and expertise have a high star rating, also in NATO. We already coordinate with other NATO commands, such as JFC Brunssum [which Norway is under until the transfer to Norfolk, ed. note]. That role will likely also become even clearer in connection with the regional plans. I have therefore offered Vice Admiral Dwyer that the NJHQ can have a role in his plans, as well. He is pleased with that," says the Chief of Defense and concludes:

"The Nordic countries have looked at how we can avoid duplications and how we can get the most out of the forces and headquarters we have. In this work, we have not reached a conclusion yet."

"A unique headquarters"

When NATO is now strengthening its command structure, it is natural that the NJHQ is given an important role in supporting this," says Vice Admiral Andersen as well.

"The Norwegian Joint Headquarters is quite unique in the European context and we have a headquarters with a solid ability to lead joint operations. It has not been decided exactly what things will look like. But the NJHQ will definitely have a more important role in connecting Norway to NATO," he adds.

Neighborship and allies

As is known, Vice Admiral Andersen takes over the command post after Lt. General Yngve Odlo.

"It has been three special years. The world is looking very different today than what it did in 2021. But we as headquarters have managed to develop and manage the crises that have come up, both nationally and as part of the alliance. NATO has activated its plans and we are part of that," says Odlo to HNN.

He adds that one of the lessons learned from his time as chief of the NJHQ is that we must be prepared for the unexpected.

"The crises, and the unexpected, appear. We must have the ability to handle it."

"We will have to stand in a situation where we are Russia's neighbor, concurrently as other crises. But we must deal with it sensibly and have an ability to balance our relationship to the east, while concurrently being part of developing the alliance," he continues.

Norway has maintained the direct line that NJHQ has with the Russian Northern Fleet. How has the contact and dialogue with Russia been?

"The dialogue with the Northern Fleet is very specific and professional. And it is a mutual wish to keep this direct line. This is because of matters such as the management of the border agreement, but also to maintain a direct channel to ensure safety for our workers in the Barents Sea, where we fly and sail in a challenging climate," he says and adds:

"We have established agreements for how we operate in the same area, as independent nations. It is about doing this in a safe manner," he concludes.

The Norwegian Joint Headquarters (NJHQ)

The Norwegian Joint Headquarters has overall command and control over military activities in Norway and abroad.

The headquarters plans and carries out large military exercises where departments from all the defense branches train together.

The chief of the NJHQ is also the chief adviser to the Chief of Defense on operational matters.