A Finnish defense analyst calls the Norwegian Chief of Defense's proposal to stop the purchase of new tanks strange. "It is difficult to see that this will lead to anything else than Finnish and Swedish sons and daughters dying on the front line to protect the civilian population in Northern Norway."
Apparently out of the blue – and barely two months before the planned signing of the contract for the purchase of 82 new tanks – the Norwegian Chief of Defense Eirik Kristoffersen asked Norwegian Minister of Defense Bjørn Arild Gram (Center) to ditch the purchase in favor of new helicopters and long-range weapons.
The contract is planned to be signed before the new year.
The Chief of Defense's surprising decision has been met with reactions also outside of Norway's borders and the Finnish defense analyst Robin Heggblom says that the defense of the Norwegian border to Russia is not a purely Norwegian affair.
"If Norway do not have modern tanks, the defense units in Finnmark and Troms (in Northern Norway. Red note) will have issues with defending themselves against enemy attacks. They will also have difficulties with counter-attacks to push the enemy back across the border. To say it bluntly, it means that more soldiers and civilians will be killed or hurt," says Heggblom to High North News.
He calls Kristoffersen's sudden decision to ditch the purchase of new Army tanks strange seen from a Finnish perspective.
It raises an issue I have not seen covered in the Norwegian debate.
Others must take the brunt of it
"From a Finnish perspective, it is a strange decision to make. Finnish defense forces are dedicated to defending the entire country. That also means that if Norway lacks the ability to counter-attack – which usually requires several troops and is more dangerous than defending their own positions – others must take the brunt of it," says Heggblom.
And these "others", he believes will be Finnish and Swedish soldiers.
"It is difficult to see that this will lead to anything else than Finnish and Swedish sons and daughters dying on the front line to protect the civilian population in Finnmark. And that raises an issue I have not seen covered in the Norwegian debate," Heggblom states.
He has no doubts that Norway must replace the 40 outdated tanks the Armed Forces have today.
Sticking to the plan
The price tag reads NOK 19,3 million and the choice is between German or South Korean tanks.
The purchase is enshrined in the political platform which was negotiated at Hurdal last fall by the Labor/Center government. Incidentally, it was Erna Solberg's (Right) government that facilitated the purchase of the new tanks.
It must also be said that Eirik Kristoffersen in 2019, then Chief of the Army, supported the purchase.
Despite the new recommendation from Chief of Defense Kristoffersen, Minister of Defense Bjørn Arild Gram (Center) is adamant that the government is planning for the acquisition of tanks.
"The process is in line with the progress plan that has been laid out," says Gram to the National Defense Magazine - Norway
At the same time, the Minister of Defense adds that the government "will have a continued dialogue with the Chief of Defense in regard to his recommendations connected to the procurement."
What about us who live in the North?
The leader of the Norwegian Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, Ine Eriksen Søreide (Right), is open to reconsidering the purchase of tanks.
She wants to await the Chief of Defense's professional advice and the Norwegian Defense Commission's report. Both of these documents are excepted for the spring of 2023.
Together with several other mayors, the mayor of the border municipality Sør-Varanger, Lena Norum Bergeng (Labor), reacts strongly to the Chief of Defense's statement, and writes in an op-ed for Folkebladet that "For Norway's army municipalities, the acquisition of tanks is a sign that Norway is to be defended from the first meter".
"Should the future defense be based on enemies being allowed to freely cross the border and attack the Norwegian people living in the North, and then use missiles to take them out one by one? What about us who live in the North? Such a strategy seems to surrender us to the superior power without even attempting to defend the country. Can we really accept that someone else will help us defend Norway if we ourselves are not willing to stand firm?" writes the mayors.
Finnish Robin Heggblom believes that a Finnmark without tanks will precisely find itself under Russian occupation in the event of a war.
"An attempt to limit the enemy from operating in Finnmark by firing long-range missiles from Troms could result in fewer losses of soldiers, but it would also mean that the civilian population in Finnmark would live under Russian occupation," says Heggblom.
He argues for the need for new tanks like this:
"While Norway in Finnmark – something that applies in general to all NATO countries along the alliance's eastern Russian border – has a strategic overall defense, there will still be times of need of defense on a lower level to free occupied territories and to ensure that the enemy does not have the opportunity to fight where and how they want at any time."
And it is in terms of defense that Heggblom believes the tanks to be extremely valuable thanks to the combination of high mobility – both speed and the ability to move in terrain – and reach and armored protection.
"Generally speaking, it will withstand anything less than a direct hit from an anti-tank weapon. It has firepower and sensors to locate and hit targets and the tank is also excellent at stopping other tanks, which makes it especially valuable in defense."
He points to the war in Ukraine as an example, where tanks are considered very valuable.
Norwegian politicians must think about this carefully.
"The value of tanks can also be seen in the efforts Ukraine has made to obtain tanks from the West."
Weaken the reputation
Nevertheless, the tanks will need protection and to operate together with infantry, artillery, and air defense vehicles. So it is not an either/or situation, explains Heggblom, who writes about the topic in more detail under the name Corporal Frisk in the post «No Tanks to You».
He believes that Norwegian politicians must think carefully about this.
"I have no doubts that Finland and Sweden as allies, with tanks and modern mechanized units with all-round support, will be prepared to defend Finnmark. But it will weaken Norway's reputation and probably reduce the influence Norway has on the joint defense planning in our common High North areas," warns Robin Heggblom.
"And it must be said, if Norwegian politicians and defense are willing to let the population in Eastern Finnmark suffer under occupation until someone else comes to their rescue – which we have witnessed can mean torture, rape, and murder – then that is a strange and extreme decision to make."
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.