Norwegian Defense Minister Responds to Macron: - Challenging Times for NATO

It is a challenging time for all international institutions, simply because nationalism is more prominent these days, says Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen. Photo: Arne O. Holm

Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen does not share the French president’s view on NATO as “braindead”. However, in his first comment to President Macron’s harsh NATO criticism, the Norwegian defense minister recognizes these are challenging times for the defense alliance.

TROMSØ: In a remarkable interview with The Economist, French President Emmanuel Macron expresses grave concerns about the NATO alliance.

He a.o characterized the alliance as braindead and warned against Europe’s being on the edge of a cliff. Macron pointed in particular to the USA’s turning its back on Europe and he claimed it is time to wake up.

At the same time, he questioned the contents of NATO’s article five, which states that an attack on one member state is to be considered an attack on all.

Argues that NATO is not braindead

- It is not my impression at all that NATO is braindead, says Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen in this interview with High North News.

- Nor should some the conflicts we are witnessing be considered evidence of any sickbed. However, it is a challenging time, also for an institution like NATO. These are challenging days for all international institutions simply because nationalism has a more prominent place.

- The idea of superpower rivalry is clearer now, and that also makes the EU struggle with Brexit and  NATO with Turkey, as well as the US’ sharing of burdens. We should read Macron’s statements into a context in which this is a trend. A trend that does not only challenge NATO; it challenges the entire rule of law-based society.

The challenging ‘Article 5’

- Macron points specifically at article 5 and asks what it is worth. When this comes from one of the most powerful NATO states, what signal does it send?

- First of all, article 5 is not the first tool NATO applies. We see more NATO presence in a troubled Europe. We are in the Baltics because there was a need to be present there in order to calm and stabilize. We cooperate about more and more operations. I believe we should see NATO in a wider context than just article 5.

- I also find it hard to see that article 5 is weakened if you measure it against what NATO does with its rolled-out plan framework, new chains of command, as well as several initiatives through which it builds forces and cooperates in order to deter. With the initiatives NATO takes and based on the talks I have with my colleagues around the place, I cannot really see that Macron’s arguments hold out.

Then-US Defense Minister James Mattis meeting his Norwegian colleague Frank Bakke-Jensen at the NATO Headquarter in Brussels in November 2017. Photo: US Air Force
Some of the statements from the American president are not quite how we traditionally have thought an alliance is built
Frank Bakke-Jensen, Norwegian defense minister

North Norwegian trust in NATO

- Article 5 is perhaps particularly important for those of us who live up north. Then there is an influential president within NATO who questions this paragraph. Can you expect the North Norwegian population to trust that NATO pays attention to the High North?

- We should keep in mind that France is the one European country that is the most critical of NATO. It places itself on the sideline. That is one thing. Another thing one should look at is what NATO does. We just had the Trident Juncture exercise. All nations came and spent significant resources to exercise together and we are changing the command structure. NATO focuses on the High North, on communication, supply and strategic trans-Atlantic lines again.

- We see a greater allied presence, both when it comes to vessels and planes in the North, and the High North is openly discussed at all meetings as an important part of NATO activities. The Americans fly more in Europe, including in the Arctic, simply to show unity. Macron says one thing, however, there are quite a few other signs saying that NATO is present and looking north, Frank Bakke-Jensen says and adds:

- When Macron says NATO is braindead, he rather refers to some of the conflicts that are pulled into NATO. That is a challenge NATO has always had.

- Emmanuel Macron points out, like so many others, that the perhaps greatest challenge is Donald Trump?

- Yes, and to put it briefly: Some of the statements from the American president are not quite how we traditionally have thought an alliance is built. So there may be a reason to challenge that, Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen says in closing.


This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist