The Norwegian government has decided against joining NATO's missile shield. The debate about Norway's possible participation has long spurred fears of tensions between Norway and Russia.
“Through a broader security policy assessment, the government has decided that Norway does not consider acquiring upper-tier sensors or intercept missiles that can become part of NATO's ballistic missile defence,” the state budget said.
“I think this prevents further tensions,” Russina expert from the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Affairs (NUPI) Julie Wilhelmsen said as quoted by Norway's TV2.
A secret Norwegian defence document from 2017 cited the alleged “threat” from Russia as the reason why Norway should join the “missile shield”. The document also listed sizable gaps and deficiencies in Norway's air defence, which reportedly make it difficult for Norway to defend itself on its own.
At the same time, Norway's new budget increased defence spending to 1.8 percent of the GDP, further shrinking the distance to NATO's spending goal of 2 percent owing to an increase of NOK 5.2 billion ($570 million).
The 2019 NATO estimate published in June placed Norway's defence spending in 13th place within the alliance, down from the tenth spot it held in 2017.
“Most other countries increase more than Norway. That's why we've fallen down in the list of contributors,” NATO Secretary General and former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told the daily newspaper Verdens Gang.
“Keeping up old capabilities can be more expensive than new ones. Technology has made the Armed Forces more expensive, so there is no doubt that we are devoting resources to the Armed Forces,” Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen retorted.
Over the past decade, NATO's plans for a US missile shield in Europe has been one of the most divisive issues between Russia and NATO. While NATO officials have continued to assure that the defence network is not aimed at Russia, but rather at ballistic missiles fired from outside Europe, Moscow disagrees, arguing that the shield will topple the balance between the nuclear powers, triggering a new arms race.
Norway initially opposed the idea of NATO becoming part of the US missile defence plans, but changed its mind and has been rather supportive of the idea since 2010. In a twist of irony, Stoltenberg himself used to be against the missile defence network during his time as the leader of the nation's Labour party.