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    Norway's Defense Minister Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide walks past an honor guard as he arrives to attend a meeting of defense ministers of the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, July 20, 2016

    Norway Takes Aim at EU Defense Fund Amid Falling Arms Exports

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    Amid US President Donald Trump's incessant calls on EU and NATO member states to step up their defense expenditures, Norway is seriously considering joining the EU Defense Fund for the joint development and procurement of arms, despite its neighbor Sweden's skepticism of the idea being a "feedbox" for EU heavyweights.

    A soldier from the Swedish Armed Forces, looks on from top of the Patria XA-360 AMV (Armored Modular Vehicle) at Hagshult Airbase
    © AFP 2017/ JONATHAN NACKSTRAND
    Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide is seriously considering whether Oslo should join the EU Defense Fund, which during 2021-27 is expected to spend over $500 million a year on research and over $1 billion on the purchase of defense materials, the Norwegian daily Aftenposten reported. Currently, there are enough indications that Norway is likely to join.

    "The government will continue its cooperation with the EU in the joint development of arms. This will strengthen Europe as a relevant and strategic player, including NATO cooperation. We also want to participate in the EU Defense Research and Development Program," the Norwegian government program for EU cooperation said.

    "We have not discussed this among fellow party members, but I think it is advantageous for Norway to participate," Labor member of the parliamentary Foreign and Defense Committee Svein Roald Hansen told Aftenposten.

    Ann Kristin Salbuvik of the Defense Ministry wrote in an email to Aftenposten that the decision on Norwegian participation will be taken in the fall.

    While Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist expressed fears that such form of collaboration only would benefit major EU actors, and Denmark opted out of EU defense cooperation, Norway emerged as the only non-EU member likely to be involved. At present, Norway is participating in a pilot project, which ends in 2020. Furthermore, there is a broad consensus in Norway about cooperation with NATO being the pillar of the country's security. All in all, 19 of the 28 EU member states have signaled their interest in the EU project.

    The goal of the joint defense fund is to eliminate unnecessary defense expenses due to the disarray in the EU's military equipment. While the EU has 17 different types of tanks in operation, the US only has one. The same comparison stands for the arms systems in service: 130 in the EU as opposed to only 30 in the US. Therefore, the hope is that joint development and procurement will make the EU more effective in terms of expenditures.

    With a defense spending of 1.55 percent of its GDP, Norway is not among the worst countries in the alliance, but the road to NATO's spending goal of 2 percent is still long. While Prime Minister Erna Solberg called the common NATO goal a "solid commitment," she also said she could not give any assurances that Norway would take strides in this direction. She also emphasized there was no actual need for it. Solberg ventured that it was the quality of defense that mattered and argued that Norway was "far ahead" in this department. Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende indicated that Norway was closest to the US in terms of defense expenditure in relation to the population, Aftenposten reported.

    "We have a large defense industry in Norway, which will most likely have a lot to learn from EU cooperation in this sector," EEA Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said in May.

    The Kongsberg Group is Norway's largest defense company with 7,000 employees in 25 countries. The head of the Kongsberg press service, Johannes Namstad Dobson, told Aftenposten that his company had a general interest in such research collaboration, yet suggested that the fruit of practical collaboration has yet to be seen.

    In 2016, Norwegian arms exports fell by 20 percent to NOK 1.9 billion ($220 million). Except for 2015, weapons exports have had a negative trend since 2009, when export values amounted to NOK 3.1 billion.

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    arms, NATO, EU, Ine Eriksen Søreide, Scandinavia, Norway
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