The following is a summary produced in a quarterly report from the Norwegian Intelligence Service’s that sets out their assessment of current security challenges facing Norway, a NATO member. The whole well documented paper can be found here at this link.
The threat environment facing Norway at the start of 2020 is the result of structural changes that have been taking place over a period of many years. On the one hand, these changes have offered armed forces increased scope for action and made them more useful as political instruments in times of peace, crisis and war. On the other, technological developments have ensured that non-military means can increasingly be used as an alternative to armed force in pursuit of the same goals; examples include the use of economic power, disinformation campaigns, surveillance and computer network operations.
This development has picked up pace against the backdrop of mounting great power rivalry, and we are seeing a number of nascent arms races in a world order where power takes precedence over international law. It is NIS’s belief that all the topics touched on in FOCUS 2020 will be of strategic importance to Norway in the year ahead, and most of them are affected by the ongoing rivalry between regional and global powers.
The factors that have the strongest impact on the threat environment facing Norway and Norwegian interests are closely linked to Russia and China, two countries with political systems in which politics and economics, the public and private and the civilian and military are all closely and intentionally intertwined. The intelligence and security services are heavily involved in all aspects of these two societies, and it makes little sense to distinguish between public and private interests and activities when making assessments that are significant to Norway’s national security.
«This is not a transitional phase. Although the Russian and Chinese systems differ, both are moving in a more authoritarian direction. »
This is not a transitional phase. Although the Russian and Chinese systems differ, both are moving in a more authoritarian direction. In their relations with the outside world, these two countries consider themselves to be in a persistent conflict with the United States and parts of the West.
Since Russia began its military reform in 2008, its armed forces have become an increasingly useful political instrument across the entire conflict spectrum, from peace to crisis and war. In this period, Russia has built increasingly layered, integrated and scalable defences. In March 2019, Chief of Defence Valeriy Gerasimov launched the concept ‘ActiveDefence’, which incorporates the main aspects of the developments seen within the Russian armed forces. This is evident in the High North, where Russia has gradually reinforced its defences with a range of new capabilities, with a north-western centre of gravity. In a westerly direction, much of the Barents Sea and the areas between Svalbard and the ice edge are covered by Russian systems. The Northern Fleet’s ocean-going capabilities have been bolstered by the addition of new vessels. Russia has deployed coastal defence systems on Franz Josef Land and the New Siberian Islands, in addition to those on the Kola Peninsula, and the Russian early-warning chain is being expanded with new long-range radars.
«In August the Northern Fleet, together with the Baltic Sea Fleet, staged the largest naval exercise seen near Norwegian borders since the Cold War. Parts of the Bastion Defence were established all the way down to the North Sea.»
Whereas the development and addition of new capabilities shows how Russian defences are being strengthened, Russia’s military activity near Norwegian borders since the summer of 2019 have been one continuous demonstration of the defence concept’s emphasis on integration and scalability. In August the Northern Fleet, together with the Baltic Sea Fleet, staged the largest naval exercise seen near Norwegian borders since the Cold War. Parts of the Bastion Defence were established all the way down to the North Sea.
Then, with the strategic exercise Grom in October, Russia demonstrated how traditional nuclear weapons are increasingly used in combination with long-range conventional precision-guided weapons. This new dimension improves military capability and flexibility, and contributes to a more credible deterrent across the conflict spectrum from peace to war. The exercise activity seen in 2019 showed that Russia has made significant progress in developing a dynamic military capable of adapting its use of means to the situation at hand.
We will be seeing capability developments and fluctuations in the activity level for years to come, and in the Arctic this will include new submarines, surface vessels, aircraft and military bases. In addition, we can expect the development and testing of new sophisticated weapons systems near Norwegian borders. This will also present non-military challenges linked to the environment and security. In summer 2019, 19 Russians lost their lives in connection with military activity close to Norwegian borders.
For years, the use of jamming systems has been disrupting civilian air traffic.
Whilst Russia’s ambitions for great power status are having an impact near Norwegian borders, China has become less restrained in showing force and is increasingly prepared to dictate the terms of international cooperation. Nationalist self-assertion has replaced economic pragmatism as the guiding principle of Chinese foreign policy. In a speech given just after he acceded to the leadership, Xi Jinping indicated that his foreign policy thinking is based on his perception of a ‘long-standing struggle between two social systems’.
Like with Russia, it is in China’s interest to challenge the U.S.-dominated world order. ‘The New Silk Road’ is a prerequisite for achieving this, and two-thirds of Europe’s NATO members have joined the Chinese Silk Road strategy.
«The ‘Digital Silk Road’, meanwhile, lays the potential groundwork for a major global intelligence capability. By controlling 5G networks, fibre-optic cables and smart city systems, it is possible to collect vast amounts of data.»
The ‘Digital Silk Road’, meanwhile, lays the potential groundwork for a major global intelligence capability. By controlling 5G networks, fibre-optic cables and smart city systems, it is possible to collect vast amounts of data. The Silk Road projects are carried out by Chinese companies that are required by Chinese law to share information with the authorities in Beijing. Chinese technology companies are introducing new technical standards and assuming an increasingly dominant position in the field of digital services.
Norway is also an object of the Silk Road strategy, and China’s interest in the Arctic will continue to grow. Chinese direct investments demonstrate the range of means available to Beijing.
The threat environment related to international terrorism is also affected by geopolitics, and past collaborations to defeat terrorism are showing signs of fragmentation. In Syria, the U.S’s withdrawal and Turkish intervention have both undermined the coalition’s ability to fight ISIL. This offers the latter fresh scope for action, and the number of ISIL attacks in Syria is already rising.
This development is evident outside of Syria and the Middle East as well. By bolstering its affiliates elsewhere in the world, ISIL is undermining the great powers’ ability to conduct joint counter-terrorism efforts.
The number of terrorist attacks in Europe carried out by militant Islamists has fallen sharply since 2017, a development which is likely to continue in 2020. Nevertheless, there are a number of signs that ISIL’s decline is temporary and that the terrorist threat in Europe and elsewhere is set to increase in the years ahead. Returned foreign fighters, those who never made it to Syria or Iraq and those currently being released from European prisons are all potential recruits to Islamist terrorist networks in the coming years.
Another key element is the emergence of a more transnational form of right-wing extremism, in an increasingly polarised Europe. At present, right- wing extremism is not just an ideology focused on the nation state. There are a number of versions of this ideology that could have a uniting effect across borders and form a basis for internationalisation. In the years ahead, this could contribute to a more complex, diverse and changeable threat environment than we have seen for the past decade.
In a broader context, we are seeing that the ongoing great power rivalry is shifting the balance of power and thereby altering the dynamic in a number of conflicts, with significant implications for international stability. This is most evident in the Middle East, where Russia has cemented its role as a great power. By fighting the opposition in Syria and setting the terms for a political solution, Moscow – together with Iran – has secured influence and control over a large proportion of Syria’s strategic resource base.
Moscow is also likely to increase its diplomatic involvement in Libya in 2020. The Kremlin has long cultivated a close relationship with Khalifa Haftar whilst simultaneously maintaining its diplomatic ties to the government in Tripoli. Should Moscow succeed in Libya as well, the Kremlin would exert strong influence in a number of vital areas stretching from the Middle East to North Africa.
«In the short term, however, the greatest threat in the Middle East is the risk of military escalation between the United States and Iran.»
In the short term, however, the greatest threat in the Middle East is the risk of military escalation between the United States and Iran. Trust between the parties has reached a nadir, and over the past six months, as sanctions have been tightened, Tehran has demonstrated both willingness and ability to heighten the level of conflict across the Middle East. The killing of Qassem Soleimani has made the situation even more incendiary, and in a worst-case scenario the conflict could escalate into a regional war. The regime in Tehran is likely still willing to negotiate with Washington, but only on the condition that the United States offer significant sanctions relief.
Both the economic situation within Iran and the external pressure against it are moving the political centre of gravity in a conservative direction, and the balance of power is likely to shift further in the parliamentary elections in February 2020. Should Tehran’s economic and political scope for action become further restricted in 2020, the regime is likely to once again escalate the conflict with the United States.
Other conflicts that stand to be affected by the ongoing great power rivalry are those in North Korea and Afghanistan, although in the latter country internal factors are as important as external ones. The United States and the Taliban are likely to resume negotiations in 2020, yet the parties stand far apart. On the Korean Peninsula, Pyongyang’s less conciliatory tone towards Washington will force underlying lines of conflict to the surface.
Globally, developments are pointing to a new dynamic in ongoing conflicts, new arms races and a race to control and influence global digital infrastructure. Collectively, this means we are facing a more complex and changeable threat environment than in the past.
Photos are from the Norwegian Intelligence Service’s Security Challenges