Remarks at the Norwegian American Defense Conference

Puneet Talwar
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
Washington, DC
April 17, 2015

Thank you Peter for that kind introduction, and thank you to the Norwegian American Defense Industry Council for having me here today. It’s an honor to be here with Foreign Minister Brende, Ambassador Aas, and a very distinguished group of fellow speakers and guests, all of whom care so deeply about the U.S.-Norway relationship.

There are few countries in the world today as close as the United States and Norway. Having spent five years at the National Security Council working on Middle East issues, I can tell you that the deep appreciation and admiration for Norway’s global leadership and outsized contributions are felt no matter what region you work on, from the President on down.

As Secretary Kerry said just a few months ago, “On every major conflict in the world, Norway – not the biggest country in the world, but the biggest in heart and in commitment – is always by our side and is a superb ally.”

In my current job, I oversee a global portfolio that extends beyond the Middle East, and we work very closely with our European Allies and partners on political-military issues across the world. That’s why it’s a special pleasure to be here today to discuss our bilateral relationship – and the wide range of issues where we are leading in lockstep.

Seventy-three years ago, during World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt met with the King of Norway, and through the Lend-Lease Act, transferred a vessel to Norway as a token of admiration and friendship of the American people.

As he announced this ship transfer, Roosevelt spoke about the Nazi occupation of Norway and said something which remains as true today as it was in 1942. He said, “With Norway fell the concept that remoteness from political controversy… could give any Nation immunity from attack in a world where aggression spread unchecked.”

In other words, that no nation – no matter how generous – is immune from international events. He was speaking at the time of the Nazi occupation of Norway, but we can think of many more examples since then, including the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

Simply put, Roosevelt understood that the world is interconnected; that what happens in the far seas or distant mountains half a world away affects us right here. That’s true today more than ever before, because today’s greatest challenges do not affect only one nation. Nor can they be solved by only one nation. Norway understands this. And it is that fundamental principle that drives our leadership in the world today.

When you look across the globe at the many challenges facing us, the United States and Norway are leading together, whether the challenge is near or far, easy or hard.

Look, for example, at ISIL, which poses a clear danger to the Middle East, to Europe, and to other regions around the world as well.

That’s why, last year, President Obama outlined a comprehensive strategy to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL – a strategy that includes working with the Government of Iraq, the moderate opposition in Syria, and an international coalition of over 60 nations, including Norway.

So far, the Coalition, which includes several Arab states, has conducted over 3,000 airstrikes against ISIL terrorists. These strikes have had a significant impact. The Coalition and our partners on the ground have taken back more than a quarter of the populated territories ISIL controlled last August. We have worked closely with industry to rapidly equip our partners on the front lines. Prime Minister Abadi was just in Washington this week, and I met with his national security advisor who I’ve known for quite some time. There will be good days and bad days, and this will be a long fight. But ISIL’s momentum has been blunted, and we are making progress.

But all of you know that this is not just a military effort. Together with our coalition partners like Norway, we are using all elements of our power in this fight – because that’s how we must lead in today’s world. Yes, we are using our military might. We are building the capabilities of our partners in the region. But we are also working to cut off ISIL’s financing; to stop the flow of foreign fighters; to stabilize Iraqi communities; to train and equip appropriately vetted Syrian opposition members. And we are working to counter ISIL’s ideology and propaganda. This is a multi-dimensional effort, and it must be for us to succeed. Because we know that it’s just as important to undercut ISIL’s ideology as it is to undercut ISIL’s fighting positions.

Norway has been absolutely integral in this effort. Last year alone, Norway donated some $31.5 million to Iraq and $124 million to Syria. And in 2015, Norway has already pledged $93 million to support Syria and neighboring countries, with $18.6 million of that devoted to education and child protection efforts. Our Norwegian allies are actively involved in several lines of effort and we truly count on their leadership and wisdom every day.

Norway was also critical to the international effort to get chemical weapons out of Syria. Our Norwegian colleagues provided a naval frigate and civilian transport vessel to remove chemical weapons from Syria for destruction, and they have been generous contributors to the OPCW. There is still more work to do, but with the help of Norway and other international partners, we have eliminated the deadliest chemical weapons in the Asad regime’s declared stockpile.

In Afghanistan, Norway remains a critical contributor to the Resolute Support Mission, and a generous supporter of the Afghan people.

Beyond the Middle East and South Asia, we also welcome Norway’s leadership and strong contributions to UN peacekeeping missions around the world, in Mali, Cyprus, South Sudan, and elsewhere. Since the end of World War II, Norway has contributed over 50,000 troops to over 25 UN peacekeeping operations. Foreign Minister Brende was a leading participant in Vice President Biden’s peacekeeping summit last year. And today, we recognize that peacekeeping is more critical than ever before – but it is also under severe strain. We are demanding more from our peacekeepers in more places. In times like these, we know we can count on Norway’s continued leadership.

And even as Norway and the United States contribute to peace and security around the world, we also stand firmly together in Europe. Russia’s flagrant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity – and of international law – is unacceptable. The events on Europe’s eastern edge are sharp reminders that security threats in Europe are not just a relic of history, but something we and our Allies in NATO, and our partners in the European Union and around the world, must confront today.

Russia’s attempts to redraw maps behind the barrel of a gun have been met with the condemnation of the world, and with concrete action.

Together with our European Allies and partners, we have enacted targeted sanctions on Russia, and these have combined with low oil prices and structural weaknesses to impose costs on the Russian economy. Russia’s standing in the world has plummeted, while the world’s support for Ukraine only continues to grow.

The United States continues to support the Government of Ukraine. Since the start of the crisis, we are proud to have committed about $120 million in security assistance to the Ukraine Ministry of Defense, State Border Guard Service, and National Guard.

And we continue to stand united with our NATO Allies against Russia’s aggression. Our persistent, rotational air, land and sea presence are not only demonstrative of NATO’s commitment to collective defense, they also maintain and enhance our common interoperability. These are strong, unified actions.

Throughout Europe, we and our close friends and Allies, including Norway, stand squarely together. Make no mistake: no amount of propaganda can obscure the reality that Russia’s actions in Ukraine are in violation of international law.

We have said repeatedly that when Russia fully implements its commitments from Minsk, significant sanctions will be rolled back. But words are not enough. We will judge Russia by its actions.

Let me mention one other item this morning. Next week, I will be heading to Copenhagen to lead the U.S. delegation to the inaugural U.S.-Nordic-Baltic Political-Military Dialogue. This new forum will bring together senior civilian and military officials, and the U.S. and Norway will be joined by representatives from Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Sweden.

In light of the new challenges confronting the region, we will focus on global and regional security and defense issues, including hybrid threats, border security, and cybersecurity, as well as ways to improve interoperability and readiness.

As the Foreign Ministers of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland wrote last week, “A closer Nordic cooperation and acting in solidarity with the Baltic states contributes to increased security in our region and lowers the risk of military incidents. By acting firmly, predictably and consistently, we may contribute to peace and security in this part of the world.” We in the United States wholeheartedly agree.

As you can see from the examples I’ve outlined, from the Middle East to South Asia to Europe and beyond, the United States and Norway are leading. And we are leading together.

Our leaders play a major role in that – but so, too, does industry.

Today, when companies like Raytheon and Kongsberg team up to produce a fifth-generation naval strike missile; when our equipment is interoperable; when over the last three years, my team at the State Department has authorized nearly 2,000 licenses totaling $1 billion in defense articles to Norway… that shows the positive impact that industry can have not just on our relationship, but also on world events.

I think it also shows the depth of this relationship, and the level of trust that exists at the highest levels. Because your work in industry is an opportunity to not only boost bottom lines, but also to strengthen American and Norwegian troops on the front lines.

The United States and Norway share a deep historical bond. We share a rock-solid commitment to democratic values. And we share an enduring vision for how our efforts around the world can contribute to global peace and security. With all your help, we look forward to continuing to turn that vision into reality, together.

Thank you very much.