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Francois-Pierre Cartolano

Interview with Norway’s Chief of Defence

Norway possesses a small but potent military which can defend its homeland while participating actively in international peacekeeping missions. Headquartered at the Akershus Fortress in the nation’s capital Oslo, the Norwegian Armed Forces (Forsvaret) consist of five branches – Army, Air, Navy, Home Guard, and Cyber – numbering approximately 25,000 soldiers. The Forsvaret’s vehicles and equipment are of great quality and are continually upgraded, such as the upcoming purchase of up to 52 new F-35 fighter jets, to meet new challenges. In recent years, Norway has put an emphasis on its Arctic presence as well as collaborating actively with its allies, especially within NATO. To learn more about this remarkable army, I interviewed Norwegian Chief of Defence Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen. Having started his military career in 1980, he rose through the ranks, holding several positions on land and at sea, to become Norway’s highest ranking-officer in 2013. Q. What is the state of the Norwegian Armed Forces? A. The ambition of the Norwegian Armed Forces is to have the right forces at the right time to provide for our national security and our international commitments. We have undertaken major modernization of our Armed Forces to ensure that this ambition may be fulfilled. Our daily operations in the European High North, our long-term engagement in Afghanistan, and our participation in recent operations such as the removal of chemical weapons from Syria are all evidences that our Armed Forces are highly relevant for facing modern challenges. Q. What are the main challenges facing your Armed Forces in 2014? A. The major challenge for many nations’ Armed Forces in the time to come is people. The personnel of the Armed Forces have a wide range of qualifications, and are the organization’s most important resource. We will need to continuously work on recruiting the… Read More

Interview with First Minister of Scotland

On 18 September 2014, more than 4 million Scots will be called to participate in an independence referendum and answer the following question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Sovereignty has been an important political topic in Scotland ever since the mid-19th century. Indeed, the first “home rule” movement was founded in 1853 and its legacy inspired the devolution referendums of 1979 and 1997. Now, the Scottish National Party (SNP), which was created in 1934, leads the current bid for Scottish statehood. Acceding to power for the first time in 2007 as a minority government, the SNP was unable to fulfill its electoral promise of holding a referendum on Scottish independence due to a lack of support from opposition parties. An outspoken proponent of national sovereignty, the SNP managed to win a majority of seats in the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections. Reiterating its promise of holding a referendum, the newly re-elected Scottish Government negotiated the Edinburgh Agreement with the United Kingdom Government, thereby legalizing the whole process and setting its definitive date. With three months to go, the fate of Scotland is still in the balance as both options are toe-to-toe according to recent polls. Recently, I had the privilege to interview the Right Honourable Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP. His comments shed light on the government’s position and views on Scottish self-rule. Q. What is the current state of power/autonomy for the Scottish government? A. Since the Scottish Parliament was re-established in 1999, responsibility for governing Scotland has been split. The Scottish Parliament and Scottish Government in Edinburgh are responsible for a range of devolved matters, including the National Health Service, education, justice, social services, housing, the environment, farming, fisheries and aspects of transport. The Westminster Government - currently a coalition of the… Read More

Could the Baltic States resist Russia?

The recent annexation of Sevastopol and the Crimean peninsula by the Russian federation have brought back painful memories to NATO’s eastern European countries. From World War II’s end until the USSR’s collapse, these nations were under the tight control of Moscow: some, like Ukraine, were directly incorporated into the Soviet Union while others, like Poland, were “independent” puppet states coerced into economic and military cooperation (i.e. COMECON and the Warsaw Pact). In the Baltic States’ case, they suffered the first option and were subjugated as Soviet Socialist Republics, a direct consequence of the military turmoil that engulfed the first half of the 20th century. Having gained their independence following World War I, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, then by Germany in 1941, and finally re-occupied and unduly annexed by Moscow after in 1944. Full sovereignty came back in 1991 and ever since, the Baltic nations have oriented themselves towards the West and NATO, joining the latter in 2004. The Baltic States are thus understandably troubled by Russia’s interference in the Ukrainian crisis. With sizeable ethnic Russian minority groups present (about a quarter of the population of Estonia and Latvia) and strained relations since the early 90’s, the Baltic countries could face similar meddling from their eastern neighbour in the near future. With the recent deployment of US airborne troops to the region and the announcement of a $1 billion boost in military expenditures by President Obama, is the ratio of forces in the Baltic nations’ favour? Can the small Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian armies stand against Russia’s might? Estonia: the Estonian Defence Forces (EDF) are manned by 5,750 active personnel (about half of which are conscripts completing a mandatory 8-11 months military service), supported by 60,000 reservists, and comprise four service branches: Ground,… Read More

Interview with Lars Salquist from the Danish Ministry of Defence

As a founding member of NATO, Denmark has played an active - albeit less publicized - role in several of the Alliance’s military interventions over the years. From the deployment of troops as part of peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia in 1994 to aircrafts flying over Libya in 2011, the Danish Armed Forces do not shy away from answering the call of duty. To date, Danish soldiers are still involved in Kosovo as part of KFOR, in Afghanistan within the ISAF (the Danish participation officially ended last Thursday, Ed.) and they patrol the Gulf of Aden with Standing NATO Maritime Group 1. To learn more about Denmark’s participation in the Atlantic alliance, I interviewed Mr. Lars Salquist, Head of the Department for NATO and EU policy at the Danish Ministry of Defence. Q. What is the role of Denmark in NATO? A. Denmark has been a member of NATO since its creation in 1949. NATO is the cornerstone of Danish security, and an important forum for security and defense policy dialogue and cooperation across the Atlantic. Denmark participates actively in the work within NATO, notably through being an active contributor to NATO operations and missions (i.e. ISAF, OOS, KFOR); continuously promoting the need for a modernized and reformed NATO that is ready for the new challenges ahead; and also participating actively in the development of the Smart Defense initiative. Denmark remains fully committed to contributing to NATO and to take her share of the tasks ahead. We are also proud that two Danish nationals currently hold the position as NATO Secretary General and Chairman of the military committee. Q. What are Denmark’s main priorities within NATO? A. NATO’s essential purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members, and at the same time be able to respond to new… Read More

Interview with the Deputy State Secretary of communications of the Hungarian government

On April 6th, Hungarians were called to the polls for their country’s quadrennial parliamentary elections. The incumbent Prime Minister Viktor Orbán along with his political party Fidesz won an overwhelming victory: garnering 44.5% of the popular vote, they obtained an absolute majority by getting 133 candidates elected out of a possible 199. Securely in place for the next four years, Orbán’s government enjoys full legislative liberty, a fact welcomed because of the many challenges already facing the renewed government: a perceived growth of the far-right, a precarious European economy, a crisis in Ukraine... In order to have an accurate picture of the political and economical situation in Hungary, I interviewed Ferenc Kumin, Deputy State Secretary for International Communications at the Hungarian government. Q. What were the main issues of the April 6th elections? A. A central issue at the elections was certainly the regulation of energy prices and in connection with this, the several stages of public utility price cuts introduced by the Government. In February 2014, Parliament passed a law on the continuation of the reduction of household utility bills, which has already contributed to significant annual savings of households. Another important topic was Hungary’s economic performance in the past four years. Hungary is among those few EU countries that could reduce their state deficit under 3% of the GDP, thus the EU’s excessive deficit procedure was abrogated against Hungary. GDP grew by 2.7% compared to the corresponding period of the previous year in Q4 of 2013, which is again exceptional in the EU. Furthermore, the total number of people in employment reached a historic peak of 4 million 15 thousand in Q4, 2013. Finally, the tax regime can also be mentioned among the issues of the elections: whereas opposition parties supported a so-called progressive tax system, the Hungarian… Read More
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