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Norwegian experiences with Integrated Strategic management

State Secretary Roger Ingebrigtsen
Norwegian Ministry of Defence

Published in Panorama of global security environment 2011 (Center for European and North Atlantic Affairs, Bratislava)


Norway implemented integrated strategic management of the Defence organisation in 2003, yet there are still discussions about the expedience and effectiveness of this organisational model. In some cases it is argued that the authority of the Chief of Defence (CHOD) has become far too restricted by a Minister of Defence who allegedly does not have sufficient military knowledge to understand the full implications of all decisions. In other cases the Minister of Defence is criticised for not intervening in the CHOD’s management of concrete cases in the Armed Forces. This illustrates the perception of some that democratic political control over the Armed Forces is to some extent inconsistent with leaving control to the military professionals.

This perception can be understood against the quite drastic reorganisation and modernisation of the Norwegian Armed Forces that took place during the 1990s and beginning of this century. During the Cold War, Norway's defence structure consisted of relatively large, static forces with long reaction times that were prepared to counter possible massive attacks on Norwegian territory. During this period, the Armed Forces were organised to handle known and comprehensive threats and to mobilise large defensive forces, mainly in North Norway, where an attack was considered most likely to come. In this rather static international political climate, the need for democratic political control and intervention in the day-to-day running of the Armed Forces organisation seemed lower than in the more dynamic and perhaps less predictable post-Cold War era. In short, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War lead to changes in the international security climate which again necessitated changes in the Armed Forces organisation.

During the 1990s, Norway’s security was considered predominantly favourable while Europe was heavily engaged in establishing new patterns of cooperation. NATO focused on the partnership for peace programme, and preparing for admitting new members from the former Warsaw Pact. Russia was no longer deemed to pose a military threat to Norway and a comprehensive military operation against Norwegian territory was considered to be highly unlikely in the foreseeable future. The requirements of the Cold War era were no longer a decisive factor in determining the organisation and structure of Norway’s Armed Forces.

Notwithstanding the predominantly favourable security situation in the 1990s, Europe was facing new threats and risks more diverse than those existing during the Cold War period. Firstly, many of the old antagonisms between national and ethnic groupings in the Balkans had resurfaced. These and other conflicts entailed a risk of escalating with possible adverse far reaching effects, thereby directly affecting countries such as Norway. In addition, the development of long-range weapon systems and modern communications and information technology made geographical distances less significant in risk assessment, and finally the strategic off-shore energy resources also made Norway vulnerable.  

These reasons were considered to increase, rather than reduce the risk of Norway becoming drawn into a lower-intensity crisis, and perhaps even multiple simultaneous crises. As a consequence the Armed Forces could no longer be seen only as a means of preserving and securing national borders and interests, but had to be viewed and structured as a foreign policy instrument to be used in international peacekeeping and conflict resolution, both in a short-term and long-term perspective.

During the 1990s, the changes in the international political climate had also brought about harsher budgetary requirements, and as a response the Armed Forces went through considerable downsizing. However, fundamental measures to restructure the organisation beyond the mere quantitative reductions were not taken. The attempts to reshape the Armed Forces through downsizing therefore achieved limited success. One had not managed to create a flexible and credible Defence that was relevant and properly attuned to the present tasks and challenges.

Norway’s increasing participation in international operations under UN, NATO, EU, OCSE and coalition leadership further illustrates the need for change.  Since 1945 Norway has participated with military forces and personnel in more than 90 different international operations. The fact that about 70 of these operations took place after 1990 also serves to illustrate the growing importance of military forces as a foreign political instrument. Our ability to operate effectively with NATO allies, both nationally and internationally, depended on a modernisation of the Armed forces in line with the Alliance’s new role. The defence organisation had to enable Norwegian forces to contribute to the handling of international crises and peace operations, both to counter limited attacks and to contribute to combating international terrorism.

The many changes affecting national and international security during the 1990s as well as persistent budgetary challenges warranted additional organizational changes of the Armed Forces as well as its overall management. As a result, the transition from a mobilisation based defence to a defence based on rapid reaction capability more attuned to deployments was begun. Furthermore, a strengthening of democratic political control of the Armed Forces was deemed necessary to meet all the new challenges and succeed with the required reorganization. The process that began around the turn of the century to implement integrated political-military planning and coordination in the Ministry of Defence was an answer to these challenges.

A Brief History

When the government proposed a co-location of the MoD and the Chief of Defence HQ in 1999, it was not in fact a brand new idea. The Ministry and the CHOD HQ had already been co-located in the seventies and eighties. The co-location proposal was cancelled however after the government was replaced following the 2000 elections.

One of the difficulties experienced in the attempts at Defence restructuring in the 1990s resulted in a top-heavy organization that failed to reflect the large reductions in the overall force structure. The Ministry of Defence and Defence Command Norway (DEFCOMNOR) were also not sufficiently oriented towards strategic activities such as long-term planning, crisis management and international cooperation. Against this background, in 2001, the new government proposed to integrate the CHOD within the MoD, and to replace the fairly large Headquarters of Defence with a leaner organisational unit directly under the CHOD, the Defence Staff (DST). This was expected to yield an overall reduction in MOD and DEFCOMNOR staff numbers of at least 40 % while at the same time giving an improved capability for strategic planning, crisis management and international cooperation, especially within NATO. In June the next year Parliament decided to integrate the MoD and the top management of Armed Forces, and by August 2003 the CHOD and the strategic functions of the HQ Defence were integrated into the MoD, and the Defence Staff was established and located in the vicinity of the MoD.

At the outset, a total of 484 persons were working in the Integrated Ministry of Defence (300) and the newly established Defence Staff (184). The MoD was given responsibility for the strategic leadership and management of the Armed Forces, as well as defence- and security policy related issues. The Ministry was organised in five departments according to function and responsibility; The Department of Personnel and General Services, The Department of Security Policy, The Department of Operations, The Department of Defence Policy and Long-Term Planning, and The Department of Management and Financial Governance. Military and civilian employees were placed at all levels in the Ministry of Defence. The Defence Staff was given the responsibility of implementing tasks and ensuring that decisions were followed up on behalf of the Chief of Defence, and ensuring that plans and budgets established and issued by the Ministry, were implemented. At this stage, the Chiefs of Staff responsible for force generation in the separate services of the Armed Forces (Land, Air, Navy, and Home Guard) were also part of the Defence Staff.

The Chief of Defence continued to have two parallel functions; Chief of the Defence Military Organisation, as well as principal military adviser to the Minister of Defence, but now exercising these dual roles from within the integrated Ministry. On the civilian side the Secretary General’s role as the administrative head of the Ministry of Defence remained unchanged.

After both the preliminary co-location and the subsequent integration in 2003 of the MOD and the DST, minor adjustments were made in both 2004 and 2005. Finally in December 2006, implementation process for the integrated strategic management was completed as the MoD and DST moved into new headquarters within the same building complex at Akershus Fortress in Oslo.

There have also been some major adjustments to the original organisational model. The Department of Operations was transferred from MoD to the Defence Staff in 2008, and in August 2009 the Chiefs of Staff of the separate services were relocated away from DST. Apart from this, the integrated strategic management model established in 2003 is still intact.

Aims of the Integrated Strategic Management Reform

An essential aim of the new integrated strategic management model was to reinforce the overall, coordinated strategic management of the Armed Forces. Norway wanted a structure more or less in line with most NATO members, and to create a modern and efficient organisation. Planning, policy making and control was to be carried out through integrated processes, hence, improving the MoD’s capacity to manage the transformation of the Armed Forces. The new integrated model also served to strengthen the capacity for crisis management and international co-operation.  By gathering all strategic functions into the MoD and drawing a more clear-cut line between MoD and DST responsibilities, we also wanted to reduce duplication of efforts and overlapping responsibilities. In addition, by incorporating the CHOD’s functions in the MoD, he was granted more direct access to the minister and internal MoD processes, and thus an enhanced opportunity to influence political processes. 

As mentioned, the reform was also part of the larger modernisation process and restructuring of the Armed Forces. To realize these goals, resources were reallocated from logistics and support functions to materiel investments and operational activities. Furthermore, regional commands tailored to the Cold War era were closed down as the new challenges required more centralised command structures. A rationalisation of the entire command structure took place in order to transfer more resources and responsibilities to operational units. This was made possible partly by advances in the field of information and communications technology which made it feasible for each link in the chain of command to exercise a broader span of control. In this perspective the establishment of the integrated strategic management model was also aligned with the general processes of transferring resources from central staffs to more “operational units”.

Furthermore, aims for a more flexible and adaptable structure capable of responding to external changes were established. More efficient, rational and transparent decision making processes were also called for. Introducing more simplified and holistic working processes by joining circles of civil-military competence was a way of fulfilling this ambition.

The model was expected to improve communication and understanding of political signals to the Armed Forces. By bringing military personnel into the MoD, one did not only seek to augment the military competence of the Ministry in its role as a government office, but also to increase the officer corps’ understanding of political processes.

Impacts of Organisational Characteristics

The Norwegian Ministry of Defence has a total of 310 employees, among whom approximately 90 are officers. All four single services of the Armed Forces – Army, Navy, Air Force and Home Guard are represented by officers ranking from Major to General. There is a mixture of civilian and military positions at all levels of the organisation. As a general rule, a department or section with a military head has a civilian deputy and vice versa. This approach serves to ensure there is a balanced mixture of competences and perspectives throughout the working processes of the Ministry.

In a diversity perspective, there is potential for improvement in the gender balance in the MoD. Today 33 % of the officers within the MoD are female. However, among the civilian personnel the female ratio is 40 %. There is a strong drive to recruit more women, both military and civilian, into MOD positions, especially on the managerial level. Of course, the pool of female candidates for military positions in general, and managerial positions in particular, is quite small, as we still have a rather low female ratio among high-ranking officers in the Armed Forces.

Officers assigned to the MoD usually serve three to five years and are formally employed by the Ministry during this period. These temporary posts serve to provide “fresh” military competence in the MoD. The integrated strategic management model and the day-to-day running of the Ministry are highly dependent on current military perspectives and competences of the officers coming from regular service. Not only do they bring important knowledge to the Ministry which is relevant when supporting the CHOD in his function as the military adviser to the Minister of Defence. But, with their first-hand knowledge they also contribute to the Ministry’s overall understanding of the challenges facing the Armed Forces. We see great benefits from this in the way the Ministry performs its long term planning, production planning and budgeting at strategic level.

When their 3-5 years assignment in the Ministry ends, most officers return to regular posts within the Armed Forces. When originally deciding on the duration of the MoD assignments, it was argued that officers should not spend too long time away from the military system in order to avoid that their military competence becomes “out-dated”. There is no evidence, however, that such prolonged absences from core activities in the Armed Forces make these officers less attractive when they look for new assignments. On the contrary, our impression so far is that their experience from the MoD is a valued factor when they compete for posts within the Armed Forces. However, the implications of the rotation of officers in and out of the MoD, from the perspective of the Armed Forces, seem to have received slightly less attention than what one might have expected. The main focus appears to be on how the Ministry has benefited from having temporary military personnel at the ministerial level of the integrated strategic management. There is, however, reason to believe that the increased number of officers with Ministry experience also has had an impact on how the Armed Forces relate to the Ministry and respond to its policies and strategic management. The increased understanding of how the Ministry works might also contribute to improving the capabilities of the Armed Forces to communicate their views to the Ministry more effectively, as well as strengthening the mutual dialogue between the Armed Forces and the MoD.

As far as age profile is concerned the average age of the MoD employees is currently 45.8 years. Whereas the officers come and go, the civilian employees in the MoD constitute a much more permanent staff, as in most ministries of defence in NATO-countries. The turnover-rate among civilians was only 5.8 % in 2010. Almost one third of the staff has served more than ten years in the Ministry, and 50 % of these have worked in the Ministry for more than 20 years. Hence, the civilian employees provide a strong element of continuity in the Ministry, which serves to counteract potential negative aspects of the permanent rotation of military employees. This personnel composition ensures that the overall/institutionalised experience of the permanent MoD staff is continually updated through the complementary competences and perspectives from the Armed Forces. Awareness, as well as willingness to involve and rely on the relative strengths of their counterparts create a good basis for a productive and dynamic working environment.

The Roles and Responsibilities of the Ministry and the Defence Staff

Although the Ministry of Defence and the Defence Staff are co-located at Akershus fortress in Oslo and to a large degree integrated, they also have distinctly different roles and responsibilities. Whereas the MoD is a political/administrative institution, the Defence Staff provides support for the CHOD’ functions as head of the Norwegian Armed Forces.

As part of the apparatus of political control and the administrative system, the Ministry of Defence has three primary functions. First of all it is a government office supporting the Minister of Defence in developing and implementing the national security and defence policy. In this role it also supports the Minister of Defence’s political and constitutional responsibility to the Norwegian Parliament. The second function is to exercise strategic management and corporate governance, as well as development of its four subsidiary agencies of which the Armed Forces military organisation is the largest. (The others being The Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (NDRE), The Norwegian National Security Authority (NoNSA), and The Norwegian Defence Estates Agency (NDEA).) This includes long term planning, production planning/corporate governance, strategic level budgeting, international co-operation on security and defence policy, crisis management, and overall emergency planning. The third function is to support the CHOD in his role as principal military adviser to the Government and the Minister of Defence. The latter function of the MoD is the most characteristic feature of the integrated strategic management model, and perhaps also the most demanding one. It entails for example that civil servants and officers may be tasked to prepare strategic advice on behalf of the CHOD and subsequently assigned to prepare parliamentary documents on the very same topic on behalf of the Minister of Defence. This requires a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities as well as the integrated strategic management model not only on the part of the political, military and administrative executives, but also on the part of the civil servants.

On behalf of the CHOD, the Defence Staff bears responsibility for executing tasks and ensuring that plans, budgets and decisions handed down by the MoD and CHOD are fully implemented. It is thus the task of the Defence Staff to augment CHOD’s capacity for overall prioritisation, management and follow-up of defence activities. The Defence Staff is also responsible for central support functions such as overall personnel administration of the Armed Forces.

While the Ministry has the strategic responsibility and the Defence Staff has the executing responsibility, their co-location and corresponding organisational units serve to underline the integrated aspects of the model. Each main strategic department of the Ministry has an executing counterpart in the Defence Staff; the Personnel Department of the Defence Staff mirrors the Department and Personnel and General Services of the MoD, the Operations Department of the Defence Staff mirrors the Department of Security Policy of the MoD, etc. This system reflects the integrated management model where strategic processes are initiated and developed in the Ministry, and the implementation is executed by the Defence Staff.

Effects and Achievements

Through review of the implementation process for the integrated strategic management model we have gained some experiences that might prove useful to other countries contemplating similar organisational models. First of all, keeping top management level heavily involved is extremely important to explain the advantages of the new model to the stakeholders. Their commitment and thorough understanding of the model is paramount for a successful implementation and follow-up. Maintaining their commitment once the model is established is equally important as they will be the ones defending the model and its implementation process to the rest of the organisation against possible claims of flaws and shortcomings. In our experience, it is also important to initiate integrated processes around key policy documents and processes. Particularly, it has proved essential to initiate integrated processes between the MoD and the DST related to long term planning, annual budgeting, as well as implementation and reporting processes. With reference to the principle of “learning by doing”, this approach has been an important instrument for creating the required awareness of the new roles of the MoD and the DST among our employees after the establishment of the model. The integrated model is a challenging one, not only for the top management level, but also for the organisation as a whole. By creating integrated processes around core activities at an early stage, we have managed to establish a genuinely integrated model, not merely a co-location.

When looking ahead, there are still some challenges to overcome in our on-going work to refine and enhance the integrated strategic management model. Among other things we are trying to keep focus on the short-term wins in order to gain and retain support of the organisation model in a long-term perspective. We are also working continuously to improve understanding of the model throughout the organisation through different methods of competence building.

Some critics may have feared that merging the different working cultures of the military and the civilian employees might prove difficult, and that their differences in competence and mentality might be a significant obstacle to the successful functioning of an integrated Ministry. However, this concern proved to be largely unfounded and in a remarkably short period of time, good working relations between military and civilian colleagues were established. Our impression is that today, as in 2003, the employees consider the working environment to be a positive and constructive one.  Already in 2004, 95 % of the employees reported that the civilian-military co-operation within the Ministry was good, and more recent surveys also indicate that employees remain pleased with their working environment. Learning each other’s “tribal languages”, so to speak, takes time but we believe the co-operation between military and civilians within the MoD provides positive effects both to the Ministry and the Armed Forces.

After eight years of experience with our integrated strategic management model, we have several positive observations. As intended, the model has improved strategic and overall management of the Armed Forces. By gathering most strategic functions within the MoD we have managed to create a clearer image of where and how strategic decisions are made. This, in turn, has improved the ability of the MoD to direct the Armed Forces. In addition, the degree of overlapping functions has been radically reduced, and the resources spent on central staff elements are equally diminished. The impact of this with regards to the overall modernisation of the Armed Forces should by no means be disregarded.

Over the last couple of decades the increased use of information and communication technology has increased the overall pace of working processes.  This again has contributed to the development of organisational models and working processes that reflect this trend.

Whereas organisations tailored for sequential work processes were feasible in the pre-information technology era, we now need to organise our work in more parallel processes, both to save time and to support quick decisions and action. At the same time, when we decide on how to integrate the organisation to achieve parallel processes, we must also seek to ensure sufficient quality.

In addition, there are some pitfalls associated with increased speed, especially in parallel working processes. Such risk must, however, be evaluated against the alternative, more time-consuming sequential processes that may ultimately deliver a better output, but perhaps too late. An essential part of a crisis and conflict response, is being able to react quickly, and preferably quicker than the opposing party. The notion of being out-cycled, is a well described concern in military theory which we believe can be avoided in the future through the integrated MoD model. Keeping up with the pace of working processes, in addition to increasing the consistency in the strategic communication throughout the Defence Sector, has proved easier to accomplish within a model with closer organisational proximity between the Minister of Defence and the CHOD.

The fact that the CHOD is an integral part of the Ministry apparatus has had the important consequence that military and political views are brought together at an earlier stage in the decision-making processes. In his role as the principal military adviser to the Minister of Defence the CHOD is able to draw on resources in both the MoD and the DST to prepare his viewpoints and advise to the political leadership.  Moreover, the in-house presence of comprehensive military experience contributes to enhance the quality of the production and decision-making of the MoD. Some critics of the integrated strategic management model have claimed that the integration of the CHOD into the MoD has reduced his independence as head of the Armed Forces, and that in some cases his hands are tied due to the organisational proximity to the Minister of Defence. If we return to one of the initial questions of this article on whether a strong democratic political control of the Armed Forces to some extent supersedes the professional military directing of the Armed Forces, it is quite reasonable to argue that it does not. On the contrary, one could argue that in our present organisational model the CHOD’s opportunities to influence political decisions are considerably wider than in the pre-integration era before 2003. Not only is he located close to and communicates on a day-to-day basis with the Minister of Defence.  The integrated strategic management model also provides him the advantage of interacting with a Ministry whose understanding of military issues is enhanced due to the presence of military personnel within the organisation.

From this perspective, and from a political point of view, the integrated strategic management model seems much more expedient both with regard to strategic direction of the Armed Forces and the CHOD’s possibilities to influence political decision-making. An integrated Ministry of Defence is also of great value when handling security challenges abroad and at home. In modern operations military forces and capabilities must be coordinated and utilised in a comprehensive manner. Military force, together with diplomacy and other security policy tools, must be orchestrated as a complete package to make it possible to reach given objectives. In our experience, an integrated model is by far the best way of organising coordination of our available security policy tools.

Due to its inherent challenges both from a military, civilian and political perspective, there is considerable discussion on the various pros and cons of the model. From both an internal and external point of view, however, it should be emphasised that the integrated model is the best tool we have to overcome any perceived notions of inconsistency between democratic political and military control of the Armed Forces. In our experience it provides an opportunity to combine the best of both political and military considerations in the leadership of the Armed Forces.


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