onsdag 21. november 2012

New British army reserve - a model for Norway?

One of the comments I received to my recent article “Verneplikt i fare?” came from Geir Lolleng, CEO of Helmword. His input is based on an article by Kiran Stacey, Political Correspondent in “The Financial Times”, headlining that the British seem to have chosen a somewhat reversed approach to strike a balance between professional and non-professional soldiers in their Army, compared to the Norwegian.

The British Defense Secretary, Philip Hammond, is proposing a measure in order to double the number of reserves, from 15.000 to 30.000, parallel to a cut of one fifth of regular forces over the coming 8 years. These cuts are made in order to balance the defense budget. Mr Hammond is quoted to have said: “This is a radical shift in the role of reservists in delivering the nation’s security --- which will see reservists routinely sharing responsibility for activities once the exclusive domain of regular forces.”. 

Speaking this highly of the reservists is based on a training scheme that is quite formidable. The soldiers of the new Army reserve are to take 40 days a year off work for extra training, posing a tough challenge to employers, who will have to carry the burden of granting two months’ training leave a year to any of their staff serving in the army reserves.

At present, the army calls up reservists one by one to add up to the number required for a certain task, engaging in careful negotiation with employers to have each one freed from work for the period in question. At the end of this decade, however, the army will be relying on entire army units of reserves to provide personnel for certain tasks, even front line operations.

The British government knows this can be managed by large businesses, but also that it will put huge pressure on small and medium-sized companies. Offering a form of finance package as compensation to organizations that are willing to take on more reserve troops, in order to give them credit for doing so, is therefore considered by the Government. The hope is that the scheme will create patriotic employers, but as this effect is not an obvious reaction to the scheme, the Government has not ruled out additional financial incentives, such as tax breaks.
In Norway the approach to striking a better balance between professional and non-professional soldiers in the defense structure is quite the opposite. There is a clear tendency to assess professional soldiers as the only valid soldiers, the only way of gaining a quality good enough to meet the challenges on a “modern battle field”. This is in my opinion a wrong approach, as the annual mass of conscripts will offer an easy way of picking the best of the young men and women, physically and mentally, and after 12 months of training the best motivated could be offered a professional career as soldier, either via military academies to become NCOs and officers or continue as enlisted personnel educated for covering the demand for specialized skills.

I will come back in future articles about how the British model could be applied in some form in the ongoing process in Norway.

Knut Harald Nylænde is a businessman that participates on the public debate in Norway – not at least regarding defense issues. He is investing thorough his investment company, Moxie AS, in a number of areas including innovative growth companies in Norway and abroad.