The Norway terror: What could have been done better?


It has been a month today since the horrible events in the government quarter of Oslo and on Utøya. Last evening a memorial service was held in the Oslo Spektrum featuring addresses by King Harald and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, and a reading of the names, with displayed pictures, of all the victims. It was indeed an impressive and solemn occasion, the last, perhaps, of such major gatherings of the sad and the bereaved, at least for awhile.

The question now turns from the many hand-wringing analyses to the serious inquiry about what went so terribly — literally — wrong that otherwise beautiful summer day in Norway. The Prime Minister has appointed a high-level commission to investigate this very question, and hopefully through careful deliberations it will come to a resolution.

This observer has but one simple thought to advance, an idea which has not been given any currency in the press, at least insofar as I have seen. My thought is that the frequent criticism of the police services for not responding to Utøya more quickly than an hour and a half is misplaced.

The mission of police is to preserve civil order. The police are not a para-military force, even in the SWAT teams of their various incarnations. The rules of engagement for police against a miscreant are simple. Detain or arrest the suspect and read him his rights. Use force, especially deadly force, only when necessary, and only sufficiently, to protect against bodily harm.

The rules of engagement for the military are different. The military has the duty to find an enemy combatant on the field of battle, and kill him. Think now of the bomb blast in the government quarter of Norway’s capital city. Clearly, and immediately, this is identified as an attack on the state. And an attack on the state requires not a police response, but a military response. If the military had been placed on full alert at that time, with primary, not secondary authority to defend the state, the whole scenario could have played out differently when the attack proceeded to Utøya. Instead of seeing the overloaded police response team almost sinking their small rubber boat on the way to the island we would have seen much sooner attack helicopters on target and troop carriers inserting platoons of marines to search and destroy the enemy. This could have resulted in the prevention of loss of innocent life. It surely would have resulted in the death of Mr. Breivik, but, then again, who cares?

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