norway army women
© AFP 2017/ Kyrre Lien
As the percentage of women in the Norwegian Armed Forces is steadily rising as a result of a campaign for gender equality, questions have been raised about the combat efficiency of the Scandinavian country's defenses.

Norway became the first European nation to introduce universal conscription in the name of gender equality, which is still met with various reactions. The crusade to make the army more gender-inclusive is "perfectly fine," but then it is only natural to accept the fact that the nation's fighting ability is falling, Colonel Lieutenant Harald Høiback argued.

"Armed combat and military actions are an activity very demanding in terms of power and stamina. It can imply returning fire for a few hours from a covered position. A unit's combat ability is therefore projected to decline even when well-trained women are being recruited at the expense of well-trained men," Harald Høiback wrote in a comment in the Armed Forces Forum.

In a comment to national broadcaster NRK, Høiback stressed that he personally is in favor of women in the armed forces, even though diversity issues come at the cost of decreased combat effectiveness.

"All in all, having women in the vanguard has been an impossibility in all societies and at all times. I believe there are good reasons for it," Harald Høiback told NRK.

Høiback stressed the fact that boys on average are stronger and faster, which is why historically there has been few women in combat units.

"If you spend more time and effort recruiting women into combat units, you can run into situations, where women are not strong enough to get their fellow soldier out of a burning tank or onto the deck of a frigate or something," Høiback said.

Needless to say, Høiback's view was immediately challenged by fellow defense officials, as Norway has taken systematic efforts to boost the percentage of ladies in the Armed Forces under former Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide.

Researcher Nina Rones at the Norwegian Defense Research Institute (FFI) argued that Høiback's reasoning was largely based on myths.

"It's not all about physique alone. Both organization and communication equipment are important in combat. Nor is it true that men have advantages over women in all bodily areas. Regarding so-called 'ultra stamina,' there is a lot of research showing that women are actually doing better than men," Rones said, adding that women are equally good or even better when it comes to shooting.

According to Rones, the debate around women in the armed forces and physical differences with male soldiers is often ruled by emotions.

"In reality, combat situations are not about pure physique alone. It's about understanding the situation, being able to orient, team-work and handling weapons. And this is something where women are equally good," Rones said, stressing that admission requirements for special mission units are the same for men and women.

Norwegian ladies have been able to volunteer for military service for decades. In 2016, when conscription was extended to Norwegian women, they made up about 25 percent of the 8,000 youngsters recruited. At present, the overall percentage of women in uniform is about 17 percent, but is gradually creeping upwards. Four of the country's last six defense ministers were women.

​The Norwegian Armed Forces number about 23,000 personnel, including civilian employees, and have a full-mobilization combat strength of about 83,000.