Norway – a Nation of Peace? Part II

Norway – a Nation of Peace? Part II

5: The Norwegian model

The ideology and organizations have thus been in place for some time, but it was the end of the Cold War that partly made Norwegian peace activism possible, and partly made it more attractive to find new ways to mark Norway’s role in the world. Already in the last years of the Cold War, Jan Egeland had argued that small states had better conditions for conducting human rights work than great powers did, and from the early 1990s this «Norwegian model» was applied and developed through Norwegian peace engagement. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself understands it in 2007, after almost two decades of experience, this model is characterized by these main points:

  • Willingness to assist over a long period of time, based on long-termism based on broad Norwegian consensus agreement. Also: willingness to talk to all parties to a conflict.
  • Resources to assist, both with significant sums and a high degree of flexibility. Opportunity for long-term help through aid transfers.
  • Close cooperation between the state and the Norwegian voluntary organizations. The NGOs have often mediated the first contacts.
  • Experience with peace processes, coupled with an awareness that each process has its own characteristics – it is unique.
  • Good relations with key international actors, as well as international credibility through involvement in the UN and aid work.
  • Absence of colonial past and self-interests in conflict areas.
  • A role that facilitates rather than mediates, where the final responsibility lies with the parties themselves.

According to, the first years of the 1990s were marked by enthusiasm for rapid positive results and an extensive belief in the model’s possibilities. Over time, the picture has become more nuanced. The lesson is that peace work takes time , and that each conflict and peace process must be understood on its own terms. As the first storming enthusiasm subsided, and especially after the international situation became less stable after 11.09.01, many have felt a greater need to legitimize the peace work.

6: Ideal politics and realpolitik

However, it is not a given that peace work needs any further legitimation in Norway. The vast majority of the population seems to see the peace commitments as positive. Of the political parties, SV, large parts of DNA, Venstre and KrF have been fundamentally positive. To many, it seems to agree with what we might call idealistic or altruistic motives – for shame’s sake we cannot distance ourselves from human suffering even if it takes place far away.

In parallel with idealism, however, a realpolitik way of thinking has run from the years around 1900 – if there is peace in the world, Norway will also live in peace. Peace work can thus be interpreted as a form of help for self-help, or as a security policy. Where peace activists have long feared that Norway would be drawn into armed conflict, and experience war on its own soil, it is currently primarily the chaos problem that is pressing: War and conflict lead to refugee flows , instability and potentially lawless states.

These factors in turn facilitate the smuggling of weapons, drugs and people, corruption, organized crime and potentially terrorism. In a globalizing world , local conflicts quickly become global problems, as the controversy over the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad illustrated in the winter of 2005-06.

Given that Norwegian security policy interests as a small state are considered to be best secured through the strengthening of the international legal order, predictability and clear “driving rules”, peace activism can very well be considered as part of the general security policy. Such a connection was made by Gahr Støre in his peace speech in March 2006. Such a connection is also what has made it possible to present the armed engagement in Afghanistan as a peace operation.

In recent years, there has also been another realpolitik component in the peace argument. As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs itself states on its website: “Our commitment has given a positive reputation that we have been able to draw on in other political contexts as well.” When the Conservative Party in the previous Storting period embraced the peace commitment, it must probably to some extent be understood on the basis of this type of interest-political considerations .

Now, however, we should not overestimate the reputation. In an international survey (2005), hardly any of the respondents saw Norway as a country that «shares its resources with others through humanitarian activity and peace work». However, the annual awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize is a clear example of a repeated global link between Norway and peace, which has an impact also among most people, at least in the Peace Prize winners’ home countries.

It is also the case that the foreign policy elites around the world are fully aware of Norway’s commitments, and that the reputation can thus play a role in the opportunities to get other issues on the agenda – to be listened to in other contexts. At the same time, it is not a given that the transfer value from peace commitment to the promotion of financial self-interest is somewhat further large – there is a limit to how much salmon we can sell on the basis of our efforts as a peace broker.

7: Norway – a great humanitarian power?

The Foreign Minister has stated that he will never refer to Norway as a “humanitarian superpower”. He probably does it wisely. Such a description carries a complacency that is hardly appropriate to achieve good results. Where great powers inevitably have their own interests, Norway tries to market itself as free of such in its commitment to peace.

There is probably also a tendency for Norwegians to overestimate Norway’s role as facilitator and mediator, and how Norwegian involvement is perceived in the outside world, and thus Norway sees itself as more of a «great power» than the other does. Now, however, it should be added that Norway, through a high level of activity and large economic contributions to the world community, stands out far stronger than the population size would suggest. Norway is ranked around 120th on the list of countries in the world when they are ranked by population size.

In December 2006, political scientist Øyvind Østerud criticized the Norwegian commitment to peace and development assistance when he claimed that the effort was more important for Norwegians’ self-image than for development in the world. On one level, he is right that the peace tradition has been and is a tradition for internal use . It perpetuates and nurtures our self-image. However, this is not a negative in itself. In the larger picture, peace policy is realpolitik effective if it helps to keep Norway and Norwegian views relevant in international fora, and if it contributes to reduced levels of tension internationally. Ideally, it is effective from the moment it contributes to the survival of people, who would otherwise have been killed in armed conflict.

And finally, it is worth stopping and wondering what else a nation with just under 5 million inhabitants, which has the world’s second highest GDP per capita, would otherwise have aimed for in its foreign policy. Norwegian peace policy alone can not save the world, but it helps push the world in the right direction.

Norwegian ISAF soldiers