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Foreign Relations

For small countries like Norway, international law, binding people-to-people cooperation and strong multilateral institutions are essential for equal participation in the international community. Norway emphasizes international issues and conflicts should be resolved at a multilateral level and in accordance with international law. Norway supports international cooperation and the peaceful settlement of disputes, recognizing the need for maintaining national defense through collective security. Accordingly, the cornerstones of Norwegian policy are active membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and support for the United Nations and its specialized agencies. Norway also pursues a policy of economic, social, and cultural cooperation with other Nordic countries--Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland--through the Nordic Council and bilaterally.

In addition to strengthening traditional ties with developed countries, Norway seeks to build friendly relations with developing countries and has undertaken humanitarian and development aid efforts with selected African and Asian nations. Norway also is dedicated to encouraging democracy, assisting refugees, promoting a global response to climate change and protecting human rights throughout the world.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and subsequent crumbling of Russian military power have fundamentally altered Russia's significance to the US. Now a major Euro-Asian power, Russia has gone from being the global rival and opponent of the U.S. to a cooperative partner in many contexts. Russia has resumed its military activities in areas adjacent to Norway's borders. Even though Norway may not see this as a threat directed towards Norway, Norway has to follow developments closely. Norway's situation from a security policy standpoint is affected to a large degree by developments in Russia. That is why it is so important to strengthen cooperation with Russia in areas including defence. At the same time Norway must allow for the possibility that situations may arise in which there are conflicting interests. Norway must therefore continue to uphold its sovereignty and take very seriously the exercise of authority and responsibility for areas under Norway's jurisdiction.

Norway's foreign policy traditionally stressed transatlantic ties (including close relations to the U.S. and maintaining a seat in the "inner circle" of NATO), an emphasis on the UN and other international organizations, a generous development program and close, but not too close, cooperation with the EU and other Nordic nations. This policy consensus remained, under both Labor and Conservative governments, until the election in October of 2005.

The new governmtn (a coalition of the Labor, Center and Socialist Left Parties elected in the fall of 2005) quickly set out to distinguish itself from past foreign policy, immediately withdrawing Norway's small presence in Iraq and shifting Norwegians in Afghanistan out of OEF. Shortly afterwards, the Finance Minister's proposed (and later dropped) boycott of Israel signaled a major ideological shift. This shift in foreign policy has several causes, including the influence of the Socialist Left party on the coalition (an anti-NATO, anti-US, anti-EU party) and the need to adjust to Norway's extreme wealth and corresponding global sovereign interests. Norway's wealth provided the means to conduct an active foreign policy and also triggers a desire in many Norwegians to use this wealth responsibly, to solve problems.

The government's Russia policy was characterized by a consistent stress on the positive and a reluctance to criticize even the most blatant of Russia actions. This stemmed from Norway's focus on the High North, its desire to increase economic ties with Russia, continued unsettled relations with Russia over Svalbard and over the maritime boundary in the Barents, and its reluctance to be seen as joining US criticisms of Russia. Russian threats to allies over missile defense, aggressive behavior against Estonia and Georgia, and unhelpfulness on Kosovo all received no public comments from the government.

The location of the line between criticism of Israeli policy and anti-Semitism was frequently discussed in the media. During January 2009 both a former prime minister and a high-profile commentator on foreign policy were accused of making anti-Semitic comments. Their statements, which questioned the ability of the United States to be objective in its Middle East policy because of high-ranking Jews in the U.S. government, were criticized as blurring the line between being Jewish and support for Israeli government policy. In mid-January, a first secretary at the country's embassy in Saudi Arabia used a government system to e-mail a chain message with images likening Israeli soldiers to soldiers of Nazi Germany. Some politicians urged the government to fire the employee; the government did not release information on whether it took disciplinary action, citing privacy rules.

Since Norway stands outside the EU, it has been interested in promoting other European organs of co-operation in which it has full membership, first and foremost the OSCE. The Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) was established in the 1970s as a forum for dialogue and co-operation across the east-west divide. In the 1990s it shed this designation, changing its name to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in 1995.

Norway has made an active contribution to building up this "new" organisation, not least during its period of OSCE chairmanship in 1999. The organisation's focus on human rights, the principles of the constitutional state and democratic rules have harmonized well with Norwegian foreign policy at the close of the 20th century. Norway has also given its support to the OSCE's conflict-prevention operations and the development of crisis handling capacity.

The OSCE's attempt to become a central arena for the formulation of a new European security architecture after the Cold War appealed to the EU sceptics in Norway. Despite broad agreement that the OSCE must play a central role in developing new patterns of co-operation, it gradually became clear that other organisations would be more important in the context of safeguarding security on the European Continent. The Norwegian authorities have therefore given priority to establishing a sensible division of tasks between the OSCE, the UN and other regional and transatlantic organizations.

Parallel to the ongoing work of creating a more just world trade, Norway has tried to contribute towards evening out some of the inequalities of the present system through an active policy of development aid. In an international context it has distinguished itself through its considerable contributions to development and relief aid. Norway is one of the major contributors to the United Nations Development Programme. (UNDP), the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and international aid for refugees. Furthermore, Norway has worked through other national and international organisations and through bilateral aid to selected main co-operation countries (12 in all, mostly African).

The goal of Norwegian development aid has been to contribute towards making lasting improvements in the economic, social and political conditions of developing countries. Another constant goal has been to promote basic social and economic human rights. The work of improving international protection of the individual and the rights of vulnerable groups (including refugees) has been of major importance. At the end of the 1990s, the establishment of democracy and support for peace processes has assumed an increasingly central position.

The Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish Foreign Ministers have begun regular meetings. One was held in Bodo (the location of Norway's Northern command center) on 10 October 2007. Norway briefed that Russian bombers flying just outside Norwegian air space simulated what appeared to be a cruise missile attack on Bodo the day of the Nordic Minister's meeting. Increased defense cooperation with Sweden is welcome by Norway as it sees Sweden and Finland as countries with experience in the North (read with Russia) who share the same rough political ideology. In particular the anti-NATO Socialist Left (SV) strongly supports closer defense ties to Sweden, which in their view could weaken NATO ties.

On the opposite side of the political spectrum the conservative Progress Party also welcomes increased ties with Sweden based on the belief that security cooperation would strengthen Norway's territorial defense. It is clear that relations with Russia form a substantial rationale for increased Nordic cooperation along with the publicly stated goal of increased savings on military purchases. Increased Nordic cooperation is easier now because Sweden and Finland are close partners with NATO, so this initiative brings others closer to NATO rather than drawing Norway away.

After the US withdrew its presence at the Keflavik airbase, the Icelanders asked Norway and other NATO allies for help in providing air surveillance. Norway was willing to cooperate and signed a security agreement with Iceland committing them to hold joint exercises on Iceland annually and to help monitor the busy sea-lanes off Iceland,s coast. The first joint exercise under this new agreement, named Northern Viking, was held in 2007 and included U.S., Norwegian, and Danish forces. Despite some Icelandic claims that Norway has now taken over responsibility for the defense of Iceland, the Norwegian agreement was very clear in restricting its role with Iceland to peacetime operations, including joint exercises and training and periodic visits by Norwegian forces to Iceland. It specifically does not include security guarantees or basing arrangements.

Voters across Norway casting ballots 09 September 2013 in a parliamentary election that led to a center-right victory, which could lead to stricter anti-immigration laws. Prime Minister Erna Solberg inaugural address to the Storting 18 October 2013 stated:

"The Government will base its policy on international law, international solidarity and universal human rights. Norway has a duty to combat need and poverty in other parts of the world. The Government will maintain a high level of aid. At the same time, the Government will make some changes to development policy. Foreign policy, climate policy and trade policy must all pull in the same direction as development policy. There will be greater emphasis on geographical and thematic concentration and on achieving results. The success of development policy must be measured first and foremost in terms of the real development achieved. Democracy, the rule of law and human rights will be at the core of the Government’s foreign and development policy.

The Government will strengthen and modernise the armed forces to ensure that they remain able to fulfil national tasks as well as make a useful contribution to international cooperation on peace and security. The Government will base its policy on binding international cooperation. Norway will play an active part in the UN, NATO and other international organisations. In terms of shared interests and values, Norway will continue to be closest to the Atlantic, European and Nordic communities. The Government will strengthen efforts to safeguard Norwegian interests in relation to the EU. The EEA Agreement and Norway’s other agreements with the EU will form the framework for our European policy.

"Our High North policy will seek to promote activity and settlement in the north. Focus on business and infrastructure development will be important in this connection. Norwegian interests will be safeguarded through a clear national presence, and in accordance with the law of the sea. The Government will further develop cooperation with Russia and the other Arctic states. The Government will work to promote sustainable management of natural resources in the north. Pollution preparedness and response and search and rescue capabilities are to be strengthened."

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Page last modified: 27-08-2016 15:34:58 ZULU