1905-1939 - Indepedent Norway
As Norway is a barren and mountainous country, there is little opportunity for agriculture. The arable soil is found in comparatively narrow strips, gathered in deep and narrow valleys and around fjords and lakes. Large continuous tracts fit for cultivation do not exist. The forests and the fisheries were the two chief natural sources of wealth. Though the country lacked coal and was dependent entirely on imported supplies, it possessed an enormous amount of water power, which produced motive power for manufacturing industry. The chief manufacturing use of this power was for the production of pulp and paper and of electrochemical products, which were important Norwegian industries.
Following the subsidence of the excitement attending the separation from Sweden in 1905 the party alignments of earlier days tended rapidly to reappear. The old issues, however, had been disposed of, and in their place sprang up new ones, largely social and economic in character. At the elections of 1906 the subjects to which the Liberals gave most prominence were female suffrage, old age pensions, and sickness and unemployment insurance. The Michelsen government, which was essentially Conservative, issued a moderate reform programme and, alleging that former party lines were obsolete, called upon the citizens of all classes for support. The elections were notable chiefly by reason of the fact that the Social Democrats increased their quota in the Storthing to eleven. Despite attacks of the more radical Left, the Michelsen cabinet stood firm until October 28, 1907, when the premier, by reason of ill health, was obliged to retire. Lovland, the minister of foreign affairs, succeeded; but, March 14, 1908, on a vote of want of confidence, his ministry was overthrown. A new cabinet was made up thereupon by the Liberal leader, Gunnar Knudsen.
At the elections of 1909-the first in which women participated-this Liberal government lost the slender majority which it had possessed, and January 27, 1910, it resigned. Prior to the elections there were in the Storthing fifty-nine Liberals, fifty-four Conservatives and Moderates, and ten Social Democrats. Afterwards there were sixty-three Conservatives and Moderates, forty-seven Liberals, eleven Social Democrats, and two Independents. The popular vote of the Social Democrats was much in excess of that at any former election, but it was so distributed that the party realized from it but a single additional legislative seat. Upon the resignation of Knudsen the premiership was offered to Michelsen, whose health, however, precluded his accepting it. February 1, 1910, a ConservativeModerate ministry was made up by Konow. February 19, 1912, it was succeeded by another ministry of the same type, under the premiership of the former president of the Storthing, Bratlie. At the elections of November 12, 1912, the Government lost heavily to the Liberals and to the Social Democrats.
After 1905, the popular conception in Norway was that the country was not vulnerable from a military viewpoint.In keeping with the prevailing isolationist tendency at the time, Norway strove to keep its distance from the grim realities of big power politics. The country's defence and foreign policies were built around a basis of non-alliance in peace combined with neutrality in war. At the same time, Britain was seen as a guarantor of Norwegian independence. This bond with Britain was of an implicit nature. It did not harmonize well with the official doctrine of non-alignment and neutrality, but provided an alternative strategy to fall back on.
During the Great War Norway attempted to maintain an impartial policy of neutrality. But its interests as a leading shipping nation put this policy to a hard test. In practice Norway became in the end a "neutral ally" of the Entente Powers. .When it came to choosing sides, this rapprochement to the western powers was not only a reflection of realpolitik , but also of Norway's preferences - both ideological and economic.
In Norway, as in Europe otherwise, the interwar years were marked by social and economic conflict and political fragmentation. The liberal state and the parliamentary system faced challenges from the political left, which was inspired by the Soviet model of society and a political right characterized by nationalist and isolationist tendencies.
Despite the political fragmentation, there was nevertheless considerable support for the goal of making Norway "bigger" in a world context. In 1920, following a Norwegian initiative, an international treaty was negotiated which gave Norway sovereignty over Svalbard, an area covering 62,400 km2, which corresponds to one fifth of the area of mainland Norway. Another consequence of the policy of expansion was Norway's annexation of parts of the Antarctic: Bouvet Island (1928), Peter I Island (1931) and Queen Maud Land (1939). An attempt to annex East Greenland ended however in a humiliating defeat at the Hague Tribunal in 1933.
Norway also actively supported to the setting up of structures to provide collective security. The establishment of the League of Nations in 1920 was regarded as a historical watershed. One special aspect of Norway's involvement in the League of Nations was Fridtjof Nansen's humanitarian aid to prisoners of war, refugees and others in need of help. Through his personal involvement Fridtjof Nansen contributed towards creating a Norwegian tradition of international aid and assistance in emergencies. However, during the 1930s this collective system gradually broke down. Fearing that Norway might unwillingly be drawn into a conflict between the major powers, the national assembly, the Storting, pursued a foreign policy which in practice implied a return to a strict policy of neutrality and isolation.
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