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Foreign policy address to the Storting 2019

'What is Norwegian foreign policy? Right now, on this Tuesday morning in March 2019?' asked Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide in her address to the Storting.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Eriksen Søreide. Credit: stortinget.no
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Eriksen Søreide, gives her foreign policy address to the Storting. Credit: stortinget.no

Madam President,

What is Norwegian foreign policy?

Right now, on this Tuesday morning in March 2019?

Our embassy in Accra is helping a Norwegian company to gain a foothold in the Ghanaian market.

In Brussels, our NATO Ambassador is giving a brief on vessel movements in the Atlantic Ocean.

In a refugee camp in northern Jordan, a humanitarian organisation supported by Norway is distributing emergency aid to Syrian refugees.

In New Delhi, visa applications are being processed for an Indian film production company that is coming to Western Norway to film a Bollywood movie.

In Copenhagen, our embassy is preparing for a visit from the Storting’s committee on business and industry.

And in Juba, we are contributing to the implementation of a peace agreement.

Thousands of tasks like these – both big and small – make up Norway’s foreign policy.

Many have their own dynamics, and are set in motion by factors ranging from obligations to our allies undertaken several decades ago to budget decisions made here in the Storting in December.

The sum of these individual actions – especially over time – demonstrates the values Norway stands for. 

It is through these actions that we show where Norway stands and how we think the world should develop.

***

In recent years, international politics has become more turbulent and unpredictable.

The seas are stormier. Visibility is poorer. Nevertheless, we can glimpse the contours of classic great power politics.

At the same time, we should not underestimate the huge progress the world has seen in the last decades.

At regular intervals, there is a debate about whether it is progress that defines our era, or whether the current turbulence is so great and so persistent that it is this that is the big story of our time. 

The answer, of course, is that the picture is complex and that there is room in the world for several megatrends at once.

The progress we have seen in recent decades is unquestionable.

Over the last 30 years, there has been a huge increase in global value creation. More than a billion people have worked their way out of poverty. Living standards have increased dramatically, especially in Asia.

Child mortality rates have fallen significantly. More people enjoy better health. An increasing number of children – and more and more girls – go to school.

And new technology continues to bring new improvements to our daily lives, opening up new opportunities and connecting people in new ways.

***

At the same time, we must acknowledge that the world today – in 2019 – is not the same place as it was 25 years ago, or even five years ago.

I believe the unease we are feeling today can to some extent be explained by the great optimism of the 1990s.

Then, many of us thought that democracy and human rights, freedom and free trade would continue to spread around the world, almost of their own accord.

There are few who think that now.

Today, human rights are under pressure on every continent, including our own. In several countries, democracy and the rule of law are being undermined while authoritarianism is on the rise.

There is a trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.

Economic globalisation has brought enormous gains, but too many people have done too little for those who have not reaped the benefits of this economic growth.

The rise of populism has led to unexpected policy changes in several countries.

The impacts of climate change are increasing.

More than 65 million people have been forced to flee their homes. Most of these will remain displaced within their own country or will migrate to a neighbouring country, but many may seek to reach Europe.

Although, over many years there had been a steady decline in the number of armed conflicts, recently there has been a slight increase.

Digitalisation is becoming increasingly important for key societal functions, from healthcare to transport, but it also creates new vulnerabilities, including for national security.

These developments are unfolding against a backdrop of changes in the global balance of power and weakening international cooperation.

Power is shifting, from west to east, and primarily to Asia. It may well be that the longest chapter in the history books about our time will be about the rise of China.

This shift in global power will affect almost every area of foreign policy – both now and in the decades to come.

Our continent’s closest ally, the US, is increasingly confrontational in its dealings with a rapidly advancing China. Even with our strong transatlantic ties, growing tensions between the US and China will be difficult for Norway and other European countries to handle.

There is greater scepticism about the value of international cooperation, even among Norway’s key allies. The international framework that has been built up since 1945 has turned out to be less robust than we once thought.

The liberal world order had been gaining strength for some time, but is now being challenged, partly because countries with different values are gaining more influence. 

Looking back through history, we see that shifts in the global balance of power have rarely taken place peacefully. Friction is unavoidable. But history also shows that diplomacy and new ideas and initiatives make a difference and influence the course of events.

And, at a time when the world is becoming more unstable, we are also facing major global problems that no country can solve alone.

All this places greater demands on our foreign policy. 

***

It is often said that the main principles of Norwegian foreign policy do not change.

One of these principles – and one that has broad support in the Storting – is to work for a better organised world. It is precisely this, En bedre organisert verden, that is the title of a book written by one of my predecessors – Knut Frydenlund.

The UN. NATO. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The OSCE and the Council of Europe. The World Trade Organization. The International Criminal Court.

These organisations – and I could have mentioned others – are more than just organisations that we belong to. Norway was a founding member of all of them.

Norway has not stood by as a passive observer while the rules-based world order has been developed. We have been – and still are – an active participant in the efforts to create and further develop it. 

We have done so because this is in Norway’s interests.

We have done so because right should prevail over might.

We have done so because a common set of rules makes the world more stable and predictable, and this is in the interests of all countries – both big and small – in the long run.

***

Binding international cooperation is under pressure today.

In virtually all areas of importance to Norway, we depend on cooperation with other countries. This will be a main theme in this foreign policy address.

Later this spring, the Government will present a white paper on Norway’s role and interests in the multilateral system. 

The Minister of International Development plans to give a separate address to the Storting on international development policy.

***

Madam President,

The UN is the most important arena for developing international rules and norms.

The SDGs are concrete goals for governments all over the world to work towards.

2019 is the year that the UN Secretary-General’s reforms are to be implemented. Taken together, these are perhaps the most far-reaching reforms in the history of the UN. Norway supports the reforms, both politically and financially, and we will play an active part in the implementation phase.

We are a long-term partner in UN peacekeeping operations. We are currently contributing to four operations. Among other things, we will increase our contribution to the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) this spring, by providing a military transport aircraft.

The implementation of the Global Compact for Migration is to be negotiated in New York in the time ahead. The Government’s position is based on our explanation of vote on the Compact. It is important to underline that the Compact is not legally binding.

We have taken the initiative to promote closer cooperation between Nordic and African countries on strengthening the UN.

***

We are now intensifying our campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council for 2021-2022.

Our campaign is on track, but we face strong competition from Canada and Ireland for the two available seats in the Western European and Others Group. The election will be held in June 2020.

Norway is seeking membership of the Council to promote both national and global interests.

We will promote international law and the multilateral order, which are vital for Norway’s security and sovereignty.

We want to take responsibility, and to strengthen our relations with other countries both within and outside the Council.

It is a key priority for Norway, a small country with an open economy, to ensure that the major powers do not act solely in their own interests, and that fundamental values and norms are not eroded.

Now that the multilateral system is under pressure, it is crucial that we defend the international legal order that has safeguarded our welfare, security and values for several decades.

In today’s turbulent times, the Government believes that Norway should have a seat at the table when international decisions relating to peace and security are being made.

***

As a member of the Security Council, Norway would help to resolve the conflicts on the Council’s agenda through creative, bridge-building diplomacy.

We will draw on our experience of peace and reconciliation processes, and we will promote women’s rights and participation.

We will continue our efforts to address climate-related security challenges, and we will strengthen the UN’s conflict prevention capacity.

Sweden has just completed its term on the Security Council, and has shown that small countries can play a constructive role.

Sweden ensured the go-ahead for humanitarian aid deliveries across the border to Syria, and secured support for a ceasefire in strategically important areas of Yemen, to mention two examples. 

In recent years, the ten elected members have made good use of their position on the Council, and have played a more prominent role. Norway will do the same.

Now, 20 years since Norway last had a seat on the Security Council, we should once again take on our share of international responsibility.

***

Madam President,

Perhaps the best way to explain the advantages of international cooperation is to look at our defence alliance.

An attack on one is an attack on all.

This is the essence of NATO, and the essence of Article 5. 

Being part of a community like NATO makes us stronger. Our country is more secure. This cooperation depends on us making commitments that go beyond our immediate national interests.

***

Madam President,

Since 2014, NATO has implemented major reforms. As a result, NATO is now better equipped to fulfil its most important task: collective defence of Alliance territory.

Russia’s use of force in violation of international law has undermined European security. But in NATO it has led to a greater willingness to prioritise defence and to a greater emphasis on collective deterrence and defence.

There is a strong community of shared interests in NATO. The community of shared values is today under strain. These tensions, however, are nothing new.

Ever since it was established in 1949, the Alliance has, at regular intervals, had to deal with political differences – at times deep political differences – between members.

What is most important is that, even in periods such as these, NATO has been able to focus on its core tasks and respond to threats against its member states in a credible way.

To maintain its cohesion, it is important that NATO continues to be able to fulfil all three of its core tasks: collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security.

This means that it needs to strike a balance between addressing new and traditional threats on the one hand, and responding to challenges in different geographical areas on the other.

Norway has long advocated that NATO should focus more on its core task of collective defence.

The decisions taken at the 2018 summit to adapt and strengthen NATO’s command structure and reinforce its maritime posture stemmed from a Norwegian initiative. These reforms will strengthen the Alliance, particularly in the North Atlantic, an area of great importance to us.

Norway also attaches importance to taking part in NATO operations to tackle challenges in other areas, such as Afghanistan, because challenges elsewhere can also affect our own security.

The US is insisting that European Allies and Canada contribute more to our common security. This is not unreasonable. Since 2014, we have also seen a considerable increase in European investment in security and defence. The trend of falling defence budgets has been reversed in almost all NATO member states. 

It is important that this development is acknowledged. At the same time, defence spending must continue to increase. This is important both for the Alliance’s cohesion and for its defence capabilities.

Norway is following up NATO decisions through its Long-term Defence Plan, and our armed forces have been significantly strengthened in recent years. Our defence budget has increased by 30 % in real terms since 2013.

***

Since the Second World War, no other country has been more important for Norway than the US – our most important ally, the guarantor of NATO’s defence capabilities, and the main architect of a world order based on binding international cooperation.

The title of the memoirs of Dean Acheson, US Secretary of State in the years right after the Second World War, is Present at the Creation.

It is a fitting title, not just because he was present when new international organisations were established, but also because no other country played a more important role in creating a new world order after 1945 than the US.

Political changes in the US today are affecting the country’s foreign policy. The Trump administration is questioning the cost of US leadership and the value of binding cooperation. This is a new and challenging situation.

At the same time, Norway enjoys a very good relationship with the US.

Because the US has, and will continue to have, vital importance for our foreign and security policy. It is therefore in Norway’s interests to cooperate extensively with the US.

The US – like us – is seeing shifts in the global balance of power and growing rivalry between major powers. The emergence of China is an increasingly important strategic challenge. Russia is seeking greater influence in areas where the US and the West are vulnerable. How the US chooses to respond to these developments will be crucial.

We have set clear priorities for our cooperation. Security and defence policy is the top priority. Here, we are seeing not only continuity, but also a deepening of our relationship and greater US engagement. 

Trade and climate change, on the other hand, are areas where we clearly express our disagreement with US policy. Our relationship can withstand frank exchanges of views, and is built on a firm foundation of strong common interests.

Nevertheless, the fact that the US sees less value in international cooperation is cause for concern.

To address global challenges, we need the US – the world’s largest economy and military power – to show more predictable leadership on democratic values, trade and climate change.

***

The US decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty was made after several years of unsuccessful efforts to persuade Russia to comply with its obligations under the Treaty.

Together with our allies, we have urged Russia to respect the Treaty. For more than 30 years, the INF Treaty has played an important part in maintaining stability and security in Europe. It is very unfortunate that the Treaty will now probably be terminated.

Arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation efforts will continue to be vital for our security. We therefore urge the US and Russia to extend the New START treaty beyond 2021.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the cornerstone of international efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. It is also legally binding on the nuclear-weapon states. A prohibition that does not include any of the nuclear-weapon states has no real effect. Disarmament must be balanced, mutual, irreversible and verifiable.

Norway is chair of the UN Group of Governmental Experts on Nuclear Disarmament Verification. This group brings together nuclear-weapon states and countries that support the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons to take joint action in this area.

This autumn, Norway will join the IAEA Board of Governors. The IAEA is one of the most important organisations working to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and radioactive material.

Both national and international cooperation on export control is important in order to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Norway is working actively to strengthen this cooperation.

The situation we are now seeing in Kashmir, where two nuclear powers are involved in a conflict, highlights the need for an effective non-proliferation regime.

The situation has now calmed down somewhat. However, we cannot rule out the possibility of renewed clashes and further escalation.

***

Madam President,

Europe is our continent. This is why we are so engaged in Europe’s development. It is in our interests that the EU works well.

Cooperation with the EU and the EU member states is crucial for our security, welfare and value creation.

The EEA Agreement is our most extensive agreement, and it is vital for Norway to safeguard it.

The EEA Agreement ensures access for Norwegian businesses to a market with more than 500 million people, and is essential for our economic ties with our closest partners.

In 2018, Norway exported seafood at a value of NOK 99 billion, of which seafood exports to the EU amounted to more than NOK 66 billion.

The EU also appreciates the importance of the EEA Agreement for European cooperation. We will therefore celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Agreement’s entry into force together. The Prime Minister and her colleagues from Iceland and Liechtenstein will take part in the anniversary event to be held in connection with the European Council meeting on 22 March.

However, some people believe that Norway would be better served without the EEA Agreement. An ordinary trade agreement, like the one we had prior to 1994, would, they claim, be more than good enough.

It is not that simple.

For example, when the EU introduced safeguard measures on imports of steel from third countries in 2018, Norway was not affected.

There was a simple reason for this: through the EEA Agreement, we are part of the EU’s internal market, and thus closely integrated into the EU economy.

Switzerland, with its free trade agreements, was not exempt from the EU measures. Free trade agreements do not necessarily ensure economic integration.

Besides, it is not just market access that is guaranteed by the EEA Agreement. Without the Agreement, Norwegian citizens and companies would not have had the same rights to travel, work, study and do business throughout the EEA that they have today.

The EEA Agreement also gives us access to labour from other EEA countries.

To safeguard our interests, there must be a balance between rights and duties.

Both Brexit and the EU’s relationship with Switzerland make it clear that it is difficult – if not impossible – to enjoy the advantages of a relationship with the EU without accepting the obligations this entails.

***

Today – on 5 March – it is still unclear what kind of relationship the EU and the UK will have in just 24 days’ time.

There is still a chance that the UK can withdraw from the EU in an orderly way on 29 March with the negotiated package of deals providing a framework for a transition period.

But the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement cannot be ruled out, and in that case there would not be a transition period.

Nor can we rule out the possibility of Brexit being delayed.

***

Norway is preparing for both withdrawal with an agreement and withdrawal without an agreement.

We will continue our preparations along both these tracks until the situation is finally clarified.

If the withdrawal agreement is approved by the UK Parliament, we are prepared. Our agreement with the UK on citizens’ rights and other withdrawal issues has already been drawn up and countersigned, but will not formally enter into force until the UK has left the EU.

Our agreement ensures that the conditions for the EEA/EFTA states will be as similar as possible to those of the EU member states under the withdrawal agreement.

The draft withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK sets out that EU law will continue to apply to the UK for a transition period lasting until the end of 2020.

For Norway, it is important that the provisions of the EEA Agreement and other relevant agreements continue to apply to our relations with the UK during this period.

To ensure that this is the case, the Government submitted a proposition to the Storting on 1 March on the establishment of an equivalent transition period for Norway’s agreements with the EU.

As stated earlier in the Storting’s European Consultative Committee, it is important that the proposition is processed rapidly so that the legislation can enter into force on 29 March.

***

At the same time, we are also preparing for a no-deal outcome. 

Perhaps most important of all is an agreement on safeguarding citizens’ rights. This agreement has already been drawn up and a proposition was submitted to the Storting on 8 February.

We have already reached, or are in the final stages of negotiations on, agreements on a range of areas such as aviation, maritime and road transport, and trade in goods. 

The EU, for its part, has been developing preparedness measures with a view to reducing the consequences of a no-deal Brexit. Some of these measures will be EEA relevant.

As Brexit draws closer, both individual citizens and companies have an increasing need for information.

We are updating the information on the Government’s website on an ongoing basis, and are maintaining close contact with the social partners to ensure the information is adequate.

***

Madam President,

Brexit is showing us how complicated it is to break up a relationship that has developed over several decades.

We are now seeing cracks developing in what had been a stable international trade regime.

Trade barriers are being put up, confrontation is colouring key trade relationships, and there is growing distrust of the WTO. 

For Norwegian interests, for Norwegian businesses, and for stability and cooperation in general, these developments give cause for concern.

We need to look more closely at the reasons why the global trade rules are being challenged, and not just label these developments as ‘protectionism’.

The economic world order that we have benefited so much from is based on three pillars:

  • Firstly, a belief in the value of binding international cooperation
  • Secondly, a belief in the value of trade and open markets.
  • Thirdly, acceptance of the need for a division of responsibility between countries, and confidence that parties to agreements will fulfil their obligations.

When it comes to the first pillar, belief in binding international cooperation, Norway speaks out clearly in support of maintaining and further strengthening this cooperation.

It is therefore very positive that 76 of the members of the WTO, including the US and China, are now entering into negotiations on e-commerce with a view to updating the rules for a new era.

However, the fact that the WTO could find itself without an effective dispute settlement system at the end of the year, unless a solution is found for appointing new members to the WTO Appellate Body, is a serious concern.  

When it comes to the second pillar, belief in the value of open markets, it is my impression that the belief is still there, but that support for open markets is more cautious.

Globalisation will meet resistance if people feel that it only benefits the few. The answer is to build well-regulated societies with safety nets, not to put up barriers against the rest of the world.

The crucial factor for trade reform, however, is the third pillar: the need to find a new division of responsibility that reflects today’s economic reality.

We must demand more of major emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil, which have previously been able to claim special treatment on the same lines as smaller and poorer developing countries.

We need to talk less about what category a country belongs to, and more about what each country can contribute.

Norway is working with 12 other WTO members to strengthen and modernise the WTO. Norway has been given responsibility for facilitating a constructive dialogue on how developing countries’ interests can be safeguarded in the reforms that will inevitably come. In cases where it is not possible to make progress on a multilateral approach, we should also be willing to consider plurilateral agreements that are open for all countries to join.

We need to find new compromises and a new balance point if we are to maintain the rules-based multilateral trading system. This means that we have to be willing to accept changes and reform.

In parallel with this work, the Government will continue its efforts to negotiate free trade agreements to ensure better market access and greater predictability for our business sector.

***

The overriding aim of Norway’s Russia policy is to maintain peace, stability and predictability. 

Norway and Russia have a long tradition of cooperation in areas of mutual interest such as environmental protection, fisheries management, nuclear safety and security, coast guard and border control activities, search and rescue, and not least people-to people cooperation. Through a new joint initiative, we are now also developing collaboration on combating marine litter in the Barents Sea.

In 2018, we signed a new border agreement with Russia. A clearly defined border is important, not least for the local population who travel in the border areas. As a result of the agreement, the border is now two kilometres longer, making Norway’s border with Russia 198 kilometres long. 

Meetings at ministerial level of three of four of the bilateral commissions were held in autumn 2018. A fourth meeting – of the Joint Norwegian-Russian Environmental Commission – was held in February. A total of 11 meetings at political level were held in the autumn, including between Prime Minister Solberg and Prime Minister Medvedev, and between Foreign Minister Lavrov and myself.

Norway will take over the chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council in October. We will use our term as chair to work to build a strong and sustainable Barents region.

I also look forward to celebrating the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Finnmark the same month. I have invited the Russian Foreign Minister to attend the commemoration of this important event.

The Prime Minister and I are planning to participate in the International Arctic Forum in St Petersburg in April. 

Cooperation with Russia, based on international law, is essential for maintaining stability in our neighbouring areas. That is why our close cooperation with Russia in regional multilateral forums, such as the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council, is so important.

Regional cooperation in the north is a key part of our Arctic policy, and this region is Norway’s most important area of strategic responsibility. In autumn 2020, the Government will present a new white paper on the Arctic. Regional and cross-border cooperation will continue to be an important component of our policy.

However, at present, relations between Russia and the West, including Norway, are strained.

In recent years, the Russian authorities have shown a greater willingness to take risks and have adopted a more assertive stance towards our allies. We have seen a number of serious cases of the use of force and unacceptable conduct, including various forms of interference that are putting pressure on other countries.

Norway has responded in the same way as our allies and European partners, with restrictive measures, among other things. 

We are monitoring Russia’s military activity in our neighbouring areas closely. What we are seeing is a Russia that has made great strides in its large-scale military modernisation in the north. This has increased Russia’s military capabilities in our neighbouring areas considerably.

We have also seen examples of Russian planes simulating attacks on targets in Norway and of interference with GPS signals that have affected Norwegian civil aviation.

This is unacceptable, and we are following up these matters with the Russian authorities.

Predictability and dialogue are important, even when we disagree.

We are also following the human rights situation in Russia closely.

We raise the issue of human rights at both bilateral and multilateral level. For example, Norway was one of 16 states to invoke the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism to look into reports of grave human rights violations in Chechnya.

The subsequent report included concrete recommendations to the Russian authorities to fully investigate the alleged human rights violations and bring those responsible to justice. 

Norway will continue to express its concerns to the Russian authorities, through both bilateral and multilateral channels, until the Russian authorities take the necessary action to fulfil their human rights obligations in all parts of Russia.

***

Human rights apply to all people – regardless of their views, their beliefs, or who they love. 

The problem is not what UN member states have agreed. The problem is the gap between theory and practice.

All too often, the way states treat their citizens is not in line with the obligations they have undertaken to fulfil.

The fact that we need to work to safeguard established rights is a new and worrying development. This applies for example to women’s rights, and to sexual and reproductive rights.  

Attempts are being made to undermine rights about which there has previously been agreement in the UN. Language is being amended or toned down, and more and more resolutions are being put to a vote.

Human rights are under pressure and this is affecting our room for manoeuvre and the way we work. 

                                                           ***

Norway is outspoken and constructive in its defence of human rights.

When countries commit human rights violations, we make our position clear. These countries will never be in doubt about what Norway thinks. We work with like-minded countries and partners when this will produce the best results, and we work alone when it is this that is the most effective approach.

However, in order to be heard, our responses must be finely tuned. Both intended and, to an increasing extent, unintended consequences must be considered.

Particularly in the last few years, it has been counterproductive or even dangerous in certain countries for individuals to be associated with Western support.

The last thing we want is to exacerbate a situation or put human rights defenders in greater danger. 

Human rights violations often, quite rightfully, trigger strong reactions and demands for a clear response.

Severing diplomatic ties and recalling ambassadors are two possible ways of responding. But if our aim is to bring about change, these will in many cases be the wrong tools to use. 

Without diplomatic channels, we cannot communicate our concerns.

And without dialogue, we will make little progress.

For me, it is important to ensure that our policy is clear and effective, has a long-term perspective and is adapted to the situation in question.

We work closely with people at risk, such as members of human rights groups and civil society organisations, when deciding what response to make. Our main focus is on what will deliver the best results.

***

Over the past 20 years, Norway has led the work in the UN to develop resolutions on protection of human rights defenders. This year’s resolution focuses on the protection of environmentalists.

We make active use of the Universal Periodic Review process in the Human Rights Council. In the last few months, we have made clear recommendations regarding the human rights situation in various countries, including China, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Eritrea.

In 2018, Norway was the largest donor to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. We entered into a multi-year agreement that ensures both predictable and flexible funding.

Norway has also stepped up its efforts to protect religious minorities, including efforts to combat anti-Semitism. 

This year, it is 70 years since the Council of Europe was established, and it is important to safeguard the access of 830 million Europeans to the European Court of Human Rights.

The Council of Europe is in a difficult situation, and it is vital to preserve its legitimacy in all 47 member states.

***

Norway is a maritime nation.

Historically, Norway has been bound together by its coastline – from the south to the north.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is the ‘constitution of the oceans’ and provides the legal framework for all activity at sea. 

Without the Law of the Sea, Norway might not have had the rights to the oil, gas and fish resources that have been so crucial for our economic development. More than two-thirds of our export revenues come from coastal and ocean-based activities. 

The Government has made the oceans a priority, and Norway has taken on a leading role in this area internationally. Our focus is on striking a balance between economic growth and protection of the marine environment, and on the role the oceans can play in achieving the SDGs.  

The Prime Minister was behind the initiative to establish the High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. The Panel, which is co-chaired by Prime Minister, brings together heads of state and government from coastal nations all over the world. The Panel is due to present its report with recommendations for building a sustainable ocean economy in summer 2020. 

The Government has established a development programme to combat marine litter, and at our initiative, the World Bank has set up a multi-donor trust fund to support healthy and productive oceans, to which a number of countries are contributing. 

Ocean affairs are becoming increasingly important in our growing cooperation with regional organisations such as the AU in Africa, CARICOM in the Caribbean and ASEAN in Southeast Asia.

Norway is hosting the next Our Ocean conference. In October, foreign ministers and representatives of international organisations, the business sector, the research community and civil society from all over the world will come to Oslo to take action to promote rich and healthy oceans.

***

Cooperation across borders and fields of expertise is needed to address climate and environmental issues. 

Limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees will require the fundamental transformation of energy systems, industry, urban development and agriculture and forestry.  

To achieve this, all the world’s countries need to raise their climate ambitions. The submission of new nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement in 2020 will be a critical milestone.

So far, Norway has undertaken to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 % by 2030 compared with 1990 levels.

The Government will encourage the EU to raise its target to 55 % by 2030 and will submit a more ambitious Norwegian climate target to the UN in 2020, in line with the EU’s ambitions. 

At the climate change conference in Katowice, we agreed on a new common framework for following up the Paris Agreement. This is vital for building confidence and achieving results.

The multilateral development banks play a crucial role in mobilising private capital for climate action.

The Paris Agreement, the rest of the UN system and the multilateral development banks are three main pillars of international efforts to combat climate change. 

                                                           ***

Relations with China have been a part of Norwegian foreign policy since 1906, when the Qing Emperor’s envoy was one of the first foreign dignitaries to visit Norway following its independence.  

Our policy towards China is one of engagement and cooperation. The completion of a bilateral trade agreement will be beneficial to both countries. 

China is an important partner in the efforts to find solutions to many of today’s global challenges. No other country played a more important part in achieving the Millennium Development Goals, and China’s efforts will be vital in achieving the transition to a greener economy.

At the same time, it is clear that there are significant differences between Norway and China. Our interests do not always overlap. In certain areas, we must tread carefully in our dealings with China, and sometimes we must express criticism.

Developments in the human rights situation in a number of areas in China have given rise to concern. The fact that our two countries have different starting points and social systems must not prevent us from speaking out clearly on developments that we do not regard as positive. This principle is also crucial in our bilateral dialogue with China.

As always, it is in our interests to pursue a predictable and clear policy.

In recent decades, China’s influence has grown so much that developments in China will have a decisive impact on both regional and global stability. This will have implications for Norway.

We must tackle this challenge in the same way as we tackle all shifts in the foreign policy landscape – by safeguarding our interests, based on our own assessments, security policy and economic priorities, and our fundamental democratic values.

Even closer Nordic cooperation and European cooperation are part of the solution to this challenge.  

***

Madam President,

Since 2013, the Government has increased the humanitarian budget by close to 65 %.

Yemen is the worst humanitarian crisis of our time. The crisis is primarily due to the war, and only a political solution can bring lasting stability.

Yemen is one of the countries that receives most humanitarian aid from Norway. 

Last year, we launched a new humanitarian strategy. And this year we are focusing on one of the three priority areas identified in the strategy: protection of civilians. 

Firstly, we will strengthen protection against sexual and gender-based violence in humanitarian crises.

Last year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners showed how the trauma experienced by individuals affects and can tear apart whole communities, and how the wounds left by sexual violence hamper peace and reconciliation efforts.

In May, we are arranging an international conference in Oslo on sexual and gender-based violence, together with the UN, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other humanitarian partners. The aim is to mobilise greater political will and more humanitarian funding, and to ensure an improved operational response.   

Secondly, we will strengthen the protection of civilians against landmines, during and after conflicts.

This year, Norway has taken over the presidency of the Mine Ban Treaty. In November, we will bring together all states parties for a Review Conference. These are held once every five years.  

Much still needs to be done before we come close to reaching our goal of a mine-free world. After many years of progress, we have seen increasing use of mines in recent years, particularly by non-state actors such as ISIL.

Last year, we provided over NOK 325 million for surveys and mine clearance efforts in 18 countries, and this level of funding will be maintained this year. We are one of the five largest donors to global mine action.

***

Madam President,

The past few years have been among the deadliest since the Cold War. Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen now account for 80 % of deaths in conflict. 

Today’s conflicts are complex, with many contributing factors: militias, terrorist groups, porous borders and weak governance structures. Global and regional actors are waging proxy wars in a number of internal conflicts, for example in Yemen, Syria and Ukraine.

The use of force is sometimes necessary, but only as a last resort and only if it has a legal basis in international law. 

Lasting peace and stability can, however, only be achieved through political solutions.

Madam President,

Norway’s engagement in peace processes is sought after. Whereas the motives of larger countries may be called into question, Norway is often seen as an impartial actor.  

Our engagement in this area gives us important foreign policy capital and leverage, and generates greater interest in Norway.

We must use the opportunities this gives us wisely. It takes determination to grapple with difficult situations over long periods of time, and engagement at an early stage is crucial.

Most important of all is the willingness to take political risks.

The risk of a peace process failing is often high.   

In Colombia, implementation of the peace agreement is proving difficult and is arousing strong opposition. Nevertheless, the FARC have laid down their arms and have become a political party. The number of people killed as a result of the conflict has been significantly reduced.  

It is precisely because there is so much to gain if we succeed that we must accept the possibility of failure.

Firstly, because peace is essential for development.

Secondly, because the resolution of conflicts far away from Norway is important for our own security too.   

Thirdly, because resolving conflicts often helps to alleviate humanitarian crises.

We are assisting the parties to the conflicts in Afghanistan and South Sudan, and to the conflict between Israel and Palestine. In Somalia, we are promoting stabilisation through renewed reconciliation efforts.

We are maintaining our strong engagement in ensuring the successful implementation of the peace agreement in Colombia.

And we are continuing to shoulder our responsibility as facilitator of the peace process in the Philippines.

Madam President,

A fundamental principle of our peace engagement is our willingness to talk to all parties. We act as facilitator only when both parties want us to play a role.  

We ensure that our initiatives have support in the UN and in the relevant capitals.

No conflict can be resolved in a vacuum. In situations involving a complex range of actors and where security interests are at stake, broad dialogue with both regional and international actors is needed. 

Through more than 25 years of engagement in international peace efforts, we have gained extensive experience that we share with other facilitators and experts.  

Discretion is vital. We do not carry out this work in the public glare. This means that our efforts may not win immediate recognition, but it increases our chances of success. 

Cooperation with NGOs, think tanks and researchers is crucial.

Norway’s engagement is based on impartiality but we are never neutral when it comes to values. We promote the principles of international law and human rights. And we highlight the importance of safeguarding the rights of victims after a conflict has ended – even when this meets resistance from the parties.

Women’s rights, needs and priorities are an integral part of our peace and reconciliation policy.

Only by drawing on the resources and insights of the whole population, consulting a wide range of actors, and ensuring that our efforts are supported by the people who will live in the communities that are being rebuilt, can we succeed in creating lasting peace.

Our new Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security – which was presented by five ministers in January – reaffirms Norway’s leadership role in this area.

Norway was behind the initiative to establish the Nordic Women Mediators network. In March last year, we launched a global alliance of regional women mediator networks in Oslo.

Only 2 % of the mediators in peace processes between 1991 and 2017 were women. Through our initiatives, we will help to change this.  

***

Successive governments have chosen to maintain Norway’s peace engagement, and this is a key strength of our efforts. 

And the fact that peace initiatives have been continued despite changes of government means that Norway is seen as a predictable and reliable partner.

***

Madam President,                                         

Some positive steps have been taken recently towards ending the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan.

The US has opened peace talks with the Taliban. The parties are discussing guarantees that the country will not once again become a hotbed of international terrorism, as well as the withdrawal of international forces.

But much remains to be done before a final peace agreement is in place in Afghanistan. First, there is a need for a comprehensive ceasefire. 

Any further process must, however, include the Afghan Government, which the Taliban have so far refused to negotiate with.

All groups, including women and religious minorities, must be involved and their rights safeguarded.

The other countries in the region must also give their support. Afghanistan will continue to need economic support if and when a peace agreement is reached.

***

ISIL continues to pose a threat in the Middle East, Europe and globally.

Despite the fact that ISIL has lost almost all the territory it once held in Syria and Iraq, it has survived as a terrorist organisation and has considerable resources and ideological influence.

The underlying causes that led to the emergence of ISIL are still there. In Iraq, it is important that the authorities secure the liberated areas and deliver basic services to the population. Norway is providing both humanitarian aid and funding for stabilisation efforts.  

Norway has provided troops to the global coalition against ISIL, who are training and advising Iraqi forces, and we have also announced that we will contribute to NATO’s training mission in Iraq, which is currently being established.  

In Syria, the nearly eight-year-long conflict is, in all likelihood, in its final phase. The level of violence has decreased significantly. Nevertheless, we are concerned that possible military offensives in northern Syria could have serious humanitarian consequences.

By the end of the year, we will have fulfilled our pledge to provide NOK 10 billion to Syria and its neighbouring countries in the period 2016-2019. And we will continue to be a major donor in the time ahead. Education and protection of civilians will be key focus areas in our efforts.

The return of foreign fighters and their children is a difficult issue.

The situation for these Norwegian children gives cause for concern. But there are unfortunately no easy answers to this question.

We are following the situation closely, and we are considering possible courses of action on an ongoing basis. This includes looking at the steps being taken by other European countries. 

As the situation now stands, we are not prepared to fetch foreign fighters and bring them back to Norway. Norwegian citizens abroad who want consular assistance must contact the Foreign Service themselves. All Norwegian citizens have a right to enter Norway. This also applies to foreign fighters and their children.   

Foreign fighters will face prosecution on return to Norway.

***

Norway’s role as chair of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), the international donor group for Palestine, is an important element of our long-term engagement to promote peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The aim of the AHLC is to support the development of an institutional and economic basis for a future Palestinian state.  

These efforts are important at a time where there is no genuine peace process, but can never replace the need for a political solution.

We have received assurances that funding provided by Norway is not being used to make payments to prisoners convicted of terrorism. We are nevertheless working with other countries to get the Palestinian Authority to change the current system.


                                                                       ***

Developments in the Western Balkans give cause for concern.

These countries are facing major challenges. The pace of reform is slow, the rule of law weak and corruption widespread. Economic growth is low, youth unemployment is high, and there are significant social problems.

All this, combined with deeply rooted antagonisms and unresolved issues from previous conflicts, is fuelling renewed tensions. Relations between Russia and the West are also clearly leaving their mark on the Western Balkans.

At the same time, there are also some positive developments. The name agreement reached between Greece and North Macedonia means that North Macedonia is now on the threshold of NATO membership. Prime Ministers Tsipras and Zaev have shown that strong leadership pays off.

Together with the countries in the region and in close cooperation with the EU and its member states, we are shouldering our share of the responsibility. We have therefore doubled our economic support to the Western Balkans. 

***

The situation in Venezuela is particularly worrying.

The parties are far apart. There is a danger that the conflict could escalate further. This will have major consequences for the civilian population, which is already suffering.

It is therefore crucial that the parties find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Norway has consistently supported Juan Guaidó as the legitimate President of the National Assembly.

The presidential election in 2018 did not meet international standards. Norway supports the population’s legitimate demands for democratic rights and free elections. 

At the same time, we expect the Venezuelan Government to meet the demands of the people and to respect the role and mandate of the National Assembly, as set out in the country’s constitution.

We are in contact with both parties in Venezuela, and can provide assistance if the parties so wish.

We have condemned the use of force by both regular and irregular forces in Venezuela against people trying to bring emergency aid into the country. All threats and use of violence against peaceful protesters must stop immediately.  

Humanitarian actors must be given full access and must be able to operate freely, in line with international humanitarian principles.

Norway has increased its humanitarian aid to Venezuela and the region, and last year we provided over NOK 50 million.

***

Madam President,

The question I opened this address with – What is Norwegian foreign policy? – can of course be answered in many ways. 

By talking about our interests, values and our history. Or, by giving an hour-long address describing how Norway is continuing the work it began several decades ago to build a better organised world.  

While I have been standing here at this podium, Norwegian foreign policy is being implemented in practice throughout the world. 

In Geneva, our delegation is negotiating a new international agreement on reducing fisheries subsidies. 

In Yangon, the first secretary’s office is empty, because he is accompanying a delegation that is investigating the conditions for internally displaced people in Kachin state.

And in London, Norwegian negotiators are discussing the final details of a trade agreement between Norway and the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

These and thousands of other efforts, both big and small, are what make up Norwegian foreign policy.

It is through the sum of these individual efforts that we show where we stand and how we think the world should develop.

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