Foreign policy address to the Storting 2023

'Foreign policy does not have a long shelf life. When the world changes, so do our options for action', said Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt in her address to the Norwegian parliament (Stortinget).

Mr President,

Some 164 years ago, in 1859, an American named Edwin Drake drilled an oil well near Titusville, in the northeastern corner of Pennsylvania in the US. This was to become the world’s first commercial oil well, and is regarded by many as the birth of the oil industry. 

With oil came new technologies and new ways of using this energy source. We saw the emergence of combustion engines. Of cars and aeroplanes. Two world wars taught us that access to oil and technology is synonymous with power. Oil became a key resource for business development and for the growth and prosperity of nations.  

Access to oil became a dominant factor in great power geopolitics. And in the foreign policy of virtually all countries. A new industry evolved that generated millions of jobs and vast wealth for individuals, companies and states.    

Drake’s well in Titusville marked the start of a period of global transformation. Economic, political – and geopolitical. Oil changed the world. In ways no one could foresee in 1859.

In 1968, 109 years later, the world had already been heavily dependent on oil and gas for a long time. But Norway had not yet become an oil nation. It was at this time that 34-year-old Farouk-al Kasim came to Norway from Iraq.   

Farouk-al Kasim, a petroleum geologist from Basra, was one of the people who actively lobbied for Norway to manage its oil resources in a different way from other oil states. These assets had to benefit society as a whole. Farouk played a key role in drawing up the first white paper on the management of Norway’s petroleum resources in 1971. Here, he and a number of other forward-looking civil servants (– Jens Evensen, Leif Terje Løddesøl, Carl August Fleischer and Arve Johnsen –) delivered a masterpiece on the establishment and development of public administration. In an area where people in Norway had very little knowledge at the time.  

The oil age has brought growth, prosperity and opportunities to Norway. Our assets have benefited society as a whole. This has not been down to luck. It is the result of prudent political choices. Choices that were by no means a given. And that have been the subject of ongoing debate. Choices that have placed the interests of society as a whole above the fortunes of the few.

But it would not have been possible to achieve Norway’s prosperity and ensure its security without clear, predictable rules and a well-functioning international order. Where right prevails over might. An international order that Norway too has helped to build, through the development of international law, such as the law of the sea and international trade regimes. 

We are entering the final chapters of the oil age. To address the climate crisis and environmental degradation, we must change our long-term course. And we must do so at a time when the international order that has served us so well is under pressure.

While it is rarely possible to see all the long-term consequences of events as they are unfolding, the contours of a new major transformation are coming into view. Towards a new energy policy reality. And with that a new security policy reality.   

A transformation that may have even broader implications than the one that started with Edwin Drake’s oil well 164 years ago. 

In addition to the changed security policy landscape in Europe, this transformation – and thus also foreign policy – will be shaped in the years ahead by the interplay between three mutually reinforcing developments: 

First, the energy crisis, 

Second, the green transition, 

And third, changes in the global economy.

The war in Ukraine has highlighted our energy vulnerability and accelerated the green transition. States do not wish to have to be at the mercy of unpredictable, authoritarian leaders who use energy supplies as a means of exerting pressure on others. Russia is no longer Europe’s largest gas exporter. It is vital to speed up the green transition in order to ensure energy security moving forward.

These three developments are affecting relations between countries and regions. We are seeing growing polarisation and competition between the US and China. With moves towards more protectionism and less free trade.

The world is becoming increasingly divided. Not just politically, but also economically and in terms of security policy.

We are seeing greater willingness to focus on and strengthen regional economic cooperation rather than global economic cooperation. This will affect value chains and access to raw materials and technology. Including other raw materials and other technology than those in demand today.

We are also seeing authoritarian tendencies and pressure on democracy in an increasing number of countries. Including in Europe.

 The Foreign Service has always been a dynamic organisation. As the world changes, so do our priorities. We seek to target our efforts towards areas where we can promote and strengthen Norwegian interests most effectively.

But we cannot simply adopt the motto of the Norwegian Home Guard: ‘Everywhere – always’. We cannot be everywhere always. We have to set priorities.

Traditionally, there has been broad political consensus on foreign policy in Norway. This has significant benefits.  

For example, the fact that we have managed to reach broad cross-party agreement on a support programme for Ukraine – where we have made a commitment to provide support in a long-term perspective – has attracted positive attention in other countries.  

But the downside to this high degree of consensus is that there may sometimes be too little debate about key priorities. 

Some of the bedrock of our policy is sacrosanct. Such as our membership of NATO, the cornerstone of our security policy. Other factors we cannot change. Such as the fact that Norway is situated far to the north, with Russia as our neighbour. 

But foreign policy does not have a long shelf life. When the world changes, so do our options for action. Even though our fundamental interests remain unchanged.

That is why we are launching a broad discussion on the priorities of our foreign policy. We have named the project ‘Response’. The opening conference, at which the Prime Minister is also participating, started around an hour ago. 

We will be holding a series of conferences across the country to gather input for the development of a forward-looking foreign policy. With a focus on what Norway’s priorities should be in the years ahead. There is a great deal of knowledge in our country. A great deal of expertise to draw on. I hope that many of you in this chamber will also take part in the discussions.

We have set this debate in motion because we need to thoroughly assess the implications for Norway of the changes we are now seeing across the world.

We have good expertise on Russia, for example, but we need to increase our knowledge of China. That is why the new research centre on geopolitics is so essential. We have recently issued a call for proposals for the centre, which will start its activities this year. The centre will be charged with strengthening knowledge in Norway of international power relations and the positioning of major powers, with a particular focus on China.   

New issues call for new insights. Because history never repeats itself. But if we do not know our history, we can be seriously misled. Believing that we have seen it all before and acting on that basis can really lead us down the wrong path. 

Mr President, in my foreign policy address last year, I outlined a somewhat bleak picture of what lay ahead. I wish I could be more optimistic today. Unfortunately, I cannot.

One year has passed since Russia started its brutal war of aggression, with assistance from Belarus. Russia is now an unpredictable and aggressive neighbour that ignores international law and uses military force to pursue its goals. 

So far, the war has not gone as Russia had expected. The Russian regime made a strategic error in underestimating the Ukrainian people’s unity and ability and willingness to defend their country. And it seriously misjudged Europe’s response. 

And let there be no doubt: the sanctions are working. In February this year, Russian tax revenues from the oil and gas sector fell by 46 % compared to pre-war levels. In St Petersburg alone, more than 24 000 companies have been closed down over the past year.  

The outcome of the war is far from decided. The situation is unpredictable and can change quickly. Continued Western military support is critical for Ukraine. This war could last for a long time. There is nothing to suggest that Putin has given up on the goal of destroying Ukraine’s sovereignty and its foundations as a nation state.  

We are seeing a Russia that is becoming increasingly totalitarian. All opposition has basically been crushed or is now in exile. The number of political prisoners and detainees is growing. Independent media have been shut down. Civil society organisations are being forcibly dissolved. In the face of harsh oppression, only a very few dare to speak out. 

There are currently few signs that the Russian regime is unstable. But rapid upheavals have happened before in countries with authoritarian regimes. And could happen again.

At the same time, China has still not distanced itself from Russia’s illegal invasion and war. This gives cause for concern. China is in a unique position as a major power and permanent member of the UN Security Council. We and our allies have warned China that if it supplies weapons to Russia, this will have wide-ranging consequences for China’s relations with Europe.

Nearly 18 million people – 40 % of the Ukrainian population – are in need of humanitarian assistance.

The Storting’s new allocations of funding for Ukraine will now be put to good use.

This funding will, for example, be used to support convoys bringing live-saving assistance – shelter, food and medicines – to the areas most affected, via the UN system. To strengthen health clinics, via the Red Cross. To support mine clearance efforts and refugee reception centres, via Norwegian and international humanitarian organisations. And to provide critical budget support, energy support and support for the rehabilitation of infrastructure via the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

The willingness of the Ukrainian people to help those who have lost their homes and livelihoods is nothing short of impressive. But the longer the war lasts, the more difficult it will be for the Ukrainian authorities to meet the needs of the civilian population.  

At the same time, we have not forgotten the other crises that also require our attention. Our support to Ukraine has not been at the expense of other humanitarian aid.

Mr President,

The importance of the security guarantee provided by NATO has now become even clearer. More military forces are available and can be deployed at shorter notice than before the war. This is essential not least to ensure the security of our eastern Allies.

Finland and Sweden will make NATO stronger. Our common membership of NATO will pave the way for broader and more binding Nordic cooperation on defence and security policy.

As you know, ratification by Türkiye and Hungary has taken longer than expected. This is unfortunate. But we must not forget that so far this accession process has proceeded at an unprecedented pace.

Nor should we forget that 28 NATO countries have already approved the accession of Sweden and Finland to the Alliance. This in itself provides a security assurance.

Moreover, a number of Allies have provided clear security assurances pending the completion of the ratification process. It is inconceivable that NATO would not react in the event of a military threat to Finland or Sweden.

Cooperation with the EU on security policy has also become more important for Norway. We are intensifying our collaboration in this area in order to strengthen our overall preparedness and resilience. I will come back to this and other key issues in our relations with the EU in my address to the Storting on important EU and EEA matters on 2 May.

Preserving stability and predictability in the north is in the interests of Norway and its allies, and is one of the overarching goals of the Government’s Arctic policy. In order to prevent misunderstandings and undesirable incidents, we are maintaining essential contact with the Russian authorities in areas relating to critical public functions and sustainable resource management in the north. Norwegian security policy will continue to be based on deterrence and reassurance.   

We must be prepared for the fact that the security situation could deteriorate at short notice. But we will continue to act with predictability and consistency. Russia knows what it can expect from us. We are monitoring and protecting our own territory, but if we were to be attacked, we would be completely dependent on Allied assistance.  

The urgency of the climate crisis means that we need to cooperate more closely to deal with the impacts on ecosystems and people in the Arctic.

But the current situation is severely undermining dialogue and cooperation in the north. Such as in the Barents Euro-Arctic Council and the Arctic Council.

Norway will be taking over as chair of the Arctic Council in May. I make no secret of the fact that this will be a challenging task. Our overall objective is to ensure that the Council remains the most important forum for cooperation in the Arctic. Our period at the helm will not be quite what we had envisaged – but this may prove to be the most critical period in the Council’s history. 

Russia’s war has had serious ramifications for a wide range of Norwegian actors. Research cooperation has been suspended. The impact on enterprises along the coast has been dramatic. In eastern Finnmark, people-to-people projects and other cross-border cooperation have become extremely difficult. I have talked to many of those who have been affected over the past year, and I fully understand that this is a very difficult situation for them.  

At the same time, developments over the past year or so have highlighted the importance of further developing North Norway as a strong and dynamic region. The Government is seeking to place North Norway at the centre of the green transition. The opportunities are enormous. For closer business cooperation with Sweden and Finland, for example.  

Mr President,

Last October marked 60 years since the Cuban missile crisis. Russia’s war in Ukraine has revived the nuclear threat. 

We have heard dangerous rhetoric and veiled threats from Russia. Any use of nuclear weapons will have catastrophic consequences for people and the environment.

In this challenging security policy landscape, it is not easy to make progress on disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction – but that does not mean that Norway is not going to try.

We will be a loyal ally, but at the same time, we will seek to build bridges and create momentum and progress towards a safer world.

The Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) adopted in 1996 prohibits all nuclear test explosions. 186 countries have signed the Treaty, but certain countries still need to ratify the Treaty before it can enter into force.

Norway has now said that it is willing to take on a leading role in the effort to secure the CTBT’s entry into force.

Artificial intelligence is being brought into use in a growing number of sectors. The development of autonomous weapons, semi- or fully autonomous weapons systems, raises profound dilemmas.   

The Government is working to promote effective international regulation of autonomous weapons systems. Together with like-minded countries, Norway has proposed a two-track approach: a targeted ban, combined with  a sound international regulatory framework, and we are now seeing signs of positive momentum in this area. 

Mr President,

In my office I have a publication sent by the US Department of State. It is dated November 1945 and is entitled Proposals for expansion of world trade and employment

The first sentence reads as follows: ‘The main prize of the victory of the United Nations is a limited and temporary power to establish the kind of world we want to live in.’

And it goes on to say: ‘The fundamental choice is whether countries will struggle against each other for wealth and power, or work together for security and mutual advantage.’

The ideas contained in that document – in those sentences – were the start of a new way of thinking that would eventually lead to the establishment of what we today know as the World Trade Organization (WTO). 

They set the path towards the establishment of an international trade regime that has served Norway well. But those sentences also set the course for the full breadth of multilateral cooperation we have enjoyed since the end of the Second World War.

The global trade rules are part of the international legal order that has greatly benefited all countries. Particularly in the last 30 years, since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Norway is one of globalisation’s winners. But the rules-based trading system is being challenged.

Security policy, energy policy and trade policy are becoming more and more closely intertwined. This is particularly evident in the relations between the two superpowers, the US and China. Trade and economic cooperation between these giants have long brought major economic benefits. Now we are seeing that greater weight is being given to the issues of dependence, vulnerability and security.

This is all well and good. But these considerations must never be used as a contrived argument for a return to protectionism. 

Many countries have increased trade with China. Including the US. We will not benefit from there being less trade across continents or from China being cut off from us. But we must protect what is critical to our interests. We must ensure our resilience in the event of a breakdown of global supply chains. As we learned during the pandemic. And as Europe has learned from its gas dependence on Russia.  

Introducing measures that exclude others from your market is, under certain conditions, a legitimate option. But if this approach spreads – and more and more countries succumb to the temptation of protectionism – the negative consequences will be far-reaching. For world trade and the world economy. And for jobs and people’s welfare, in Norway too.

The global trade rules will lose their value if countries do not abide by them. It is therefore worrying when major countries show signs of doing just that.  

China became a member of the WTO in 2001, and has benefited enormously from its membership. The Chinese authorities have little wish to undermine a predictable world order where relations between states are regulated by agreements.

At the same time, certain aspects of China’s economic system are problematic. It is particularly the competitive advantages arising from a largely non-transparent system of support schemes and state ownership that concern us and others. These are issues that are not necessarily addressed in existing WTO agreements. 

Both the US and the EU have implemented extensive measures in response to this situation.   

The US will continue to be a close partner and our most important ally. But the role of the US as a trade policy actor is more complex. On the one hand, the US is an active member of the WTO. The US attaches importance to ensuring compliance with established agreements. On the other hand, it is not as eager to negotiate new agreements. And the fact that the US does not always respect the WTO rules is a challenge.

The EU is now upgrading its trade policy toolbox to include instruments intended both to protect the internal market and counter unfair practices by trade partners.

One of my core tasks is to secure Norwegian involvement in these EU processes as early on as possible.

History has taught us that, in the long run, protectionism is not in anyone’s interests. And that it is the poorest countries that suffer most. Those that do not have an affluent domestic market or a well-functioning economy to start with. 

A world in which the major countries outbid each other with subsidies will be a world for the wealthy that can afford to subsidise costs. Poor countries will see this as the rich countries pulling up the ladder behind them. The result will be greater global inequality.

I therefore welcome the positive results achieved in a number of areas at the WTO Ministerial Conference in June last year. Such as the agreement to ban subsidies that contribute to illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, which is also the first WTO agreement to focus on the environment. 

We safeguard our trade policy interests through agreements. Norway has benefited greatly from free trade. We will therefore continue our efforts to promote free trade agreements.

And we will shoulder our share of the responsibility for ensuring that the trading system also promotes sustainable social and economic development in poor countries. Norway has significant credibility as a development policy actor. We are therefore in a good position to play a constructive role in the WTO reform process.   

Mr President,

The energy crisis in 2022 imposed substantial costs on Europe – close to EUR 800 billion was needed to shield consumers and businesses – but there are clear indications that the situation is improving. Russia failed in its attempts to bring Europe to its knees by using energy as a weapon. Quite the contrary, in fact.

A number of indicators show that the energy crisis has served to increase the pace of the green transition. For example, the number of rooftop solar panels installed globally rose by 50 % in 2022. Onshore wind farm capacity rose by 35 %. In the space of just one year.

The green transition is essential if the world is to achieve its climate targets. But it will bring enormous changes. Last year, investments in renewable energy systems exceeded USD 1 billion for the first time. And thus outstripped investments in the petroleum industry. This is an exciting development. And of great significance to Norway.

The green transition will lead to competition over new value chains, technologies and raw materials. We will have to take this into account when we design our broader foreign policy.   

And this issue has now been brought to the fore by the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).

It is overwhelmingly positive that the US is now fully committed to implementing the green transition. This is good for the climate, it enhances the prospects for closer cooperation with the US, and it could open up opportunities for Norwegian companies and for sharing Norwegian expertise.    

But the IRA also contains elements that could lead to trade barriers and divert investments to the US, posing challenges for Europe and Norway in a number of areas. Elements that risk shutting Norway and others out of supply chains and markets.

The use of such instruments undermines the rules-based system that is precisely intended to protect us against this type of discrimination.

In response to the IRA, the European Commission has presented a Green Deal Industrial Plan. In parallel to this, the EU is negotiating with the US to find solutions that will prevent green companies in EU countries from being excluded from the US market.

The EU’s Plan is intended to accelerate the green industrial transition, facilitate the development of European supply chains, and provide incentives to enable key industries to expand and remain in Europe. 

And let me remind you that Europe is by far our most important market. Last year, close to 91 % of all Norwegian exports went to Europe. Ninety-one per cent!

Even not counting oil and gas, some 72 % of our exports went to Europe. Far more than double our total exports to the rest of the world. 

Norway’s opportunities to influence global trade through bilateral contact are limited. China, the US, India and Brazil and other major and emerging economies rarely change their trade policy because Norway alone has asked them to. But working together with our European partners – putting forward common European solutions – greatly increases our ability to exert influence.   

We must cooperate closely with the EU to safeguard Norwegian interests in the EU’s ongoing efforts to maintain its competitiveness in the green transition. When it is in our interests, we must ensure that EU legislation relating to the green transition is incorporated into the EEA Agreement. Talks are under way between Norway and the EU on the development of a green alliance as a platform for our cooperation on the green transition.

The oceans also have a key role to play in the green transition, offering wide-ranging opportunities. We need to increase international understanding of the importance of ocean sustainability. The oceans are therefore high on the Government’s political agenda. Norway plays a leading role in a number of ocean-related areas, such as the efforts to combat marine litter, the development of the law of the sea, and the fight against illegal fishing. 

Opportunities to build Norwegian export industries in connection with the green transition must also be viewed in the context of the Government’s goal to increase exports, excluding oil and gas, by 50 % by 2030. For Norway, new export opportunities are opening up in particular in areas such as carbon capture and storage, offshore wind, hydrogen, battery technology, and green projects in existing onshore industries.   

I have set aside more resources in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to follow up this goal.

Mr President,

Over the past six years, the number of countries moving towards authoritarianism has been twice as high as the number of countries moving towards democracy. More than two-thirds of the world’s population live in backsliding democracies or authoritarian regimes. Norway has a responsibility to promote democratic principles and universal human rights.

In my view, isolation is not an effective approach. Boycotting dialogue does not work. Look at US Cuba policy, for example. The decades-long policy of isolating Cuba has not yielded the desired results. The fact that we are now isolating Russia is due to completely exceptional circumstances. This is not how we operate normally.

In many countries, there is growing enthusiasm for the idea of ‘one strong leader’. Critical voices are being silenced. The rule of law, democratic institutions, free media and civil society are being gradually undermined or eradicated. New technology is being used for the purposes of mass surveillance and oppression. Polarisation, misinformation and pure propaganda are widely used tools.   

That is often how it starts. Then the attacks begin. On women’s right to define their own sexuality, and on gay rights. The so-called strongmen want to return to the time when these rights ‘did not exist’. We are seeing these tendencies on our continent too, for example in Hungary. 

This is deeply worrying. Both because people in authoritarian states are subject to oppression. And also because authoritarian leaders have a destabilising effect on international security. Russia’s move towards totalitarianism and war against Ukraine are a tragic confirmation of the importance of defending democratic principles and human rights. 

Human rights are part of our rules-based order, part of international law. They are universal. This means that all countries must be held accountable for respecting human rights. Including the major powers.

Norway was one of the countries that took steps to ensure that the report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the human rights situation in Xinjiang was discussed by the UN Human Rights Council. The report documents widespread human rights violations in Xinjiang. When we talk to China, we also talk about human rights. And we make it very clear where we stand. As I did, for example, when I met the Chinese Foreign Minister during the UN General Assembly last year and raised Norway’s concerns about the situation in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

We are also deeply concerned about the lack of respect for human rights in Iran. We have condemned Iran’s oppression of its own people. And we have called for an immediate end to the executions that have taken place in the wake of the protests over the past six months. I have communicated Norway’s unequivocal position directly to the Iranian Foreign Minister. The Iranian Ambassador has been called in to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And I have raised this issue in the UN Human Rights Council.  

Because the world’s problems do not disappear if we ignore them. Choosing not to talk to people you disagree with is the easy option. That should never be Norway’s policy. It seems completely paradoxical to me to boycott dialogue as a means of promoting freedom of expression.

This year it is 75 years since the UN adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The values, aims and hopes the Declaration embodied in 1948 are just as relevant today.  

Mr President, cultural cooperation is another area in which we promote the values that we hold dear. Safeguarding freedom of artistic expression is an important component of our efforts to promote freedom of expression and democracy. There are also many major markets out there for Norwegian musicians and filmmakers. Like for example, Girl in Red, Marie Ulven Ringheim. The young women from Horten who is now one of the world’s most widely streamed artists. A role model for an entire generation of young women, all over the world. And Kajsa Næss, whose animation films have won international acclaim. 

Our cultural promotion efforts enable us to reach a broader audience that extends beyond the authorities in another country. But cultural cooperation also helps to strengthen our already good relations with key partner countries. Norway’s missions abroad therefore work systematically to promote Norwegian culture.   

For example, our embassy in Cairo used the Cairo International Book Fair last year to draw attention to the issues of gender equality and gay rights. Norwegian author Marta Breen presented her book Women in Battle, which has been translated into Arabic. This triggered a discussion on gender equality and women’s rights, and served to enhance our cooperation with Egypt in this area. 

Mr President, violent conflicts – or fragile peace processes – are continuing in countries such as Afghanistan, the Philippines, Colombia, Yemen, Myanmar, Somalia, Venezuela and in the Middle East. These are processes in which Norway has been engaged over the past year. In some of them, we have been involved for many years.

After years of pandemic disruption and rising conflict levels, the need for peace and reconciliation in the world has regrettably increased. Peace and reconciliation efforts can be strengthened through targeted funding, but here too we have to prioritise.

It is in our national interests to promote a peaceful and stable world. Sometimes this means talking to actors with whom we deeply disagree. Dialogue is essential; the alternative is far worse.

We are a key partner in Colombia’s peace processes. Norway is a guarantor country for the implementation of the peace agreement with the former FARC-EP. 

And we are also involved in the negotiation process between the rebel group ELN and the Colombian authorities. 

Last autumn, the Government and opposition in Venezuela agreed to resume the negotiation process, in talks facilitated by Norway.

Efforts to promote stability and de-escalate political and military conflicts in the Middle East are, and will continue to be, an important component of Norwegian foreign policy. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved. The situation on the ground is steadily deteriorating. I am concerned about developments in recent months both in Israel and in the West Bank, and about the risk of further escalation.

We have not been further from a two-state solution since before the Oslo process over 30 years ago. Norway’s aim back then was to lay the foundation for a two-state solution. We still believe that this is the only way to achieve peace and security for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I have not seen any statements expressing such an ambition from the current Israeli Government. So we must look at their actions. And with more and more settlements being established, Israel is moving towards a one-state reality. There are many reasons for this, but Israel’s settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land is one of the key drivers. 

It is nine years since the last real negotiations between the parties were concluded. The lack of hope and a political horizon has led some Palestinians, particularly young people, to turn to violence. There is an absence of trust on both sides.

Against this backdrop, I have called for a critical assessment of our engagement in the conflict. Our policy must reflect the realities on the ground. And must be designed to deliver maximum results.

We will continue our efforts to build Palestinian state institutions in our capacity as chair of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC), the international donor group for Palestine. At the same time, we are talking to other countries about what we can do to reverse the negative developments and kickstart a political process. We are also encouraging other countries in the region to step up their engagement. 

Our approach is also based on our principled condemnation of foreign occupation and the importance of protecting the territorial integrity of states. Wherever in the world we see an occupation in violation of international law. 

We are continuing our longstanding, active engagement in Myanmar. Supporting the pro-democracy movement is a high priority. We are maintaining our dialogue and contact with key stakeholders. This includes the opposition National Unity Government, civil society and representatives of the various ethnic groups. At the same time, in a long-term peace and reconciliation perspective, it will also be important to have contact with the military junta. Without in any way giving them political legitimacy. 

We are continuing our efforts to promote peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.

For humanitarian reasons as well as to counter extremism and reduce irregular migration to our own region. It is in our interests to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a breeding ground for international terrorism and terrorist attacks in Europe. 

The situation for women and girls in Afghanistan is deteriorating dramatically. But when Afghan women say that they want Norway to continue to pursue contact with those in power, I listen. Our message to the Taliban is clear: barring girls and women from education and employment is completely unacceptable. 

Since the Taliban’s takeover of power, Norway has increased its support for humanitarian action and human rights efforts in the country. We have not forgotten the Afghan people.

We have tried a policy of isolating Afghanistan before. With dire results. 

We hold the Taliban to account and criticise them honestly and openly, both in international forums and directly in meetings with them. But we keep the door to dialogue open, and this includes dialogue with the Taliban. And with the Houthis in Yemen, and with Hamas. 

Mr President,

In the 1980s, foreign direct investment in sub-Saharan African was equivalent to 12 % of all aid transfers to the region. In the past decade, this figure had risen to 76 %. In 2021, foreign investment exceeded aid by 18 %.   

Aid is still crucial to enable African countries to achieve their development targets. In 2021, 42 % of geographical aid allocations from donor countries (OECD DAC countries) went to Africa. Assistance from Norway accounted for 2 % of the bilateral support provided to the continent.

But Africa’s role in the geopolitical landscape will change in the years ahead. Africa’s share of global GDP is expected to grow by more than 2 % annually in the period leading up to 2027. Before the pandemic, six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies were in Africa.  

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and global rise in prices for basic items on the agricultural sector in Africa have been severe. Productivity is low, but the potential is huge. Africa has 65 % of the world’s uncultivated arable land. According to one report, Africa could produce two to three times more grains and cereals than is the case today. This would increase current worldwide production output by 20 %.   

At the same time, conflicts and humanitarian crises continue to be far too large a part of Africa’s reality. 

The ongoing drought crisis in Kenya is having catastrophic consequences, and the situation appears to be deteriorating. The UN has estimated that 6.4 million Kenyans will be in need of humanitarian aid this year. Some 2.5 million livestock have been lost. This corresponds to 3.3 % of the country’s national budget. 

The death toll resulting from the civil war in Tigray, northern Ethiopia is another grim example. According to the African Union High Representative for the Horn of Africa (Olusegun Obasanjo), at least 600 000 people have lost their lives as a result of two years of civil war. In addition, the war has forced millions of people to flee their homes and led to tens of millions facing increased food insecurity. The New York Times has described the civil war as ‘one of the world’s bloodiest contemporary conflicts’.

However, the international dynamic in Africa is changing. As shown, for example, by the engagement of the major powers in the continent. This has become more visible. More high-level visits are being carried out.

In 10 years’ time, Africa’s working-age population will be larger than those of China and India. There are 700 companies in Africa that have an annual turnover of more than USD 500 million (400 of these have an annual turnover of more than USD 1 billion).

Africa is no longer primarily a recipient of development assistance. Rather, the continent has become an attractive investment destination, in a range of sectors. In 2021, for example, the Government Pension Fund Global invested close to NOK 40 billion in 144 companies in Africa. Distributed among the stock markets in six African countries.

We have well-established ties with a number of African countries and the African Union. It is in our interests to strengthen our engagement in and partnerships with African countries. Particularly now, Mr President, when we are in the process of implementing a far-reaching global transition to a green economy.  

As the head of the World Bank’s Energy and Extractives Global Practice pointed out recently during the Oslo Energy Forum, mineral extraction including copper mining, will be crucial to the green transition. 

To date – since the beginning of human history – 700 million tonnes of copper have been mined. If we are to achieve net zero – and we will achieve that – another 700 million tonnes of copper will need to be mined before 2050.  

And most of this will take place in Africa. Copper is just one of many examples of Africa’s increasing importance in terms of access to critical raw materials.  

The Government has started work on a new strategy for Norway’s Africa policy, which will be presented in summer 2024. It will focus on Africa as a continent undergoing rapid development.

Mr President, in 1859, when Edwin Drake was drilling his oil well, the widespread use of horses posed a major environmental problem. In the late 1800s, more than one million kilos of horse manure were left behind every day on the streets of New York City alone. Back then, city planners were seeking a way to achieve a horseless urban society. And the oil age, with the advent of the automobile, provided the solution. Today, we are working to achieve a society without greenhouse gas emissions. 

In its Sixth Assessment Report, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has made it clear that without immediate, deep and sustained cuts in emissions, it will not be possible to limit global warming to 1.5°C . And as the transition from horse manure to car exhaust showed, we need a long time horizon to solve complex environmental problems. We must make sure that the solutions we find today do not create the crises of tomorrow.  

In addition to the climate crisis, the world is contending with environmental and biodiversity crises that have not become any less severe over the past year. 

Climate change is leading, among other things, to drought and food insecurity, which in turn is fuelling social unrest, extremism, violence and migration. This could pose a threat to international security. And this is why Norway worked to increase recognition of the links between climate change and security in the Security Council. Addressing the climate crisis is the greatest challenge of our time.

Mr President, today I have outlined some of the foreign policy challenges we are facing. But we must not forget that although the picture looks bleak, there are some glimmers of hope. I have mentioned some of them already.

We have made it through a pandemic. China is opening up again. Global health cooperation has benefited from new and valuable insights and is now more effective than it was before.

In the UN General Assembly, the vast majority of UN member states have condemned Russia’s war.

In Tigray in Ethiopia, a peace agreement has been signed, following talks facilitated by the African Union.  

Saudi Arabia and Iran, arch-rivals in the Middle East, have resumed dialogue. 

Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative is once again back on track in Brazil and Indonesia. 

Global environmental cooperation is advancing. Accompanied by further developments in international law. Under Norway’s presidency of the UN Environment Assembly, world leaders agreed to develop an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution. And a new agreement under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea was recently put in place to safeguard marine biodiversity in the high seas. In addition, the world’s countries have reached agreement on a new global biodiversity framework under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.  

Positive change is possible, even in today’s world with such a challenging security policy backdrop.

And today, Norwegians are travelling more than they did before. The Foreign Service provides assistance to Norwegians abroad every day. The number of trips abroad taken by Norwegians has risen from under two million in 2021 to more than seven million last year. In 2022, the Ministry’s travel information on the Government website,, had eight million visitors.

Mr President,

The oil age has changed Norway. When Norway became an oil nation in the 1970s, Farouk al-Kasim and others – not least the Storting – made some wise decisions and charted a way forward for our country.

Now we are on the threshold of a new era. A new security policy reality. A new energy policy reality. A new trade policy reality.

We must work together to find a way to navigate this new landscape. And to understand how it will change Norway.

That is why we need more debate about foreign policy. And I look forward to further discussion here in the Storting.