Speech/statement | Date: 19/04/2021 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
By Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide (Oslo, 19 April)
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide held this foreign policy address to the Storting 19 April.
What is Norwegian foreign policy?
Right now, on this April Monday morning?
This was how I began my foreign policy address two years ago, but it is worth asking the question again, not least because the answer is somewhat different now.
In Brussels, efforts are being made to coordinate our response to the Covid-19 pandemic with the EU.
In Addis Ababa, our embassy is finalising a new cooperation agreement with a human rights organisation.
In Stockholm, steps are being taken to maintain cross-border trade in goods via the Port of Gothenburg, the most important port for the export and import of containers from and to Norway.
In Moscow, Norway’s special representative for fisheries is discussing the management of fish stocks in the Barents Sea with the Russian authorities.
In a field in Colombia, a humanitarian organisation supported by Norway is about to start clearing mines.
And in a few hours’ time, in a digital debate in the UN Security Council in New York, a Norwegian State Secretary will highlight the African Union’s contribution to conflict prevention.
Together, thousands of tasks like these – both big and small – make up Norway’s foreign policy.
These actions often 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.
And it is through the sum of these individual actions that we show where Norway stands, the values Norway upholds and the way we think the world should develop.
It has been said that the world has experienced three major shocks since the start of the new millennium: the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the financial crisis in 2008 and the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.
One thing that these three widely different events have in common is that all three took most people somewhat by surprise. And all three changed the world, albeit in very different ways.
And this may be the case next time too, the next major event that completely changes the world may take us by surprise again.
There is at least one thing we can learn from this: Each government must obviously try to predict and prepare for a range of possible foreign policy scenarios, but its most important task is to develop a resilient foreign and security policy that can withstand sudden change and endure over time.
In a world that seems less safe and predictable than it used to be, our ties to the Nordic region and Europe are becoming ever more important.
I gave an address to the Storting on important EU and EEA matters just 11 days ago, and Norway’s relations with Europe will therefore not be covered in this year’s foreign policy address.
But let me be quite clear: Norway’s foreign policy starts in Europe. The pandemic has confirmed that we need to continue to further develop our close cooperation with the EU and the Nordic countries and work to make this cooperation more effective.
Europe is also a community of shared interests and values. And this is where Norway belongs.
The virus that was discovered just over a year ago has had enormous impacts all over the world. The Covid-19 pandemic will be a key topic in my address this year.
Good global health can be viewed as a stabilising factor in foreign policy. The pandemic is a health crisis, but it has also triggered a social and economic crisis. It is exacerbating other crises, with ramifications for food security and poverty, which in turn increases the risk of conflict and instability.
So far, over three people have died. Millions of jobs have been lost. Many countries are experiencing a deep and dramatic economic downturn. Confidence in global value chains has taken a major blow.
The pandemic is causing structural changes in society: work is being moved out of offices into people’s homes, children are being forced out of school, technology and travel habits are being turned upside down, some businesses are threatened with collapse while others are booming.
Inequality has increased, including between women and men. Vulnerable groups are being hit particularly hard.
Countries where the pandemic response has been poor are experiencing a decline in growth and prestige, while countries that are succeeding in combating the pandemic are winning respect.
These are good times for populists and authoritarian leaders, who are misusing legislation and infection control rules to set aside human rights and disregard the rule of law.
The impacts of the pandemic have been particularly severe in areas where there were already significant humanitarian challenges. UN-coordinated humanitarian appeals have risen by as much as 40 %.
If this trend is not reversed, we will not reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.
A global pandemic can only be defeated through a coordinated international response. In a way the pandemic has acted as a magnifying glass, revealing the aspects of international cooperation that actually work – and areas where multilateral efforts are falling short.
There are many examples of the great efforts being made by international organisations and international coalitions in response to the pandemic. At the same time, the pandemic has also drawn attention to the weaknesses in global cooperation, which is neither as effective nor as coordinated as we would wish.
This time it is the weaknesses in global health cooperation that have been brought to the fore.
Similar weaknesses can be found in global cooperation on climate change, on financial market stability, on poverty reduction and on sustainable development. And in other areas as well.
One of the lessons from this pandemic is that there is an urgent need to strengthen the global health architecture. But we must also work to strengthen the international architecture in other areas where it is inadequate.
Norway has taken on a leading role in what is currently one of the world’s most important tasks – ensuring global equitable access to vaccines, treatments and tests. Together with South Africa, Norway is co-chairing the Facilitation Council for the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, or ACT-A for short.
The ACT-Accelerator has supported the development of vaccine candidates and rapid tests at a pace the world has never seen before. Covax, the vaccines pillar, has so far secured agreements for the delivery of more than 2 billion vaccine doses in 2021.
The rollout of vaccines through Covax has already begun. So far, more than 38 million vaccine doses have been distributed to over 100 countries, and vaccination programmes are under way in Rwanda, Angola, Kenya and Nigeria, for example. We are also cooperating closely with the EU on the distribution of surplus doses.
Global health and vaccines have been priorities in Norwegian foreign, development and health policies for years. We played a key role in establishing the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (Cepi) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, the Government has supported the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO). We are seeking to further strengthen WHO’s leadership role – while recognising that combating a pandemic also requires cross-sectoral cooperation that extends far beyond the health sector.
WHO has an important role to play in promoting new knowledge that can be used to contain and suppress Covid-19 and future pandemics. To succeed, WHO must enjoy the confidence of all its member countries. Greater transparency and closer cooperation will be vital.
Norway is a small market and the full-scale manufacturing of pharmaceuticals in Norway is not a realistic option. The pandemic has made clear how dependent we are on exports from the manufacturing countries and on international cooperation to gain access to personal protective equipment, vaccines and other medicines.
European cooperation will be the cornerstone of Norway’s future preparedness. We must view global solutions in conjunction with European solutions.
The Italian Prime Minister and the President of the European Commission have invited Prime Minister Erna Solberg to participate in a global health summit within the G20 framework on 21 May. Improving global health security and future pandemic preparedness will be the main topics of discussion.
And the pandemic may also be increasing understanding of the need for political initiatives and processes more broadly, not just in the area of health. Under the Biden administration, the US has brought renewed dynamism to a number of international cooperation processes. From ideas for a global minimum corporate tax rate to talks with emerging economies on upping commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. New impetus in a number of areas could ultimately lead to more binding international cooperation, in contrast to the past few years where a great deal of time and energy has been spent on preventing multilateral governance structures from disintegrating or being dismantled.
If so, this is a trend that we have encouraged and will do our part to accelerate. This could provide opportunities for constructive diplomacy, where we must be on the lookout for any chance to influence new initiatives and emerging structures.
When faced with a global crisis, there is a danger that we exaggerate the unique nature of the changes we are experiencing.
While it is not difficult to find examples of the pandemic’s short-term impacts on high politics, there is no way of knowing whether the geopolitical impacts of Covid-19 will be as far-reaching from a historical perspective as we think they will be now while we are still in the throes of the pandemic. As Professor Joseph Nye has reminded us, the Spanish flu killed more people than World War I. Yet it was the war – not the pandemic – that changed the world.
For Norway, the security policy landscape does not look fundamentally different from how it looked this time last year.
Russia remains an important factor in our security policy, the US is our most important ally, and we still need to maintain close cooperation with our allies and partners in Europe. Foreign intelligence and influence activities continue to pose a major threat to Norwegian interests.
Relations between Russia and the West remain tense, not least due to a significant divergence in values and interests. Politically, Russia is becoming increasingly authoritarian, with ever greater restrictions on freedom and stronger reprisals against opposition groups and independent media and institutions. Russia’s military modernisation is continuing, and it is accompanied by strong anti-Western rhetoric. This is cause for concern, and this trend shows no sign of abating.
Russia is also our neighbour. As a result of our geographical proximity, we have common challenges that can best be addressed together. It is in our interests to maintain effective practical cooperation and broad political contact with Russia.
In the past few weeks, tensions in and around Ukraine have escalated due to Russia’s large military deployments in the area. Russia is clearly demonstrating its continued willingness to use military threats to achieve political aims. There has also been a sharp increase in the number of ceasefire violations in eastern Ukraine driven by armed groups that Russia is supplying with weapons, equipment and personnel.
Last week I called on Russia to pull back its recently deployed military forces and to take steps to stop the ceasefire violations by Russian-backed armed groups in eastern Ukraine. Norway has consistently expressed its support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within internationally recognised borders. We do so in various forums, such as the OSCE and the UN.
For some time now, we have witnessed significant shifts particularly in economic power, but also in military and political power. China’s position as an emerging major power is no longer a theoretical possibility; it is a fact. The consequences of, and response to, these shifts in power are now increasingly apparent. In the past few years, conflict and rivalry between the US and China has become one of the fulcrums of international politics.
This rivalry is deep-seated; it encompasses economics, technology, security and ideology, and it looks set to last. US tariffs – and Chinese countermeasures – are being introduced in more and more areas. This has implications for us too.
China has experienced enormous economic progress and a huge reduction in poverty in recent decades. We need to maintain constructive cooperation with China in many areas to address global challenges. Our policy of engagement with China remains unchanged. At the same time, we must recognise that on matters of values our two countries are often far apart.
Developments in Hong Kong and in Xinjiang are cause for concern. We have called on the Chinese authorities to respect human rights, stop the arbitrary detention of Uighurs and other minorities, and grant the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights unhindered access to the region.
We have repeatedly expressed our concerns about Xinjiang and Hong Kong in meetings with the Chinese authorities, including with the Chinese Foreign Minister when he visited Oslo in August.
We are also monitoring China’s interest and potential future ambitions in our neighbouring areas.
Major power rivalry is also putting economic globalisation under pressure. Growing protectionism and challenges in the World Trade Organization may make it more difficult to safeguard value chains, technology and critical infrastructure without undermining global free trade.
Global greenhouse gas emissions actually declined in 2020 as a result of last year’s reduced economic activity. But even though the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is going faster than was predicted until recently, the impacts of climate change are increasing.
Not least in the Arctic, where the warmer climate and melting sea ice are dramatically changing the region.
Some 9 % of Norway’s population lives north of the Arctic Circle, a greater proportion than in any other country in the world.
Norway is now entering its last six months as chair of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. We have focused on knowledge, health, youth issues, people-to-people contact, and not least cross-border trust, and we attach great importance to this work.
In the new white paper on Norway’s Arctic policy, the Government makes it clear that the Arctic will continue to be Norway’s most important area of strategic responsibility. We are going to discuss the white paper straight after this address, and I will go into more detail then.
Covid-19 is not just a health crisis. It is an economic and social crisis, a human rights crisis, and a crisis for women’s and girls’ rights and gender equality.
The pandemic has intensified the pressure on human rights that we have seen over the past decade – including on our own continent. According to the Swedish research institute Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem), as much as 68 % of the world’s population were living in electoral autocracies at the end of 2020, as opposed to 48 % in 2010. Things have been going in the wrong direction for some time.
The Covid-19 crisis has further challenged democracy and the rule of law. Leaders with authoritarian tendencies have used the pandemic as a pretext to expand their power and silence critical voices.
In many places, disinformation activities – themselves a violation of human rights – are undermining efforts to contain the spread of infection. Disinformation has also led to increased polarisation and a new wave of hate speech targeting marginalised and vulnerable groups in many countries.
Growing poverty and school closures are making children more vulnerable to violence and abuse. Child labour is on the rise. Ensuring that children can return to school will continue to be a key priority. Girls are particularly vulnerable – the UN has estimated that a further 11 million girls will have to drop out of school because of the pandemic.
There has been a serious rise in sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and domestic violence all over the world. Child marriage, maternal mortality and unwanted pregnancies are increasing. The situation of people with disabilities has also deteriorated as a result of the pandemic.
The overall picture is dramatic and disheartening, but there are some bright spots.
From the outset, we have made it clear that all post-Covid recovery efforts must adequately incorporate human rights and a gender-quality perspective. The inclusion of people with disabilities is a priority for the Government, and next year the Norwegian Government will co-host the Global Disability Summit with the International Disability Alliance.
We will continue our close cooperation to promote human rights with a wide range of civil society organisations. We will provide our partners with the flexibility they need to adapt to changing situations and protect human rights defenders, people exercising their right to freedom of expression and vulnerable groups on the ground.
We will take up the fight for women’s economic and political empowerment at the international level, and will promote women’s and girls’ rights during – and after – the pandemic, including sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The latter has already become easier since the new US administration took over. The Biden administration’s rapid repeal of the Mexico City policy, which Norway has expressed its strong opposition to, was a hugely important signal in both political and practical terms.
I look forward to being able to move on from using so much of our resources and energy to defend established rights and fight against setbacks to being able to promote and strengthen the global normative framework.
Such as working to promote freedom of expression, a key priority of our foreign policy. Because if there is one thing the pandemic has reminded us of, it is the importance of freedom of expression – not only as a right in itself, but also as a vital element of any democracy and as a means to protect and promote other rights.
This summer, the Government will present a new international strategy for promoting freedom of expression, which will clarify Norway’s priorities. Key focus areas will include media diversity and press freedom, the safety of journalists, digital security, freedom of artistic expression, and freedom of expression for women and girls, and for minorities.
In the light of the grave human rights situation globally, I would like to draw attention to the new sanctions act that entered into force last Friday. With this act in place, we can now implement EU restrictive measures that Norway has aligned itself with in Norwegian law quickly and effectively – including asset freezes. This applies for example to the new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime targeting serious human rights violations and abuses worldwide.
The global humanitarian situation has deteriorated as a result of the pandemic. Never before have we seen such a dramatic increase in humanitarian needs.
As many as 235 million people will need protection and humanitarian assistance this year. If they were inhabitants of a single country, it would be the fifth largest in the world.
That is why the Government is providing a record-high NOK 6.3 billion in humanitarian funding in 2021 to strengthen its efforts to protect civilians, improve food security and provide humanitarian assistance to displaced people in countries affected by crisis and conflict.
Both this year and last, we have disbursed core support to UN humanitarian organisations and funding to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (Cerf) at an early stage. This is important to provide the organisations with the predictability and flexibility they need to respond rapidly to changing humanitarian needs.
Our support to the World Food Programme (WFP) has increased significantly, from NOK 300 million to NOK 800 million, and support to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has been increased from NOK 380 million to NOK 680 million. Our contribution helped enable WFP to shoulder its global responsibility for emergency aid logistics and transport despite lockdowns and other obstacles.
We have also given Norwegian humanitarian organisations greater flexibility to adjust their priorities so that they can focus on areas where the needs are most acute. A total of NOK 1.7 billion has recently been disbursed to the Norwegian Refugee Council, Norwegian Red Cross, Norwegian Church Aid, Norwegian People’s Aid, Save the Children Norway and Caritas Norway to support their humanitarian efforts in 2021.
By the end of the year, we will have delivered on the pledge the Government gave at the international conference on ending SGBV in humanitarian crises that we organised in Oslo nearly two years ago. There we announced an allocation of NOK 1 billion in humanitarian support to strengthen efforts to combat SGBV and enhance access to sexual and reproductive health services in crisis-affected areas.
The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of Norway’s focus on providing unearmarked core support to international organisations.
This kind of flexible funding has helped pave the way for major multilateral initiatives to combat Covid-19, which will be crucial for getting poor countries back up and running again and for preventing major setbacks in the efforts to achieve the SDGs.
It is 10 years since the Arab Spring began, with ensuing consequences for many countries in the region.
We are all aware of the tragedy that unfolded in Syria. For 10 years, we have witnessed human suffering, devastation and brutality on an inconceivable scale. A generation of young Syrians has missed out on schooling and opportunities. Over half a million people have been killed and more than 12 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes.
During the course of these years, Norway has supported the Syrian population through what has been Norway’s largest ever humanitarian effort. Since 2011, Norway has provided more than NOK 15 billion in humanitarian aid to Syria and its neighbouring countries Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.
Norway has provided more humanitarian aid to Syria per capita than any other country in the world. In 2021, we will provide a further NOK 1.6 billion in aid to Syria and its neighbouring countries to meet the basic needs of refugees and internally displaced people and safeguard their rights to health and education.
It is also 10 years since Norway took part in the Nato operation to protect the civilian population in Libya from attacks by the Gaddafi regime.
Developments over the years since the international campaign have not been as hoped. The lack of national institutions has undermined both security and the provision of public services to an already hard-hit population. Various militias, foreign fighters and armed groups have fought for control of territory and resources. Human trafficking, smuggling and the proliferation of weapons from Libyan stockpiles have further destabilised the region.
As in Syria, the conflict in Libya has been internationalised, with interference from regional and international actors. These have deployed soldiers to Libya and defied the arms embargo imposed by the UN.
We are currently seeing certain positive developments in Libya. In March, a new unity government was endorsed by Libya’s parliament, which was meeting for the first time in many years. The interim government will prepare Libya for presidential and parliamentary elections to be held on 24 December this year – the 70th anniversary of Libya’s independence.
Norway will give its full support to the political process Libya is now embarking on and to UN efforts in the country. Libya’s leaders will face many challenges in the time ahead. The way forward may be difficult. I will have a digital meeting with Libya’s new Prime Minister at the beginning of next week.
Following the Sudanese revolution in 2019, Sudan is still in the midst of a transition process. Although it faces many challenges, Sudan has taken important steps to implement much-needed reforms and to normalise its relations with the international community. Norway is providing assistance in cooperation with close allies and friends.
Developments in the Middle East have a direct impact on Europe and Norway. The flows of refugees and the international effort to combat ISIL are examples. Norway will continue to engage in processes to promote lasting peace in many of the conflicts in the Middle East, including Syria, Libya, Yemen and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.
The fundamental building blocks of our security policy remain largely unchanged.
Let me highlight three of them:
- binding international cooperation,
- strong transatlantic ties,
- and close cooperation with Europe.
Just as before the pandemic, Norway is best served by an international legal order where major powers are bound together by agreements and binding cooperation in important areas.
The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) is the cornerstone of the multilateral disarmament and non-proliferation regime. The Review Conference in 2010 highlighted three key principles for disarmament: transparency, verifiability and irreversibility. Norway has taken responsibility internationally for promoting disarmament verification, and will also chair the UN’s second group of governmental experts on this issue. Efforts to promote nuclear disarmament verification will be an important topic at the next NPT Review Conference.
Norway will also initiate a process to develop a common understanding of what the principle of irreversibility means in practice. This will entail reaching an international consensus on what is needed to ensure confidence that a nuclear disarmament initiative, once implemented, cannot be reversed. As with verification, we believe that this is a field where states can cooperate, where we can give new impetus to disarmament efforts – and not least where we can counteract polarisation.
In recent months, the US has shown a willingness to re-engage in disarmament and arms control efforts. The decision to extend the New START treaty by five years was a good one. This allows time to further develop the treaty, raise the ambition level and include new countries. We need a treaty that encompasses all categories of nuclear weapons, and we need to see further reductions in the number of nuclear weapons. This will not be an easy task, but it is encouraging that there is now a willingness to try. Norway stands ready to do its part.
It is worrying that countries such as Russia and China have been contributing to a growing arms race. We interpret the UK’s new review of security and defence policy as a response to this. This is not a development that we wish to see. We have communicated our views to the UK.
Technological advances have made it possible to develop weapons that are not covered by existing agreements. For a new arms control regime to be effective, the major powers must reach agreements that reflect the new security policy, military and technological realities.
Americans elect their own president, but there is little doubt that the election also has a huge impact on the rest of the world, including us.
The new US administration attaches importance to international cooperation and coordination with allies and friends. Under President Biden, the US will re-engage in global health efforts and the US will remain a member of the World Health Organization. This is important.
President Biden quickly brought the US back into the Paris Agreement again. He has invited Prime Minister Solberg and 40 other international leaders to a climate summit this Thursday. And the level of ambition in climate policy is high. The Government is seeking to strengthen Norway’s cooperation with the US on climate issues and in the area of health, both bilaterally and in various international initiatives. We took the initiative early on to establish a dialogue with the Biden administration on common interests and opportunities for cooperation in these areas.
Most important of all for us are our close security policy ties with the US. The US is without doubt our most important ally. We cooperate closely, both bilaterally and through Nato. The Government believes, however, that there is scope to further strengthen our bilateral cooperation. We also welcome the revitalised US engagement in Nato.
Our ties to the US have remained so close for so many decades because we have a relationship that is not only based on shared interests and a long history. It is also based on shared democratic values.
There is no reason to conceal the fact that these values were put to the test after the presidential election in November. The election result was systematically undermined, culminating in the storming of the US Capitol building on 6 January. For Norway and other democratic countries, it was important to make it clear that this was an unacceptable attack on democracy, and that the outgoing president bore significant political responsibility for what happened.
Norway and the US have negotiated a Supplementary Defense Cooperation Agreement – or SDCA for short. The Agreement both updates and further develops the agreements that are already in place. It is an important component of the Government’s work to strengthen the defence of Norway. The SDCA was approved in the Council of State on Friday.
Norway’s defence is based on three main elements: our national defence capability, collective defence through Nato, and bilateral support and reinforcement from close allies such as the US.
Regular exercises and training activities by Allies in Norway, ideally together with Norwegian forces, are at the core of this defence concept. This gives credibility to the security guarantee and reinforcement plans. The alternative to reinforcement of Norway in the event of war or crisis would be a permanent Allied presence in Norway. This would not be in line with Norwegian interests and would conflict with Norway’s policy on the stationing of foreign forces on Norwegian territory. That is why we are creating a framework whereby Allies can provide reinforcements should this become necessary. This will be achieved through exercises, training, the prepositioning of equipment, supplies and materiel, and investments – all key elements of Norwegian security and defence policy for decades.
Our cooperation with our allies is under continuous development. The SDCA reaffirms Norway’s close relationship with the US, based on over 70 years of constructive security policy cooperation within the framework of Nato. It also confirms Norway’s key position on Nato’s northern flank.
The Government is pleased to have concluded this agreement with the US. In practice, it will facilitate joint training activities and enable the US to provide even better support to Norway in the event of war or crisis. This is important for Norway’s security and Norwegian interests.
The SDCA provides a framework for US military activity in Norway and for potential infrastructure investments by the US in Norway.
It is the Norwegian authorities that assess the need for and approve Allied activity on Norwegian territory, in Norwegian airspace and in Norwegian waters. This will continue to be the case for US military activity too.
The SDCA does not entail any changes to key security policy principles. This was one of the Government’s fundamental conditions for signing the Agreement. The Agreement explicitly states that nothing in it alters Norway’s policy regarding the stationing of foreign forces on Norwegian territory. There will be no permanent bases for foreign combat forces on Norwegian soil during peacetime. The Agreement also makes clear that Norway’s policy on the stockpiling or deployment of nuclear weapons on Norwegian territory still applies. A proposition on consent to ratification of the Agreement and one proposing the legislation needed to implement it in Norwegian law will be presented to the Storting during the autumn session. The Storting will then consider the Agreement and the necessary legislative amendments.
Nato’s military strength is dependent on its political cohesion. For this reason, the Alliance agreed to instigate a reflection process to strengthen Nato following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in London in 2019. This process has triggered an important debate both on priorities and on how to revitalise Nato as a political consultation forum.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has moved this discussion forward, under the banner of Nato 2030, putting forward concrete proposals for reforming and strengthening Nato as a political alliance. Nato 2030 will be a key topic at the summit later this year.
The Government welcomes this debate within Nato. We are open to ways to strengthen the Alliance, including new meeting formats and more frequent meetings at the political level. The Secretary General has also proposed significantly strengthening common funding arrangements. This is a proposal that we will assess closely, and that is currently being discussed in the Alliance.
Above all, we welcome the fact that the Nato 2030 initiative has focused attention on how the Alliance should deal with new security challenges, such as the impacts of climate change, new technology and hybrid threats. In all likelihood, the summit will give the go-ahead to start work on revising Nato’s Strategic Concept. The current Strategic Concept was adopted in 2010, and is not tailored to today’s security policy situation.
Twenty years ago, Nato invoked Article 5 for the first and only time in its history, in response to the terrorist attacks on the US on 11 September 2001. The Trump administration made a commitment to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan by 1 May under a peace agreement reached with the Taliban, which also included the start of peace talks between the Afghan Government and the Taliban. The Biden administration has conducted a policy review of US options in Afghanistan. At the meeting of Nato Foreign and Defence Ministers on 14 April, it was decided to withdraw all military forces from Afghanistan. The drawdown will begin on 1 May and will be completed in the course of September 2021.
The Government fully supports this decision – we went into Afghanistan together and we will leave together.
Nato’s mission in Afghanistan – first ISAF, and more recently the Resolute Support Mission – is the largest operation undertaken by Nato since its foundation in 1949. The mission is now entering its final phase. Nato started making plans for the withdrawal of its forces a while ago. Norway has made it clear that this must be done in an orderly, coordinated way. The Taliban has signalled that it may now carry out attacks on Allied forces. The security of our forces will be our top priority in the time ahead.
The challenges we are confronted with in Afghanistan are complex, and there are no good solutions. We and our Allies have sacrificed human lives and spent huge sums in an effort to create a stable, forward-looking Afghanistan that will not pose a terrorist threat to the rest of the world in the future and where people’s fundamental human rights are safeguarded.
A great deal has been achieved over the past 20 years. But development in Afghanistan continues to be held back by conflict. It is vital that the Afghans themselves own and lead the process towards peace. Regional actors also have an important role to play.
In the peace process, we will work to safeguard the progress that has been made over the past 20 years – in particular relating to women’s rights, the right of girls to education and the inclusion of ethnic and religious minorities. While Nato prepares to withdraw its forces, diplomatic efforts to secure a peace agreement between the parties are continuing. There are no simple or risk-free solutions, but the conflict cannot be resolved by military means.
In Doha, where the peace negotiations are taking place, we are providing assistance together with the UN and a small group of countries. As host country, Qatar also has a small team present.
To achieve further progress and development in Afghanistan, it is important to maintain a high level of aid. This will be conditional on the country continuing to be based on values we can identify with and clear progress being made in the fight against corruption. We must be prepared for the fact that the international community may face difficult compromises as the process moves forwards.
The Paris Agreement provides the framework for the international cooperation required to achieve vital reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. But Paris was just the start, and cooperation under the Agreement must be strengthened.
In 2020, the EU, China, Japan and South Korea all presented new emission reduction targets. Businesses and investors are increasingly driving work in this field, and the US now has high ambitions. This gives grounds for hope.
The UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow in November must raise the level of ambition so that the world can achieve the long-term temperature target of the Paris Agreement – and implement the Agreement. Unfortunately, only around 40 % of the parties to the Agreement have so far revised or enhanced their formal emission reduction targets, or nationally determined contributions. It is important that all countries, particularly the major emitters, submit revised or new targets as soon as possible.
Norway submitted its enhanced emission reduction target under the Paris Agreement as early as February last year, and was one of the first countries to do so. We significantly increased our target, from a cut of at least 40 % to a cut of at least 50 % and towards 55 % from the 1990 level. The climate action plan presented by the Government in January will bring new momentum to Norwegian climate policy.
At the same time, Norway will continue to shoulder its share of the responsibility for providing climate finance to poor countries. It is the world’s most vulnerable people who are most severely affected by climate change.
Last week, the Government launched a new strategy on climate change, hunger and vulnerability in developing countries. The Government will work to prevent famines and crises relating to food security by strengthening early warning mechanisms and by providing financial support when a crisis warning has been issued.
The oceans and the ocean industries have a key role to play in the post-Covid global economic recovery. Close international cooperation on sustainable ocean management is therefore more important than ever.
The High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) presented its conclusions at the end of 2020. The Ocean Panel is a good example of innovative multilateralism. At the initiative of Prime Minister Solberg, 14 heads of state and government from all over the world came together to form a ‘coalition of the willing’ to spearhead the effort to promote an ambitious ocean policy.
The Ocean Panel's member countries have made a commitment to sustainably manage 100 % of the ocean areas under their national jurisdiction, in line with Sustainable Ocean Plans, by 2025.
The Panel urges all other coastal states to develop integrated ocean management plans by 2030 as well. This will quite literally lead to a watershed in the efforts to ensure clean, healthy and productive oceans for future generations. The Government attaches importance to protecting the oceans to ensure future use and promote a sustainable ocean economy.
The organisation of the Ocean Panel’s work, involving close cooperation between policymakers, the public administration, experts and external stakeholders can be held up as a good example of innovative, successful international cooperation.
The Panel has generated new, important knowledge both on the seriousness of the threats to ocean health and the importance of the oceans to human wellbeing and the global economy. In a difficult international landscape, the Ocean Panel’s working methods can also serve as a model for efforts in other areas.
Coalitions of this kind could supplement established multilateral structures. It is possible to develop new, effective forms of cooperation that can gradually be integrated into the established multilateral system.
As a major maritime nation, we have much to gain from taking responsibility and leading the international effort to promote healthy and productive oceans. Among other things, we will work to generate support for a global agreement to combat marine litter.
Norway is currently serving on the governing bodies of both the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
We are now entering our last six months as a member of the IAEA Board of Governors. One of the Agency’s primary tasks is to ensure that nuclear technology is only used for peaceful purposes. The IAEA has maintained its inspection activities across the world throughout the pandemic.
Inspections by the IAEA are a fundamental component of the nuclear deal with Iran (JCPOA). The IAEA has issued regular reports on new aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme that are in breach of the JCPOA.
Norway has expressed deep concern about Iran’s failure to comply with the JCPOA. Iran’s decision to start enriching uranium to up to 60 % purity is a worrying step in the wrong direction.
In Norway’s view, the nuclear deal – which is intended to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons – is important for regional and international security.
The ongoing talks in Vienna show that the parties are willing to explore options to allow the US to return to the JCPOA and promote Iran’s full compliance with the agreement. These are very difficult discussions that may take time to complete. We urge the parties to continue their dialogue.
IAEA inspections will also be vital if at some point a political solution is found with North Korea. The international, independent and credible system of safeguards it provides reinforces the Security Council’s efforts to promote political solutions.
We are using our term on the Board of Governors to support the IAEA’s work, highlight the independence of the Director General, and safeguard the integrity of the inspection regime.
Norway began a two-year term as a member of the Executive Council of the OPCW in May 2020. The OPCW agenda is still dominated by the use of chemical weapons in Syria and the poisoning of Alexei Navalny.
Russia and its like-minded countries are actively seeking to undermine the authority and legitimacy of the OPCW leadership and Technical Secretariat. Norway has expressed its full confidence in the OPCW both in the Executive Council and in the Security Council. Norway will continue to give its full support to the OPCW’s work.
Together with 57 other countries, Norway co-sponsored a joint statement in the OPCW strongly condemning the use of a chemical weapon against Mr Navalny. At the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to be held this week, we are also co-sponsoring a draft Decision on suspending some of Syria’s rights and privileges under the CWC. The draft Decision comes in response to the OPCW’s findings that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian air force was responsible for the use of chemical weapons on three separate occasions in 2017. Last week, a new OPCW report concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a chemical attack in February 2018 was carried out by a Syrian military helicopter.
We are working to ensure that the OPCW and the IAEA function as intended and have the resources they need. In the Security Council, we consistently express our full support for the integrity and independence of the IAEA and the OPCW.
The best way to promote Norway’s interests is through a rules-based world order and binding international cooperation. Our membership of the Security Council and the governing bodies of the IAEA and the OPCW is an important part of our efforts to promote international peace and security.
I welcome the Storting’s interest in Norway’s membership of the Security Council. In line with the decision taken in February, part of this year’s foreign policy address will focus on this. I also refer to the address I gave in December on Norway’s Security Council membership, and I will give another one in the autumn.
The pandemic continues to affect both the form and the substance of the Security Council’s work.
At the moment, virtual meetings are still the norm. We look forward to the day when we can convene around the table in the Security Council Chamber once again.
Despite new ways of working, and the obstacles this poses to diplomatic efforts, the Security Council has maintained a high level of activity.
Soon after the pandemic started, UN Secretary-General António Guterres issued an appeal for a global ceasefire as part of the global response. The most recent Security Council resolution on Covid-19 (2565) demands a ‘sustained humanitarian pause’ and calls for unhindered humanitarian access and protection of civilians.
Through our networks and by virtue of our role as facilitator in various processes, we have urged parties to conflict to agree to humanitarian ceasefires. In the Philippines, the parties responded by bringing a temporary end to the fighting, while in Colombia, the ELN guerrilla group took the first step in this direction, with positive humanitarian consequences as a result. Norway has also promoted humanitarian dialogue between parties in certain conflicts, for example in Venezuela.
However, the response to the Secretary-General’s appeal has unfortunately been limited so far, and ensuring access to vaccines in conflict-affected areas remains a distinct challenge.
The pandemic is exacerbating conflicts and making the parties’ peace efforts more difficult. Norway is seeking to promote progress in various peace processes and has given priority to maintaining its peace diplomacy efforts. The increased use of digital platforms has lowered the threshold for including different social groups in dialogues and peace processes. This is a positive trend that we will build on after the pandemic as well.
One of Norway’s main priorities in the Security Council is to increase recognition of the links between climate change and security.
This work has gained renewed impetus this year, not least due to the high-level open debate on climate and security held on 23 February, in which many heads of state and government participated, including Prime Minister Solberg.
The debate showed that there is now a somewhat more positive dynamic in this area, primarily because of the new US administration. But this is also due to the broad engagement of most of the elected Council members, many of which are themselves directly affected by climate-related security threats.
I have previously referred to climate change as a threat multiplier, that is, a factor that exacerbates existing conflicts, but may also create new ones.
In her statement, the Prime Minister referred to a vicious circle: climate change undermines conflict resolution efforts, and conflict weakens resilience to climate change.
The majority of the Security Council members recognise this connection. However, a few still believe that this stretches the boundaries of the Security Council’s authority and question the links between climate change and conflict.
In Norway’s view, the Security Council needs to improve its information and basis for decision-making, for example through regular briefings by the UN Secretary-General. The UN Secretary-General should also appoint a special representative for climate and security.
Through its cooperation with the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) and Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is seeking to provide the Council with a better knowledge base for understanding how climate change affects security. In 2022, Norway will also chair the informal expert group on climate and security.
This work requires a long-term perspective, and we will only gain acceptance for our views if we put forward thorough, well-documented proposals. But this work clearly pays off. In January, the Security Council extended the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in Cyprus. As a result of Norway’s efforts, a reference to the impacts of climate change and environmental protection as elements in the dialogue between the parties was included in the mandate for the first time.
It is true that the dynamics in the Security Council have been challenging for a long time. But our impression after nearly four months of our term as a member is that the atmosphere in the Council is now more constructive than it has been for quite a while. A new US administration that expresses greater willingness to cooperate and engage is part of this.
In addition to the Covid-19 resolution, the Council has so far adopted resolutions on Cyprus, Sudan, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, the Central African Republic, North Korea and Libya. In two of these, one relating to the renewal of the Yemen sanctions regime and the other increasing the size of the military and police components of the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) in the Central African Republic, only one Council member has abstained. The rest have been adopted unanimously.
Often, a united Security Council will have greater value and impact than can be derived from the specific wording of a resolution.
The fact that the Security Council’s 15 members managed to unite behind two joint statements on the situation in Myanmar following the military coup is a good example, and the presidential statement condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters is perhaps a particularly good case in point. It was by no means a given that the Security Council would reach agreement – it is over 10 years since the Council issued a statement about the political situation in Myanmar. All the Council’s members, including Russia and regional actors such as China, India and ASEAN member Vietnam, supported the statements. This has far more impact than if the Western countries had issued a statement independently – outside the Council.
At the same time, the situation on the ground in Myanmar is steadily deteriorating.
Several hundred people have been killed by the security forces, several thousand have been injured and several thousand have also been arbitrarily detained. The military regime has now indicated that the one-year state of emergency that was imposed recently may be extended by up to two years. What the regime refers to as ‘democratic elections’ will in that case be postponed accordingly. In parallel with this, more and more charges are being brought against Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The situation is deeply worrying. Norway is working to keep Myanmar on the Security Council’s agenda, and we have called on the Council to explore further possible measures.
Norway has suspended state-to-state knowledge-development programmes between public institutions in Norway and Myanmar. We are maintaining our support for efforts to promote peace and democracy, protect human rights and provide humanitarian aid.
The conflict in the Tigray region in Ethiopia is another complex conflict that Norway has helped to place on the Security Council’s agenda. Norway has called on the parties to end the fighting and ensure humanitarian access to enable the provision of life-saving humanitarian assistance and the protection of civilians.
Disturbing reports of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity must be followed up through independent investigations and prosecution of the perpetrators. The situation is also affecting neighbouring countries and is threatening regional security. Our aim is for the Security Council, in cooperation with the African Union (AU), to encourage the parties to the conflict to find solutions that can de-escalate the situation and provide a foundation for reconciliation within the country and with neighbouring countries. Since November 2020, Norway has allocated over NOK 100 million in funding to support the humanitarian response to the crisis in Tigray.
Our statements to the Security Council contain calls to action and recommendations to other countries’ authorities, parties to conflict and the international community.
We give particular priority to highlighting the importance of protection of civilians, including children, women’s participation and rights in peace processes, and security challenges that are exacerbated by climate change. The fact that we and other countries raise these issues means that they will be included more widely in the Council’s decision-making processes.
We have succeeded in incorporating stronger guiding principles for advancing the women, peace and security agenda in a number of written products. We are also working to strengthen the wording on sexual violence against women, protection of civilians and climate and security in presidential statements and renewed mandates. In connection with the adoption in February of the Security Council resolution renewing the Yemen sanctions regime, Norway worked systematically with like-minded countries – and with success – to secure the first listing for sexual violence ever in this sanctions regime.
And we have taken on key leadership tasks. We are chairing the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Sanctions Committee, the Isil (Da'esh) and Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee, and the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict. These are challenging tasks, but this is also a vote of confidence in us from the Security Council’s other members.
Norway is also co-penholder for the situation in Afghanistan and for the humanitarian situation in Syria. These are important and difficult assignments. But through our efforts in these areas, we will both promote Norwegian priorities and contribute to issues of crucial importance to international peace and security. In March, Norway and Estonia, as co-penholders, led the work of developing a joint Security Council statement condemning attacks targeting civilians in Afghanistan.
The work to achieve consensus in the Security Council can at times be demanding, and on certain issues the various members can be far apart. Our room for manoeuvre in the Security Council is contingent on the positions of the other members. Nevertheless, we work systematically to move matters forward, particularly in areas that are a high priority for Norway.
The Security Council’s ability and readiness to take action are determined by the combined will of its 15 members. Many issues on the Council’s agenda require a consensus. Security Council resolutions are the exception; these require at least nine votes in favour and no veto from any of the five permanent members.
Finding common solutions entails making – and accepting – compromises with the other 14 Council members. A reworked product issued by the Council as a whole, whether it is a resolution, a presidential statement or a press release, will have a greater impact than the alternatives, either a split Security Council or even worse, a silent, paralysed Security Council where we end up promoting our key messages alone or together with like-minded members – outside the Council.
In this context, it is important to emphasise that even though the Security Council’s members do not always succeed in reaching agreement, this is still the general rule.
Our first few months as an elected member of the Security Council have shown that it is possible to gain acceptance and support for Norway’s priorities in the Council’s ongoing work and resolutions.
When I gave my address last year, few people envisaged that just a week later borders and airspace would be closed, countries would introduce curfews, and planes all over the world would be grounded.
On 14 March last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued global travel advice. For the first time ever, the Ministry advised against non-essential travel to all countries. Norwegian citizens travelling abroad were told to find a safe way to return to Norway.
From many places, this was easier said than done. An aviation guarantee scheme was established to help the airlines in a very difficult situation. This was a partnership between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Transport and involved a state guarantee to cover the costs to the airlines of carrying out scheduled flights and charter flights. Individual passengers paid for their own tickets, but we ensured that the flights could go ahead.
In the course of a few hectic spring weeks, some 6 500 passengers on 51 flights returned safely to Norway from a wide range of countries including Morocco, Spain, Turkey, Brazil, Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan and Cyprus. Consular assistance is an important part of the Foreign Service’s area of responsibility.
The question I began 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 the work we do for Norway.
While I have been standing here at this podium, Norwegian foreign policy is being implemented in practice throughout the world.
In Yangon, embassy staff are helping Norwegian citizens who want to leave Myanmar in the wake of the military coup.
In Geneva, our Permanent Mission to the UN is preparing for digital consultations on the reform of the World Health Organization.
And here in Oslo and in a large number of other cities across the world, we are continuing our efforts to promote Norwegian interests.