Speech/statement | Date: 22/03/2022 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
By Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt (Oslo, 22 March)
Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt held her address for the Storting 22 March. She started with the decision the Storting took 73 years ago: Voting in favour of Norwegian membership in Nato.
There is war in Europe.
It is a brutal reminder of what foreign policy seeks to prevent.
On 29 March, it will be 73 years since the representatives in this chamber voted – by roll call vote – on Proposition No. 40 to the Storting. The year was 1949.
Nearly all 150 members of the Storting – 143 men and 7 women – were present in the chamber. The public gallery was packed with people keen to follow the debate.
The Storting voted, by 130 votes to 13, in favour of Norway signing and ratifying the North Atlantic Treaty.
The Treaty was signed in Washington seven days later by Foreign Minister Lange. Norway had become a member of Nato.
To a large extent, our membership of Nato has defined our place in the world for two generations.
The decision to join Nato made it clear where Norway stands.
Who we are.
Which side we are on when it really matters.
Over the past few weeks, I have found myself reflecting on the decision the Storting took that day.
About its importance.
About the importance of our foreign policy choices.
Choices that may seem obvious to later generations. But at the time, the decision to join Nato was by no means a given. It was a difficult decision taken against the backdrop of the complex, post-war political landscape.
In the current situation, it is only natural to wonder where Norway would have been today if the Storting had voted differently in 1949.
Not since the Second World War has there been war in Europe with ramifications on the scale we are now witnessing.
Russia’s war in Ukraine has changed the security policy situation in Europe, and thus also the framework for Norwegian foreign and security policy.
Our Russian neighbour in the north is now more unstable, unpredictable and therefore more dangerous than before.
Our 30-year-long policy of developing good neighbourly relations with Russia has been disrupted.
This will have an impact on our Arctic policy.
Finland may choose to apply for Nato membership. Sweden may follow suit. What our Nordic neighbours, Finland and Sweden, decide to do is entirely up to them.
All the same, a watershed moment for strategic and security policy in the Nordic region, and thus also in Norway, is close at hand.
Nato’s importance as a collective defence alliance has been reinforced. But at the same time, the EU has gained new relevance as a security policy actor.
Continued uncertainty about the political situation in the US will lead to greater focus on Europe’s own capacity in the development of European security policy.
A protracted war in Ukraine, in which Nato’s direct role is limited in order to avoid escalation and prevent the conflict from spreading, will clarify the division of tasks and responsibilities between Nato and the EU in the area of security policy.
It is still too early to assess the full extent of the consequences for Norwegian security and Norwegian foreign policy. But the consequences could be far-reaching.
In addition to my ongoing contact with the bodies of the Storting, I will, in the course of the spring and before the Nato summit, invite the Storting to work with the Government to promote broad support for Norway’s security policy.
The Government will in due course present proposals to the Storting for how Norway can best address the long-term repercussions of recent developments for Norwegian security policy interests.
Yesterday, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson visited the Nato Cold Response exercise. She was accompanied by Swedish opposition leader Ulf Kristersson.
This says a lot.
As Prime Minister Andersson explained, although she and Mr Kristersson disagree on many issues, they are both committed to safeguarding Sweden’s security.
This is not the time just to repeat the same old arguments or for I-told-you-sos.
We need to take a fresh look at the situation. Together.
Now is the time to show Norway at its best.
To show that we can stand together when it really matters.
To not deliberately misunderstand each other in the security policy debate.
And to show how well we can cooperate with our neighbours.
To address the immediate crisis situation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has temporarily increased staffing levels at a number of Norwegian missions in Eastern Europe. In the longer term, the Government will work to strengthen our ability to analyse the emerging security policy and foreign policy situation and assess the implications for Norway.
We have enjoyed several decades of peace. There have been few threats to vital Norwegian security and foreign policy interests, and to our own corner of the world. We have been lucky for 30 years.
But now the situation is different.
For this reason, I have started reviewing the structure of the Foreign Service in order to ensure that we have the diplomatic resources and know-how to cope with a new era in Europe. To safeguard fundamental Norwegian interests moving forward.
We will need to set clear priorities.
Mr President, there are black clouds gathering on the foreign policy horizon.
Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine is the most glaring case in point.
But beyond that – as a result of that – the contours of something much more ominous are coming into view.
Something that will not just affect Norwegian security policy and our relations with Russia. But that will change the entire European landscape.
- It will affect markets.
- It will affect energy prices.
- It will affect food security.
- There is a real danger of humanitarian crises in Europe on a scale that we have not seen for decades.
Global growth could cease and be replaced by stagflation. We are seeing weak and failed states in Europe’s neighbourhood. We are seeing increasing rivalry between the major powers, rising tensions and a more assertive and authoritarian China. There is growing pressure on the UN and the multilateral world order. Global disarmament efforts could stall.
And all this is happening in the midst of a climate crisis that we need to address more urgently than ever.
This is the dark horizon we have before us, Mr President.
Norway may be better equipped than any other country in the world to face this situation. Norway has every chance of weathering this storm.
But it will not be easy. For any of us.
We will be faced with tough choices and decisions.
Decisions that – like the one made by the Storting in March 1949 – will play a part in defining Norway’s role in the world.
The Government considers it important to pursue a clear and predictable foreign policy.
The world has condemned Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine and supports Ukraine’s fight for freedom and democracy.
For Norwegian and European security, the war represents a turning point.
Democracy, freedom and international law must also be defended through action. Norway stands firmly together with its European partners and allies in responding to Russia’s aggression.
Mr President, the humanitarian ties between Norway and Ukraine go back a long way.
Stalin’s brutal policies of the 1920s and ’30s led to famine in Ukraine, and millions of people died of starvation. Ukrainians refer to the famine as Holodomor – literally, extermination by hunger.
The efforts of Norwegians at the time made a difference.
Our Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1933, Johan Ludwig Mowinckel, was also head of the Council of the League of Nations.
He worked actively to encourage the League of Nations to address the famine in Ukraine.
He explained that he could not stay silent when millions of people were dying of starvation.
But the great powers of the time remained silent. They chose not to respond.
The Ukrainians were aware of Mowinckel’s efforts. A newspaper article in a Lviv newspaper (Dilo) in autumn 1933 stated that Mowinckel would forever be a part of the story of the Ukrainian people’s struggles in Europe.
As will Fridtjof Nansen, who played a leading role in the effort to provide humanitarian relief to the people of Ukraine in the 1920s. This year marks 100 years since he received the Nobel Peace Prize in part for this work.
Today, once again, a brutal dictator in Moscow has inflicted immense suffering on the people of Ukraine.
This time, it is up to us to continue the legacy of Johan Ludwig Mowinckel and Fridtjof Nansen. Close to three million people have fled from Ukraine. The Ukrainian people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.
And we have responded immediately.
So far, we have set aside NOK 2 billion for humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and its neighbouring countries. Approximately NOK 1 billion has been allocated and most of this amount has been disbursed.
We are providing assistance through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism.
We have sent surgical and medical supplies and medicines. We will provide a medical team and hospital beds. And we have offered to provide ambulances.
We have responded to a request from Moldova and offered to send tents and camp beds. Further requests for assistance from Ukraine and its neighbouring countries will be reviewed on an ongoing basis.
We are supporting the efforts of the humanitarian organisations in Ukraine and its neighbouring countries. We are providing rapid, flexible funding to enable these organisations to target efforts effectively towards areas where the needs are greatest.
We have provided NOK 250 million to support activities under the UN’s regional refugee response plan and NOK 350 million to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. We are channelling support through Norwegian organisations to enable them to provide protection for women and children, cash assistance and lifesaving emergency aid.
Our help is making a difference. With support from Norway, the Red Cross has delivered 200 tonnes of emergency aid to Ukraine. Save the Children and UNICEF are working hard to help children affected by the war.
In addition, we support the efforts of the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to mobilise financial assistance packages for Ukraine and its neighbouring countries.
A number of European countries have sent military equipment to Ukraine. Norway has sent anti-tank weapons and protective military gear.
The sanctions imposed by the EU, the US and others have sent the Russian economy into free fall.
Norway has aligned itself with the EU’s wide-ranging package of sanctions.
We have frozen all the investments of the Government Pension Fund Global (Norway’s sovereign wealth fund) in Russia, and we will divest the fund’s Russian assets.
A number of Norwegian companies are pulling out of Russia.
Mr President, we do not yet know how Russia will respond.
President Putin has described the sanctions as an act of economic war.
There have been large anti-war protests, including in Russia. Thousands of people have been arrested.
The media is being censored. The Russian people are not being given the truth about the war and its horrors.
The war is having an impact on the domestic policy situation in Russia. But in what ways and to what degree we do not yet know.
What we do know is this: the regime in Moscow has underestimated the resilience of the values it is attacking. It has underestimated the degree of solidarity in Europe, the strength of our transatlantic ties, and the ability and determination of Ukraine’s leaders and people to withstand attack.
Ukraine is fighting for its freedom. But the Ukrainians are also fighting for a free Europe.
For a Europe where relations between states are regulated by international law.
For a Europe defined by democracy, freedom and peaceful relations. Not by ethnic nationalism, delusions of grandeur or the suppression of others.
A Europe that is now fundamentally altered.
An EU that is different from before the war. An EU that is more united than ever.
The EU has taken decisions that would have been inconceivable before the war. As have most of its member countries.
Mr President, the war in Ukraine has had, and will have, major ramifications worldwide.
Including for Norway.
Firstly, it will have an impact on security policy in our own region.
We have an assertive and aggressive neighbour to the east that is willing to use military force to achieve its aims.
This is the reality we now have to deal with.
But we will ensure that our security policy is consistent and predictable.
Deterrence and reassurance are still the main components of our policy towards Russia. Even in the current situation, we cannot choose one over the other.
But this does not mean that deterrence and reassurance are of equal importance.
Deterrence is the bedrock on which our security is based.
Nato is this bedrock.
The purpose of reassurance, on the other hand, is to prevent misunderstandings, reduce tensions and promote dialogue.
We have to have both.
The guarantee of Allied reinforcement in the event of a war or crisis is vital to Norway’s security.
This requires that we carry out joint exercises and train together with our Allies in peacetime.
It requires the prepositioning of equipment and supplies so that these are in place before a crisis emerges.
And it requires that we have appropriate plans and infrastructure.
A great deal has already been done. At the same time, the infrastructure we have now is nowhere near what we had during the Cold War.
In the 1990s and 2000s, most of the Allied infrastructure in Norway was dismantled. That is why the Supplementary Defense Cooperation Agreement (SDCA) with the US is so important. We need infrastructure to be able to receive reinforcements.
And that is precisely what the Agreement is intended to facilitate.
This policy and all its components – exercises, training, the prepositioning of equipment and supplies, and infrastructure development – does not conflict with our policy on the stationing of foreign forces on Norwegian territory.
In fact, it is a prerequisite.
Our aim has been the same all along: Allied reinforcement of Norway in the event of war or crisis – not a permanent presence.
Mr President, it is crucial that we show solidarity with our Allies. Just as we will expect solidarity from them if and when we ever need it.
That is why Norway has provided soldiers to the Nato Enhanced Forward Presence in Lithuania. And we will consider making further contributions if we are requested to do so.
At the same time, reassurance is still important.
Norway has never posed, and will never pose, a threat to Russia.
It has therefore been important to us to define clear limits in our work on the SDCA:
Norway’s policy regarding the stationing of foreign forces on Norwegian territory, our nuclear policy and the parameters set for foreign military activity in Norway during peacetime remain unchanged.
We enjoy close, constructive cooperation with our Allies, while at the same time restricting Allied military activity that Russia could see as a provocation. Our self-imposed restrictions have always been just that: our own choice.
This was eloquently summed up by Jens Christian Hauge, the architect of Norway’s security policy during the Cold War, at a meeting of the Enlarged Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Constitution in summer 1950 (22 June).
In his remarks, Hauge pointed out that Norway had more or less intentionally relinquished the purely military advantage that having Allied forces in Norway in peacetime could provide, and that this was done knowingly following a political assessment. But he made it clear that the policy regarding the stationing of foreign forces on Norwegian territory would in no way prevent Norway from taking steps to ensure that the country could receive rapid and effective support from Allies.
We have consistently sought to ensure transparency with regard to military exercises in Norway. We inform Russia in advance. We keep lines of communication between the Norwegian Joint Headquarters and the Northern Fleet open – and we are doing so in the current situation as well.
These are restrictions we have imposed ourselves and they do not undermine our security. They enhance it.
We chose them our ourselves. Just as we chose to join Nato.
Mr President, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine will also have an impact on progress in global disarmament efforts.
This, too, affects Norway.
Last year, the US and Russia established a bilateral strategic stability dialogue. It is now unclear what will become of this.
But it is crucial that the nuclear-weapon states engage in dialogue of this kind, and that China is also involved.
Promoting binding cooperation on nuclear disarmament is no easy task at a time when war is raging, and when Putin has announced that he has placed Russia’s nuclear forces on a higher alert.
But this cooperation must be strengthened. The alternative is much worse.
Norway will work with countries in and outside Nato to strengthen efforts to promote nuclear disarmament. We will help to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons.
In the period leading up to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference in August, we will work systematically with like-minded countries to encourage the nuclear-weapon states to comply with their obligations under the NPT.
Norway will continue to play a leading role in UN efforts to promote nuclear disarmament verification.
We are working to reduce the risk of nuclear weapons being used, and to ensure that future disarmament agreements cannot be reversed.
Mr President, the pressure on our already hard-pressed multilateral institutions is growing. This also affects Norway.
A permanent member of the UN Security Council has launched an unprovoked attack on an independent, sovereign nation. This is an attack on the UN’s key principle of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.
As a Council member with veto power, Russia has a particular responsibility to safeguard international peace and security. And yet, Russia started its invasion while it held the presidency of the Security Council.
Such blatant disregard for international law and established multilateral institutions endangers us all.
Paradoxically, key elements of the international legal order have their origin in experience from precisely Ukraine.
The legal concept of ‘crimes against humanity’ was formulated by Hersch Lauterpacht, who originally came from Lviv. He later moved to England and played a key role in developing the main principles applied by the Nuremburg Tribunal in 1945–46.
Rafael Lemkin, who was from the same part of the world, coined the term ‘genocide’ and was one of the architects of the Genocide Convention of 1948.
Mr President, the vast majority of UN member states are not major powers.
The core of the international community is made up of countries like ours, which are dependent on an international legal order.
On a predictable framework.
Where we resolve differences with diplomacy. Not with weapons.
Kenya’s Ambassador to the UN articulated this in a speech to the UN Security Council recently. He pointed out that when the African countries became independent, they chose to settle for the borders they had inherited.
He explained that if they had chosen historical nostalgia – to pursue states on the basis of ethnicity, race or religion – they would still be at war.
‘Multilateralism lies on its deathbed tonight,’ he said.
His words rang true because Putin has challenged the very foundation for multilateral cooperation.
Nevertheless, multilateral solutions may be exactly what are needed to bring us out of this crisis.
Mr President, the day will come when President Putin will be held accountable for his actions.
When the world has to be put to rights. When the economic, political and human damage his regime is responsible for has to be repaired.
And when that day comes, we will find good tools in the multilateral global community. We just have to choose to use them.
This is the moment to repeat the message that the UN Charter is the most important instrument we have for creating a peaceful and better world.
In the past, the UN General Assembly has stood up against colonialism and apartheid.
It has defended the right to self-determination and territorial integrity.
It is the most representative forum in the world. There is no right of veto.
Russia misused its power of veto in the Security Council to prevent the adoption of a resolution condemning the attack on Ukraine. But the Council succeeded – for the first time in 40 years – in transferring the vote on a draft resolution to the UN General Assembly, under the ‘Uniting for Peace’ procedure.
Norway worked hard, together with like-minded members of the Security Council, to achieve this.
This made it clear to the whole world that Putin’s war against Ukraine is not a matter of Russia against the West, but rather of the Putin regime against the rest of the world. In the vote in the UN General Assembly on 2 March, 141 countries voted in favour. Only 5 voted against.
Russia will attempt to split the UN. We must do all we can to ensure that as many UN member states as possible stand up in defence of the UN Charter, international law and the people of Ukraine.
Mr President, Russia chose to withdraw from the Council of Europe before it was excluded. Russia has been excluded from the Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS).
Cooperation in other regional organisations of importance for Norway, such as the OSCE and the Arctic Council, is also affected. It is too early to say what the consequences will be.
Mr President, the war has highlighted just how globalised and interconnected our world is. The global economy is feeling the effects. As is Norway.
Russia and Ukraine are major suppliers of essential goods such as steel, titanium and neon gas for microchips. A shortage of these will affect supply chains and markets across the world. For example in the technology and car sectors.
Mineral fertiliser supplies could fall dramatically. Combined with a shortage of wheat, barley and other foodstuffs that Ukraine and Russia export, this could lead to food shortages. Russia and Ukraine alone account for around 30 % of the world’s wheat exports. The number of people suffering from hunger and undernutrition worldwide could increase by 8–13 million.
Rising energy prices and falling markets could cause stagnation in global growth. This will affect the personal finances of ordinary people. In Norway as well.
We know from experience that food and energy crises often lead to social unrest.
The year 2030 was supposed to be the year when we marked the end of extreme poverty globally. Instead, we now have a situation that may lead to a dramatic increase in poverty.
Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine will radically change our bilateral relationship with Russia.
We will notice this particularly in the north.
The northernmost parts of our country are in many ways in the front line when it comes to ensuring a strong and robust Norway. The region is of vital national and strategic importance.
Regional policy and security policy converge in the north. There can be no security without the people of the north, and no people there without security.
It is unclear what the long-term consequences will be for the Norwegian Arctic. But Arctic policy is not a stand-alone project. It is one of Norway’s core interests. It encompasses all sectors. Involves the entire Government. And affects the entire country.
Next year, Norway will take over the Chairmanship of the Arctic Council. This role will not be as we had imagined. Russia is an important and major Arctic state.
But cooperation with Russia in the Arctic Council has been suspended.
In the Barents cooperation, people-to-people contact has suffered a severe setback. And this is affecting ordinary people, Russians and Norwegians alike.
In the time ahead, we must think carefully about the priorities we set for our cooperation and how to make optimum use of our support schemes. The action we have taken in response to the war is directed towards Putin’s regime, not the Russian people.
One thing we cannot do anything about, Mr President, is our location on the map. Russia remains our neighbour. And will still be our neighbour when the Putin regime one day becomes history.
Because of our common border, common resources and common challenges in the north, we are seeking to maintain our effective practical cooperation with Russia in the north.
Without such cooperation, there is a risk that the cod stock in the Barents Sea could disappear altogether.
And that would not be in our interests. Nor would it be in Europe’s interests.
However, we cannot assume that our practical cooperation in the north will be able to continue.
But we will do what we can in the circumstances to maintain it.
Mr President, the war has shown us Europe’s dark side. But there are also many glimmers of light.
Europe is united. Nato is united. The world’s democracies stand firmly together.
I would like to thank the Storting for the constructive cooperation and cross-party political unity we have benefited from during this difficult time.
Mr President, we must not allow the war in Ukraine to divert our attention completely from another current and protracted crisis.
The climate crisis.
If we fail to tackle this effectively, everything else we do will be in vain.
As with all preparedness efforts, whether relating to pandemics or threats of war in Europe, we must be ready to respond to this crisis too.
We must seek to prevent it and at the same time make sure we are equipped to deal with the impacts.
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, launched under a month ago (28 February), made it quite clear that the need for climate adaptation and action has never been more urgent.
To solve the climate crisis – and it can be solved – global solutions are essential. As are international cooperation and diplomacy.
The UN climate summit (COP26) in Glasgow was a small step in the right direction. But a great deal of work remains to be done.
And Norway will do its part.
The Government’s political platform states that climate and environmental considerations will be at the core of all government policy. This also applies to Norway’s foreign policy, and such considerations will be incorporated into all foreign policy assessments and decision-making processes.
And the green transition and access to energy will be essential if we are to reach the climate targets we have set.
Transitional solutions are needed to move from fossil fuel-based production and industries to emission-free alternatives.
And in this context, Norwegian gas will be crucial for Europe.
Mr President, without Norwegian gas, the green transition in Europe will falter.
And we cannot afford any delays.
Moreover, energy security will be a key priority in European foreign and security policy in the time ahead.
There is a desperate demand for gas in Europe. We will continue to supply as much as we can.
The Putin regime has threatened to halt gas exports to Europe in retaliation for the EU’s sanctions. This, combined with the EU’s aim to become independent of Russian gas, means that Norway must now take responsibility and do what it can to help.
We must not forget that the climate crisis could also open up new opportunities for us. We need to approach it from a different angle and ask ourselves: What opportunities are there? What part can we play?
Norway has a great deal to offer.
We will draw attention to ways in which Norway can be a strategic partner to the rest of Europe. With important initiatives involving the use of hydrogen, offshore wind power, batteries and offshore carbon capture and storage.
Norway is a world leader in the field of climate technology and in developing solutions in these areas.
We will work with industry to ensure that Norwegian companies can hold their own in the face of international competition. As part of the transition to a greener economy, the Government is seeking to increase Norwegian exports. That is why we are now mobilising our entire international network and taking steps to enhance the ability of the Foreign Service to assist Norwegian companies.
Climate change has now risen to the top of the foreign policy agenda. This is partly due to the fact that climate change in itself is a threat to security.
For Norway, as a coastal and maritime nation, it is particularly important to promote sustainable management and use of the oceans and marine environment. We have comparative advantages that will enable us to lead the way.
Through our work in the Ocean Panel, we are helping to ensure that Norway’s experience and expertise in this area is shared with other coastal states around the world.
Today, we are witnessing growing rivalry between the major powers.
Democracy and respect for human rights are under increasing pressure. This affects our foreign policy as well.
Norway’s membership of Nato will remain the cornerstone of its security policy. At the same time, geopolitical rivalry extends beyond security policy, and into the economic arena in particular.
In the context of major power economic rivalry, it is Europe and the EEA Agreement, along with the WTO, that provide the mainstay for Norwegian policies.
We are seeing a China that is behaving more assertively, both nationally and internationally. The Chinese authorities are seeking to maintain stability.
The human rights situation in Xinjiang remains cause for grave concern, and the restriction of civil and political rights in Hong Kong is continuing.
It is clear that China is willing to exert economic and political pressure to influence the foreign policy choices of other states.
China’s partnership with Russia has grown stronger. But China is now facing an important choice in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
How China chooses to respond will have an impact on its relations with Europe in the long-term.
Mr President, China will be a formidable economic and military power for many generations to come.
We may criticise China. Which we do when this is necessary.
We may disagree with China. Which we do on many issues.
We may work together with China. Which we do in areas where we have common interests.
But ultimately, we must relate to the world as it actually is.
And we must use the means available to us to try to steer the world in the right direction.
The Government’s political platform states that Norway will cooperate with China, working with other Nordic and European countries.
Our policy is based on a combination of engagement and caution. We will take a coherent approach to promoting our interests and safeguarding our values and security, together with our European and Nordic partners.
Without the participation of China, it will not be possible to solve the major global challenges confronting the world today.
Norway’s role must be to try to influence China to make the best choices.
And we can achieve this most successfully by working together with others.
The rivalry between the major powers also has consequences for the African continent. The situation undermines the ability of the Security Council to respond to the various crises in Africa. And makes it even more essential to revise Norway’s Africa policy.
China has gained an increasingly strong position in Africa over the past decade.
US engagement in Africa has been declining for many years, but this is now in the process of changing.
Norway will continue its efforts in Africa. Collaboration with European countries will be important in this context as well.
Mr President, there is a different tone in the US today from the one we saw under the Trump Administration. But the US still seeks to keep China in check.
In a polarised Congress, foreign policy tends to be an arena where it is possible to achieve bipartisanship. This has been evident in the response to the Ukraine crisis, for example, where the US Congress has been more unified than for many years.
Security policy is the arena where we see the greatest degree of continuity.
At the same time, there is little doubt that the direction the US chooses in the future will have implications for Norway.
US trade policy choices have an impact on our business sector. US views on climate change, on the UN and on the fight against poverty will affect what we can achieve together.
As I see it, there are a number of areas where we have more opportunities available to us today than we had a little over a year ago.
The Biden Administration is assuming the leadership role in promoting democracy and human rights that we expect of the US.
We need this leadership more than ever.
Mr President, as the war in Ukraine rages, other conflicts continue unabated. There is still a great need for Norway’s peace and reconciliation efforts in other parts of the world.
The pandemic has further weakened state structures in countries affected by conflict and fragility. Coups d’état have become more frequent, political polarisation has increased, and there has been a rise in violent jihadism.
This has also been the case in Europe’s neighbourhood.
Norway’s peace and reconciliation efforts are not something we do as a sideline, in addition to our core interests. Peace is one of our core interests.
Norway is regarded as a consistent actor and reliable partner in the international arena. We can lead the way where others may have less room for manoeuvre. That is a strength in our foreign policy.
Our goal will always be to guide parties to conflict away from military interventions towards political solutions, in order to limit suffering.
Maintaining a dialogue with rebel groups, war criminals and repressive regimes is a difficult task. It is not an appealing prospect, nor is it easy, to talk to people whose views diverge so widely from our own.
But dialogue is essential; the alternative is worse.
The Government will strengthen Norway’s peace and reconciliation efforts by means of initiatives targeted towards Europe’s unstable southern neighbourhood.
Political instability, conflict and economic crisis are causing widespread suffering in vulnerable countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Yemen, as well as in the Sahel region. The situation poses a threat to security, creates a potential breeding ground for terrorism and forces people to flee to other areas.
Norway currently provides substantial funding for humanitarian and stabilisation efforts.
We will continue to maintain a high level of support.
We are establishing a separate funding pot (a ‘solidarity pot’) to improve conditions in countries that have a large refugee population.
We are now strengthening our efforts to promote peacebuilding and dialogue in Yemen, in addition to actively supporting the UN-led process.
We will continue to seek solutions to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
The vision of a two-state solution is under great pressure. The Government has reversed the cuts in aid to Palestinians introduced by the previous government. We have increased our support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
We will speak out more clearly on issues of concern, including Israel’s settlement policy, which is in violation of international law, and the Palestinian leadership’s lack of democratic legitimacy. We will encourage the parties to resume negotiations.
We will give priority to efforts in Syria. Instability in Syria, and the absence of a political solution, pose a major threat to Syria’s neighbouring countries and the international community, including the countries of Europe.
There is a need for progress in the efforts to promote a political solution. This is a priority area for Norway, as seen in our work in the UN Security Council, in our support for the UN Special Envoy for Syria, and in our commitment to seeking a political solution that encompasses the inclusion of women and civil society.
Norway plans to provide roughly NOK 1.6 billion for humanitarian assistance, rehabilitation and stabilisation measures in Syria and its neighbouring countries, primarily Lebanon and Jordan.
In addition we will continue take an active role in the global coalition against ISIL.
Mr President, not surprisingly, the war in Europe has been a key topic in this address, and I have had less opportunity to focus on the situation in other parts of the world than I would have liked.
I would nevertheless like to mention three areas of particular concern.
One year after the military coup in Myanmar, the situation in the country is deeply worrying.
We are concerned about the civilian population. We have increased our humanitarian assistance and are working to improve humanitarian access. We are supporting the pro-democracy movement and promoting free media and civil society.
The conflict in Tigray has evolved into the epicentre of political turbulence in the Horn of Africa. While the parties to the conflict have long hoped for a military victory, there is now a greater willingness to seek dialogue. Norway will do its part to encourage such a dialogue.
Norway increased its humanitarian support to Ethiopia to approximately NOK 200 million last year.
Mr President, 23 March marks the start of a new school year in Afghanistan. In Oslo, the Taliban promised, and has announced publicly, that it will reopen schools to allow girls of all ages to attend. That would be an important step. We do not yet know whether they will keep their word on this, and we will be following the situation closely.
Afghanistan is contending with drought, a pandemic, an economic collapse and the effects of years of conflict. Some 24 million people are experiencing acute food insecurity. According to UN estimates, more than half the population are facing famine and 97 % of the population could fall below the poverty line this year.
Norway has increased its humanitarian aid in response to the crisis. But humanitarian assistance, while essential, is not enough. We must prevent a collapse in basic services and support the livelihoods of Afghan families and communities. All of our support is channelled through the World Bank, the UN system and NGOs.
International efforts are under way to get the Afghan central bank and banking system up and running again. Norway supports these efforts.
Norway took the initiative to invite representatives of the Taliban, other Afghans from a variety of backgrounds, and officials from a number of allied countries to meetings in Oslo in January. The aim was to bring the parties together for dialogue and to discuss the acute humanitarian situation.
We have made our expectations of the Taliban very clear.
They must facilitate unimpeded and unconditional humanitarian access and create a framework for inclusive, representative governance.
Women must be allowed to pursue higher education, move about freely, and work in all sectors. The Taliban must comply with their international human rights obligations.
Mr President, in this context, let me point out that the evacuation effort from Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover of power and the efforts currently under way in connection with the war in Ukraine have posed some of the most complex consular challenges that the Foreign Service has faced in many, many years.
The Foreign Service is also in the front line when it comes to the administration of immigration matters abroad. It is not possible to apply for – or be granted – a visa, a residence permit and protection in Norway without access to Norway’s diplomatic and consular missions.
If we are unable to maintain normal operations – as is the case in Russia at present – it has clear consequences for people in need of consular assistance. This is another effect of war.
Mr President, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is clearly affecting the dynamics of the UN Security Council. We have not seen tensions this high since the Cold War.
The attack on Ukraine is a threat to international peace and security.
The country responsible for the attack is a permanent Council member with veto power. As a result, the Security Council has limited room for manoeuvre. The Council is being prevented from fulfilling its mandate.
Norway has nevertheless worked hard to ensure that Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine is given its rightful place on the Security Council agenda. We have supported the convening of a number of emergency meetings on the invasion.
And, as I have already mentioned, we played our part in ensuring that the resolution condemning the attack on Ukraine was dealt with in the UN General Assembly.
Norway has nine months to go of its term as an elected member of the Security Council. The climate for cooperation in the Council has deteriorated, but we must do what we can to prevent the Council from becoming completely deadlocked or paralysed. This would not be in anyone’s interests.
But we must be realistic about what we can gain acceptance and support for.
We will continue our efforts to promote Norwegian values – guided by respect for international law and the four main priorities for our work in the Council.
We will also focus on the two issues we have been given a particular responsibility for in the Council: Afghanistan and the humanitarian situation in Syria.
On Thursday last week, the Security Council adopted a new mandate for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). Of the Council’s 15 members, 14 voted in favour. Only Russia abstained.
Norway drafted the resolution text and led the negotiations. The Security Council has now provided the UN with a robust mandate to work to promote inclusive political processes, among other things, without giving political recognition to the Taliban.
We will work to ensure the continued cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to over three million Syrians.
Our membership of the Security Council will remain a priority for Norway. There is probably no other international forum where we have the chance to put forward Norway’s positions and promote our interests in the same way – and in so many areas.
Mr President, at the beginning of this address, I talked about the importance of our foreign policy choices.
It has been said that the purpose of foreign policy is to make domestic policy possible.
At the end of the day, the choices we make in the area of foreign policy are all about ordinary people.
To a large extent, these choices define who we are in Norway. Where we stand.
And what we can become.
Since 1949, the security guarantee provided by Nato has made it possible for Norway to make its own independent choices.
We have chosen to build a society based on freedom, openness, democratic values, with respect for international law and a commitment to multilateral cooperation.
This has served us well.
Societies based on these values serve everyone well.
These societies are more resilient. More attractive. To everyone.
This is why Ukraine has turned towards democracy. Away from Putin’s authoritarian Russia.
Ukraine – and any independent state – must be allowed to choose its own path.
Democracy is what frightens Putin the most.
Because democracy brings hope, freedom and a belief in society’s ability to change.
Not just in Ukraine and Europe, but in the rest of the world as well.
That is why we will continue to stand up for human rights and democratic values.
For gender equality and women’s rights.
For free and independent media. For freedom of religion or belief.
For freedom of association and workers’ rights.
We will continue to fight for the values we believe in. For the world we believe in.
Because, Mr President, ultimately, foreign policy is all about people.
Europe has been through major upheavals before. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, for instance.
Now, as in 1989, Mr President, Europe is once again at a critical crossroads. This is a defining moment that will change our understanding of reality. When the history books come to be written, 24 February 2022 will mark a turning point – there will be a before and an after.
As the landscape evolves, I look forward to continued constructive cooperation with the Storting in the work to stake out a new course for Norwegian foreign policy.