Historical archive

Address to the 2004 Conference of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study

Historical archive

Published under: Bondevik's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Minister of Foreign Affair Jan Petersen's address to the SASS conference at Redondo Beach, California, USA 15 April. (16.04.04)

Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Petersen

Address to the 2004 Conference of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study

Redondo Beach, California, USA
15 April 2004

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Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a pleasure and an honour for me to address this year's conference of the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study.

In particular I am grateful for this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude and admiration to all the teachers and scholars who are working tirelessly to promote the Scandinavian languages and culture in North America.

The United States is one of our oldest, closest and most important partners. We have solid historical ties and we share the same fundamental democratic values. Hence, we consider the endeavours of this Society to strengthen the ties between Scandinavia and the US as extremely important.

Our deep-rooted economic, political and security bonds with the US have for generations been strengthened by the ties between Norwegians and Americans who are either of Norwegian descent or harbour a special interest in Scandinavia.

Our goal is to further develop our transatlantic ties with North America to the benefit of future generations. The close relations between us must not be taken for granted. They must be nurtured and developed. They must also be allowed to evolve and adapt to a new era in international co-operation.

To do this we need to build relations with many different groups of people, organisations and networks. Today, I will concentrate on our academic, historical and cultural links and our co-operation in foreign and security policy.

Let me start with the academic world. Our bonds with North American academia have always been very close. Norway, like other Scandinavian countries, needs as much contact with North American universities and other academic institutions as possible. Hence, it is of paramount importance for us that these links are preserved and strengthened.

We are well aware that the United States is the world’s leading nation in science and technology. The US has an impressive record in terms of investment, including private investment, and output in research and innovation.

American laboratories and research groups are of the utmost importance for basic research and are in the forefront of new developments. As they comprise people of different nationalities, they provide an excellent basis for creating synergies and valuable networks.

The US has traditionally been the single most important country for Norwegian research co-operation, especially in basic research. But this situation has changed somewhat over the past several years. In a number of areas the US is no longer the primary partner for our students and researchers.

The figures for the last few years show that the total number of Norwegians studying abroad has increased. But at the same time there are now fewer Norwegians studying in the US than in either Britain or Australia. Why?

Firstly, Norway’s international academic contacts have increased and become more widespread geographically. The focus on Europe is stronger than before. New exchange opportunities are offered through the European Union programmes. Furthermore, universities and other institutions of higher education in other countries, especially Australia, have become more efficient in marketing their institutions.

Secondly, the high student fees at American institutions and more stringent immigration regulations may also play a part in explaining the decline in the number of Norwegian students in the United States.

The picture in the field of research is somewhat different. The United States remains the major source of scientific knowledge and technology for my country. The trend during the past twenty years shows a slight increase in study visits and guest lectures by Norwegian researchers to North America. Over the last decade we have, however, seen a decline in the individual co-operation between Norwegian and American researchers. By comparison, such co-operation increased considerably at European and Nordic level in the same period.

Recent experience from Europe shows that having some kind of framework stimulates co-operation and exchange activities. Therefore, Norway is currently in the process of developing a strategy for bilateral co-operation on research and innovation with the United States and Canada.

As a first step, we have indicated to the US State Department our interest in negotiating a bilateral umbrella agreement with the United States in the area of science and technology.

We are also in the process of defining areas that could be of mutual interest and provide a basis for a more comprehensive dialogue with our American counterparts. The Fulbright scheme, which has been a valuable tool so far, could serve as a model or even be extended to foster stronger bonds and closer co-operation. Whatever the practical results may look like, our aim is clear: we want to revitalise and strengthen our academic ties with North America.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me turn from the academic links to our historical and cultural ties. Next year we will commemorate the centennial of the peaceful dissolution of the union between Norway and Sweden. Norway will celebrate its first 100 years as an independent state.

Just as Norway’s historical and cultural relationship with the United States is special – so should the centennial anniversary next year in the US be special.

The US was one of the very first countries to recognise Norway as an independent nation in 1905. Thus, the 2005 centennial programme should be comprehensive, contemporary and visible, and reflect the many bonds between our two countries. It should mark our common history, and the close ties that exist between us today. It should also establish new networks.

We are well aware that the success of the centennial programme will depend on close co-operation with local partners at all stages of the process. The main criteria in selecting programme ideas and proposals have therefore been local interest, participation and whether there was an established network in place. This is what we see here in the United States. There are a number of established Norwegian-American networks, personal bonds and contacts, and close co-operation between organisations and universities. There are programmes for student exchange and visitors, scholarships programmes, and Summer Camps, such as the Skogfjorden Language Village. These networks are the glue of Norwegian-American relations.

The 2005 programme, which will run throughout the year, will be based on three main themes:

  • The first theme is Norway as a partner in peace and development. There will be a number of different projects – like seminars, conferences, guest lectures and exhibitions – that demonstrate the role Norway plays in peace mediation and conflict resolution and in international co-operation in general. A number of them will be held at universities and think-tanks in the United States. We will invite foreign students of the Norwegian language, history and society to take part in an essay competition on the theme "Norway – a partner in peace".
  • The second main theme will present Norway as a nation rich in resources. There will be particular emphasis on Norway’s commitments in the Northern areas, and on demonstrating that Norway exploits its rich natural resources in an environmentally sustainable way. Here the focus will also be on Norwegian nature, and the Norwegian tradition of exploration – from Fridtjof Nansen to Liv Arnesen.
  • The third theme is entitled "Norway – a modern nation". The objective will be to present Norway as an advanced cultural nation and a knowledge-based country. We will focus particularly on contemporary art, on current cultural trends and on the younger generation as a prime target group. This does not mean that we will forget Ibsen, Hamsun, Undset, Munch and Grieg. It means that we will show how contemporary Norwegian arts are built on these mainstays of our common cultural heritage.

When I say common, I also mean our international cultural heritage. One mark of great art is that the artist has used his or her local experience to create something that is understood worldwide. Very few Norwegians have done this better that Henrik Ibsen. In 2006 it will be 100 years since his death.

Ibsen’s plays are staged all over the world. His message to women, to men and to society is as significant today as it was a 150 years ago. Themes like gender equality, corruption, environment, freedom of speech and misuse of power are all issues that modern society is still struggling with. 2006 will provide a good opportunity to have a dialogue on these dilemmas.

Our aim in 2006 will be to make Ibsen even better known abroad by focusing on his work and thereby on his native country. We will encourage and challenge theatres, libraries, universities and young people like yourselves to take up Ibsen and focus on what he has to say to us today.

Ladies and gentlemen

Something else that may inspire this very talented audience is this year’s commemoration of the Norwegian-Danish social scientist and writer Ludvig Holberg. Holberg died 250 years ago. The Norwegian government has decided to institute an international prize in his name. The prize will be awarded for excellent research in the fields of social science and liberal arts. The prize amount is 4.5 million Norwegian kroner. It will be awarded for the first time in December this year.

Norway has also established an international prize in mathematics, the Abel Prize. It is on a par with Nobel prizes in other areas. The prize is named after the Norwegian mathematician Niels Henrik Abel. It was first awarded last year to the French mathematician Jean Pierre Serre. Who knows, maybe future prize-winners are to be found among today’s audience?

Ladies and gentlemen,

I will now turn to our political and security co-operation with the US.

The close and warm relationship between the US and Norway is built on the fact that we subscribe to the same basic values. We share a clear commitment to freedom, democracy and human rights, good governance and the rule of law, and a market economy.

Our participation in the North Atlantic Alliance is a cornerstone for Norwegian security. The transatlantic ties are also vital to our success in countering international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Norway will do its utmost to ensure that coming generations will continue to enjoy the same sense of security and solidarity provided by the transatlantic ties that we have largely come to take for granted. We want NATO to continue to safeguard the security of all its members.

The Alliance has already taken on a heavy responsibility in Afghanistan through its leadership of the International Security and Assistance Force - ISAF. This is the first time NATO is involved outside the Euro-Atlantic area. In this sense Afghanistan is a credibility test – and it is a tough one. NATO simply cannot afford to fail. Therefore, Afghanistan must be a top priority for the Alliance.

Norway has recently upgraded Afghanistan’s status to be one of our designated partner countries in development co-operation. Our political commitment to Afghanistan clearly is for the long haul.

There is an important lesson here: "There is no development and reconstruction without security, and there is no security without development and reconstruction." To my mind, the case of Afghanistan clearly shows that, in certain situations, the use of military means is indispensable for building peace and stability.

NATO may also be called upon to take on a stronger role in the stabilization of Iraq. As in Afghanistan, improved security is the key. The events over the last days clearly have displayed the difficulties facing the coalition forces in Iraq. There is, however, no alternative to continue working for a secure and democratic Iraq. Norway is currently participating in the stabilization force. We also believe that the UN needs to play a more prominent role in Iraq. Only the UN can give the political process the necessary legitimacy.

International law, the United Nations Charter and the resolutions of the UN Security Council should be the foundation of our efforts to achieve peace, security and stability. We need the broadest possible coalition to effectively address the most pressing security challenges. With its universal membership and broad range of instruments, the UN is the most suitable organization for concerted action by the international community.

But, the threats and risks to international peace and stability have changed since the UN Charter was drafted. There is a need for reform of the UN in order to adapt to the new situation. We look forward to the report of the High Level Panel that the UN Secretary General has appointed to explore how the UN could meet the new security threats and challenges. While looking forward, the Panel should also draw on experiences from earlier activities. The UN cannot afford repeating the mistakes of its Bosnia operations in the 1990s. We cannot afford another Srebrenica

Today the roots of the most pressing threats to our security are found in what is increasingly referred to as the Greater Middle East. There is a need for democratic reforms in this area. Reform efforts will no doubt be met with resistance by many. There is no lack of skeptical voices. In order to move the process forward, we must now demonstrate inclusiveness and work to generate the ownership of the countries concerned. I am convinced that support for reform is stronger than ever – and growing.

The international community must make use of all the instruments at its disposal to support the peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians. The members of the Quartet - the UN, the EU, Russia and particularly the US – carry a special responsibility in this regard.

It now remains to be seen how the Israeli initiative to withdraw from the Gaza-strip will affect the situation. This initiative should be seen as a part of President Bush’s two State vision, and be based on the Road Map. The Palestinians will have to be brought in as real partners. And, a solution for the West-Bank should be part of a negotiated final settlement of the conflict.

If requested by the parties, NATO should also be prepared to consider a role for securing a peace agreement.

As for Norway’s other international commitments, we will continue our involvement in the peace processes we are engaged in, like in Sri Lanka and Sudan. Most Norwegians share the conviction that if we can help other people to achieve a more secure, more decent life, we quite simply have an obligation to do so. In these endeavours we will continue to co-operate closely the US.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Without Europe, America would not be America. Without America, Europe would not be Europe.

My main intention here today has been to pay tribute to our close relationship. But above all I have tried to suggest ways in which these links can be preserved and strengthened.

Scandinavians make up only a small portion of Europe’s population. But I think it is fair to say that our influence is greater than our numbers. Furthermore, countries like my own can play a bridging role between our two continents. But our possibility of doing so will to a large extent depend on the good work of institutions like the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study.

I wanted to touch upon what I consider to be some of the important elements of these bridge building endeavours. Today I have emphasised the importance of closer co-operation in the academic field, of keeping our historical and cultural ties up to date and of consolidating our unity in foreign and security policy.

Norway will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the USA in the fight against terror and for freedom and human dignity. We will through our deeds show all Americans that Norway is a partner to be trusted. And we want Americans of Norwegian descent to be proud of their ancestry.

In concluding, I wish to thank Eric Sundquist, Dean of Humanities at UCLA, Mary Kay Norseng, President of SASS and the members of the Berkeley and Los Angeles Scandinavian programmes for organizing and contributing to this conference.

Thank you for your attention, and good luck with the conference.