Historical archive

Foreign Policy Address to the Storting, 10 February 2009

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Oslo, 10 February 2009

Due to developments in the Arctic, the Arctic Council could have a more important role to play. Norway will hold the chairmanship until the Ministerial Meeting in Tromsø on 28–29 April, which will be an important Arctic event. In connection with the meeting, we will hold an international symposium on melting ice together with Nobel Laureate Al Gore, Foreign Minister Støre said in his address to the Storting.

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Translation from the Norwegian
(The Address translated to French)
(The Address translated to Arabic)

Mr President,

In contrast to the beginning of 2008, crisis seems to have been the tenor of 2009 from the very start.

The financial crisis is affecting the real economy. It is now global, and is having repercussions in all parts of the world. It is having consequences for jobs, social welfare, migration and development, particularly for the world’s poorest, who are also experiencing a food crisis. The stability of modern states, including some in our neighbouring areas, is being threatened.

Local and regional conflicts are flaring up, war is being waged against towns and villages. Civilians – children, women and men – are forced to bear intolerable burdens. This is happening in Gaza, Sri Lanka, Congo, Northern Uganda, Darfur and other battlefields that are generally outside the global mass media’s constant focus.

We are beginning the year with a whole series of major, unresolved issues where very little or negligible progress has been made. Such as in the field of disarmament, where the established nuclear powers are reluctant to cut their arsenals, and where new states – such as Iran – are maintaining a veil of secrecy as regards their nuclear activities.

The Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is 10 months away. There the world’s countries will demonstrate that we have no time to lose and that political will can be gauged against scientists’ crystal-clear recommendations concerning substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and new principles of burden-sharing and technology transfer.

And though it is more than 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted, fundamental rights are still being violated, the death penalty is still being carried out, people are still dying of starvation and disease, and conflicts are still developing between people of different religious faiths, ethnic affinities and cultures.

But at the same time, Mr President, we see another difference in 2009, one that gives cause for more optimism and political ambition: there is a renewed conviction that conflicts can and must be resolved by means of active diplomacy, dynamic international cooperation and interaction.

The world’s nations are not powerless. They can deal with the crisis provided they have the political will to do so.

The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th US President on 20 January offers tangible hope of a new impetus on the part of the world’s most powerful nation.

Mr President,

President Obama has not only set the US on a new course. He has changed the international agenda, brought the policy of engagement to the forefront, put a focus on international law and human rights, and addressed the challenges of climate change. We already see a marked contrast to the previous eight years.

The new President leaves no doubt that the US still intends to play a responsible leadership role. The challenges are many, but the President insists to all that the challenges will be met.

The US will not relinquish the right and ability to use force internationally. But in his inaugural speech, Obama draws inspiration from leaders who “understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.” He points out that earlier American leaders combated fascism and communism, “not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.”

From the very first day, the new US administration signalled a renewed engagement in virtually all the issues marked by crisis as we enter 2009: economic recession, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, the Middle East, nuclear weapons and disarmament, human rights violations, global warming, deep poverty.

But we must remember that there are no simple solutions. Obama doesn’t have a magic wand.

Many of the US’s fundamental interests will remain unchanged after the change of president. The President’s primary task is to protect US interests, just as the Norwegian Government’s mandate is to promote Norwegian interests.

Just as under the previous administration, our interests will often coincide with those of the US. But Norwegian views will occasionally differ from US views under Obama’s administration as well.

However, Mr President, it is a long time since we have seen such a marked shift in US foreign policy as regards approach, inspiration and choice of tools. What we are seeing is a changed US perception of the world, where it is no longer a matter of “us” against “them”. The world’s strongest power acknowledges that all the world’s countries are interdependent and deserve respect. The US intends to lead by setting an example. Not by power alone. 

The US is Norway’s most important ally. We look forward to having close contact and cooperating closely with the new administration – both bilaterally and on all the international issues where we have the ability and are in a position to make a difference.

Mr President,   

The global crisis in the world economy will have an impact on the international power structure and the foreign policy landscape. If this is the worst crisis since the 1930s, it should be sufficient to recall that the crisis then had dramatic and disastrous consequences.

It doesn’t have to end up like that this time. But economic recession, rising unemployment, deep social tensions, migration and internal displacement will have grave consequences. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there is a danger that as many as 50 million people worldwide could lose their jobs due to the current crisis. This in turn could lead to political instability and social unrest.

In cities as near us as Reykjavik and Riga, the recession has led to massive political protests and discussions on a completely new course. As a direct result of the crisis, Iceland has a new government and is making preparations for new elections on 25 April.

We are following this situation closely. Iceland is our neighbour, ally and sister nation. A shared history and common cultural roots bind us together. Our choice is therefore obvious: Norway and the other Nordic countries will help Iceland in a time of crisis, and this is appreciated by the Icelandic people.

We have to be prepared for the possibility of further social and political unrest in countries experiencing significantly slower growth and rising unemployment. Particularly in the poorest countries.

China, which has experienced strong economic growth, now has to deal with a decline in growth and additional millions without jobs or any economic or social safety net. Our neighbour Russia is also feeling the crisis. We do not know yet what the political consequences will be.

So far the world’s governments and central banks have shown a determination to deal with the crisis. 2009 promises to be a year of stimulus packages. The degree of international coordination of the measures has, however, been less promising. Nonetheless, the interdependence of countries gives cause to believe that the world today can prevent the crisis from having consequences that lead to open conflicts.

Mr President,

We are in the midst of a global economic crisis. And the end is not in sight. I would now like to focus on three trends – in addition to those I have already mentioned – that have a bearing on foreign policy.

Firstly, the economic crisis will contribute to and accelerate a shift in the global power structure.

Many of the world’s major cooperation forums are composed in accordance with the distribution of power at the end of the Second World War. But the world is very different today. International institutions may lose their legitimacy and effectiveness if they fail to reflect contemporary reality, a fact that is highlighted today when we look to these organisations for guidelines and leadership.

Changes are already under way. When the world’s largest economies gathered in November to discuss international measures to deal with the financial crisis, it wasn’t in a G7 or G8 framework. It was at a summit meeting of the G20, where countries like Brazil, India, South Africa and China are key members. In 2009, most of the growth in the world economy will take place in precisely these countries. Measures to deal with the crisis quite simply cannot be discussed unless they are at the table. 

Nor will there be a new WTO agreement unless countries like India, Brazil, and the many developing countries that follow their lead, feel that a new agreement would be in their interests. The same logic applies to a future climate agreement. The developing countries are now in a position to put muscle behind their demand for more equitable burdensharing.

This is progress in the right direction. And this progress has not been achieved as a spoils of war, but as a result of a realisation at a time of crisis.

At the same time, an enlargement from G7 or G8 to G20 must be consolidated and legitimised. The rest of the world’s countries, such as Norway and the other Nordic countries, must be included. We need a broader debate on how this should be done. The Government is now considering how Norway and the other Nordic countries can provide input to the G20 meeting in London on 2 April.

Following the same line of logic, it is high time that the leading powers reach agreement on Security Council reform and enlargement. We all stand to lose if the Security Council’s effectiveness and influence are weakened.

This is, in other words, a question of reforming the international architecture. And we must not shy away from this debate.

The shift in the power structure, where countries like India and China are given a more influential economic and political role, is one of the most important developments in international politics in recent years. It underscores that we must increase our knowledge and expertise and expand our contacts with these major countries.

We are now implementing a comprehensive China strategy under which we are broadening and deepening our contacts. It spans a wide range, and includes a comprehensive, direct and critical human rights dialogue, which is also expanding contacts between civil society actors in our two countries.

In May we will present an India strategy designed to promote closer Norwegian-Indian cooperation and increase our knowledge of India. It is high time we had such a strategy.

A second foreign policy trend linked with the economic crisis is the increasing danger that we could see more protectionism. This was the response of many countries to the crisis in the 1930s. In retrospect we see that there was a direct line from crisis to countermeasures, competitive protectionism, even deeper crisis, and open confrontation.

It is my impression that this insight is shared by the majority of the world’s leaders today. In Europe, EU cooperation plays an important role in preventing hastily devised trade barriers and keeping neighbours from turning on each other. This creates stability, particularly for the new member states.

The pressure to pursue protectionist policies is intensifying, often disguised as something else. We see now, for example, that voices in the US Congress are calling for “Buy American” provisions to be inserted into the economic stimulus bill, contrary to President Obama’s wishes. This would be a serious error. It could trigger a wave of competitive protectionism all over the world.

Norway, which has an open economy and is heavily dependent on international trade, could be hard hit by such a development. The Government will therefore work in all relevant forums to counter increased protectionism. We will also continue to contribute actively to the successful conclusion of the WTO negotiations.

Thirdly, the international economic crisis has seriously called into question the idea of the free market and undermined faith in its infallibility.

In his inaugural speech, President Obama said that the political and economic philosophy that hails the benefits of an unfettered market has had far too much influence. These are strong words from the foot of Capitol Hill. 

Better regulation and more effective supervision of today’s global economy are needed in order to prevent imbalances and the danger of collapse. We must work to ensure that the world’s countries, as a matter of enlightened self-interest, choose to strengthen the political cooperation structures, rules and common institutions in all areas where better global governance is required, including climate, finance, health and disease prevention, migration and other areas.

And we must give the United Nations a key role in this. It is still the only forum in which all the world’s countries are represented.

We must work to ensure that the sum of economic measures and stimulus packages does not merely recreate structures and regulations that are the same as those that existed before the crisis. The new measures must chart a course that addresses the realities of climate change by advancing new climate technologies, research, more sustainable production and consumption, and stronger incentives for transferring technology to countries experiencing rapid growth. The nature and substance of this growth must be changed.

According to the most recent report from the International Energy Agency (World Energy Outlook 2008), global CO2 emissions are rising more rapidly than previously anticipated. The Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen must therefore put in place an international climate agreement in which the rich countries undertake to make substantial, necessary emissions cuts, at the same time as the large developing countries undertake to reduce their emissions considerably.

The negotiations are demanding. But the US’s signal that it intends to play a central and leading role in the run-up to the Conference may give them a new impetus. President Obama’s has indicated his intention to reduce the country’s own greenhouse gas emissions to the 1990 level by 2020. Such signals create a new dynamism. It is also essential that the US and China are able to cooperate in the run-up to Copenhagen.

The historic decision made by the EU before Christmas to implement a major climate and energy package demonstrates the gravity of global climate change. The EU’s decision also shows that the economic crisis does not imply any weakening of efforts to combat climate change – on the contrary. We welcome the EU’s leadership in this area.

The economic crisis – and the vulnerable situation it has put many in – also highlight the importance of government guaranteed universal welfare schemes. This is in keeping with the Nordic social model. Norway has put efforts to promote the concept of decent work on its agenda. Together with the ILO, the WTO and many other countries, we will work to ensure that these important issues are given high priority. This applies not least to the new US administration, which has shown an interest in this work.

The Government is taking forceful measures to deal with the economic crisis. But we must bear in mind, Mr President, that there is hardly any other country that has such a good starting point as we do. The poorest countries are being hit hardest. The food crisis is interlinked with the international economic crisis and with climate change. The result is a complex humanitarian, economic and political situation. More than a billion people are now suffering from hunger. And the number is increasing.

This is unacceptable. Poverty is a threat to international peace and stability. This is not the time for us to slacken in our determination and ability to show international solidarity.

Mr President,

Afghanistan will continue to be the primary focus of Norway’s international engagement – civilian, political and military – in 2009.

Together with the Palestinian Territory and Sudan, Afghanistan is the largest recipient of Norwegian assistance. Our annual support totals NOK 750 million. We strengthened our diplomatic presence and engagement in the country in 2008, and the Norwegian embassy in Kabul is one of our largest. The biggest Norwegian police contingent serving abroad is in Afghanistan. And close to 600 women and men in uniform are taking part in the ISAF operation. This is a large number of highly qualified people. 

The operation has been difficult and dangerous. And 2009 will be no exception.

But 2009 will be a decisive test of whether we are on the right course. According to plan, Afghanistan is to hold its second democratic elections – for the presidency and the provincial councils – on 20 August this year. As part of our long-term assistance to Afghanistan, NOK 70 million is being earmarked for assistance in connection with the elections, as requested by the Afghan authorities and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and in cooperation with our Nordic neighbours.

Although the situation remains difficult, it is important not to forget the progress that has been made: 85% of the population are now living in areas where they have access to health services. The gross national income (GNI) per capita has increased by more than 70% since 2002, and government revenues have increased more than four-fold. Twenty-two million schoolbooks are now being produced and distributed throughout the country. And according to recent UN figures, opium production is continuing to decline. This year, an additional four provinces can be added to the list of the 18 provinces that were opium-free last year – and still are.

The US has indicated that it will review its policy – both military and civilian. There is also much talk of transferring troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. We also expect to see a strong US diplomatic offensive that includes Afghanistan as well as neighbouring countries.

For far too many years, the main strategy for Afghanistan has been dominated by the military fight against terrorism. The view was that Afghanistan’s future could be secured by military means.

For far too many years, the international community has had too little focus on the importance of state building, political reform, development, national reconciliation and measures aimed at involving neighbouring countries in efforts to stabilise the country.

A new recognition has taken hold, one that Norway has sought to promote. The key to success is Afghanisation. Our role is to enhance the Afghans’ ability to take responsibility for their own security and development. The efforts to strengthen the Afghan National Army and the Afghan police must continue.

This approach was consolidated at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April last year and the donor conference for Afghanistan in Paris. In Paris, there was full agreement that the donors must align their assistance with Afghan priorities and coordinate their efforts under UNAMA. But although they reached agreement, more must be done to turn this agreement into a commitment. It is particularly important that the donor countries align their efforts with Afghan priorities that are supported by UNAMA.

Afghanistan, for its part, undertook in Paris to carry out political and economic reform, and to combat corruption and narcotics. Although the country made a commitment, and despite the signs of progress, much remains to be done. We will be even clearer in our demands that the Afghan authorities do their share in fighting corruption and organised crime, combating narcotics production and defending human rights, and that they take definite steps towards good governance.

In order to make progress, both the Afghans and we must dare to explore new ways of cooperation. Any solution for Afghanistan has to include its neighbours. Pakistan and Afghanistan are subject to the same destabilising influence of Al-Qaida and rebel groups on both sides of the border. A concerted effort is required to combat them. The international community condemned the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which demonstrated the danger that the situation in the region could escalate further.

The situation in Pakistan gives cause for grave concern despite the holding of elections and the appointment of a civilian president. Developments in this country will, if anything, be more important for stability in the region as a whole than they will be for Afghanistan’s development.

Therefore, broader agreement must be sought between India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran that prevents them from using local and regional conflicts against each other. A dialogue must be initiated with Iran to get the country to take responsibility as a neighbour and regional actor.

At the same time we must seek new opportunities for economic cooperation in the region that promote development. The region’s vast water and energy resources and its mineral deposits hold considerable potential.

If the international community is to contribute to the stabilisation of Afghanistan, it must support – and expect the Afghans to show a will to – national reconciliation. The Government in Kabul must be perceived as legitimate by as many groups as possible, including those that today belong to the heterogeneous category labelled Taliban. The Afghans themselves must take the initiative for a dialogue, in accordance with the country’s constitution and its traditions and priorities.

Mr President,

The war in Gaza has once again placed the Middle East at the centre of the international community’s attention. The focus is now on the fragile ceasefire, the damage caused by the war, and providing assistance to the severely affected population. And today we are following the elections in Israel.

If we look ahead, which we should, we need to focus on the consequences the war will have, not only for the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, but also to an increasing degree for the region as a whole.

The entire Middle East is in political flux. Radical Islamist movements are gaining support in the region. Free and democratic elections would pose a challenge to a number of regimes today.

But the democratic path to political power is often blocked in spite of, or perhaps precisely because of, strong social currents – with people demanding development, work and a voice. There is increasing polarisation, and as a result militant views are gaining legitimacy.

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, and the way in which the parties are conducting this conflict, are having major ripple effects in the region.

It is a startling fact that leaders who choose moderation, negotiations and the political path are all too often thwarted. Palestinian leaders who have opted for the path of negotiations find themselves returning empty-handed. This strengthens the Palestinian forces that advocate confrontation and violence. And in the current situation, in the light of local and regional threat pictures, the Israeli positions are hardening, and those who advocate negotiation and compromise are losing ground.

It is in this perspective that the war in Gaza must be seen. It is linked to the continuing occupation. It is linked to Israel’s challenges in the face of terrorism and rocket attacks. It is linked to active interference by countries that are using local groups to assert their positions. It is linked to the split among the Palestinians.

And now that the war is over, there are once again many indications that those who choose violence and military solutions as political tools have come out of it stronger.

This war, Mr President, could have been prevented. Norway, together with many others, warned Israel of the consequences of taking a collective stranglehold on an entire population by imposing a blockade on Gaza. Norway has regularly condemned Hamas’ arbitrary rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. Norwegian envoys spoke clearly to Hamas of the risk that continued rocket attacks could lead to a devastating war.

The Government has maintained that Israel has the right to defend its people against rocket attacks from Palestinian militias. At the same time we have condemned Israel’s massive and disproportionate attacks on densely populated areas of Gaza.

One injustice does not justify another.

In this war international law has once again been violated. Rockets launched by Hamas supporters against civilians may give rise to individual criminal responsibility under international law. Part of Israel’s conduct of the war is contrary to its obligation under international law to protect the civilian population during armed conflict.  Under international humanitarian law, the civilian population is to be protected during armed conflict, irrespective of the causes of the conflict.

Allegations of serious violations of international law should be subject to an independent investigation, and if possible to review before a court of law.

Norway supports the UN Secretary General, who has called for an investigation into how this war has been conducted. This would be an obvious first step.

Norway also requested that the UN Security Council devote one of its sessions to a discussion of the position of international humanitarian law. The Security Council held a meeting on this topic on 29 January. This was a positive step.

The position of international humanitarian law is in part dependent on its status and the attention it is given.

Mr President,

In the wake of the war in Gaza, both warring parties have claimed victory. But the situation is dangerously similar to what it was before the start of the war. The difference lies in the number of dead and wounded, the extensive material damage and the divisions that are deeper that ever, not only between Israelis and Palestinians, but also between states in the whole region.

We are giving priority to humanitarian relief. Since 2006, Norway has increased its support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) by more than 50%, to NOK 150 million. UNRWA has been a lifeline for the refugee population of Gaza, and even more so following the war. Norway currently holds the chair of the UNRWA Advisory Commission, and this gives us a particular responsibility for mobilising the necessary financial support for humanitarian aid to the Palestinian refugees. In the light of the current situation, we will further increase our support, and we call on other countries to follow suit.

All in all, Norway’s support to the Palestinian Territory and the peace process in the Middle East amounted to NOK 800 million in 2008.

Norway chairs the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC) donor forum, in which both the Palestinian Authority and Israel also participate. Last month, the UN Security Council reaffirmed the AHLC’s leading role when it requested member countries to provide humanitarian and economic support to Gaza. It is essential to coordinate donor efforts and ensure that they are adapted to the recipients’ needs and capacities.

As chair of the AHLC, we are cooperating with Egypt on organising a donor conference in Cairo early next month. In response to a request by Egypt, we have agreed to co-chair the meeting.

We will stress that new donor conference initiatives must not be seen in isolation from the Palestinian economy and the support provided to the Palestinian National Authority. As with any donor assistance, efforts must be aligned with the Palestinian Authority’s plans.

Later this spring we may consider convening an AHLC meeting to put in place the necessary framework conditions to promote effective development of the Palestinian Territory.

We expect Israel to open the borders to necessary aid and commercial traffic. It is crucial that the Palestinian Authority maintains its coordinating capability and that the assistance promotes development in all parts of the Palestinian Territory.

This, in turn, raises the question of Palestinian unity. The Palestinian Authority is the foundation for a future Palestinian state. But the Palestinian people are divided. Unless it succeeds in unifying the Palestinian people, the Palestinian Authority will not have the strength and legitimacy needed to once again enter into a political process, which is the only way to move towards peace, reconstruction and Palestinian statehood.

Palestinian reconciliation has therefore once again been put on the region’s agenda by the Palestinians themselves. What is being discussed is the establishment of an interim government with the broadest possible base, which could pave the way for new Palestinian elections. Egypt is leading these efforts, and they are supported by Norway.

Such a government would need a platform that meets all the key criteria for engaging in international relations and makes it possible to resume final status negotiations with Israel.

The reconciliation process, which has now been intensified, is fragile. Relations between the Palestinian factions are deeply distrustful. Norway is in contact with all parties, including Hamas. Our message is clear: we condemn the use of terror and violence. Representing the Palestinian cause will require more than the backing of the majority of the Palestinians. International legitimacy can only be achieved if the agreements previously entered into by the Palestinians are respected.

This brings us to the core of the matter, Mr President, namely the occupation, the reciprocal security threats and deep tensions in the region, which are also running through the Arab world to an increasing degree.

We must demand and expect the resumption of negotiations on a two-state solution. We also need to take an overall view of the conflicts in the region and the tools to resolve them.

Extremism and terrorism must be fought and prevented, but not with methods that undermine and weaken the moderate forces in the region.

The conflict between Palestinians and Israelis can only be brought to an end through a broad approach that is able to secure the committed participation of the involved parties by recognising their legitimate concerns.

It was a broad framework of this kind that enabled the Israelis and Palestinians to conclude their first, historic peace agreement. The Oslo Accords were an offshoot of the Madrid Conference. We called for the resumption of such a regional process following the war in Lebanon in 2006. We believe that it is still necessary to promote such a regional approach.

For there is much at stake. It is extremely worrying that time seems to be running out for a two-state solution. Israel’s closure regime and the continuous building of settlements on occupied territory are undermining the Palestinians’ belief in the possibility of reaching a negotiated solution.

The fact that the Palestinian national movement has split into two irreconcilable camps has reduced the prospects of negotiating and implementing an agreement with Israel. Continued terrorism targeted at civilian Israelis and brutal acts of war that primarily affect the Palestinian civilian population have opened wounds that will take generations to heal.

The tragedy is that this is taking place at a time when opinion polls on both sides are repeatedly showing broad public support for negotiations and for the main elements of a peaceful solution.

But this is precisely why there is hope that a way to peace can be found.

Mr President,

The conflict in Sri Lanka has also taken a dramatic turn for the worse, with the loss of thousands of civilian lives in the past few weeks. Every effort must now be made to stop the bloodshed, which has particularly affected the Tamil people. Tamils in Norway have helped to make us aware of the tragedy.

Ever since Norway was requested by the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE (the Tamil Tigers) to facilitate a peaceful solution to the conflict, we have pointed out to the parties that negotiations are the way forward. The ceasefire in 2002 was promising, and with the support of the other Nordic countries we established a unique monitoring mechanism, the SLMM. This saved many lives, and gave rise to the hope that a broader political solution could be negotiated.

The parties did not seize this opportunity. The ceasefire was not respected in the long run, and the parties failed to show sufficient will to proceed. The ceasefire failed, and the SLMM was asked to withdraw one year ago.

Since then, words have given way to weapons. The LTTE is now in a desperate military situation, and about 250 000 civilians are crowded together in a small area where they are extremely vulnerable. We have condemned the fighting, which is causing terrible civilian suffering. Norway, together with the US, Japan and the EU, has urged the parties to enter into negotiations to end the hostilities, and the international community expects a ceasefire to be among the goals of such negotiations.

In the time ahead, it will be crucial to secure the rights of the Tamil civilian population. Norway will work to ensure that the international community continues to play a leading role in this respect, and Norway will remain at the disposal of the parties.

Mr President,

Norway is seeking membership of the UN Human Rights Council for the period 2009–2012. Efforts to promote universal human rights are given high priority in Norway’s foreign policy.

The establishment of the Human Rights Council has not eliminated the sharp political differences that characterise international human rights efforts – and that existed before the Council was established. The fact is that the composition of the current Council reflects today’s world to a greater degree than the composition of the former Commission did. Those who share our views may become a minority.

This cannot be used as an argument against becoming engaged. The Human Rights Council is, and will continue to be, the UN’s most important intergovernmental human rights body. Our voice is needed. Our approach should be to engage in the institutions that exist.

In these efforts, as in many other areas today, we will seek alliances across regions – in addition to our traditional partners – in cooperation based on openness and mutual respect. If we become a member of the Council, we will continue the bridge-building role we have had as an observer.

But at the same time, we will clearly state our fundamental views. We will continue to work actively against capital punishment and torture, and for the rights of vulnerable groups.

Other Norwegian priority areas are protection of human rights defenders, internally displaced persons, corporate responsibility for human rights, and the rights of women and children.

We know that freedom of expression is under growing pressure in many countries. In recent weeks we have seen this in Gaza and Sri Lanka. And we see the same thing in less well known conflict areas around the world as well: journalists risking their lives to document human rights abuses. We will continue to give priority to protecting freedom of expression and the independence of the media.

This also applies to the run-up to the Durban Review Conference, also known as Durban II, where the theme will be anti-racism. We will work to counter attempts to use the conference to formulate proposals that limit freedom of expression.

When the UN Human Rights Council was established, the US chose not to be involved. It is encouraging that the new administration has signalled that the US will take an active part in the Council’s work by applying for membership.

Mr President,

It is important that we take an overall view of our foreign and development policy tools. The links between security, peace, health, human rights, poverty eradication and access to vital natural resources are plain to see in the challenges that are facing the world community in Africa.

Africa is particularly hard hit by extreme poverty, war and conflict. On the other hand, we must avoid making sweeping generalisations about the miserable state of the continent. Several countries are showing signs of considerable progress towards democracy and development. It is important that our policy for Africa promotes such progress, particularly by helping to improve African countries’ own capacity to deal with crises and address and resolve conflicts.

Zimbabwe has been heading towards total collapse for a long time. Prime Minister Stoltenberg has, on behalf of Norway, repeatedly called on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to play a more active role in efforts to find a solution to the situation. We welcome the agreement to establish a unity government in Zimbabwe. But profound changes are needed in many of the country’s policies before a normalisation of its relations with the international donor community can be expected.

Norway will continue its efforts in Zimbabwe in close cooperation with the other Nordic countries. We are providing substantial support for humanitarian assistance, and in 2008 our contribution amounted to NOK 67.7 million. Norway is also supporting civil society actors in the country and in the region.

In Sudan it is encouraging to see that the peace agreement between the north and the south is being respected, although it is fragile. Norway is maintaining its active engagement in the country, focusing mainly on assisting the parties in implementing the various parts of the peace agreement. Nevertheless, the situation in Sudan is serious, and if the peace agreement were to collapse, this would have a destabilising effect on the whole region.

The war and suffering in Darfur continue. Norway is engaged in attempts to find a political solution in various forums. Our engagement is based on a national perspective, with a clear connection between political goals and development assistance. We are focusing on development in the south and reconstruction in war-torn areas in the north. The Oil for Development initiative is also important, because Sudan as a whole is now entirely dependent on having an efficient petroleum sector.

In its policy platform, the Government stressed the importance of strengthening Norway’s presence in UN-led operations in Africa. We have a solid presence in terms of police forces in Sudan and Liberia. Since the Norwegian-Swedish military contribution to the UN force in Darfur was denied access by the President of Sudan, the Government has considered other possible military contributions.

The decision to provide a field hospital in Chad has been well received, and the hospital is now being prepared for deployment. It will be of great value to the UN operation, which will take over from the present EU operation in Chad on 15 March.

Norway is also considering how it can contribute to the UN’s efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the war is affecting thousands of civilians. We have increased our humanitarian assistance to the country. Norway is giving priority to measures to prevent sexual violence and protect women, in line with the aims set out in UN Security Council resolution 1325. We are also providing financial support to the UN Special Representative for the DRC.

The Government is in ongoing contact with the UN regarding possible future contributions to the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC (MONUC). Following her visit to the region last month, the Minister of Defence has signalled that in the short term Norway could provide a number of staff officers to MONUC. We are now in dialogue with the UN on this matter. We are also preparing to provide support for defence-related security sector reform in the DRC, and the Government will examine the possibility of sending a Norwegian force contribution to the DRC this autumn.

Somalia is an example of what can happen if the state institutions of a country collapse completely. The pirates at sea are a symptom of the collapse on land: lawlessness, war, chaos and severe humanitarian suffering. More that 22 000 persons of Somali origin have sought refuge in Norway, which brings home to us these realities.

Norway has actively supported the political efforts to put an end to the piracy and to create peace and stability in Somalia. This applies to the efforts that are being undertaken in the Security Council and other international forums and to the regional efforts in the Horn of Africa. We are cooperating closely with the UN Special Representative for Somalia in what is known as the Djibouti process. It is encouraging that Somalia has recently elected a new president who intends to establish a government of national unity, and who has promised to implement measures to curb piracy.

About five per cent of the ships that pass through the Suez Canal are Norwegian-owned. These ships sail under both Norwegian and foreign flags. We are participating in the international Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia, and we will consider contributing to the maritime efforts to combat piracy.

Mr President,

In line with previous foreign policy addresses, I would like to devote the rest of my time to issues that primarily relate to the High North – the Government’s most important strategic priority. And I will therefore discuss some foreign policy trends of importance for us in this area.

Our broader High North efforts are set out in the 22-point plan in the High North Strategy – which we launched on 1 December 2006. Implementation of the strategy is on schedule, and the Government will present a summary of this work next month.

The really new dimension that has emerged in the foreign policy picture in the north over the last two to three years relates to developments in the Arctic or – you could say – the renewed international interest in this area.

As climate change is becoming a reality, the whole world is becoming aware of developments around the poles – both north and south. In the north, the melting ice in the Arctic Ocean is making resources and new transport routes more accessible in a very fragile environment.

Climate change will have serious and irreversible consequences for the environment, including the ecosystems in the Arctic Ocean. This can only be addressed through extensive international cooperation. The Government will seek to put knowledge of the rapid changes to the Arctic Ocean on the agenda in the run-up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.

As an Arctic coastal state, Norway has attached great importance to creating the broadest possible consensus on the legal basis for developments in the Arctic. Apart from the delimitation negotiations with Russia, where progress is being made, Norway has reached agreement with its coastal neighbours on all the outstanding boundary issues over the last few years. We have also reached agreement on quotas and management schemes for all joint fish stocks. Clarification of such issues creates stability.

It was following an initiative by Norway that the five Arctic coastal states – the US, Canada, Russia, Denmark and Norway – agreed to discuss the legal basis for the Arctic Ocean. Legal experts from these countries met in Oslo in October 2007 for discussions that were followed up by a ministerial meeting in Ilulissat in Greenland in May 2008.

Put briefly, the conclusion from this historic meeting is this: the Law of the Sea applies in the Arctic.

We have an extensive legal basis that provides a platform both for drawing up new rules and regulations and for further developing existing ones as necessary.

The agreement reached in Greenland has significance in terms of international law. This is underlined by the fact that the European Commission has based its proposal for the EU’s Arctic policy on a similar approach. Moreover, the US Arctic strategy, which was launched just before President Bush left office, reflects the recognition of this fact. The main principles of the strategy were reiterated in a detailed response from Secretary of State Clinton during the confirmation hearings in the Senate last month.

This broad clarification gives the green light for continuing to work on the necessary updating and further development of rules and regulations for activities in the Arctic. A lack of clarification would have meant major uncertainty and would have reinforced the impression that a kind of uncontrolled “scramble for the Arctic” was taking place.

It will be important to ensure that the International Maritime Organization completes the revision of the Guidelines for Ships Operating in Arctic Ice-Covered Waters and that they are made binding. Close cooperation on search and rescue will be of great importance.

Norway, Finland, Russia and Sweden have recently signed a new search and rescue cooperation agreement for the Barents region, under which these countries will provide cross-border assistance to one another in the event of an emergency. This agreement is in addition to the agreements that already exist between the Nordic countries and Russia.

We will also initiate consultations in accordance with the UN Fish Stocks Agreement, which is a supplementary agreement to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. If climate change makes it possible to harvest the living resources in the Arctic in the future, we will seek to ensure that a sound management regime is established. Norway will also seek to ensure that an integrated management plan for these sea areas is implemented in, and by, all the Arctic coastal states.

We will seek to ensure that the five coastal states take a particular responsibility for protecting the environment in the Arctic Ocean. The Climate Change, Biodiversity, Stockholm, Espoo, Basel and OSPAR Conventions, together with various other environmental agreements, are important tools for limiting the overall pressures and impacts on the environment and ensuring the soundest possible management of the area. It is important that Russia in particular and other countries concerned ratify these conventions and ensure effective implementation as rapidly as possible. 

Mr President,

Due to developments in the Arctic, the Arctic Council could have a more important role to play. The Council members are the Arctic coastal states, together with Sweden, Finland and Iceland. In addition, a large number of other countries are interested in becoming observers. So is the European Commission. Norway takes a positive view of this interest. It consolidates the Arctic Council’s position as the key political forum for discussing Arctic issues.

Norway will hold the chairmanship until the Ministerial Meeting in Tromsø on 28–29 April, which will be an important Arctic event. Denmark will take over from Norway, and will be followed by Sweden, making a total of six years of Scandinavian chairmanship. In connection with the Tromsø meeting, we will hold an international symposium on melting ice together with Nobel Laureate Al Gore. This will look at the Arctic as well as other areas of the world where ice sheets and glaciers are melting.

Our aim is that the Arctic Council should give a clear message to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen about the consequences of the melting ice sheets.

The broader picture, Mr President, has been drawn before, but the details are becoming increasingly clear: a climatically and politically frozen region is starting to melt in more ways than one.

These are areas close to home. Here is where our main national interests lie. Here is where we must focus our attention, build knowledge, and seek partnerships and close cooperation with our neighbours, allies and other actors in the region.

We intend our own research institutions both on the mainland and in Svalbard to develop cutting edge knowledge about the High North and the Arctic. This will require long-term focus on research and development of the type seen in the project under the European Roadmap for Research Infrastructures that is under way in Svalbard. This project, which is being led by Norway, will strengthen the archipelago’s role as a platform for Norwegian and international research.

This knowledge will give us a stronger voice and greater influence in discussions in international arenas on the full range of High North issues.

Norway is several steps ahead having already drawn up an integrated, strategic policy for the High North, and we will continue to be at the forefront.

The High North, maritime policy, the environment and the Arctic can become important issues in our cooperation with the EU in the future. The European Parliament, the European Council and the European Commission have started work on the EU Arctic policy. We are following this process closely. The overall picture in the Commission’s proposals corresponds to a great extent with our own priorities.

We intend to cooperate with the EU in the north. And we welcome the broadening engagement of the US. It is positive that Secretary of State Clinton and influential voices in the US Senate have indicated a renewed focus on US ratification of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  

Mr President,

Relations between Norway and Russia form one of the main axes of our High North policy.

We must acknowledge these facts: Russia is a leading Arctic nation, with a long history, the longest coastline along the Arctic Ocean, major interests to safeguard, substantial resources, and a high level of expertise in the region.

Generally, we find that Russia behaves in a constructive way in our neighbouring areas and in the Arctic. Our bilateral relations are continuing to improve. We see this at our meetings and talks at different levels and within different sectors of society. We are planning more important bilateral meetings this spring, including a visit to Moscow by the Prime Minister.

Norway’s relations with Russia will always be coloured by the fact that we deal with Russia both as a neighbour and in our capacity as a member of NATO and a close partner of the EU.

We bring to NATO our experience of successful cross-border cooperation, positive results from our fisheries cooperation in the Barents Sea, the potential for cooperation on developing energy resources, and an innovative and pragmatic regional cooperation within the framework of the Barents cooperation, and increasingly in the Arctic Council. Other allies have other experiences from their histories. NATO’s strengthen is its ability to draw up a joint policy based on a common denominator.

NATO has been a cornerstone of Norway’s security policy since 1949, and this year it will mark its 60th anniversary. NATO has demonstrated a unique ability to adapt to new challenges. It will be important to ensure that the modernisation of the Alliance, both political and military, is continued at the anniversary summit in Strasbourg/Kehl on 3–4 April.

At this meeting, agreement will probably be reached on starting work on a new Strategic Concept for NATO. Security policy developments have created a need for a comprehensive review of the Alliance’s tasks and strategic vision in order to further strengthen NATO’s relevance in the future world order. The Government will keep the Storting informed on the progress of this work. 

Mr President,

In recent months we have seen indications of a more ambitious and self-assertive Russian foreign policy that may make cooperation more difficult, including for Norway. We are noting a more assertive approach to sovereignty and a return to old patterns of military exercises.

Russia’s increased military activity along the Norwegian coast probably reflects a desire to show its strength. There is little reason to interpret this message as being primarily directed towards Norway. At the same time, we cannot disregard the fact that the High North is still of military-strategic importance as a base for Russia’s nuclear fleet and as an exercise area.

The armed conflict with Georgia six months ago created uncertainty about Russia’s future course and damaged its reputation. This winter’s gas conflict with Ukraine has increased this uncertainty.

Firmness, contact and dialogue are the only viable way of meeting these and other challenges in our relations with Russia. Isolating this huge and historically proud nation is not in anyone’s interest. The further development of our relations with Russia should be based not on old tensions but on interdependence within a broad range of areas.

Our proximity to Russia in the north underpins the importance for Norway of a strong alliance with our Euro-Atlantic partners.

It highlights the importance of our initiative in NATO, which has won broad support among our Allies, to increase focus on the Alliance’s own territory and neighbouring areas – not to indicate that “NATO is returning home”, but to show that NATO never left its core area.

On two occasions, in November 2007 and in January this year, I have given the North Atlantic Council in Brussels a general presentation of developments in the High North. The region was also the subject of a NATO seminar in Reykjavik two weeks ago, which was well attended, including by parliamentarians.

In other words, there is considerable interest in Arctic and High North issues, and this is arising in a new era, Mr President: the main focus is not on the military dimension, but on the importance of a stable regulatory framework and extensive cooperation, including with Russia.

We are very pleased that the EU has resumed negotiations on a partnership agreement with Russia. And that NATO agreed in December on a measured and phased approach to reopening political contact within the framework of the NATO-Russia Council. This was a wise decision, and one that Norway supported. Our interests are served by NATO having open channels for political contact and dialogue with Russia – even when relations are strained and difficult.

Norway welcomes the signals of more open lines of communication between Russia and the US since the new president took office. There are indications that disarmament issues will receive renewed attention. This is encouraging and necessary. We see a more pragmatic approach to the US plans for a European missile defence system, which are no longer being pushed rapidly forward. Russia, Europe and the US have a large agenda that they should approach together without reverting to reflexes from the Cold War.

Russia is vulnerable to the economic crisis. The political and economic consequences are as yet unclear. The country’s own prognoses indicate that personal income will decline by 10–15% this year. These are significant figures, not least for all the Russians who have been lifted out of poverty in recent years.

In response to the crisis, Russia has announced increases in tariffs on certain goods to protect its industry. These signs of protectionism give cause for concern and could affect Norwegian exporters. We would like Russia to be part of the WTO and we are working towards a free trade agreement between the EFTA countries and Russia.

Political stability in Russia could be affected by the economic crisis. At present there is narrower scope for political protest and debate in the Russian media.

We have been appalled by the killings of journalists and lawyers. The situation of human rights and democracy in Russia, not least with regard to freedom of expression, continues to cause concern.

Norway attaches importance to continuing to assist NGOs, journalists and other actors in Russia, through political dialogue, project cooperation, and support for the efforts of the Council of Europe, among others.

Strengthening cultural cooperation with Russia is another key part of the Government’s focus on the High North, and last month the ministers of culture of both countries signed a three-year action plan for intensifying common efforts to promote cross-border cultural cooperation in the north. 

Mr President,

Yesterday, Thorvald Stoltenberg presented his report on the way forward for Nordic cooperation on foreign and security policy. It contains 13 proposals for closer cooperation. The Nordic governments welcome debate on these proposals, both at political level and among all those who are interested in this area. The foreign ministers will consider the further follow-up of his recommendations when we meet again in May.

I would like to say this: the main characteristic of these proposals is that they are modern. They respect the fact that the various Nordic countries have different ties with NATO and/or the EU, and thus different obligations and security guarantees. These remain unchanged.

But apart from this, a new window of opportunity is opening up for Nordic cooperation as a result of developments in adjacent areas. The Cold War is over, climate change is altering our region and opening up new sea areas, and greater attention is being directed to resources, transport routes, safety at sea, and new threats in connection with migration, crime and environmental degradation. New opportunities are arising as small countries share burdens and seek joint solutions through cooperation, for example in the field of defence, where new technology will predominate and be very costly.   

The Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian chiefs of defence set the tone with their proposal for how these three countries could cooperate on defence issues. Norway welcomes the Stoltenberg report. Its thrust fits well with our identification of the High North as our most important strategic priority.  

Mr President,

Finally, I would like to add that in recent years we have had an increased focus on Norwegian interests in the formulation of our foreign policy. A sharper focus on interests makes it easier to distinguish what is important from what is not, and set priorities.

Norway’s central interests remain unchanged.  They are related to our role as a coastal state, our rich resources and our position in the High North, and they are closely tied to our ability and responsibility to show international solidarity.

Norwegian interests are closely linked to developments in the north and our neighbouring areas, and they are safeguarded through transatlantic solidarity and our close integration with the EU and our Nordic and European partners.

The EEA Agreement and our broad cooperation with the EU are important ties for Norway as we meet the forces of globalisation. One of Norway’s foreign policy priorities is to safeguard these ties at a time when the EU is both changing and being enlarged. I will say more about this in my next address on Europe to the Storting towards the end of this session.

A striking feature of globalisation is the expansion of Norway’s interests. We must look ahead to new points of contact that will influence Norwegian interests and entail new challenges, new responsibilities and new opportunities. 

The objective of the Refleks project has been to foster debate all over the country about globalisation and Norwegian interests. There has been – and is – genuine engagement, and the debate is lively, not least among young people.

During the course of this week, the Government will present a white paper on development policy. Next month a white paper on foreign policy priorities, the first since 1989, will be presented. This marks the culmination of the Refleks project.

These white papers will give the Storting a good opportunity to undertake a broad review of Norway’s interests and engagement in our work on foreign and development policy.

The Government looks forward to the ensuing debate on new ways forward for our foreign and security policy with a basis in the best Norwegian traditions.


The Address translated to French.