Historical archive

Fixing Fragile States: Urgent Priority or Exercise in Futility?

Historical archive

Published under: Solberg's Government

Publisher Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Washington DC, 14 April 2016

Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende's speech at an event hosted by the Atlantic Council 14 April.

Check against delivery

  • Confronted with a rapidly changing, challenging and complex security environment, strategic thinking and analysis are more important than ever before.
  • We are now at a crossroads, and the Norwegian Government is preparing a new white paper on foreign and security policy.
  • This analysis will help us map the terrain, discuss options and set the course for the future.

Increasing support to fragile states and regions is urgent

  • We are experiencing greater vulnerability – and a feeling that the international order we have built over the past few decades is more fragile than previously perceived.
  • The security situation in parts of Europe and its neighbourhood remains volatile.
  • Never before have security and prosperity in Europe depended so much on security and prosperity elsewhere.
  • Europe faces several crises at the same time – many of these are emerging from a belt of fragile states on Europe's southern border.
  • From Western Africa through North Africa and the Middle East to Afghanistan, countries are ravaged by armed conflict, violence and insecurity.
  • We are facing risks to our security and our economies. The very fabric of our societies is at stake. Terrorism, violent extremism and criminal networks are making states even more vulnerable.
  • Last year, Europe received more than one million refugees and migrants.
  • The situation is tragic for the people who have left their homes.But it is also a serious challenge to European cooperation, the integrity of Europe's borders, and the asylum system as such.
  • We need to find better solutions. This is urgent.These multifaceted crises are threatening the internal cohesion of the EU and Schengen. They represent the critical backdrop for Europe's and our allies' search for new, joint policy initiatives.
  • As an international community, we need to rethink how we address such crises. Fragile states must not become failed states by default.
  • There is no doubt that the primary responsibility for stabilisation lies with the states concerned, but at the same time we should aim to strengthen the capacity of fragile states to meet security and humanitarian challenges, build resilience – and prevent more countries from joining the ranks of failed states.

How to work effectively together – Norway's policy on fragile and failed states

  • The Norwegian Government is developing a comprehensive strategy that links foreign policy with security, development and humanitarian policy.
  • Our goal is a unity of purpose. We are using lessons learned from Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Mali and elsewhere.
  • Stabilisation is not a technocratic undertaking. It is primarily a political project.
  • Every failed state has its own characteristics; it has failed in its own way, within its particular regional context.
  • Stabilisation and social development require attention to both local politics and regional geo-politics that drive the forces of polarisation and instability on the ground.
  • The key to sustainable peace is a political solution.

Inclusive processes

  • Broad engagement and mobilisation must be integral to our peace and reconciliation efforts.
  • As we seek peace – achieving robust results, sustaining them, and building on them – inclusive processes are essential.
  • Civil society must be heard when peace is being constructed – even the groups that may at first may seem irrelevant; they may very well be important allies.
  • Women's participation makes a difference. Which is why we work with women's networks, and with victims, activists, peacemakers, experts, and women at the frontline.
  • Military engagement is sometimes necessary, but the use of force is never a solution in itself.
  • Counter-terrorism efforts need to be integrated into a broader political strategy.
  • Experience from Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya demonstrates that our involvement must be part of a coherent, long-term strategy for lasting stability.
  • Many, including the Atlantic Council, have highlighted that, despite the often destructive nature of elites in fragile countries, we have to work with them.
  • If we want the job done, this is unavoidable. But it represents a huge dilemma, especially when benchmarked against our own principles for good governance, human rights and zero-tolerance for corruption.
  • However, as Prof. Krasner points out, we sometimes have to accept dealing with less than ideal governance, while remaining true to our principles in a longer perspective. We have to bear in mind that the instability in the Middle East, North Africa and beyond is, at root, a failure of governance.
  • That is why we still need to think in terms of governance – be it good, or just 'good enough' – in our pursuit of stability. Nation states that have to resort to repressive measures to maintain calm are just not sustainable.

Root causes

  • Development assistance to states affected by conflict, violent extremism and war must focus on the root causes of social unrest, radicalisation and migration.
  • A strong link between humanitarian and long-term aid should be developed. We need to give people hope for a better future where they are living. Young people should be given opportunities to acquire skills and a livelihood.
  • This is why education and job creation are among Norway's top priorities. We have taken a lead on education in crises. No less than 15 % of the Norwegian pledge to the Syria response is earmarked for education.
  • Corruption is a prime enemy of stability in fragile regions. Economic growth, collection of taxes, and service delivery are threatened by corruption and illicit capital flows.
  • The magnitude of questionable practices is mindboggling, as the Panama Papers point out.
  • Accountability and public oversight are essential tools in efforts to prevent or resolve conflicts. Rich countries and international companies must act responsibly.
  • In line with this, we need to be consistent in promoting human rights, the rule of law and freedom of expression as key values.
  • Multilateral engagement will remain a cornerstone of our efforts. We will do our part to improve the performance of – and expand the engagement of – the UN and the International Financial Institutions, including the regional development banks, in the most difficult environments.
  • Let me reiterate the need for more regional cooperation and integration. Promoting economic cooperation and integration may be one way to reduce distrust in unstable regions like the Middle East.
  • We should aim at drawing opposing sides in regional conflicts into broad security dialogues, with a view to laying the groundwork for inclusive security frameworks.
  • We also need to contribute to strengthening regional and sub-regional institutions and their capacity to prevent and manage crises in their regions.
  • Norway recently formalised a partnership with the African Union, aiming at strengthening its role in peace and economic development in the region.
  • Supporting the UN's regional role is also a priority for us. We fully support the US's initiative to strengthen the UN's peacekeeping operations, including increased UN cooperation with regional organisations like the AU.

Transatlantic alliance

  • In the face of these challenges, a strong transatlantic alliance is as important as ever.
  • The strain on the countries that have borne the greatest burden in dealing with the migration flow – Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey – has been enormous.
  • They are providing a global public good. The international community must share their burden.
  • Turkey – a prominent Nato member – is at a crossroads. Turkey is Nato's southern flank. We need a stable Turkey that can play a key role in a highly volatile region.
  • We must engage with and support Turkey in today's difficult situation, whilst explicitly letting Ankara know what we expect from them politically.
  • The US contributions to the alliance are indispensable, but Europe must also invest in its own security. I am pleased that the trend of declining defence budgets has stopped.
  • Norway has a robust defence budget, a high investment share, and contributes significantly to Nato's activities, such as providing troops for Nato's new rapid reaction force and assistance to our Eastern allies on land, at sea and in the air.
  • Strengthening Nato's military capabilities and reassuring our Eastern allies of our solidarity and support is a key priority.
  • At the Warsaw summit in July, the Alliance will continue to adapt to a changing security landscape. In the time leading up to the summit, Norway will call for a comprehensive approach to security.
  • The Alliance cannot choose between the south and the east, between ground and sea forces, or between deterrence and détente. The security needs of all the allies must be taken seriously – and all the members of the Alliance must play their part.
  • The Alliance must continue to develop partnerships with the UN, as well as with regional partners and organisations, including the AU. Cooperation with fragile states must be strengthened – not least by contributing to capacity-building in the security sector.


  • There is no contradiction between European and Atlantic orientation in Norwegian foreign policy. Quite the contrary. They are mutually reinforcing.
  • The challenges ahead are daunting.
  • We can only achieve our objectives in close cooperation with allies and partners, and through accelerated efforts to promote trade, and foster development and peace in fragile situations.
  • I am very pleased to be here at the Atlantic Council – a key partner in strengthening the transatlantic relationship. I look forward to our discussions.