Article in Politics / International
The concerns generated worldwide by the offer of the 2009 Nobel Peace prize to U.S. President Barack Obama call for a deeper look at Norway’s expanding role in global peacemaking.

The concerns generated worldwide by the offer of the 2009 Nobel Peace prize to U.S. President Barack Obama call for a deeper look at Norway’s expanding role in global peacemaking.

Norway is a relatively young nation, having emerged in 1905 after a secessionist conflict with Sweden, and is a small country with a population of 4.5 million people. The recent discovery of offshore oil has made Norway the third biggest exporter of oil and the wealthiest country in the world in terms of per capita GNP. In recent decades, Norway has been one of the most generous foreign aid donors contributing 0.9% of its GDP and providing massive humanitarian and international development support. The image of Norway as a ‘humanitarian Great Power’ and global ‘moral entrepreneur’ has become a part of Norwegian, if not global, consciousness.

This self-image of Norway as an ‘international brand name circling around the international engagement for democracy, human rights, conflict solution and peace’ owes much to the work of Norwegian politician, Jan Egeland. He is credited with the Norwegian strategy for ‘peacemaking diplomacy’ articulated in the 1980s, ‘Impotent superpower-potent small state’. His argument, that as a neutral, trustworthy and peace-loving country, Norway is in a better position than the more powerful United States to broker peace deals, has been embraced by the Norwegian as well and the international political and policy establishment. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs identifies four elements of the so-called ‘Norwegian model’: 1) Not being a big power, Norway poses no threat to other countries; 2) Norway does not have a history of colonization and warfare, but, a history of peacemaking and ‘peace prize making’; 3) Norwegian peace work is flexible and built upon a combination of state and non-state actors; and 4) Norway combines peace brokering with long-term humanitarian aid.

Since brokering the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords, Norway has emerged as the preeminent global ‘peacemaker’. Norway also leads the world in financing international peace research institutes, publications and United Nations multilateral peace initiatives.

Norway, however, is not genuinely peaceful. In 2006, it was the ‘seventh largest exporter of arms and ammunitions in the world’. Norway is not a genuinely pluralist parliamentary democracy either. The Norwegian Constitution states that ‘The Kingdom of Norway is …a limited and hereditary monarchy’ and that ‘[t]he Evangelical-Lutheran religion shall remain the official religion of the State. The inhabitants professing it are bound to bring up their children in the same.’ Continuing issues over political and territorial rights of the Sami indigenous minority have also raised concerns about Norwegian government’s commitment to equality and pluralism in Norway.

On the international level, the Norwegian model has played a major role in advancing the role of the NGOs and the so-called ‘third sector,’ and the privatization and ‘outsourcing’ of diplomacy and international conflict resolution. It assumes that NGOs can ‘do things a government would not attempt, such as disguising secret talks as humanitarian or academic meetings’. However, questions are raised in many quarters as to whether the NGOs and international NGOs (INGOs) promoted by the Norwegian model constitute an independent third force genuinely committed to global peace and social and economic justice. For example, should NGOs and INGOs, which lack transparency and accountability, be given a free hand in important policy decisions that affect the lives of millions of people across the world? Huge salaries and other benefits given to NGOs in conflict ridden countries widen income disparities and aggravate grievances. Norwegian Foreign Ministry officials admit that ‘The Ministry is quite limited when it comes to expertise in different parts of the world, so we’ve been exploiting outside expertise. We have the money, they have the contacts’.

The offer of the 1.5 million 2009 Nobel Peace prize to Barack Obama is partly attributable to Norway’s new found wealth and lack of international acumen. Is Norway, ‘the potent small state’, serving the interests of the ‘impotent superpower,’ the United States, by this premature offer? More importantly, has Norwegian intervention built upon money and little international expertise brought peaceful resolution to conflicts in places such as the Middle East, Bosnia and Sri Lanka or exacerbated those conflicts? It is time to rethink not only the Nobel peace prize, but also the broader Norwegian peacemaking model.

Asoka Bandarage is the author of The Separatist Conflict in Sri Lanka: Terrorism, Ethnicity, Political Economy (Routledge, 2009). She teaches Conflict Analysis at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. to Shut Down Permanently on December 31, 2017

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Asoka Bandarage
Asoka Bandarage is currently a professor in the Public Policy Institute at Georgetown University, US. Her research interests include the glo

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The Norwegian Peacemaking Model

The concerns generated worldwide by the offer of the 2009 Nobel Peace prize to U.S. President Barack Obama call for a deeper look at Norway’s expanding role in global peacemaking.

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