Norwegian voters have recently voted in parliamentary elections, and they voted for a change of government. What image does Norway have of the new government when it promotes Norwegian interests in international arenas? How will it interpret what are Norwegian foreign policy interests?
- What kind of country is Norway in the world?
- What are Norway’s most important interests and distinctive features?
- How big is Norway?
- What can Norway achieve through foreign policy?
Most people might think that the questions above are fairly easy to answer. Because in Norway we are brought up to see Norway in line with some simple labels, such as “the nation of peace”, “the different country”, “the humanitarian superpower”. We are often reminded that Norway is a rather extraordinary country that reigns supreme in all the world’s rankings and awards. This image does not correspond to reality .
We have many ideas about our country that are often not true. In addition, much of what characterizes Norway is most, something we rarely talk about. Let’s start with the simplest: the idea of Norway as a different country – a country that is more modern, globally oriented and idealistic than most other countries.
2: Performances about Norway
Every year, the prestigious educational institution ETH (University of Science and Technology) in Switzerland publishes what is often only referred to as the « KOF index » . This measures the economic , social and political dimensions of globalization. Simply put, it is an annual unofficial selection of the world’s most globally oriented and modern country.
Where will most Norwegians place Norway in such a globalization ranking? Probably quite close to the top. It has become a habit to think exactly that in Norway. But this self-image does not correspond to reality. The “KOF index” shows that Norway is a fairly ordinary country , measured against states we often compare ourselves with. Norwegian society is admittedly closely intertwined with the world around us in a deeply globalized community. What happens far away often has effects on us and vice versa. But this does not apply to us more than many other countries.
Contrary to what we like to believe, Norway is still a long way from the top tier. Our country is in twentieth place; Most of the countries in Western Europe, with which we normally compare ourselves, are well ahead. Even when it comes to some of the things that are most praised in Norway’s position in the world – Norway’s political involvement and participation in international cooperation – Norway does not constitute a special case. Norway is not much more politically involved and engaged in the outside world than other countries with a similar social system and level of development.
What about other celebrated Norwegian foreign policy peculiarities? What about Norway as a “nation of peace”? And what about the “humanitarian superpower” Norway? Norway is also doing well in these areas, but the country is still less incomparable than many of the labels would suggest. Norway has for several years been one of the world’s most generous countries, and Norwegians are at the top of the world of those who spend the most public money on fighting poverty and underdevelopment.
We can also consider overviews that show transfers and gifts from private individuals and private companies, and not just assistance provided via the state. When private transfers are withdrawn, Norway is little different from many other Western European countries. There is also no major difference between Norway and our Nordic neighbors.
The portrait of Norway as the «peace nation» is also somewhat similar. This self-image has roots far back in history – to Fridtjof Nansen, the Nobel Peace Prize and eventually to the so-called Oslo agreement between Israel and the PLO in 1993, and what is today called Norway’s “peace and reconciliation policy” . Some of the peace self-image agrees well. Throughout the long period from 1945 to 1990, Norway did not actively participate in a single war. But this is only one side of the issue.
According to PROEXCHANGERATES.COM, the story of Norway’s relationship to peace and war is also the story of a country that since 1990 has been involved in five different wars around the world (three of them in the last decade – Iraq (-91), Bosnia, Serbia (Kosovo), Afghanistan and Libya). It is a country that is among the twenty largest exporters of military equipment (No. 15 in the period 2008-12 according to sipri.org ). In addition, Norway is among the western countries that spend the most money on defense purposes – every single year.
Of course, we should not put too much into such rankings and statistical contexts. But we can still say something for sure: Norway does not stand out as the extraordinarily positive country many Norwegians like to believe. Norway is not a «different country», nor a «foreign country». And it is neither particularly more open, outgoing nor more politically integrated in the world than most other countries it is natural to compare with.
3: The real Foreign Norway – the sea
However, there is something that distinguishes Norway – and that is the sea . Based on land area, Norway is a fairly small country in the world. Norway is in sixtieth place ranked by geographical size among the world’s approx. two hundred states. If we subtract from mountains and stone clocks – where nothing can be cultivated, Norway appears even smaller. The same goes for population. As of 1 January 2013, 117 countries had a larger population than Norway.
There are several other ways to measure a country’s size. Norway has a coastal strip that meanders in and out of long fjords. Including islands, bays and headlands, it is an incredible 100,915 kilometers long – more than two and a half times the distance around the earth. This “100,000-kilometer coast” makes Norway a rather distinctive country . Norway is simply a “coastal strip kingdom”.