Learning from Norway

AUSTRALIANS ARE USED to comparing their country with the United States and their countries of origin, whether the UK, Italy, China or any of the two hundred or so other nations from whence their families emigrated. Norway does not generally figure in such reflections – few Australians are of Norwegian origin; the countries are polar opposites and physically disparate. Australia and Norway are neither members of the same regional organisations, nor significant trading partners, nor even notable destinations for each other's tourists.

Closer study suggests more similarities than might be expected with a partly Arctic country housing a population less than a quarter the size of Australia's. Norway had the second-largest merchant navy in the world in 2001, so it is not surprising that a Norwegian ship, the Tampa, played a crucial role in the ugly drama about asylum seekers in that year. Australians have for some years been hearing about the maturity with which Norway handles income from oil and gas extraction. Many Australians were brought up eating Oslo lunches, studying Ibsen at school, hearing Grieg and identifying with the angst of Munch's painting The Scream. More recently Australian environmental perspectives have been strongly influenced by the report on sustainable development prepared by the commission headed by the former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland. Both countries have territory in Antarctica. In 2008, 1230 Norwegian students were studying in Australia.[i] Mutual interest, then, is growing.

Many parameters of the foreign policies of the two countries are the same. Like most Australian governments, Norway's are committed to the international rule of law and to multilateral co-operation through the United Nations. Neither country belongs to a multilateral political organisation that requires policy compliance, other than those which are universal: Norway is not a member of the EU, and the British Commonwealth does not require conformity from its members. Both countries therefore have greater freedom to act independently and to take international initiative and leadership than most other developed nations. Like Australia, Norway's pre-eminent alliance is with the United States: 'NATO is the anchor point for Norway's national security policy,'[ii] as is ANZUS for Australia. Though there are differences in the characteristics of those treaties, the significance of each country's memberships is an indicator of the importance of their alliance with the US. Both countries are members of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan. The American alliance has not, however, impeded Norway in developing a number of distinctive and influential policies relating to engagement with the UN, peaceful conflict resolution, disarmament, development, the environment and human rights. These policies have given Norway greater influence than the size of its population or economy would suggest – or, as President Obama suggested when receiving the Nobel Peace prize in Oslo, the ability 'to punch above its weight', a description that some Australians like to use about their own country too.

The democratic revolutions in Arab countries this year call for action from nations like Australia and Norway. The United States and the European powers are largely discredited by many years of support for, or trade with and investment through, totalitarian and authoritarian leaders. Smaller actors can actively build alliances to provide ideas for UN-approved international sanctions, recognition
of the democratic forces, and support and advice to nascent democratic institutions.

Australian Labor and Coalition governments often repeat the mantra that the national interest should be the guiding light of foreign policy. Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said in November 2010 that the core national interests which the Department of Foreign Affairs is 'required to discharge' are to defend Australia's 'territorial integrity', maintain 'political sovereignty', 'advance the national economic well-being', 'act as a good international citizen' in 'maintaining a stable and just international order', and protect 'the physical well-being of Australians abroad'. What concrete policies will best contribute to achieving those goals? Other countries are an interesting source of ideas and comparisons, and Norway defines its national interest in particularly broad terms. It is worth examining why it does so, how its strategy has evolved, what has been learned from its experiences and whether those lessons have anything to teach Australia.


NORWAY AND AUSTRALIA became politically independent countries not much more than a century ago, Norway from Sweden in 1905 and Australia from Britain in 1901. Both are among the four developed countries with the world's lowest population densities, Norway with sixteen people per square kilometre and Australia with three.[iii] Both populations think of themselves as close to nature but live mainly in urban areas. Both control huge areas of ocean: Norway's economic zone (the area inside the 200-nautical-mile zone) is the thirteenth-largest in the world, Australia's the third.

Although one of Norway's social characteristics is the homogeneity of its population, both countries are dependent on immigration to meet labour needs. In Norway more than a tenth of people now have origins in other countries: about half in Europe and half in developing countries. Norway is more generous to asylum seekers, taking twice as many as Australia per million of population during the past decade.

A striking similarity is that Norway and Australia have the two highest rankings on the multidimensional human development index published by the UN Development Programme. This means that they have the greatest capacity in the world to provide their citizens with a long and healthy life, access to education and high average incomes – and hence perhaps to support others seeking the same goals.

Both countries have histories of relying on farming, yet possess huge areas unsuitable for cultivation. Both have moved on from agriculture and are now major mineral exporters – and are wealthy as a result. In 2008, half Norway's export earnings came from the recovery of oil and gas, making it the fifth-largest exporter of petroleum products. Australia was the largest producer of bauxite and mineral sands in 2007; one of the largest producers of uranium, iron ore, lead, zinc and nickel; and a major exporter of coal. Nevertheless, three-quarters of employment in both countries is in service industries.

Apart from mini-states such as Luxembourg, Norway has the highest per-capita income in the OECD. In 2006 the Norwegian annual average income per head of US$52,000 was 80 per cent higher than the EU average and 50 per cent higher than Sweden, Denmark and Australia – although Australians work 20 per cent more hours a year. Norway is one of a group of northern and western European countries that are 'consistently ranked in the most egalitarian half' of OECD countries, while Australia is one of the English-speaking countries that fall into the less-egalitarian group. Most impressively, Norway is the country in which the lowest 10 per cent of income earners receive the highest percentage of median income. Male participation rates in the labour force are similar but a higher proportion of working-age women are in paid employment in Norway.

As expected, the Norwegian government's expenditure of 44 per cent of GDP is substantially higher than the 35 per cent spent in Australia. The surprising difference is the extent of central government net saving in Norway: of over 40 per cent in 2008. This astonishing thrift is made possible by investing most revenue from oil and gas extraction in the Government Pension Fund – Global, and limiting spending from the fund's income from its investments, which is transferred to recurrent spending at a prescribed rate of return on the fund's holdings of 4 per cent a year. Nevertheless, that supplement to other revenue enables generous public expenditure on health, education and other human services.

Social and cultural qualities in both countries are strongly influenced by geography and history. Henrik Ibsen wrote, 'Anyone who wishes to understand me fully must know Norway: the spectacular but severe landscapes which people have around them in the north, and the lonely but shut-off life in the houses often lying miles from each other. In Norway every second man is a philosopher and those dark winters with the thick mists outside – how they long for the sun.'[iv] Even contemporary affluent and urban Norwegians identify with this inheritance. The writer Inge Eidsvåg suggests 'three values' that 'the majority of the population would recognise as theirs: equality, moderation and nearness to nature'.[v] There have been parallel values in Australia's evolution, though they have been eroded by the assertive individualism encouraged by the past quarter-century of neo-liberalism. Yet there are still similarities in the traditional kindness, directness and lack of pretension. Australians' delight in sport, beach and bush parallels Norwegians' pleasure in skiing and walking.


ONE OF THE similarities in historical experience that has had most influence on the international perspective of both countries is in the origins of the widespread fears that infected their policies during the Cold War. Both Norway and Australia attempted to be neutral before World War II, though they had close relationships with Britain. However, the sudden and undeclared German invasion of Norway on 9 April 1940 and the five years of occupation were a national trauma that profoundly influenced Norway's postwar society and foreign policy. The postwar hostility between the Soviet Union and the United States caused intense anxiety in Norway, which shares a border with Russia. Australians, who were merely threatened with Japanese invasion, nevertheless commonly experienced similar fears about the advance of communism to those of many Norwegians. This led both countries to make relations with the US their most important international alliance.

The insecurity in both countries also motivated substantial levels of military expenditure during the Cold War, but as fears receded after 1989 Norwegian defence spending declined from close to 3 per cent of national income to the current 1.5 per cent. In contrast, the end of the Cold War had surprisingly little impact on Australian military spending, which fell from 2.2 per cent in 1990 to 2.0 per cent in 1996, and remained at or just slightly under that for the following decade and a half. A possible explanation is that Norwegian society was more influenced by the dramatic changes in Europe from the end of the Cold War arms race, the massive disarmament and demobilisation across the continent, and the newly won co-operation with the old enemies in the Warsaw Pact. For Australia, the demise of the Soviet Union was less noticed and the growth of Chinese armaments was witnessed more closely. Certainly, Norwegian political leaders and advocates for defence spending have been less inclined to fan fears than some in Australia. The difference in military spending may also be an indicator of differences in the approach to foreign policy of the two countries.

There are, then, sufficiently strong similarities between major aspects of the two nations' histories, economies and frameworks of foreign policy to make for useful comparisons. However, given the substantial similarities of experience, and the strength of the commitment of both countries to their alliance with the US, what has enabled Norway to develop such distinctively different orientations to those of American administrations and to have the political strength to act autonomously?


THE KEY INFLUENCES on Norwegian foreign policy are embedded in the nation's history. Norway's international good citizenship is an expression of the widespread national support for meeting the needs of people in other countries. This is expressed through a commitment to international aid which predates that of other industrialised nations without a colonial past. Norwegian development aid was initiated as early as 1953, in India, when Norway was still receiving Marshall Aid. The two dominant social movements, the social-democratic labour movement and Christian lay organisations, joined forces to support Norwegian activism for the international rule of law and multilateral co-operation through the United Nations: engagement with peacemaking and peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, nuclear disarmament, human rights and democracy.[vi] The more idealistic sides of Norwegian foreign policy activism have been criticised in the national press in recent years: it has been argued that the increasing investment of funds and personnel has shown meagre results and not served Norwegian national interests.[vii] Nevertheless, a recently published survey of Norwegian foreign policy sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that Norwegians commonly believe that the commitments to an activist foreign policy have 'become Norway's international hallmark. Norway's image both at home and abroad has been formed by a cluster of moral projects.' [viii]

The foundations of those commitments are in four features of Norwegian society: egalitarianism, the emphasis on social justice in the Church of Norway, the international solidarity of the labour movement and a consensual approach to resolving conflict. First, a number of features of Norwegian history have contributed to the relatively equitable structure of society. Plague in the mid-fourteenth century killed most of the feudal lords. The mountainous terrain forced dispersed settlement of rural peasants, who became more independent than rural smallholders further south in Europe. Union with Denmark for almost three centuries, from 1536 to 1814, prevented the growth of a Norwegian aristocracy, and late industrialisation constrained the establishment of wealthy capitalist dynasties. Second, the Lutheran church became the state religion after the Reformation. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries a lay revivalist movement 'promoted an ideology of social justice, egalitarianism, and moral obligation to alleviate poverty that preceded the adoption of the welfare state'.[ix]

Third, the growth in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of the Labour Party, with its ideological commitment to the international solidarity of working people everywhere, strengthened commitment to international as well as national egalitarianism. And fourth, there is also 'an emphasis on consensus and compromise within Norwegian society' of which social democracy is an example, being a compromise between capitalism and socialism.[x] Political liberalism also emphasised the contributions of free trade, neutrality and arbitration to peace. In reaction to the control from Sweden, which took over from Denmark in 1814, the Norwegians asserted that in contrast they were a peace-loving nation. A national consensus grew that 'pragmatically synthesised Social Democratic and Lutheran global concerns for the oppressed'. [xi]

Three of the most distinctive features of Norwegian foreign policy relate to peaceful conflict resolution, disarmament and aid. In the 1880s and 1890s members of the Norwegian parliament were active advocates of peace through international treaties. This may be the reason why the Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel decided that the peace prize he endowed would be awarded by a committee chosen by Norwegian parliamentarians.[xii] Norwegian delegates were active in the League of Nations, and the famous polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen was commissioned by the League to resettle hundreds of thousands of refugees in Eastern Europe after World War I. Still, their country having been ruled for so long by Denmark and Sweden, a majority of Norwegians have opposed joining the European Union.

The horrors of German occupation strengthened Norwegian support for the international rule of law and the UN. The Norwegian foreign minister, Trygve Lie, became the first UN Secretary-General. Norway has continued to be among the UN's strongest supporters, as demonstrated by repeatedly making the largest financial contribution per capita.

One of the early examples of Norway's engagement with peaceful conflict resolution and human rights was in supporting the struggle for justice in South Africa. A commitment to ending apartheid grew in the Church of Norway, solidarity groups and the trade unions in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, and this encouraged the government to take up the issue. The effectiveness of this is an example of the established pattern of co-operation between church, NGOs and the state, and this is a major element of the 'Norwegian model' of working for peace and justice.

The idea of a Norwegian model for conflict resolution took off after the end of the Cold War. Norway had a comparative advantage in peace promotion because of its small size, its non-colonial past, and the close relationship between the state and NGOs.[xiii] As well, the end of the Cold War, and of the need to focus foreign policy on security and the risk of a threat from the Soviet Union, allowed concentration on other issues.

The Oslo Accord facilitated by Norway between Israel and the Palestinians in 1993 established the reputation of the Norwegians as effective mediators.[xiv] After the first Gulf War, in 1990-91, the Palestinian Liberation Organization started to seek a third party through whom they could approach the Israelis. This request enabled Norwegians to confidentially suggest to trusted Israelis the possibility of secret discussions. Agreement was eventually reached after intense and sometimes fractured negotiations about a Declaration of Mutual Recognition, and included arrangements for Palestinian self-rule, maximum permanent security for Israeli citizens, proposals for major infrastructure and a Marshall-style international-assistance plan. The agreement was signed on the White House lawns in September 1993, and Rabin, Peres and Arafat were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Since then the Norwegian model of peacemaking has been attempted in many conflict situations, from Colombia and Guatemala to Sri Lanka and Sudan.

There are several key features of the Norwegian model. Commonly, the process begins because one or more of the parties ask for assistance, or Norwegian NGOs propose that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs becomes involved. The ministry rarely acts alone: it often co-operates with the UN or supports other mediating organisations. It is taking a close interest in the new UN Mediation Support Unit and has also co-operated with initiatives involving the good offices of the Secretary-General. Major development assistance has commonly been a feature of post-agreement peace-building processes. A Peace and Reconciliation Section was established in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2001. It began as support for the negotiations in Sri Lanka and has expanded since then; there are now fourteen professional officers working in the section, administering an annual budget of about US$100 million in support of activities in twenty areas of conflict.

A second distinctive feature of Norwegian foreign policy has been the high priority given to disarmament. A report presented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Storting, the Norwegian parliament, on 30 May 2008 begins: 'The Government is working to promote a UN-led world order based on co-operation between states, where conflicts are resolved on the basis of international law, and all use of force is in conformity with the UN Charter. The Government believes that improved security for all can be achieved at considerably lower levels of armaments than those that exist today. This will require balanced and verifiable reductions. Furthermore, extensive disarmament will free up substantial resources that can be used for human and social development.'

This unequivocal and principled statement succinctly summarises the orientation of Norwegian disarmament policy. The report describes challenges relating to nuclear and other WMDs, and from conventional weapons, and then for a dozen pages outlines objectives, priorities and measures being used to achieve them. Many are predictable because they are vital and well known; many are impressive because they demonstrate the imagination that is being applied. Examples include co-operating with the UK in a major research project on verification of nuclear disarmament agreements; co-operating with Germany to urge NATO to adopt a new strategic concept, in which one of the key issues is a new nuclear doctrine; and providing financial support totalling A$10 million in 2010 to multilateral and civil society organisations engaged in disarmament issues.

Humanitarian agencies such as the Red Cross were vital to negotiation of treaties banning land mines and cluster bombs. 'Nuclear weapons are the most destructive, inhuman and indiscriminate weapons ever created,' Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has said, and so it is vital that humanitarian agencies participate too in activity aimed at banning nuclear weapons.

A third distinctive feature of Norwegian foreign policy is the generosity of the country's aid to developing countries. Norway has surpassed the UN aid target of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) continuously for more than thirty years. In 2009 Net Official Development Assistance by both Sweden and Norway exceeded 1 per cent of GNI, compared with the 0.29 per cent contributed by Australia. About a quarter of Norway's aid is allocated through multilateral organisations, especially through UNICEF, UNDP and the World Bank. In most UN agencies Norway, with a population smaller than that of the state of Victoria, is among the top five contributors and far ahead of most major powers. Thirty per cent of aid is channelled through Norwegian NGOs, making the five largest Norwegian groups among the largest in the world. Norway emphasises the contribution of aid to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, to generating and distributing clean energy and water, and to natural resource management and sanitation. A recent and generous example is the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, the REDD program, which Norway has spearheaded and to which it has allocated several hundred million dollars to preserve the rainforests of Brazil, the Congo, Indonesia and elsewhere. There is a strong emphasis on aid being effective.


MANY FEATURES OF Norwegian history and society are very different from those in Australia. The question is whether these differences are so great or the international context of the two countries so different that no Australian government could persuade the electorate, let alone the foreign-affairs community, that such policies are likely to be cost-effective means of strengthening security. It might have once been possible for neo-realist commentators to dismiss what are sometimes called Norway's 'extended interests' as the 'soft' policies of an idealistic nation attempting to make the world a better place – nice ideas with which a small, wealthy country can indulge itself. But in an age of strong and intensifying global integration such scepticism is unpersuasive.

The Report of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Refleks Project argues: 'Globalisation extends Norway's national interests in the direction of traditional idealistic politics...Those areas of foreign policy that are normally associated with idealistic politics are becoming necessary instruments and know-how that can be used to further Norwegian national interests. Or to put it rather bluntly, know-how about development policy or the development of international institutions is becoming an instrument of political pragmatism, while military efforts may take on important idealistic dimensions.' [xv]

Growing global integration automatically extends the geographical areas and the range of issues about which national foreign policy must be concerned. Whether or not the social-democratic foundations of Norway's enlightened policies appeal, traditional Australian utilitarianism is a strong enough basis for the adoption or adaptation to Australian conditions, of many of Norway's extended interests.[xvi]

As in Norway, most postwar governments in Australia have repeatedly expressed the same commitment to the international rule of law and to the UN as the institutional system with responsibility for implementation of that principle. The value of the Norwegian example is that it suggests expressing those commitments more fully and effectively. The Rudd government took important steps to renew and strengthen Australian engagement with the UN, including making explicit the centrality of Australia's commitment to the international rule of law; increasing organisational engagement through attentiveness to the issues being addressed by UN forums and attendance at UN meetings; nominating for membership of the Security Council in 2013-14; setting a target for increasing aid to 0.5 per cent of national income by 2015-16; emphasising Australian participation in peacekeeping missions; and establishing the Evans-Kawaguchi Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament.

A second round of multilateral policy renewal would strengthen Australia's effectiveness as a fully engaged UN member state. This could involve addressing the inconsistencies between the requirements of member states in the UN Charter and existing Australian policy. Six inconsistencies and opportunities are made clearer by the Norwegian example: the offensive orientation of the 2009 Defence White Paper; the continuing financial deprivation of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; the neglect of practical, peaceful conflict resolution; the impoverishment of departmental and scholarly work on disarmament; the inadequacies of voluntary financial contributions to multilateral and NGO development programs; and the stringency of government support for NGOs involved in concrete programs for strengthening international peace and justice, and public education and scholarship.

The 2009 Defence White Paper moved Australian military strategy further from 'defensive defence' towards 'offensive defence'. It focused on forward projection of force, strike capability and high-technology weapons systems. It promoted enormous purchases of weapons – twelve new submarines, air-warfare destroyers and a new class of frigates, a hundred F-35 joint strike fighters and more – to be paid for by automatic annual increases of 4 to 5 per cent in military spending in each of the next twenty years, regardless of circumstances. No other type of Australian public expenditure has ever been promised such largesse for such a long period.

The White Paper discussed Australian defence as if it were in a silo, isolated from other dimensions of foreign affairs. An astonishing result was the defence budget for 2010-11, increased by $1.57 billion to $26.8 billion. In the same budget the appropriation for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was $1.1 billion. So the increase in Australian military spending in 2010-11 is about 50 per cent greater than the total allocation for diplomacy. The strategic situation does not warrant treating the military as uniquely deserving of financial support when every other area of public outlay is constrained. It is a striking contrast to the cuts to military spending being discussed, or already underway, in other developed countries.

It is especially damaging when Australia has 18 per cent fewer diplomats posted overseas than in 1996, while in the rest of the public service there are now 12 per cent more staff. Australia has fewer diplomatic posts overseas than any other member of the G-20, with missions in only half the capitals of the world. Australia is not threatened by any country, nor is it likely to be in the foreseeable future.[xvii] Yet diplomacy is the prime means of avoiding conflict as well as of representing Australian interests overseas. Why should Australia stand out among developed and large developing countries in lacking an adequately funded diplomatic service? Foreign affairs funding in all areas should be incrementally reoriented. Australian military spending should be stringently reviewed, major weapons orders should be cut or even cancelled, and total spending progressively and substantially reduced to make way for far higher priority political, diplomatic and developmental activity.

Third, the Defence White Paper fails to mention the first and principal requirement of UN member states, which is to attempt by all reasonable means to avoid the threat or use of force, and to seek non-violent means of minimising and resolving conflict. The UN Charter is the foundational document of postwar multilateral relations. The highest priority is set in Article 1 of the Charter, which describes the first purpose of the UN as being 'To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and the removal of threats, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.'

It would therefore be consistent with Australia's obligations as a UN member state, as well as with the aim of strengthening security, to attempt to become a peacemaker. It is far more cost effective to resolve disputes peacefully where possible than to try and settle them through war. The cost of mediation is a tiny fraction of the cost of military intervention. The possibility of minimising death and destruction through concerted peacemaking and peacekeeping is a strikingly attractive possibility wherever it can be achieved. So the humanitarian and financial incentives of peaceful conflict resolution are enormous. Does Australia have the capacity for such action?

Australians do not have a strong self-image as a peaceable people: they commonly take greater pride in military achievements, and in courageous failures such as the Gallipoli landing. Yet Australians are a tolerant people, and though there were terrible episodes in relations between the British invaders and the Indigenous population, violence has not had a major part in the national history. As well, most Australians acknowledge the benefits of a stable and peaceful society. Peaceful conflict settlement processes have been embedded in the framework of the industrial relations system for over a century. Australia has a proud record of support for peacekeeping in the region, most recently in Cambodia, Timor-Lesté, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands. Several Australian universities already have peace and conflict studies centres offering training in conflict-resolution processes. The Global Peace Index was founded by an Australian international technology entrepreneur and philanthropist Steve Killelea. There are many skilled Australians already working on resolution of domestic and community conflicts within Australia, and through the UN and various international NGOs in other countries.


IF NORWAY IS working so effectively as a peacemaker, is there a need for other countries to take up this role as well? Norway acted alone in the early 1990s, but now there is more active engagement with the UN, other countries and international NGOs. Within Norway there is now more talk of the dugnad principle, of the value of community effort in building a barn or resolving a conflict. An example of such a co-operative international effort occurred after the Kenyan presidential election in December 2007, to prevent a potentially genocidal conflict between the Luos and the Kikuyu. That successful peacemaking effort involved concerted engagement by several countries and international NGOs, led by Kofi Annan, largely funded and facilitated by Norway. The engagement of several actors committed to peaceful conflict resolution may often be essential to effective reconciliation.

Not having Norway's established tradition of engagement in peaceful conflict resolution, could Australia develop credibility in this area? The answer would depend on the processes adopted. It would have to be reticent, modulated and incremental – and without the condescension that sometimes blights Australian diplomacy. At present not a single DFAT officer works full-time on peaceful conflict resolution. The department would have to build its capacity for engagement in conflict resolution through, for instance, establishing a branch of professional staff trained in mediation and the other means suggested in the UN Charter for peaceful settlement of disputes. It might also co-operate with international NGOs involved in professional mediation. DFAT's funding would need to increase to establish such a unit. Peacemaking would be a far less costly approach to strengthening security than endlessly increasing military spending, and more effective as well as constructive.

The Norwegian policies on disarmament are worthy of consideration by the Australian government: there is a strong case for similar action. The principal requirement is an unequivocal commitment to nuclear disarmament. This could begin by removing the Bush-era title of the DFAT section working on disarmament – the Arms Control and Counter-Proliferation Branch – and replacing it with a title like that of the equivalent Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Section, known as Disarmament and Non-proliferation. A second prerequisite is to substantially increase funding for the branch to enable it to build professional competence in disarmament policy and on negotiation, public education and much else, so that in due course it could begin to take significant initiatives.

Norway is an inspiration for addressing the fifth inconsistency between Australia's obligations as a UN member state and its actual performance. Australian aid in 2010-11 is estimated to be 0.33 per cent of national income – far short of the UN target of 0.7 per cent of national income, of the actual performance of the EU of 0.48 per cent, and of Norway's of more than 1 per cent. Kevin Rudd and his Opposition counterpart, Julie Bishop, have promised to reach 0.5 per cent by 2015-16. Even if that major improvement were achieved Australia would still be notable for the restrictiveness of its support for development, restraining it from contributing its fair share to meeting the Millennium Development Goals. AusAID could also learn much from Norwegian aid policy. The aid policy bureau, NORAD, and the innovative policies and practices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should be added to the institutions from which AusAID attempts to learn, in the way they do from the UK Department for International Development.


ONE OF THE most striking features of the Norwegian model of foreign affairs is the importance of NGOs and academic bodies in contributing to Norwegian support for its foreign policies. The five largest Norwegian NGOs have a combined staff of several thousand worldwide, and are increasingly operating on behalf of the UN and with funding from outside Norway. There are six Norwegian research institutes specialising in studies on international assistance, peace research, international co-operation and human rights, each with a staff of between fifty and 120, largely funded by government grants. The UN Association of Norway has a staff of more than thirty, most involved in school and public education about the UN, virtually all financed by government. The Australian government could learn from that, and quickly strengthen its support beyond research on military aspects of security. Far better funding of programs, scholarship and education about international relations would transform Australia's international contribution and domestic awareness.

Surely it is not utopian to imagine that Australia could make significant moves in strengthening multilateral engagement, reducing provocative and wasteful military spending, inaugurating official work on peaceful conflict resolution, adopting official programs aimed at nuclear disarmament, being more active in support of development, and so on. Such policies are in its national interest. Norway is also leading in other areas, notably through the example of the Norwegian Government Pension Fund – Global, which works 'to safeguard and build financial wealth for future generations through responsible management of the fund'.[xviii] Australia could also learn much from Norway's environmental and social policies. It would be appropriate for Australia to reciprocate Norway's courtesy in maintaining a diplomatic mission in Canberra and establish an Australian one in Oslo.

Such reasonable, focused and cost-effective policies could well be attractive to many Australians. A recent refrain of commentators reflecting on national politics has been the need for strong leadership. The perception of a leadership malaise is far from unique to Australia: it is widespread, but not universal. Norway is of interest because of its relative success in moving towards specific goals. Strategic leadership requires many qualities: penetrating assessment of issues, recognition of the interests of the voiceless as well as the powerful, imagination about alternative approaches, decisiveness, and capacity for sustained advocacy. To adapt Hugh Stretton's challenge, effective leaders must 'offer simple visions, complex programs and competent performance'. They should be clear about goals and ethical principles and pragmatic about means. The distinctive features of Norwegian foreign policy offer possibilities for enhancing Australia's contribution to international security through strengthening influences for peace and justice.



[i] (Statistical Yearbook of Norway, 2009, Table 176)

[ii] (Lunde and Thune, 2008, p79)

[iii] All the following figures for Norway and Australia are taken either from Statistics Norway, 2009, Statistical Yearbook of Norway 2009, Oslo, November; Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2010, Year Book Australia, 2009-10, 1301.0, Canberra, June; or Tiffen, Rodney and Gittins, Ross, 2009, How Australia Compares, Second Edition, CUP, Melbourne. How Australia Compares includes innumerable other comparisons which could be of interest to anyone wanting further information on the similarities and differences between Australia and Norway.

[iv] (Borgen, 2004)

[v] (Aase, 2008)

[vi] (Egeland, 1988, 36-45)

[vii] (Østerud. 2006)

[viii] (Lunde and Thune, 2008, 194)

[ix] (Ingebritsen, 2006, 26)

[x] (Bekken, 2007, 29)

[xi] (Kelleher and Taulbee, 2006, 482)

[xii] (Riste, 2005, 83)

[xiii] (Egeland, 1988)

[xiv] (Egeland, 2008, Ch 7)

[xv] (Lunde and Thune, 2008, 84)

[xvi] (Collins, 1985)

[xvii] (Langmore, Logan and Firth, 2010)

[xviii] (

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