NEWS ANALYSIS: A new batch of confidential documents made available by website WikiLeaks, and mostly stemming from the US Embassy in Oslo, reveal more harsh US criticism of Norway’s left-center coalition government. US diplomats haven’t been at all happy with various Norwegian foreign policy initiatives in recent years, and have unleashed harsh personal characterizations about top government ministers.
Absent are the constant public claims about what good “friends” Norway and the US are. Instead, the candid assessments of Norwegian policy and politicians (not meant for public consumption) suggest that relations between the US and Norway have become far more challenging than many might expect — even without the embassy’s controversial surveillance program that has angered many Norwegians. and not least since the government led by Jens Stoltenberg of the Labour Party took over in 2005. Stoltenberg’s government is still regularly criticized within Norway for being too “servile” to Washington DC, but US diplomats seem to think it’s far from servile now.
In one document from 2008, entitled “Not our fathers’ Norway,” former US Ambassador Benson Whitney lashed out at Norwegian foreign policy, accusing Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of veering away from international consensus. “This is not the Norway many remember,” Whitney wrote, adding that relations with Norwegian authorities involve more disagreement than earlier.
Provoking the US
Contents of the documents from WikiLeaks, reported by newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday in cooperation with Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, suggest that Norwegian leaders have provoked the US in a number of areas. Norway’s emphasis on dialogue as a means of achieving peace and reconciliation, also a feature of earlier conservative Norwegian governments, is viewed by the US as “naive,” even “ideological.” The US was furious, for example, that Norway met with Hamas leaders after they won the Palestinian election, and seems uncomfortable that Norwegian politicians have held talks with top Iranian leaders as well. Nor is the US happy that Norway has improved relations with Cuba and some leftist governments in Central- and South America.
The documents also indicate unease over the Stoltenberg government’s strong bilateral relations with Russia (the two countries share a border in the north) and its promotion of defense alliances that, for example, would include a non-NATO member like Sweden.
The US diplomats also don’t seem to like Norway’s ethical regulation of investments by its huge so-called “Oil Fund,” which is fueled by the country’s oil revenues. The Americans view the attempts to make ethical investments as politically motivated, according to Aftenposten. The oil fund itself, symbolizing Norway’s relatively newfound wealth, may be a source of US discomfort, since it has made Norway much stronger and more independent in recent years. Norway isn’t as “controllable” by the US as perhaps it once was.
Norway’s strong opposition to the US invasion of Iraq, meanwhile, sparked anger and disappointment within the former Bush Administration, but also US President Barack Obama’s new ambassador in Oslo, Barry White, called Norway’s role in the peace process in the Middle East “unhelpful,” apparently just days after his arrival in Oslo.
One document contends that Norwegian political leaders can be so convinced that they’re right that they’re not able to understand that others can think differently. The same could well be said, though, of American political leaders, and Bush’s famous line “you’re either with us or against us” still rings in many Norwegian ears, popping up in Thorbjørn Jagland’s speech at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony just last week.
One commentator, Harald Stanghelle of Aftenposten, noted that the US diplomats’ candid views aren’t so surprising, but that it is surprising that the US foreign policy experts don’t exert more energy examining why Norwegians behave as they do.
“Instead the Americans seem offended when they don’t receive full support for their view of the world,” Stanghelle wrote. There’s an impression, he added, that “the Americans” become irritated when Norway adopts its own standpoints, even though it should be well known that the interests of a superpower like the US can often collide with those of a small country like Norway.