British historian scolds Norway, again

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A British author and historian has issued another report that sharply criticizes Norway’s role as a nation keen on promoting peace and being at the forefront of social welfare. The report has sparked a response from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.

Mark Curtis, an honorary professor at the University of Strathclyde who specializes in investigative journalism, wrote in the British newspaper The Guardian in September 2008 about what he called “Norway’s dirty little secrets.” His report firmly rebuked Norway’s conflicting roles as both an oil producer and a self-professed environmental champion. He highlighted the apparent hypocrisy of Norway’s attempts to broker peace among nations, while its pension fund invests in weapons makers and exports weapons itself. The pension fund’s efforts to make ethical investments, he claimed, were questionable as well.

Now Curtis has struck again, writing a report for the Oslo-based Forum for Environment and Development (ForUM for Miljø og Utvikling) in which he also attempts to reveal Norwegian hypocrisy. The report, entitled “Doublethink: The two faces of Norway’s foreign and development policy,” was due to be released and debated at the Nobel Peace Center on Thursday afternoon.

ForUM, a network of more than 50 non-government organizations that focus on environment, development and peace, ordered the report from Curtis to help spur debate on Norway’s international role. Curtis seems as unimpressed with it as he was 14 months ago.

Norway has “lost its ethical niche,” he told news bureau NTB, arguing that Norway has evolved into just another wealthy country that exploits the earth and its natural resources to its own advantage. Curtis, who has written critical books on US and British foreign policy as well, also contends that Norway lacks ethical foreign policy and that most Norwegians have an image of their country that’s “better than it really is.”.

Foreign minister challenges ‘very critical report’

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre doesn’t agree with Curtis’ conclusions. He told NTB that while he hadn’t read Curtis’ latest report yet, he couldn’t find “good coverage” for Curtis’ claims that Norway doesn’t behave ethically. Støre told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that he flatly denies Norway’s foreign policy is unethical.

“I think it’s great that we have attracted attention from a foreign commentator,” Støre said on national radio Thursday afternoon. “But this is a very critical report and we are not unethical.”

Støre acknowledged that Norway faces huge dilemmas: Yes, Norway sells weapons, for example, but the country also has the strongest regulations governing those sales. Yes, it is a dilemma that emissions produced by Norway’s oil and gas production are greater than the cuts the country helps finance elsewhere.

Norway’s government earlier has acknowledged its seemingly conflicting role as an oil producer and environmentally conscious country, stressing how it tries to offset its oil emissions, for example, by investing in carbon recapture programs and rain forest preservation. “If we didn’t export oil, other countries would use more coal,” Støre told NRK, noting that Norway uses renewable hydroelectric power for most of its own energy needs.

‘What are the alternatives?’

He said he was disappointed Curtis’ report didn’t offer alternatives to that of which he thinks Norway is guilty. “What are the alternatives to our oil fund, and selling out of companies (viewed as unethical)?” mused Støre, noting that Norway also catches criticism from other countries like the US and Russia when it sells off stock in protest.

“I don’t know of any country that has a perfect, ethical foreign policy,” Støre said, stressing that Norway still strives for one.