Norway pressed into missile defense

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The US put heavy pressure on the Norwegian government to go along with a missile defense program and apparently won support before the government made its compliance public. New disclosures from WikiLeaks documents, reported by Oslo newspaper Aftenposten, also reveal Israel’s goal to keep Gaza on the verge of economic collapse.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (right) and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre ultimately went along with a missile shield plan at the NATO summit in Lisbon last fall. PHOTO: Utenriksdepartementet/Frode Overland Andersen

As Aftenposten continues to report on the contents of documents, mostly American diplomatic cables, initially leaked to WikiLeaks, a disturbing picture has emerged indicating how government officials can say one thing publicly but something else behind the scenes. Not just in Washington, but in capitals all over the world including Oslo and Tel Aviv.

In the missile defense issue, for example, Norway’s left-center coalition government opposed it in writing in its policy platform (called Soria Moria I) published just after it first won election in 2005. The new Labour Party-led government at the time was committed to work towards scrapping plans at the time for the controversial missile defense system that the US wanted to set up in Europe. The Socialist Left party (SV) was most vigorously opposed to the missile defense, fearing it would threaten disarmament. None of the government coalition parties sensed any great interest no the part of the public in the missile defense issue, either.

According to one cable sent by the US Embassy in Oslo and reported by Aftenposten, the US then pressured Norwegian officials (external link), both inside and outside the government, to at least “counter Russian misstatements and distinguish Norway’s position from Russia’s to avoid damaging alliance solidarity.” US officials actively met with top politicians, journalists and allied embassies in Oslo to counter what they considered provocative criticism of the missile defense plan by the Russians.

“A shift of the broader public opinion is deemed not immediately likely but influencing political elites is within reach,” wrote former US Ambassador Benson K Whitney. “We believe focus on Russia’s threats to the alliance will resonate with the Norwegians’ general wariness towards their large neighbor.”

Norwegian government officials maintained what the US Embassy called their own “stated” public criticism of the missile defense plan, but Aftenposten reported that as early as 2007, some top government ministers were already privately letting the Americans know that missile defense ultimately wouldn’t be a problem, and by 2008 the Norwegians suggested that a NATO agreement securing missile protection for all member countries could sway the Norwegian government’s position. That’s what eventually was approved at last November’s NATO summit in Lisbon.

Strangling Gaza
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks documents reported by Aftenposten also reveal harsh realities about Israeli policies towards Gaza. Government officials in Tel Aviv claimed their economic blockade of Gaza was based on self-defense, while it actually was aimed at keeping the Palestinian area on the verge of collapse.

As fears rise over a new armed conflict in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, which won the Palestinian elections, Aftenposten reported Wednesday on a US Embassy cable (external link) from October 2008 that claimed that “Israeli officials have confirmed to Embassy officials on multiple occasions that they intend to keep the Gazan economy functioning at the lowest level possible consistent with avoiding a humanitarian crisis.” The  Israeli government, according to the Americans, wanted “to keep potential sources of security threat off-balance” and minimize any economic or political gains for Hamas.

The US embassy officials “encouraged the GOI (Government of Israel) to review its policy on Gaza liquidity,” and urged the US “to assist the PA (Palestinian Authority) to improve its regulatory regimes and due diligence.” American diplomats admitted, however, that they didn’t expect any Israeli review to “result in any changes.” Two months later, the war in Gaza broke out, and the area is still struggling to recover from Israeli bombing.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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