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Friday, May 20, 2022

UD takes blame for ‘royal squeeze’

Norway’s foreign ministry (Utenriksdepartementet, UD) acknowledges what it calls “legitimate criticism” over the crown couple’s visit next week to US defense contractor Lockheed Martin, but thinks it should be directed at UD and not at the royals themselves. The criticism rose on Tuesday, with one candidate for parliament  saying the visit, organized and planned by UD, has put the royals in a “squeeze.”

Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit have been caught in a "squeeze" over their upcoming visit to US defense contractor Lockheed Martin. PHOTO: kongehuset.no
Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit have been caught in a “squeeze” over their upcoming visit to US defense contractor Lockheed Martin. PHOTO: kongehuset.no

Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit will make a stop at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas as part of their official visit to the US from May 5-9. Lockheed Martin won an enormous contract to deliver new fighter jets to the Norwegian defense ministry, and the crown couple is meant to get an overview of the fighter jet project.

Lockheed Martin, though, is a controversial contractor in Norway that has been disqualified for investment by the country’s sovereign wealth fund (known as the “oil fund”) because of its involvement in the production of cluster bombs. Crown Prince Haakon himself has earlier supported the campaign against both cluster bombs and land mines, so critics including author and filmmaker Erling Borgen and Professor Trond Nordby have labelled his visit to Lockheed a paradox.

Guri Melby of the non-socialist Liberal Party (Venstre) was among those agreeing that the visit represents a paradox worthy of the criticism. “With one hand, the state is buying fighter jets from Lockheed Martin, with the other it’s banning the same company from the oil fund because they produce cluster bombs,” Melby told newspaper Dagsavisen. “The crown prince can hardly know which of the state’s many arms he’s supposed to represent.”

‘Not the crown prince’s fault’
Melby claimed it “wasn’t the crown prince’s fault” that the state lacks an overall policy over who it does business with. She thinks the state’s investments, ownership and purchasing are plagued by many ethical paradoxes that now have put both Crown Prince Haakon and Crown Princess Mette-Marit “in a squeeze” orchestrated by UD.

“If the couple had said ‘no’ to UD, they’d be taking on a political role, which they can’t do,” Melby said. “It’s not their role to define what they’ll represent, but this raises questions over whether it’s correct for the government to use them in this case.”

Carl-Erik Grimstad, a political expert and former member of the staff at the Royal Palace who now often is called upon to comment on royal issues, agreed with Melby. “The way I see it, this visit (to the US and to Lockheed Martin) is steered by the government,” Grimstad told Dagsavisen. “It’s difficult for the royal family to choose which projects fit their personal profiles. I think this criticism should be directed at the government.”

Government takes blame, but defends visit
While staff at the Royal Palace and the crown couple themselves (who are in Amsterdam this week attending the investiture of the new Dutch king) declined comment as usual, Torgeir Larsen of the Labour Party who’s a state secretary at UD, was left to respond. And he said it was both “legitimate” and “important” to examine Norway’s involvement with the weapons industry.

State Secretary Torgeir Larsen, shown here speaking at a conference earlier this year, suggests Norwegians should get used to the presence of migrant poor in the country. PHOTO: Views and News
State Secretary Torgeir Larsen took responsibility for the royal visit, and defended it. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“But the criticism against the crown couple is sent to the wrong address,” Larsen told Dagsavisen. “It’s the government (which controls UD) that proposed and recommended this visit (to Lockheed Martin).” He defended the visit itself, though.

“When royal family members are on official visits abroad, they’re on the job for Norway,” Larsen said. “It is natural and important that the crown couple, while on an official visit to the US, gets a briefing on the fighter jet project at Lockheed Martin, which will deliver the new fighter jets to Norway.”

He called the fighter jet project “historic” and “large” but claimed it was not controversial because it was unanimously approved (albeit after much debate) by the parliament. Larsen also pointed to clauses in Norway’s contract with Lockheed Martin that will create jobs in Norway through sub-contractors.

Larsen said the royals will also be well-briefed on “the other sides” of Lockheed Martin, including, for example, how the oil fund pulled out of the company on the recommendation of the fund’s ethical council. “But there’s a difference between buying a product from a company and being an owner of it,” Larsen insisted.

Per Bøthun of Nordic American, a firm that represents Lockheed Martin in Norway, also said he understood that questions were being raised about the crown couple’s visit to Lockheed Martin. “I see the problem,” Bøthun told Dagsavisen, but claimed Lockheed Martin doesn’t actually produce cluster bombs. Instead, he said, the company produces parts for the mechanism that ignites them, but will suspend that operation as well either this year or next.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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