Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende was roundly criticized this week after his delegation at the United Nations refused to vote on two UN resolutions against nuclear weapons and voted against a third. Opposition politicians and anti-nuclear activists were disappointed, but not surprised.
“I think Norway voted wrongly,” declared Bård Vegar Solhjell, a Member of Parliament and former government minister for the Socialist Left party (SV). “It’s important to have an international ban on nuclear weapons.”
Solhjell called on the Norwegian Parliament, where a clear majority is opposed to nuclear weapons, to clarify Norway’s position and vote on a measure stressing that “we’re working for an international ban on nuclear weapons.” He told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that “it’s important the government follow the majority opinion in Parliament.”
Norway ‘in conflict with itself’
Others suggested that Norway acted cowardly at the UN this week, not daring to vote in favour of measures that neither the US nor Russia supported. “An exclusive club, with Russia and the US out in front, is working hard to avoid proposals that will commit the world to concrete measures for nuclear disarmament,” wrote Frode Ersfjord, head of Norway’s Nei til atomvåpen organization, which has long fought for a ban on nuclear weapons. “A new member (of the club) in 2015 is Norway.”
Ersfjord, writing in newspaper Dagsavisen, pointed to the fact that Norway itself organized and hosted an international conference in Oslo just two years ago, to discuss the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons if used. A few months later, 125 countries including Norway supported a resolution that clarified the humanitarian consequences, and expressed that use of such weapons is unacceptable in any situation.
Several anti-nuclear resolutions are now under discussion at the UN in New York and Ersfjord accused Brende and the Norwegian government of totally reversing Norway’s position by refusing to support the resolutions. He’s not alone. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that anti-nuclear activist Vidya Shankar Aiyar of India has claimed that Norway, “the country associated with Nobel Prizes and peace, seems to be in conflict with itself.”
Aiyar was a member of the Indian government’s expert panel on disarmament and worked hard to get his government to take part in the Oslo conference in 2013, which laid the framework for the three resolutions that Norway has now won’t support. He noted that Norway had started and helped finance the process that led to great international debate over the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. He claimed Norway must resist the pressure put on it by the US and Russia, and hoped it would return to its original anti-nuclear position.
Brende can’t undermine NATO obligations
Brende rejects both the domestic and international criticism after an overwhelming majority of other UN member nations voted in favour of the resolutions earlier this week. He claims that Norway can’t vote for a ban on nuclear weapons because that would be at odds with its obligations as a member of NATO. A ban, he told news bureau NTB, would violate NATO’s “strategic concept from 2010″ that commits NATO to being a nuclear alliance as long as there are nuclear weapons.” For now, he claims, nuclear weapons are a “central element” of NATO’s defense strategy aimed at frightening potential opponents. “Therefore no member of NATO could vote in favour of these resolutions,” reasoned Brende, who claimed the resolutions “polarized” UN members.
Brende also denied that Norway, or his own Conservative Party, has changed its position on nuclear weapons. He claimed Norway “shares the impatience in getting new concrete results from the work to reach the goals of a nuclear-weapon-free world.” The Norwegian delegation acted as it did late Monday night only because it disagrees with the process in reaching such goals.
It’s unlikely the former Labour-led government, led by Jens Stoltenberg, would have acted any differently, and not only because Stoltenberg now heads NATO. Anniken Huitfeldt of the Labour party wasn’t as harsh in her criticism as Solhjell of SV, and said Labour wouldn’t support Solhjell’s call for a measure that would basically instruct the foreign minister on how to vote at the UN. She did say, however, that she thought the government was “too passive” and recommended Norway vote at the UN in favour of the resolution that included the humanitarian consequences of nuclear war. She said it did not propose a ban on nuclear weapons and would thus comply with “our NATO obligations.”
Others remained disappointed. Norway’s performance at the UN this week made the country look like “a highly unreliable cooperation partner,” said Grethe Østern of the humanitarian organization Norsk Folkehjelp (Norwegian People’s Aid). Ersfjord of the anti-nuke group urged the Parliament to “unveil the government’s bluff” on nuclear issues, while Dagsavisen editorialized that Norway needs to show “more courage” in pursing its stated goal of a world without nuclear weapons.