NEWS ANALYSIS: Strong and unseasonably warm winds threatened to blow out the torches traditionally lit around Oslo’s City Hall on the morning of December 10, the day the Nobel Peace Prize is annually awarded inside it. As this year’s winners from Tunisia receive their prize on Thursday for championing dialogue instead of violence, an entirely different dialogue is underway just across City Hall Plaza at the Akershus Fortress, where military experts have been asked to expand Norway’s “contribution” to the war against Islamic extremists in Syria and Iraq.
The four representatives of the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet arrived in Oslo Tuesday night and made it clear on Wednesday just how grateful they are for the international recognition that comes with winning the Nobel Peace Prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee chose the Quartet, formed through an alliance of four key civilian organizations in Tunisia, for its success so far in averting civil war in Tunisia after its Jasmine Revolution in 2011.
“Now Tunisia needs support from the international community on the road ahead,” Ouided Bouchamaoui of the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade and Handicrafts (UTICA) said at a press conference in Oslo on Wednesday. She added that “we must find a good way to say ‘no’ to terrorism, ‘no’ to weapons and ‘no’ to war.”
Just two days earlier, news broke in Oslo that Norway and around 60 other countries have been asked by the US to evaluate contributing fighter jets, special forces, logistics support, mine-clearing or medical assistance to the war against the extremist Islamic State (IS) that’s established itself in Iraq and Syria. Norway and the other countries are already contributing to the US-led coalition against IS, while France, Great Britain and not least Russia have been bombing IS targets for weeks.
Defense experts say it will be “very difficult” for Norway to turn down such a request from an important NATO ally. Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen has responded by passing the request on to Norway’s own military leaders, now huddling at Akershus to determine what Norway can offer in addition to the military training it already provides to Kurdish troops in Northern Iraq. Norway, which was active in the UN-mandated and NATO-led bombing of Libya while revolution was unfolding in neighbouring Tunisia, doesn’t have many fighter jets to offer, since the Norwegian fleet of F16s is old, many are inoperative and others are needed in Northern Norway to respond to Russia’s frequent buzzing of Norwegian territory.
Pleas for peace amidst plotting for war
The message from the representatives of this week’s Peace Prize winner, meanwhile, was consistent in its warnings against acts of war, because of the intentions behind the prize itself. “This prize sends a message to all of us, that conflicts can never be solved with weapons,” said Abdessattar Ben Moussa of the Quartet’s Tunisian Human Rights League at Wednesday’s press conference. “Weapons create destruction, while dialogue and discussion create agreement.”
The prospects for dialogue with a brutal, extremist organization like IS, though, seem remote at best. Norway, as the home of the Nobel Peace Prize, and other allies sharing the ideals of the prize face a huge dilemma. The paradox of awarding a prize for peace while evaluating more military support for involvement in war-torn Syria and Iraq was glaring on Thursday.
‘Follow our example’
“Weapons can never be solutions, not in Syria, nor in Tunisia,” Moussa insisted, with his fellow prize-winning representatives nodding in agreement. Dialogue is the only say to solve problems, claimed Bouchamaoui, while asking everyone to follow the example of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winners.
It remains to be seen whether Norway’s own government and military chiefs will or can do so. Many of their counterparts in the US, within the US-led coalition, other NATO countries and Russia see little alternative to military force against IS. The Tunisians remained firm, referring to themselves as “ambassadors” of peace and promising that “we won’t disappoint the Nobel Committee for having given us this very prestigious prize.”
And by mid-morning, hours before the Peace Prize ceremony was to begin inside the Oslo City Hall at 1pm, the gale-force winds outside eased a bit, patches of blue sky emerged and the sun was breaking through heavy dark clouds.