It’s not often that top military officers take part in the public debate, much less win an award for speaking openly on major social and political issues. Gen Lt Robert Mood has once again broken the mold and it won him the annual prize for furthering freedom of expression from the Norwegian foundation Fritt Ord (literally, “Free Word”). Reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
The prize was “very well-deserved,” editorialized newspaper Dagsavisen, a publication long tied to the Labour Party and not known for championing military brass. “We join the long lines of those congratulating (Mood), and hope many servicemen and women will be inspired to follow in his footsteps.”
Mood, a three-star general born in Kragerø on Norway’s southern coast, has had a long and distinguished career heading up branches of the military not known for being particularly open, or even expressing themselves at all. He has headed United Nations observer troops in the Middle East, became chief of the UN forces in Syria, has served as inspector general of the Norwegian Army and headed Norway’s famed but secretive special forces unit, Telemark Battalion.
He’s now General Lieutenant for the Norwegian Defense Department’s military delegations at NATO headquarters in Brussels, but that hasn’t stopped him from speaking out on domestic issues back home in Norway. It’s seldom that military brass actively take part in domestic debate at all, but Mood has done it for years. He’s also taken the initiative for it, whether it be Norway’s placement of troops in Afghanistan, how Norwegian military veterans are treated, the size of defense budgets, how the West has regarded the Syrian crisis and downsizing of the army.
Mood doesn’t only take part in or initiate debate on military-related issues. He most recently has spoken out about the arming of the state police in Norway, and highlighted how little weapons training the police received. He also has spoken out on Norway’s relations with Russia. He has criticized both civilian and military society over what he has viewed as a lack of attention to veterans, especially those returning from traumatic military duty abroad.
As Dagsavisen wrote this week, “he knows what he’s talking about.” The 57-year-old Mood, with his deep voice and long history of top jobs both in Norway and internationally, commands respect. Sometimes his openness and comments have upset state politicians, like recently when Member of Parliament Christian Tybring-Gjedde of the Progress Party asked him to keep his opinions to himself after he raised questions about the “temporary” arming of police that went on for months.
The Fritt Ord foundation, dedicated to promoting openness and freedom of expression, announced it was awarding its prestigious annual prize to Mood because his “many and debate-spurring contributions are especially important … at a time when the opportunities for many employees in the public sector to speak out are under considerable pressure.” Fritt Ord praised Mood for showing strength and courage in critical debates, not least regarding the defense establishment’s own role in society.
Mood said he was both “proud and humbled” to receive such an award, especially in light of who has won it in the past. He’s the first to acknowledge that in the military, secrecy and a tendency to remove documents from public view remain, “unfortunately,” more common than full openness.
“I have consciously tried to contribute to the debate on the consequences of defense policies, in a language that’s possible to understand whether you’re an officer, political scientist or economist,” Mood said. “That’s because I think the debate on Norway’s defense is much too important to only be carried out, and fully understood, among a small group of special interests.”
He does think there’s more tolerance for free exchange of opinions and more dialogue. “It’s still an area that demands correctness (given the political issues and decision-making involved), while our job is to offer professional advice and deliver the most operative units possible for the money,” he wrote in an email to Dagsavisen.
He’ll receive his Fritt Ord prize, which includes a statuette and a check for NOK 400,000, on May 10 at the Opera House in Oslo.