As Norwegian politicians feel compelled to “wait and see” how their longtime US ally behaves under its tough-talking new president, Donald J Trump, others warn against remaining too passive. A foreign policy expert had some words of advice on Monday.
Ulf Sverdrup, director of the Norwegian foreign policy institute NUPI, noted how leaders in Norway and many other countries around the world have found themselves in an uneviable position. After decades of feeling they could rely on the US as the world’s last super power, the inauguration of Donald J Trump as president seems to be changing all the rules.
“No one knows which foreign policies Trump will invoke,” wrote Sverdrup in a commentary published Monday in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). He sees, however, two main perspectives.
The first is that Trump will be a “formidable disrupter,” casting alliances and historic relations aside as he works to put the US’ interests above all others. Sverdrup noted that Trump already has been confrontational with China, critical to the EU, raised doubts about the US’ commitment to NATO, raised the possibility of cutting funding to the UN and waffled on the US’ climate commitments. All of those issues are extremely important to Norway, which is keen to nurture its newly normalized ties to China, has the EU as its biggest trading partner, relies on NATO for defense, has been one of the world’s biggest single contributors to the UN and claims to take climate change seriously and wants to halt it despite generating high carbon emissions through its oil and gas industry. Trump also has been conciliatory towards Russia at a time when Norway and the rest of the western world are still upset by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine and keen to keep punishing Russia through economic sanctions.
The other perspective, according to Sverdrup, is that Trump may be just another loud would-be reformist who will be hindered by reality. The US has “institutions and mechanisms” that can stop Trump, Sverdrup wrote, while some of his own hand-picked cabinet members may rein him in as well.
“Many hope and believe that over time, Trump will see that the US’ fundamental interests can best be served through cooperation with its allies,” Sverdrup wrote. Even Trump’s own provocative and polarizing style, combined with his own business interests, can prompt him to stumble in trying to practice what he’s preached.
In the meantime, according to Sverdrup, Norway can act now to ward off sudden unpleasant confrontations. While urging Norwegian government leaders to “be patient” and refrain from criticism until actual policies and proposals are released, Sverdrup isn’t urging passivity.
“Be results-oriented,” Sverdrup wrote. That means Norway and all other NATO members in Europe should quickly boost their defense budgets as promised, to ward off more criticism from Trump. “That will be demanding,” Sverdrup conceded, not least because of the anti-American attitudes Trump already has fueled in Europe, but it’s necessary to dash Trump’s arguments that the US is covering more than its fair share of NATO’s costs.
Sverdrup also suggested that Norwegian political leaders should stop appealing mostly to the historic ties and tight alliances between the US and Norway because they don’t seem to matter to Trump. Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide and Foreign Minister Børge Brende, for example, have repeatedly referred to how the US is Norway’s “most important ally” and how Norway proved itself a good ally in Afghanistan, but in Trump’s world, such ties aren’t necessarily binding.
Sverdrup also urged not just the Norwegian government but leaders of the opposition in Parliament to “take Trump seriously but not literally” and balance its relations to the US with even tighter cooperation with European partners. “That’s important,” Sverdrup wrote, as the EU itself tries to regroup and re-establish solidarity to ward off criticism and even trade threats from the Trump administration. It may be shocking to suddenly view the US as a common enemy instead of an ally, but Trump and his values are so diametrically opposed to much of what the US has earlier stood for (given his attacks on immigration, women, the press and religious tolerance, to name a few) that his administration can preach policy far removed from European values.
“Norway must make its contributions to European cohesion,” Sverdrup wrote.
At the same time, Norway and other European leaders “must set limits” on what they’ll accept from the Trump Administration. Trump, Sverdrup noted, has shown similarities with and sympathy for Europe’s ultra-right wing populists and nationalists. “He can have ambitions of weakening sitting European leaders (like Putin has been accused of promoting), and of undermining European cooperations while strengthening populistic forces,” Sverdrup wrote. He warned how Breitbart, the controversial onliine platform for the “alt right” movement that was run by the man who’s now Trump’s close adviser in the White House, has already established itself in Europe and is working “to undermine confidence in established political parties, European solidarity and cooperation.” That kind of activity from a western ally “is unacceptable,” Sverdrup wrote, “and perhaps the biggest threat for European and Norwegian security.”