Nobel Peace Prize Day in Oslo dawned with clear and sunny skies on Sunday, but not everyone was celebrating. The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to award this year’s Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) challenges Norwegian leaders to finally support a ban themselves, and now pressure is building on them to do so.
The Peace Prize to ICAN thrust the prize’s own home country into a difficult, even embarrassing, position. Norway, in line with its NATO allies and other nuclear powers, have refused to support or sign a UN treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons that was adopted by 122 other nations last summer. Critics called that shameful.
It’s indeed a paradox, not least for a country that otherwise promotes an image of being a major international promoter of peace. Norway is not only the home of the Nobel Peace Prize but also has played major roles in peace talks to resolve conflicts around the world. Norwegian leaders on both ends of the political spectrum also claim they strongly support disarmament and the “vision” of a world without nuclear weapons.
Yet neither Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives nor her precedessors in Norway’s Labour- or centrist-led governments have backed the UN treaty, and have in fact distanced themselves from it. Solberg congratulated ICAN on the Peace Prize when it was announced in October, saying ICAN had done “a great job in gathering civilian society” together against nuclear weapons. She even declared that abolishing nuclear weapons would make the world a safer place. “But we won’t support proposals that would weaken NATO,” Solberg said. “As long as there are countries with nuclear capacity, NATO will also have nuclear capacity.”
Norway, which is also a major arms producer and exports non-nuclear weapons, is therefore caught in what ICAN leader Beatrice Fihn has called a “squeeze” between its role as a nation with humanitarian principles that promote peace, and its role as a member of NATO. She referred to the irony again at the traditional press conference for Peace Prize winners at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, while also calling nuclear weapons “relics” of the past. As Fihn sees it, the world has a choice of either ending the age of nuclear weapons or facing “the end of us.”
Growing numbers of Norwegians also see the irony of promoting peace while refusing to ban nuclear weapons, with media commentators, lawyers and professors in Norway calling it “embarrassing,” “un-Norwegian” and equivalent to a lack of understanding of Norway’s international obligations. They’ve blasted Børge Brende, who was still Solberg’s foreign minister when the prize was announced, and Ine Eriksen Søreide, who replaced Brende when he resigned to rejoin the World Economic Forum as its new leader. Brende had even tried to get Norway’s former left-center government to support the UN treaty against nuclear weapons when he headed the Norwegian Red Cross, before joining Solberg’s government and changing his position. Norway’s former left-center government, meanwhile, was led by the Norwegian Labour Party’s leader at the time, Jens Stoltenberg, who’s now secretary general of NATO and also opposes a ban on nuclear weapons.
“It’s disappointing that the government stands firm with policies that the Nobel Peace Prize shows are politically and morally wrong and can’t continue,” Audun Lysbakken, a Member of Parliament and leader of the Socialist Left party (SV), told newspaper Dagsavisen. He’s been among the most outspoken critics of Norway’s failure to support a ban on nuclear weapons, while SV has been a longtime critic of Norway’s membership in NATO as well.
Last week, Lysbakken managed to assemble a majority in the Norwegian Parliament to challenge the current minority Norwegian government’s position. SV, Labour, the Center Party, the Christian Democrats and the Liberal Party agreed to ask the government to study the consequences of a nuclear weapons ban for Norway. It must both analyze the UN treaty’s contents and what consequences it would have for Norway to sign it. The government will have no choice but to do so after the measure is due to be passed in January.
“This is a big day for Norway,” Lysbakken said on Thursday, after he’d summoned the votes needed to force the government into reconsidering its current stand. “We now have a majority for a very important measure. It’s especially a pleasure that we’ve been able to do this just before ICAN wins the Nobel Peace Prize.”
Lysbakken looked forward to attending the annual Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, just before he needs to have an operation and go on sick leave. Solberg and her government seemed to take the measure in stride.
“We share the vision” of mobilizing civilian society towards a world without nuclear weapons,” insisted a state secretary in the foreign ministry, Audun Halvorsen, to newspaper Aftenposten on Sunday. “We just have different opinions about whether the UN treaty can reach that goal.” He stressed that Norway supports nuclear non-proliferation measures, but said the government still believes that the UN treaty “is not in line with our NATO obligations.”
Solberg was due to at least attend Sunday’s traditional Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, along with members of her government and Norway’s Royal Family. Some ambassadors from other countries with nuclear weapons, however, were staying away.