Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg braved the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo on Sunday, even trying to smile through speeches that accused Norway and other nations of contributing to the threat of nuclear destruction. Solberg was criticized, though, for not always clapping along with the audience and the Royal Family, saying she found the situation “difficult.”
The Norwegian Nobel Committee, in awarding this year’s prize to the International Campaign for the Abolishment of Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), had itself challenged the Norwegian government’s history of opposing a ban on nuclear weapons because it’s a member of NATO. The European and North American defense alliance relies on its nuclear arsenal as a major part of its defense strategy, mostly to deter other countries from using their nuclear weapons.
The debate over nuclear weapons has put Norway in a squeeze, as a nation that prides itself on promoting peace but also one whose hands are tied in supporting moves to abolish or prohibit nuclear weapons. Norway has been harshly criticized both from within and abroad for cutting funding to ICAN and for refusing to sign a UN treaty approved by 122 other nations last summer that seeks to prohibit nuclear weapons.
Solberg and her ministers, like those who ruled before them, have said they would never do anything to “weaken” NATO and thus could not and will not sign the UN treaty. Solberg thus found herself uncomfortable during Sunday’s speeches advocating nuclear abolishment both by Nobel Committee leader Berit Reiss-Andersen and the two women who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of ICAN.
ICAN’s top representative Beatrice Fihn, for example, thanked other “courageous foreign ministers, diplomats” and other “responsible” leaders who defied the NATO countries and others with nuclear capability in signing and supporting the UN treaty. Her implication in her portion of the traditional Nobel lecture was clear: Neither Norway, most of its fellow NATO allies nor other nuclear powers including Russia, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and most recently North Korea are showing themselves as either rational or strong in their race to deter one another. Fihn called all their estimated 15,000 nuclear weapons scattered worldwide “instruments of insanity around us.”
ICAN’s leader also was blunt in claiming that “man, not woman, made nuclear weapons to control others, but instead we are controlled by them.” She called nuclear weapons “the madman’s gun held permanently to our temple” and that they “deny us our freedom” instead of enhancing it. She rejected claims that the international group she leads, which has manged to pull together 468 organizations worldwide to push for abolishment, are “naive” or “idealists.” It’s rather the nuclear powers who are irrational, she argued, citing how simple “moment of carelessness,” a “bruised ego” or a misunderstanding could lead to global catastrophe. “The only rational course of action is to cease living under the conditions where our mutual destruction is only one impulsive tantrum away,” Fihn said.
Reiss-Andersen, the Nobel committee’s leader, had also warned how much easier it is now, because of technology, for nuclear weapons to land in the hands of terrorists, extremists and criminals.
Fihn won long and loud applause and even cheers on several occasions from an enthusiastic audience at the Peace Prize ceremony that included Norway’s king, queen, crown prince and crown princess. So did Hiroshima survivor Setsuko Thurlow when she also made a strong appeal that brought many in the audience to tears including Crown Princess Mette-Marit. The 85-year-old Thurlow gave a graphic and gruesome description of the injury, death and destruction she still remembers seeing as a 13-year-old who lost 361 classmates “when the US dropped its first bomb” on Hiroshima in August 1945. “To every prime minister and president of every nation of the world, I beseech you:” Thurlow pleaded. “Join this (UN) treaty to forever eradicate the threat of nuclear annihilation.”
Norway’s prime minister Solberg, who was sitting in the front row, and other members of her government joined in on some of the applause, and even rose for at least one standing ovation, but not all. That sparked criticism afterwards, on social media, in established media and even from a former Norwegian prime minister. Kjell Magne Bondevik called support for nuclear weapons “meaningless,” while noting that he understood the challenges facing Solberg and other leaders of NATO countries. He noted that a “political process” that will force Solberg to reevaluate Norway’s refusal to sign the treaty has begun.
It can be argued that at least Solberg and her government attended Sunday’s ceremony, unlike the ambassadors representing several NATO members and nuclear powers in Norway who simply stayed away. Bondevik called that “unnecessary and unfortunate” and also expressed deep concern about “dictatorial” North Korea and how US President Donald Trump “wasn’t helping” the situation. Bondevik urged the UN to take the lead on moves to both prevent and abolish nuclear weapons.
Solberg told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) after the ceremony that she did applaud “at most points, with the exception of those points that present the challenge here.” She still believes that “we must have disarmament that all parties agree on. A treaty that prohibits nuclear weapons with all the nuclear states agreeing to it is difficult for us. What we have to achieve is mutual disarmament. We must free the world of nuclear weapons, but then the nuclear powers have to go along.”
Solberg nonetheless said she thought it was a “fine” Nobel Peace Prize ceremony with an important theme, and she insisted there is a “common ambition to get rid of nuclear weapons.” The afternoon ceremony was to be followed, in line with tradition, by an annual torchlight parade through downtown Oslo to honour the Nobel Price winners, which in turn is followed by the Nobel Banquet at the Grand Hotel in Oslo. The annual Nobel Concert will be held Monday evening, after prize winners visit Norwegian officials.
Click here to read the full speeches by Norwegian Nobel Committee leader Andersen, ICAN’s Fihn and atomic bomb survivor Setsuko Thurlow (external link to the committee’s website).