While allies like Canada, Denmark and Germany expressed “support” for Saturday’s attack by the US, UK and France on alleged chemical weapons plants in Syria, Norway’s response was more restrained. The government stated merely that it “understood” the attack, and the careful formulation was no coincidence.
“The Norwegians’ choice of words has certainly been evaluated in detail,” Kjell Magne Bondevik, a former prime minister who now runs an Oslo-based peace center, told newspaper Aftenposten. He noted that since the UN hasn’t supported the attack, Norway won’t either.
Another important consideration, Bondevik noted, is Norway’s bilateral relation with its mighty neighbour in the far north: “I think the choice of words will also have an impact on Norway’s relations with Russia.”
Espen Barth Eide, a former Norwegian foreign minister who’s now a Member of Parliament for the opposition Labour Party, agreed, and supported the conservative government’s careful approach. “I don’t think the difference (between “supporting” and “understanding” the attack) is tied to any disagreement (with other allies, especially those in NATO) over the attack,” Eide told Aftenposten. “But in diplomacy, nuances mean a lot. I think expressing understanding, which is milder than expressing support, was wise.”
Aftenposten’s overview of European and Scandinavian response to the attack by the US, UK and France was mixed: Those “supporting” it included Albania, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey. Those “understanding” it included Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Sweden.
Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide of the Conservative Party was the first to respond on Saturday that “we undestand the background for the action during the night,” after the US, UK and France launched strikes against facilities used to produce chemical weapons and on Syrian military facilities. Søreide later elaborated that “we expressed understanding that it was necessary to react, also militarily, to repeated violations of the ban on chamical weapons.”
See an English version of Norway’s official response here (external link to the Foreign Ministry’s website).
Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who leads the Conservatives, later used the same formulation and avoided using the word “support.” She had another reason, though: “It’s not natural for us to support an action in which we weren’t involved or consulted beforehand.”
State broadaster NRK reported on Sunday afternoon, however, that Solberg was tougher against Russia in later remarks. She told reporters that Russia’s decisions since 2014 to block UN Security Council resolutions to investigate who’s behind the chemical attacks in Syria has led to the council being unable to act on the situation in Syria.
“Russia shouldn’t be surprised that something like this (the attack) could happen,” Solberg said. “They have been part of blocking other alternatives. They’re the ones who haven’t been willing to lend authority to an investigation of who’s responsible for what’s happening.” She suggested there were few other options for response to the chemical attacks than an attack on the source of the chemical weapons itself.
Solberg and a spokesman for Norway’s foreign ministry also stressed that Norway has gone along with NATO’s decision to express support for Saturday’s military action by the US, UK and France. Their attack is formally at odds with the rule of law since it’s not supported by the UN.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has officially condemned the attack on Syrian facilities but he also chose to use words instead of military confrontation. News bureau NTB reported how that’s widely viewed as a relatively mild response from the Russians.