No less than three Norwegian prime ministers, past and present, were in Paris on Sunday to take part in the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I. They all recognized the dangers of nationalism and hailed the importance of international cooperation, to prevent history from repeating itself.
“We have learned that cooperation beats going it alone,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told newspaper Aftenposten, adding that Europe is “the best example” of that. Even though Norway has voted twice against joining the European Union (EU), Solberg noted that “we have established common regulations and standards and we have surveillance agencies and courts that build confidence they will be enforced.”
Solberg, leader of Norway’s Conservative Party, said she shares French President Emmanuel Macron’s deep concern about rising nationalism, and over how “several governments in Europe don’t want to follow the rules any longer.” Macron also lashed out against the dangers of any country putting itself “first” and above others, a direct jab at the policy of US President Donald Trump. He campaigned on a platform of putting “America first,” at the expense of international treaties and agreements from the UN climate agreement in Paris to trade pacts and even NATO. Norway also put itself “first” when unveiling its latest policies regarding EU relations, but still stresses cooperation.
“I’m concerned that more and more international institutions are weakened because of short-term self-interests and the belief that power becomes more important that cooperation commitments,” Solberg said. “I think our time’s greatest challenge is the lack of willingness to find common solutions and global leadership.”
She was joined in Paris by two predecessors, Jens Stoltenberg and Thorbjørn Jagland, both from the Norwegian Labour Party and who now head the sorts of multi-national organizations that can come under threat. NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg also expressed worries about “destructive nationalism,” which motivated the deadly shots fired in June 1914 by a Serbian nationalist who killed the heir-apparent to the Austro-Hungarian Empire that controlled Bosnia at the time. The Austro-Hungarians declared war on Serbia a month later, but Serbia was allied with Russia, which in turn was allied with France and Great Britain. Since the Austro-Hungarian Empire was allied with Germany’s kaiser, it all set off enormous conflicts rooted in power struggles among major countries, their alliances, a military build-up, economic and border conflicts and, not least, nationalism that ultimately set off World War I.
“We can never take peace for granted,” Stoltenberg told Aftenposten. “What’s scary about the first World War was that very few thought there would be a war.” Like now, Stoltenberg noted, “it was said that we in our time live in a deep peace. We can’t imagine war any longer.”
When asked what else can be learned from World War I, Stoltenberg noted now both World Wars led to the establishment of the international institutions that all share the main goal of preventing war. They include the United Nations, the EU, NATO and the Council of Europe.
The latter, headed by former Norwegian Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland, is especially concerned with promoting human rights in member nations including Russia. He told Aftenposten that nationalism and militarism “always end in war.” Even though the end of World War I was expected to end all wars, “it instead marked the beginnings of facism in Europe” that led to World War II. Hunger, crisis and humiliation in Germany after it lost World War I provided good breeding grounds for the nationalism and facism that brought Adolphy Hitler to power.
Neutrality didn’t prevent losses
Norway was neutral during the World War I, but it was affected by blockades at sea and its large shipping fleet was a target of German submarines. More than 2,000 Norwegians were killed at sea during the course of World War I, and then Norway was invaded and occupied by Hitler’s Nazi Germany during World War II.
“I see more similarities between the current situation and the run-up to World War I, than between the decades between the two wars,” Jagland said. Foreign policy in 1914 “was replaced by militarism and nationalism,” Jagland said, while today “we’re seeing a military build-up and international agreements under threat.”
Macron’s message was much the same, as he warned how history can repeat itself. He called for more internationalism and global leadership and invited government leaders to a peace conference, urging them to “build hope instead of fear of one another.” The leaders in attendance did at least walk together, up Paris’ famed Champs-Elysees, towards the Arch of Triumph.