The Norwegian government’s bid for a seat on the UN Security Council is neither worth the effort nor in Norway’s best interests, claims an Oslo-based researcher who also serves on the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Asle Toje went so far as to say that winning a seat can put Norway in a squeeze.
“Norway can disagree with the US, but we can’t be rebels on important issues,” Toje told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on Wednesday. “Taking a seat on the Security Council is like asking to be beaten up if the EU, China or the US are standing in their own corners of the boxing ring.”
Toje, a commentator and former research director at the Nobel Institute in Oslo, is now part of the select group in Norway that will soon be deciding who will win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. He thinks Norway will find participation on the Security Council anything but peaceful or productive.
“I can’t see how it’s a good idea to invest so much money and foreign ministry capacity on an organization that has seen better days,” he told DN. “And I don’t think (Norway’s) political leadership sees the dangers of seeking such an assertive profile.”
Toje thinks winning a seat for the first time since Norway’s two-year term in 2001-2002 “can warm up a feeling that Norway is more important than we are.” He commended the Solberg government’s and especially the foreign ministry’s professional campaign to win votes from the other 192 members of the UN, but claimed political leaders haven’t clarified how Norway will make the best use of a seat. The council is dominated by the US, China, Russia, Great Britain and France, which all have permanent seats. The other 10 members are selected by the UN’s General Assembly for a two-year period, with Norway vying with Ireland and Canada to join the council in 2021 and 2022. Norway needs support from two-thirds of the General Assembly at an election to be held in June.
Solberg, her foreign minister from the Conservative Party Ine Eriksen Søreide and Mona Juul, the veteran diplomat who now serves as Norway’s ambassador to the UN, have been lobbying hard for a seat, not least during this week’s opening of the UN that attracts leaders of member nations around the world. Most expect Ireland to win a seat, leaving Norway competing mostly against Canada. The two countries share many political views and mostly champion human rights issues, although Canada has shown itself to be much tougher against China than Norway has been since finally ending a diplomatic freeze over an earlier Nobel Committee’s Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010. Norway has been reluctant to challenge China ever since.
Juul told DN earlier this week that Norway, like other Nordic countries, has been viewed as a “wealthy, moralizing country in the North,” but she thinks there’s less of that now. Juul also thinks Norway will capture more votes among Arab countries because Canada is viewed as more pro-Israeli. Juul herself, along with her husband Terje Rød-Larsen, was part of the negotiating team behind the Oslo Agreement in 1993 between Israel and the PLO. Even though it fell apart, she thinks Norway’s work within peace and reconciliation is positive in the Security Council campaign. The Norwegian UN Special Envoy to Syria, Geir O Pedersen, even succeeded this week in finally managing to help set up a committee charged with drafting a new constitution for Syria after years of civil war.
DN reported, however, that others within the foreign minstry who didn’t want to be identified share Toje’s concerns and aren’t sure how Norway would use a seat on the UN Security Council. While many have enjoyed the campaign for a seat, they claim, like Toje, that neither the UN nor the Security Council functions well, and that the five permanent members decide most everything anyway.
Foreign Minister Søreide strongly objects to any suggestion that the UN has become irrelevant, and contends that it’s absolutely in Norway’s interests to win a seat on the council. As for what Norway can get out of a seat, she claims Norway wants to “strengthen international law, direct attention at the links between climate change and conflict, and be clear about women’s rights, peace and security.”
Sørdeide said Norway will also use a seat on the council to contribute to “a more open Security Council and reform of the UN” while also being both solutions-oriented and pragmatic.
“The UN is far from being irrelevant but we have a responsibility to improve what’s not functioning,” Søreide told DN. “That’s why we want a spot on the Security Council, because we have something to offer. There’s a greater need than ever to reform the UN from the inside. It’s not enough to stand on the outside and complain.”