UPDATED: The Corona crisis complicated the last crucial months of Norway’s vigorous campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council, but Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide was optimistic ahead of voting that begins Wednesday June 17 at the General Assembly. “We’re ready to take on the responsibility,” she told foreign correspondents at a meeting in Oslo.
“We know it won’t be easy,” Søreide quickly added, but she and her government colleagues hope other members of the UN will vote for Norway in the election for a two-year term inside what’s been called the “world’s most powerful meeting room.” Norway is running for one of two seats on the UN Security Council along with Ireland and Canada, both of whom Søreide diplomatically called “very good competitors.”
The campaign itself has provided, according to Søreide, “a great opportunity to present Norway’s foreign policy” to all the other countries that begin on Wednesday what can be several rounds of voting. She said the campaign included 111 bilateral meetings, and gave Norway the chance to promote its way of looking at a world “that has changed so much” since Norway last held a UN Security Council seat in 2002. At that time China was still an emerging economy and Russia appeared to be an emerging democracy.
Newspaper Klassekampen reported over the weekend that the campaign had cost nearly NOK 30 million through last year, including what’s become a much-discussed NOK 302,705 spent on shocking pink socks featuring a golden heart. Officials at Norwegian embassies around the world played a key role, as did Crown Prince Haakon and other prominent Norwegians in the effort to win other countries’ votes for a Security Council seat.
Søreide insists it’s all been worth it, “no matter how it turns out.” She repeatedly referred to how Norway is “a small country,” and that means it needs to grab all the opportunities it can to gain attention and spread influence.
‘Making a difference’
“For a small country like us,” she told the correspondents at a rare in-person meeting at the ministry in Oslo, “it’s also time to shoulder the responsibility” of a council seat. She stressed that her somewhat negative formulation was intentional, because having a seat on the Security Council “is not a walk in the park.” It will mean “two years of no sleep and all work,” she said with a characteristic laugh, but Norway is just that keen to have a seat at the table dominated by the council’s permanent members: France, the UK, Russia, China and the US.
It’s the latter three that generally wield the most power, while any of the five can veto how all the other rotating members vote. “But we need international cooperation now more than ever,” Søreide said, and Norway wants to “use the edge we have, our advantages” to “make a difference” on the Council.
They include a large international network that Norway has built up over the past three decades as a peace broker, specializing in mediation aimed at resolving conflicts from Colombia to Sri Lanka, the Philippines and the Middle East. Far from all have been successful, but Norway has been hailed for its efforts in conflict resolution work that has, as Soreide said, “included and involved” many of the countries that will be voting next week. She recently called US President Donald Trump’s own peace plan for the Middle East “unacceptable,” and seemed to win support from Israel’s own court system on Wednesday.
Søreide noted that Norway is also “a country with an independent voice.” It’s a member of NATO but not the EU, while at the same time keen on multilateral alliances. Norway’s “space for maneuvering,” she said, has always hinged on alliances, and “others may see that Norway can help” on a wide variety of issues.
As for landing even more squarely in the middle of all the conflicts between the US and China, and Trump’s conflicts with so many others, “we’re used to maneuvering between all the big countries,” Søreide said. Norway still refers to the US as “our closest ally” despite all the political differences with Trump, while Russia is a neighbour and Norway settled a six-year diplomatic freeze with China in 2016.
“That’s how I also think we can contribute,” Søreide said. And despite all the isolationism of the Trump administration, Norwegian diplomats firmly support multilateralism and international cooperation, and think most of the rest of the world’s countries do as well.
Norway’s agenda challenges Trump
Norway’s bid for a seat on the Security Council stresses five priorities, all of which seem to at odds with Trump’s own agenda: peace diplomacy, more inclusion of women in peace processes, protecting civilians and promoting climate and security issues by linking the two. That’s an example of how Norway’s campaign has stressed creativity in addressing issues: climate change has and can lead to conflicts, Søreide notes. Norway hasn’t met its own UN climate goals, but now promises to work towards making sure climate-related security threats are drafted within the Security Council, and that it regularly evaluates how climate change affects issues that are on the council’s agenda.
Søreide also thinks the link between the UN’s High Commissioner on Human Rights and the Security Council “is not strong enough,” and that more council attention should be paid to preventing conflicts instead of being left to resolve them. “I refuse to see the Security Council as a bubble,” she said, and would strive to involve it in important issues before they become crises.
Support at home
Søreide’s ministry has full support for a seat on the council not only from Norway’s coalition government but also from a broad majority in Parliament. Harald Stanghelle, commentator in newspaper Aftenposten, has noted that a Security Council seat “is more than idealism that’s a waste of time.” It can offer status, power and prestige, he wrote, but “it’s so much more for a country like ours. We have always had faith in international cooperation and common rules and regulations,” and it’s at the Security Council that the big issues like war and peace, conflict and the rule of law belong. A seat on the council also provides access to lots of information that small countries otherwise may not get.
Newspaper Dagsavisen was among many editorializing last week in favour of Norway winning a seat: “Norway should get a seat,” wrote Dagsavisen. “We can contribute to positive development at a global level,” adding, however, that Canada and Ireland are also “good candidates” and could “fill much of the same role as Norway.” The paper dismissed complaints from the right-wing politicial Christian Tybring-Gjedde of the Progress Party who thinks Norway should rather use its resources at home and stop “trying to act like the world’s saviour.” Researcher Asle Toje, who now sits on the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, has also bashed Norway’s Security Council bid.
Søreide gamely admits that Canada and Ireland can do a good job on the council as well, perhaps allowing her and fellow Norwegian diplomats to get more sleep. Norway has a long history of being an active and financially supportive member of the UN, however, and even produced its first secretary general, Trygve Lie.
“I think we can contribute,” Søreide said. “It’s possible to get things done.”