Norwegians losing confidence in USA

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Increasing numbers of Norwegians want to cooperate less with the United States of America and more with Europe, according to a new survey conducted by the Oslo-based foreign policy institute NUPI. The survey results indicate that Norwegians’ opinions of the US are changing after four years of Donald Trump in the White House.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg has visited US President Donald Trump at the White House, but now public opinion regarding relations with the US has slumped. PHOTO: Statsministererns kontor/Stein J Bjørge/Aftenposten

Researcher Øyvind Svendsen at NUPI (Norsk Utenriks-politisk Institutt) noted in his analysis of survey results that Norwegians want to preserve “the status quo” of foreign policy,  “at least where multilateralism and global cooperation are concerned.”

That’s also long been at the core of Norwegian foreign policy, and played a major role in Norway’s recent successful campaign for a seat on the UN Security Council. Trump, meanwhile, doesn’t support either of the two and has, for example, actively pulled the US out of trade agreements, harshly criticized NATO and the UN, and most recently cut support for the World Health Organisation (WHO), even in the midst of the Corona virus pandemic.

“At the same time,” Svendsen continued, “we are skeptical about cooperating closely with Russia and China, and also increasingly towards the US.”

‘Less-positive attitudes’
NUPI’s survey was carried out before the Corona crisis hit Norway in early March. Already then, Norwegians showed much more enthusiasm for cooperating more with Germany, the UK, France and Japan, and less with the US. Both Svendsen and co-author of the study, Åsmund Weltzien, note in their summary that “attitudes towards the USA and US policies are less positive” than earlier. The NUPI researchers also detect “growing interest in seeing Norway and Europe take more responsibility” for themselves in foreign policy.

“We have traditionally had a very good relationship with the USA, but we see that it’s in the process of changing,” Åsmund Weltzien, the NUPI researcher who co-authored the new study, told newspaper Klassekampen. “That’s not so strange, given the attention around President Donald Trump and everything he says and does.”

Fully a third (32.4 percent) of Norwegians questioned now want the Norwegian government to cooperate less with the US, almost as much as those wanting to cooperate less with Russia (35.4 percent) and China (36.8 percent). The shares are roughly double those advocating less cooperation with the UK, Germany, France or Japan, and also indicate increased skepticism towards all three of the world’s so-called “super-powers.”

Seen as a bigger threat, too
It’s important to note that 36.7 percent of those questioned still want more cooperation with the US, compared to 30 percent with Russia and 27.9 percent with China. At the same time, Klassekampen noted, Norwegians were asked whether they viewed the US’ power and influence as a threat to Norway. The answers were registered on a scale from one to five, with five defined as “an extremely high threat.” Fully 70 percent responded with three or more, while only around 10 percent believed the US’ power and influence posed an extremely low threat to Norway. It all boiled down to Norwegians showing themselves to now be just as afraid of the US’ influence as they are of China’s growth and of tensions with Russia.

Fully 60 percent of the Norwegians questioned, meanwhile, were positive towards NATO and want Norway to work towards making NATO less reliant on the US. The 60 percent also favouring the latter did so even though they realized it would require Norway to fund much higher defense budgets.

To read the full report from NUPI, entitled “Norwegians adapting to a changing world,” click here (external link to NUPI’s own website).

Asle Toje, a Norwegian political scientist and commentator who also was the conservative Progress Party’s choice for a seat on the Norwegian Nobel Committee, believes the rising skepticism towards the US won’t last. He noted how Norwegians’ strong support for NATO also seems to contradict their waning support for the US, since the US still plays such a major role in NATO.

Toje remains convinced that relations with the US will remain strong, and stressed that Norway’s foreign policy is based only to a small degree on public opinion. Top Norwegian politicians still call the US “our closest ally.”

The US Embassy in Oslo, meanwhile, responded to a request from Klassekampen for comment by stating that the US’ relation to Norway “is one of our most valued in the world.” Embassy officials stressed 70 years of defense cooperation through NATO and ties going back to the mass Norwegian emigration to the USA.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund