Norway sent off a load of weapons to Ukraine on Thursday, but several researchers and a few skeptical politicians worry that it’s a big mistake. They fear it may prolong the war Russia started last week, and drag Norway and other weapon suppliers into it.
“Russia will have the view that countries delivering weapons to Ukraine are (also) at war with Russia,” Stein Sundstøl Eriksen, a senior researcher at the Norwegian foreign policy insitute NUPI, told newspaper Klassekampen. “It’s impossible to say what consequences this will have, but it’s a very dangerous escalation of the war.”
The Norwegian government had initially refused to send weapons, in accordance with a ban the country has had on exports of weapons to countries at war. The ban has been in place since 1959 and Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre pointed to it when he first opted to respond to calls for help from Ukraine with other “military equipment” such as helmets, bullet-proof vests and medical supplies.
Cries went out, also within the Norwegian Parliament, that such aid to Ukraine simply wasn’t enough for the “David vs Goliath” battle that began when Russia launched what Støre has since called a “frontal attack” on Ukraine a week ago. Ukrainian leaders said they needed weapons most of all, which NATO can’t and won’t supply.
Germany changed his mind
Individual countries, meanwhile, including NATO members started responding on their own. The tide really turned when Germany broke with its own practice and sent weapons itself. That prompted Støre to change his mind and propose shipping off 2,000 M72 “bazooka” type weapons manufactured by Norwegian arms producer Nammo in Raufoss that can ward off tanks. Støre stressed how they were for defense purposes, while his defense minister, Odd Roger Enoksen of the Center Party, called them a response to “a desperate appeal for help from Ukraine. This is what we can contribute.”
Støre’s government was already under pressure by several opposition parties in Parliament led by the Conservatives and Progress to do more than send flak jackets. Both the Greens and the Christian Democrats also supported the government in sending weapons to Ukraine, while the Socialist Left and Reds parties were opposed.
The missiles aren’t being sent directly to Ukraine but rather to Poland, Enoksen told state broacaster NRK on Monday. From there they’ll be sent over the border to Ukraine. Other Nordic countries including Denmark, which is a member of NATO, are also sending weapons as are Sweden and Finland, which are not members of NATO. Norway’s contribution flew off in a Hercules transport plane Thursday morning.
Experts on the rule of law, war and conflict remain skeptical, even worried that it can make all countries sending weapons to Ukraine potential targets of Russia’s aggression. “This is very unfortunate,” said Eriksen of NUPI (Norsk utenrikspolitiske insitutt). “It amounts to a dangerous escalation with NATO countries becoming much more involved than before.”
He and others think it was a hasty decision, with some countries viewing such contributions as “a moral obligation” that they didn’t think through. Iver B Neumann, head of the Fridtjof Nansen research institute agrees, telling NRK that sending weapons is like “throwing oil on the fire.”
Researcher Cecilie Hellestveit at the University of Oslo is also opposed to weapons shipments. She told newspaper Vårt Land earlier this week that Norway can put itself in danger by sending weapons, especially since Norway is not a member of EU and can’t lean on the same collective support that Sweden and Denmark can. “When Norway contributes weapons to Ukraine, they lower the threshold for Russia to breach Norwegian sovereignty,” Hellestveit said.
Break with policy
Other critics, no matter how opposed they are to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, point to Norway’s major break with policy over the years. Politicians from SV and the Reds are also concerned, but SV leader Audun Lysbakken was “sympathetic” to Ukraine’s needs. “This is a huge dilemma, there are good arguments for and against,” Lysbakken told NRK.
Russia’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, issued a statement that it will hold those contributing weapons to Ukraine responsible if the weapons are used in what Russia still insists on calling merely a “special military operation.”
Gro Nystuen, assistant director of Norway’s institute for human rights, doesn’t think sending weapons to Ukraine makes Norway a part of the conflict with Russia. “Norway is not at war,” Nystuen, who specializes in the rule of law, told newspaper Aftenposten. “Russia can’t invade Norway because we have delivered weapons to Ukraine.”