World Leaders Forum: Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg
Provost John Coatsworth introduced Her Excellency, Elna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, in part by distinguishing Norway from other oil-rich countries. Coatsworth said that Norway has invested its significant profits from oil back in the country, instead of spending them or allocating them solely to the rich. The result has been a country that is both economically thriving and also eager to help other countries. The sentiment in Norway's economic policy, he claimed, is exemplified in Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen's quote: "Home life ceases to be free and beautiful as soon as it is founded on borrowing and debt."
Solberg began her speech, “To End Poverty, We Need Peace,” by citing a statistic that characterizes Norway as the second happiest country in the world. Denmark, its neighbor to the south, is supposedly happier, a fact that "irritates Norwegians extremely," according to Solberg. Her joke preceded an otherwise solemn talk in which she warned of the dangers of ineffective international organizations, a topic that was particularly relevant given she is in New York for the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Solberg was able to report that many countries had made significant progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals established by the United Nations. The largest obstacle in eradicating extreme and widespread poverty so far, she claimed, has been conflicts and wars that disempower societies and leave them without resources. Without proper development, she argued, peace was not sustainable.
Solberg cited Liberia as an example of a country in which much more development is necessary before it can be considered politically stable. Even though it achieved peace from civil wars eleven years ago, Liberia lacks the infrastructure to employ many of its citizens. Liberian men, unemployed but trained to fight from previous domestic conflicts, become mercenaries in conflicts in neighboring countries in order to support their families. Without these men, Liberia loses a significant part of its potential workforce and the economy suffers. Solberg argued that the solution would be to develop Liberian infrastructure such that those men can find jobs within their own country.
Norway is determined to help resolve global conflicts, but as a relatively small country it needs to work through channels such as international organizations. The problem, Solberg said, is that of the five permanent members on the United Nations Security Council—United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France—some continue to use their veto powers to oppose UN intervention in conflicts in which it is clearly necessary. Solberg used Syria to illustrate her point and explained that three years ago it was a middle-income country that was stable enough to act as a temporary home for political refugees from neighboring countries. Since the UN failed to intervene and provide resources when the conflict began, the country has become markedly less stable.
Solberg praised the existence of the United Nations, but believes the political interests of other countries have rendered it ineffective. Some of the countries that have refused to become embroiled in conflicts such as the one in Syria did so because they believe in what she referred to as “outdated ideas,” such as the importance of spheres of influence in international politics. Instead, she said, power has shifted to a highly regional level, and the United Nations has to adapt to that. “The world is changing, and the UN must keep up with those changes,” Solberg proclaimed.
A relatively high percentage of the taxes that Norwegians pay is allocated to foreign support and intervention. Solberg admitted that it is sometimes unpopular to report to her citizens that much of the money they are paying in taxes is being used abroad, but she explained that in a global society, if countries are not willing to offer foreign aid, it will eventually come back to hurt them at home, claiming, “the cost of inaction is high and the returns on well-designed intervention are great.”
One of Norway’s most notable roles in foreign intervention and mediation is in the conflict in Colombia, where the Colombian government struggles against FARC, a guerrilla force that has in many places violently wrangled power from the government and funds itself in part with cocaine sales and revenues from kidnapping. The conflict, ongoing for over fifty years, has cost hundreds of thousands of lives, crippled the Colombian economy, and created a refugee situation, as many Colombians hope to escape the violence by emigrating. Norway is currently engaged in mediating between the government, under the purview of President Juan Manuel Santos, and FARC.
One of Solberg’s final points was about the gender-based violence that has plagued recent conflicts. She listed conflicts involving Boko Haram, as well as those in South Sudan, Iraq, and Syria as having been particularly violent to women and girls on all sides, and that the only way to prevent this sort of violence is the full and effective participation of women in government and in leadership roles on a national level.
Solberg’s speech was more than a call to action in support of foreign countries and international organizations, it was a plea to reframe the assumptions of what the goals of foreign intervention should be. Namely, the end of war should not be the ultimate goal, but rather a sustainable, independent peace. Furthermore, foreign aid is not just an unselfish moral act, it is also an investment in the future of global politics. Solberg’s main message throughout her talk was that it was time to stop being short-sighted: if we want to correct any of the major problems we are encountering today, we need to realize that the global economy has linked all countries inextricably, and an investment in one of them is an investment in all of them.