Norwegian Foreign Policy In The Middle East

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Dr. Theodore Karasik, Director, R&D, INEGMA, Mr. Matthew Hedges, Research Assistant, INEGMA

Norway’s foreign policy in the Middle East is a vastly understudied topic. Since the end of World War II, Oslo has specialized in peacekeeping, peacemaking, humanitarian missions, and post-conflict action. Norway is present among peacekeeping operations throughout the region. This effort sprung from Norway becoming a mediator in peace talks with the 1993 Oslo Accords standing out as their biggest achievement to date. Norway has worked towards its goals of attempting to achieve peace resolution in the Middle East through its extensive links of NGO’s who promote trade, humanitarian missions and cultural ties. Norway is also, like the rest of the world, seriously interested in the region due to economic reasons. Oslo is linked with the region because of its extensive use of Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWF) which some of the GCC states have made so famous in recent times.

Peacekeeping and Peacemaking

The aspect of Norway’s peacekeeping focus is greatly translated into their humanitarian efforts. For example, Oslo is present in Lebanon as part of the UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon) contingent in leadership and personnel. UNIFIL’s mandate is to act as a disengagement force between Israel and Lebanon and oversee the cease-fire under the terms of UN Resolution 1701 that ended the summer 2006 Israeli war and help Lebanese regular forces establish control over the border area along Israeli-Lebanese borders. Norway is also part of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Here the MFO is in place to oversee the peace treaty that is in force between Egypt and Israel. The Norwegian Contingent (NORCON) consists of five staff officers. They hold the following key positions: Chief of Operations (Colonel), Force Commander’s Military Executive Assistant (Lieutenant Colonel) Force Commander’s driver (2nd Lieutenant) and two Force Field Liaison Officers (Majors). Although small in numbers, NORCON has served since the MFO’s inception. Finally, Norway has been engaged in reconciliation efforts in the Middle East, and has taken part in the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) since 1956. The Government attaches considerable importance to Norway’s participation in UN-led operations. Today, UNTSO is made up of 151 military observers from 23 countries, who are posted in South Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Israel. UNTSO was established in 1948, and is one of the UN’s oldest peacekeeping organizations.

Oslo appears to be a good neutral mediator with business interests in the region and potential good business partner who is active politically and in humanitarian efforts. Both UNIFIL and MFO are in place to keep what peace there is and to prevent conflict from escalating at a modest level. Norway’s neutrality was the perfect base for the negotiations which happened in parallel to the Madrid Conference in 1991. The Oslo Accords were orchestrated by then-Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Johan Jorgen Holst, and Norwegian specialist on Palestinian issues Terje Rod-Larsen. Larsen went on to be the Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories for the UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Larsen, seen as an expert in the Middle East Peace Process negotiations, was also involved in the aftermath of the Israeli-Lebanon war in 2006. Larsen was also the UN Special Representative for the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559. Significantly, these interventions in conflicts have helped to place Norway centrally as a neutral mediator in two massive peace processes in the Middle East.

Humanitarian Efforts

Norway also assists in other post-conflict situations. The main NGO involved is the Norwegian Refugee Council (NCR). The NRC provides temporary housing and providing essential supplies including food and medicine. The NRC operates in all post-conflict surroundings in the Middle East, from Somalia to Afghanistan to Lebanon. The NRC’s operations are well documented and perform humanitarian missions in areas with difficult political circumstances.

However, Norway’s NGO’s have come under some scrutiny in the past from Western sources due to their involvement in two conflict situations. Firstly in Sudan in 2000, the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) was seen to lengthen the conflict in Sudan due to their direct support of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). The NPA was seen to have breached neutrality and taken sides within the internal Sudanese conflict. They had reportedly supplied transport, material and arms for the SPLA which is against their mission statement. The second apparent breach of neutrality was their involvement in Saddam’s Iraq. Norwegian NGO’s were operating in Iraq under the oil for food program and were able to transport goods around the country by plane, something which the Iraqi government couldn’t do at the time for the protection of minority groups. While conducting these operations, there were rumors of nefarious activity although no hard proof was made available. What was occurring, all far too often with humanitarian NGOs, was that Norwegian NGO’s were becoming intertwined with the forces that drive these conflicts.

Recently Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) entered into an agreement with The Norwegian Shipowners Association to support humanitarian efforts in Somalia and work to strengthen various institutions on land with the aim to secure a future for the Somali people so they do not have to continue the piracy activity. Because a solution to the piracy issue in the Gulf of Aden is directly linked to securing peaceful coexistence and stable institutions in Somalia.

Economic Affairs

From an economic point of view, something which is beginning to take more and more emphasis in modern day foreign policy, Norway is widely represented and growing in the Middle East. Firstly Hydro, the fourth largest aluminum company worldwide, is developing Qatalum in Qatar. This is the largest aluminum project ever constructed. Hydro, who main stakeholder is the Norwegian government, is looking to invest further in the GCC infrastructure.

Natural resources are as vital, due to Norway’s own reserves. From these past experiences, something which is long running, there are many Norwegian oil companies present in the GCC as well as in Iraq and Libya. In the UAE, a major tender deadline for UAE drilling is in 2014, and it is expected that there will be further investment from Norwegian oil companies. The discovery of a new oil field in Dubai is seen as a boost for the tender In Iraq, Statoil and Lukoil recently won the West Qurna Phase 2 oil field, which is larger in reserves than the entire Norwegian oil resources accumulated. This is a major win for Norway´s largest oil company and is part of Statoi´s international plans to expand and grow its business internationally. Much like the GCC states, the profits from the oil reserves, both abroad and in Norway, are put aside and placed into Oslo’s SWF. The Norwegian National Oil Fund (The Pension Fund – Global) is now worth NOK 2,522 billion, and has become the world’s largest sovereign wealth after the funds of Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia in the Middle East. As of August 2009, Norway’s SWF held one percent of all global stocks.


For GCC states, the implications of Norway’s stance and role within the Middle East can be an example to follow. When compared to other historical allies of Middle Eastern states, such as Britain, France or even the United States, Norway isn’t seen as having a diminished colonial history or an aggressive modern foreign policy. But Norway is not the United States, Britain or France when it comes to regional influence and persuasion.

Norway’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan are limited. In Iraq, only 150 personnel were stationed there and were mostly engineers and mine clearers. It was clearly stated by the Bondevik II Government that the Norwegian forces were not part of the invasion force and they were not an aggressor but on the ground for post-conflict assistance. In Afghanistan, Norway sent 500 troops. Unlike in the past, these Norwegian forces were offensive units, from Special Forces units, to F-16 Jets. There are also passive ground units with the Norwegian’s taking the lead role in the provincial reconstruction team in the Faryab province. The Afghan mission is emerging as a slight twist on Norway’s historical approach to conflict. In the Sea of Aden, Norway´s Special Forces Branch has also been assisting with the frigate KNM Fridtjof Nansen, to join the NATO-led anti-piracy operation there.

The emphasis Norway has on its humanitarian role within the Middle East is a beacon of good will which helps translate into their diplomatic sphere of influence. Oslo’s mantle as a neutral power within the Middle East peace process benefits from their other roles within the Middle East. On a diplomatic level, Norway seems to have adopted a progressive active approach. The neutral and passive diplomatic view held by Norway helps to forge lasting relationships. These relationships have also been cemented by the economic security by which Norway rests upon and invests from. Norway’s SWF resources have helped to diversify Norway’s assets and to strengthen the country’s resources around the world and in the Middle East in particular.

For the GCC the relationship may not be as fruitful as a defensive relationship with the United States, Britain, or France but has other benefits. It is for exactly this reason that the GCC states can look to build upon a relationship with Norway in all three of the above-mentioned fields. Norway’s expertise in conflict mediation and resolution and its involvement in peacekeeping, peacemaking, humanitarian missions, and post-conflict action should be seen by GCC countries as a positive attribute that helps cement cross-regional relations. Norway is a potentially safe and stable long term partner which the GCC states can look to for inputs on security and investment.

Source: This article was produced by INEGMA, the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis based in Dubai and reprinted with permission.


INEGMA is a Free Zone Limited Liability Company based in Dubai Media City, in the United Arab Emirates. Established in 2001, INEGMA was set up to provide media organizations, think tanks, non-governmental organizations, militaries and governments of the Middle East, and international private companies with various services related to military and strategic affairs.

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