Norway: model of diplomacy


THIS GLORIOUS and wild country -- with its untamed fiords and 13,000 miles of coastlines -- seems a long way away from the rest of the world.

Yet it is from this remote northernmost land of Europe that a new kind of diplomacy is beginning to emerge, influencing disparate parts of the globe.

"It is the Norwegian model," says Jan Egeland, one of the rising diplomatic stars in the Royal Norwegian Foreign Ministry.

"The model gives us flexibility and deniability. . . . There is a kind of patience we can show that the great powers cannot. If something takes 10 years, we go on for 10 years."

"We can also assure the parties to any negotiation that we can keep secrets. If something doesn't work, it will never be known. In the Middle East negotiation, for instance, we assured Israel that we could keep the secret forever, if necessary. We're seen as a non-threatening do-gooder."

Mr. Egeland has written an engrossing book, called "Impotent Superpower, Potent Small State," about the diplomatic benefits of being a small country. He and others here are convinced that "often superpowers cannot do things because they are too involved in too many things. They are not seen as credible."

Looking over a troubled world today, one can begin to see the effects of Norway's discreet and unusual diplomacy.

Their big success, of course, was their years-long brokering of the Israeli/PLO peace initiative that has now resulted in self-rule for the Palestinians in Gaza and Jericho. But they have not stopped there.

They are now deeply involved in an initiative in another part of the world, which "will remain secret" (as was the Middle East initiative) and "may never be known."

For the moment, they are deeply involved with bringing together the warring factions in Guatemala, whose activities have left nearly 200,000 dead in 30 years of one of the world's most murderous conflicts.

What they do is interesting indeed. In 1992, a group of nations came together to try to solve the awful civil war in Guatemala, which has pitted the Castroite guerrilla movements against the often military-controlled governments. These friends included the United States, Mexico, Spain, Norway, Colombia and Venezuela. The group felt it needed a strong, respected mediator and turned to Norway.

"This is a forgotten war," Mr. Egeland explained, "and so it turned out that we were the right people at the right moment."

The Norwegians provided a patient but relentless negotiating process. They housed the negotiations in Norway in the same now-famous country villa-farmhouse "peace house," where the Middle East negotiations quietly went on for more than a year.

They funded airfares for participants and got the backing of the "NGOs" or "Non-Governmental Organizations" that have also played such a crucial role in all of these negotiations. And they were often harshly realistic with the various sides.

"We've been involved in dozens of meetings, where we tell the Guatemalan guerrillas that they cannot pretend to represent all of the opposition," Mr. Egeland went on, "because there are dozens of different groups. We've also done things that were not so easy for America to do."

"For instance, we've had four Guatemalan generals here in Oslo, and we have sent four Norwegian generals there.

They told the Guatemalan military: "This is a Stone Age situation. A modern military force is supposed to defend against external enemies, not to fight wars against its people. We need to help the government make a peace that would have been unthinkable two years ago."

Mr. Egeland makes some arresting distinctions about these complicated new kinds of situations.

What these countries are doing is what the United States did in hTC 1776 and in 1860, he says. "They're going through all kinds of changes at the same time -- revolutions, civil wars, whatever. In 1776, a few men declared self-rule on behalf of a whole population," he said. "Today, that is impossible."

The Norwegian model emerges not only out of the foreign ministry, but also out of Norwegian social history. Norway began giving aid abroad while it was still receiving Marshall Plan aid after World War II.

Today, it gives the largest amount of aid (along with Denmark) per capita of any country in the world. With a population of only 4 million, Norway has between 50 and 100 NGOs working with the foreign ministry on policy questions such as Guatemala. So much so that Mr. Egeland says, "Sometimes I think we have 4 million ministers of foreign affairs."

These descendants of the Vikings are now trying to find solutions to problems. And that is good news for a world hungering for new ways to transform war to peace.

Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.

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