ICAN Norge

“Nuclear disarmament: is Norway helping or hindering?”

On Saturday the 26th of September – the International Day for the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons – ICAN Norway, in collaboration with Nei til Atomvåpen, hosted the seminar “Nuclear disarmament: Is Norway helping or hindering?”.

The event started off with a presentation by Richard Lennane, former UN top diplomat and currently “Chief Inflammatory Officer" at the political blog Wildfire. Commenting on the way ahead for obtaining an international ban on nuclear weapons, Lannane stigmatized the Norwegian inaction. Lennane spoke of “the tranquilizing drug of gradualism” as that situation whereby states declare to be unequivocally committed to nuclear disarmament and yet object such a ban or do not openly favour it. Lennane added that, by showing to abide to a “mythical concept of time”, that is, the belief that “someday in the future” the international community will ban nuclear weapons, Norway is essentially supporting the view that nuclear weapons “should be legal for some but not for others”.

Lennane then pointed to some necessary steps for the future: that a ban on nuclear weapons will represent the first stage in the process of global disarmament and as such it is unavoidable, and that the international community should look positively at the growing consensus around the Humanitarian Pledge. Concluding his talk, Lennane remarked that Norway’s delay in joining the international movement against nuclear weapons is even more “shameful” in light of the Norwegian tradition of being at the forefront of other disarmament processes, such as the one the led to the Anti-Personnel Landmines Convention.

Sigrid Heiberg, political advisor for ICAN, led the discussion in the panel. The panel included: Åsmund Aukrust, member of Parliament for Arbeiderpartiet, Sofie Høgestøl, member the Committee on International Affairs and representative of the political party Venstre, and Rolf Vestvik, expert of international affairs and leader of the international think tank Agenda. While all the panellists agreed that Norway’s inertia on the nuclear weapons file is “embarrassing”, each of them approached the issue from a different angle. Vestvik discussed that the fact nuclear disarmament is substantially absent from the Norwegian political radars should not come as a surprise, as this simply shows that Norway still perceives nuclear weapons as an important contribution to global security. In this vein, Vestvik urged to pressure the Conservatives to include the theme in their political agenda. Høgestøl lamented that, while the political conversation in the neighbouring country of Sweden has increasingly been focusing on nuclear weapons and nuclear disarmament, this seems not to be the case for Norway. With this regards, Høgestøl looked at the parliamentary discussions on the issue in June 2015 as a “lost opportunity” for Norway to include nuclear weapons as a meaningful part of the political debate, as on that occasion the Liberal Party did not stand together with Venstre. Aukrust dismissed such a criticism, observing instead how the very fact that issue was raised was a promising development per se, for there is no tradition in the Norwegian Parliament to discuss Norway’s foreign policy in parliamentary debates.

Questions from the audience concerned, among others, the way forward for the opposition parties during the next two years of Conservative rule, and Norway’s possible partnership with other European states for a ban on nuclear weapons.