Among many themes during this editorship, there has been one of thinking about Scottish foreign policy pro actively, not simply in opposition to the British state. In this piece we take a look at our friends across the North sea for inspiration and caution on where we go after independence.
When the Union of Parliaments is ended what will be the direction of Scottish foreign policy? I started the podcast ‘100 Of Us Remain’ as an attempt to have a constructive discussion about foreign affairs and how Scotland truly sees itself in an increasingly volatile and multipolar world.
I thought this a worthy discourse to embark on believing that an independent Scotland would need to separate from the direction and habits of the past 100 years and more when interacting with nations outside Europe and America. The way of genuine peace may sound like a poor samurai theme play script, but it can be a nation leading by example and consistent in its principles.
What makes a peaceful nation? I am choosing Norway as an example, as we can argue that the historic Norwegian foreign policy of peace is rooted in a historical conception of Norway and Norwegians as particularly peaceful, an identity which was first expressed from the end of the C19th. Norwegians hold a strong liberal belief that the world can become a better place, and that Norway has an important role in forging this.
“Furthermore, there were virtually no nobility as all aristocratic privileges were abolished in 1821 and this meant a native aristocratic class with expansionist ambitions had no way of monopolising foreign policy matters.”
But the last two decades have also seen increased Norwegian participation in offensive military actions despite maintaining a vocal traditional of dialogue first. Moreover the Norwegian attachment to peace remains strong despite these flirtings with American military power, but even now they have sparked a national conversation about the very ideal of Norway itself. As a result Norway may return to be a purist as its past suggests.
This is of key revelance to a Scotland that may be tempted to compromise its integrity on intervention or the rhetoric of the ‘war on terror’. A world dialogue of war where there can be no compromise or shift in tactics to deal with security and long term dangers.
For exmaple the SNP itself is a myriad of foreign policy positions with the membership firmly anti interventionist but the core leadership actually more moderate and open to coercion than is perceived. One only has to observe the respected views of Angus Robertson who although is not a war hawk by any measure is determined to see a future Scotland, “stand by her obligations to our Baltic friends.”
However it must be noted that Robertson has expressed a nuanced break from the US hawks who usually used the Baltics as an excuse for sabre rattling. He has stated that peaceful cooperation and resolutions must be the benchmark of a future independant Scotland’s dealing with regional hotspots like the Baltics and Caucasus.
Returning to Norway, in the middle of the C19th there was radical shift in thinking about foreign affairs. Until then there had been little focus on the issue as the 434-year union with Denmark has rendered any significant change of diplomatic self expression futile. Yet this was replaced with a looser personal union with Sweden, where a king and foreign matters were the only two things shared. As a result there was no native diplomatic service in Norway.
“But the last two decades have also seen increased Norwegian participation in offensive military actions despite maintaining a vocal traditional of dialogue first.”
Furthermore, there was virtually no nobility as all aristocratic privileges were abolished in 1821 and this meant a native aristocratic class with expansionist ambitions had no way of monopolising foreign policy matters. All the energy of intellectuals and conservative and reformist politicians was focused on building the new nation. There were no obvious forgers of foreign policy discourse in Norway and no sustained interest in discussing political relations with other countries (apart from Sweden). This could mirror Scotland, seeing as in our case foreign and military affairs are reserved to Westminster.
This changed with the dissolution of the Union between Sweden and Norway in 1905. With this change in constitution situation the intellectuals of Norway had a chance to put in to practice the idea of Norway as distinctly different and peaceful from a warring Europe. Between 1885 and 1890, this national identity had focused on the positive agency of peoples as opposed to the states. If a nation’s actions are engaged in by citizens and civil society it makes not only the country better but the outside world so as well.
This surprisingly self described ‘naive ideal’ was coined by three individuals; Fredrik Bajer, K. P. Arnoldson, joint Nobel Peace Laureates in 1908 and liberal poet Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson. Theirs was the notion of rejecting foreign policy as simple power politics instead talking of the prestige of cooperation and dignity.
Now the Second World War and the subsequent Cold War cooled these high hopes, but Norwegian attention afterwards was turned towards building organisations and peacekeeping missions. The end of the cold war allowed for renewal of the peace dream, and the last two decades have witnessed a very strong Norwegian engagement in a wide number of peace-related issues, but at the same time also continuous Norwegian participation in sharp military operations.
“Most Norwegian efforts in this direction have sprung from previous NGO-contacts leading to more formal engagement, as with the Church Aid in Guatemala and Norwegian People’s Aid in Sudan.”
This has put a strain on the Norwegians sense of themselves as a peace loving and contributing people however there is comfort that this criticism has come from within the political class and civil society. Joining NATO efforts in lusty military campaigns was seen – even now as a violation of the Norwegian soul.
When we consider however, the history of Norwegian policy after the cold War initially it is one of triumphant realisation. The Oslo Accords and other peace initiatives during the early nineties established the country as an honest broker on the international stage. Treated with respect and trusted and with this trust came the political capital to imagine and accomplish plans thought too lofty by other more aggressive actors. Another example would be the attitude of the government to the Tamil Tigers where channels of communication during the conflict were kept open for years allowing for Norway to play a key role in peace negotiations.
The way this was often achieved was by fully integrating NGOs and civil bodies into government strategies and the foreign office. Formal connections would be made as these bodies had been long active in the realm of diplomacy before the state and given freedom to make connections and act as freelance extensions of the government department.
“What makes a peaceful nation? In choosing Norway as an example, we can argued that the Norwegian foreign policy of peace is rooted in a historical conception of Norway and Norwegians as particularly peaceful.”
They would in turn provide vital pieces of information on parties to conflicts or issues that could be roadblocks to peace. Most Norwegian efforts in this direction have sprung from previous NGO-contacts leading to more formal engagement, as with the Church Aid in Guatemala and Norwegian People’s Aid in Sudan.
The same pattern has also been obvious in other varieties of peace policy; during the campaign to ban land mines, where Norway was one of the key players. Not to mention it once again taking the lead in international peace brokering, helping bring the Colombian government and FARC guerrillas to the peace table. This ‘Norwegian Model’ was yet again derived from the ideal that the ethic of foreign policy was rooted in the people and not the state. It was not some high Machiavellian art that the unwashed masses could not understand or should not hope to affect.
If Scotland is to become an international broker for peace and a natural home of treaties then there will have to be development of the civic soul. The idea of peace making and rejection of proactive aggression would have to become synonymous with the idea of what it is to be Scottish. For this clearly has an implication in how the nation sees itself and how it is seen around the world. But we must also centre in our decision making the idea that the well used phrase the ‘international community’ stretches out beyond the Western world.
“This ‘Norwegian Model’ was yet again derived from the ideal that the ethic of foreign policy was rooted in the people and not the state.”
These eyes have a genuinely positive view of Scotland and no other nation formerly an imperial entity has been afforded such a positive luxury. Within the Norwegian tale is also the dangerous temptation of being seduced into militarily campaigns for fear of being regarded as feeble or not part of the club.
Once a nation chooses a bold strategy even as a small one it must keep faith that it can have an effect in a world of big brutish players.