2007 - 2022

Blessed are the Peacemakers – Peace, Identity and The Norwegian Lesson for Scotland

imageAmong 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.

Comments (23)

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  1. C Rober says:

    I dont think that the current siege on the Russian Economy is helping matters , along with Crimea and recently Turkey and its open arms , so we may well see a gearing up of preparedness in military training given history and location – at least internally – so as to prevent it from externally ie from the West that doesnt share the mindset.

    Its all fair to say being/remaining a peace broker , but “the carry a big stick” philosophy should be in the handbook , especially so for such a small nation , and importantly when the head of the UK armed services hints at fear of Russia militarily vs our own … where inward investment has been rising as a result of closed off western banking in Russia – it has been declining in the UK each generation.

    1. MBC says:

      We need to invest in conventional defence, not an expensive white elephant like Trident. What is to be our response to Russian incursions into our air space, or Russian subs tangling with our trawlers? Nuke them?

      1. Bill Ramsay says:

        Re Trident
        But the Russian incursion don’t occur really in our air spaces,
        and the big bad silvery and slow and very old turbo prop bombers biggest fans are actually the RAF and the Russian airforce.
        For the RAF the photies accompany articles by retired Air Vice Marshals punting the next , very expensive , next generation aircraft.

        For the Russian they perpetuate the myth in which our media collude that the Russian Bear rally does have a shiny coat.

        Note also that the Norwegians have been conned into buying over 4 dozen of the new 5th Generation F35’s ( basic model 150m dollars each, obviously the Lockheed Martin sales teams were told about Norways oil fund) instead of a collaboration with the Swedes who are modernising their airforce and have, as a legacy of their Cold War non-alignment a modern defence industry.

        By 2020, if the Russkies try and tangle with “our” F35’s over the Moray Firth ( a concept so ludicrous that when raised by a NO supporting member of the defence select Cttee in the run up to Indyref 1 the expert panel could not keep their faces straight, though the body language was airbrushed out of the MSM reportage ) they would have to get past the Swedes and the Norwegians, who’s air order of battle will almost certainly be bigger than the Russians.

  2. Bill Ramsay says:


    This is a really useful contribution to discourse the future defence and foreign policy of an independent Scotland.

    I would be interested to hear Mr Somynne’s view on NATO membership. I am well aware that it is not a monolithic organisation, for instance, some “warmly welcomed” the deployment of additional rotational forces in the Baltic States and Poland. Others most notably President Holland, at the recent Warsaw summit went out of his way to say that “ NATO will not dictate Europe’s relationship with Russia”. It is well known that France is not alone in this view as Germany foreign policy is terms of its relationship with Russia is first and foremost seen a a bilateral rather than a multilateral issue.

    Moreover, as far as I am aware, Norway has faced significant pressures within the alliance in terms of its weapons procurement program.

    I would be interested in Mr Somynne’s take on the following. Apparently Sweden approach the Norwegian Government with a proposal to modernise their respective air forces . A credible proposal given that Sweden, as a legacy of its Cold War non-alignment, has a significant domestic defence industry.

    This proposal however was ditched. Rather elements within the Norwegian political community were persuaded instead to purchase upwards of four dozen of the 5th generation Lockheed F35 fighters. Given Norway’s sovereign oil fund I can well understand the sales department of Lockheed Martin’s interest moreover the basic model comes in at 150 million dollars per plane. Interestingly the Russian order of battle on that border would be hard pushed to match Norway and the modernizing Sweden’s order of battle in this regard.

    There is also some talk about Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Indeed their respective militaries are always punting this option. Yet as far as I am aware both countries view the PROSPECT rather than the REALITY of NATO membership as a bargaining tool with Russsia.

    1. MBC says:

      I’m sure that Finland and Sweden really do want to join NATO, given the Russian threat under Putin, but what they would have to weigh up is whether that would actually make them more secure or less secure, given Putin’s current bullish mood. After all, it was Ukraine’s wish to join NATO that sparked Russian anxieties and fears and intervention in that country. Finland and Sweden both share land borders with Russia. Norway does too, but joined NATO soon after it was formed after WW2, when Russia was aggressively expanding into eastern Europe, so that was not seen as provocation.

      1. Bill Ramsay says:

        The anonymous MBC may make the declaratory remark that

        “I am sure that Finland and Sweden may wish to join NATO” some evidence would be welcome.

        As far as I am aware, and like MBC I may be wrong, the long held attitude of Finland and Sweden in relation to NATO membership boils down to this.

        1. If one is in both are and if one is out both are.
        2. They use the PROSPECT of NATO membership rather then the REALITY of NATO membership as an open back pocket, if I may put it like that, diplomatic tool in their relations with Russia.

        In terms of the prospect of Ukrainian membership of NATO,
        I recall one NATO analyst ( pro NATO )going on the record that NATO fears that the moment they accede to Ukrainian membership , Ukraine slaps down an Article 5 note on the table at the Mons HQ of NATO so accession to NATO wont happen any time soon, witness Hollande’s remarks at the Warsaw summit ( see my reply to MBC’s other contribution).

        1. Bill Ramsay says:

          David Sangsters contribution.

  3. Angus MacCuish says:

    It’s fair to say that an unwritten post war policy of Norwegian and other Scandinavian countries has been to treat and educate their citizens to a standard that should they be attacked the average citizen would be knowledgeable, fit, willing and able to a contribution in their county’s defence.

    It’s not just Norway’s far sighted-ness regards it’s oil fund that places them head and shoulders above our westminster clown elite, it’s their over all philosophy to the betterment of life, people and country.

    Could you imagine the bedroom tax being implemented in Norway?

  4. Crubag says:

    I think NATO is the biggest single item in Norwegian foreign policy, which matches what would likely be Scotland’s approach. (The political elite reportedly also favour union with the European Union – but have been stymied by the people. You could see something similar happening here if it was ever put to the vote.)

    Norway has had dalliances with “peacemaking” – Sri Lanka, until the Sri Lankans lost patience and shoved them aside, eliminating the Tamil Tigers (the Lankan model is now drawn on by others, including Russia), and in Palestine (the PLO is now in eclipse) – but that depends on having surplus budget, and Norway like other countries in the region has been considering redirecting foreign aid to assist with the resettlement of immigrants.

    1. Haideng says:

      There’s insight in this comment. For all Norway’s fine words and loft intentions they haven’t exactly been successful (doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try). It seems muscular liberalism has better outcomes. More’s the pity.

  5. Lawrie says:

    I read a book a couple of years ago which explains the background, intentions and some limitations of the Norwegian model, which might be interesting https://www.bookdepository.com/Understanding-Civil-Military-Interaction-Gunhild-Hoogensen-Gjorv/9781409449669

    I think that Scotland should have a foreign policy based on neutrality, and a governmental humanitarian aid section independent from development assistance.

  6. Wul says:

    “…all aristocratic privileges were abolished in 1821 and this meant a native aristocratic class with expansionist ambitions had no way of monopolising foreign policy.”

    It’s amazing that we still put up with the idea of Lords, Dukes, Earls and suchlike. People made from the same stuff as us, who are granted privilege over their fellow citizens. Really, WTF are we doing running our country like this?

    It’s like sitting down to a meal and there’s a huge, greedy bastard at the end of the table eating 90% of the food.

    It’s maddening to think what our counrty could become if we were to organise it for the long-term benefit of all of us, rather than a handful of us. What a frustrating waste of time, talent & energy it is working in a country where the same people take out millions of times more than they (or their ancestors) ever put in.

    There are much healthier, happier, saner ways to organise a coutry than our current Union.

  7. john young says:

    NATO like all others are a poodle to the USA,s hawkish neo-cons,they are the real enemy not only to us but the rest of the world.

  8. Mathew says:

    Blessed are the Peacemakers?
    As the fifth largest oil exporter and third largest gas exporter surely we should view Norway as a major source of de-stabilization in the world.

    1. Haideng says:

      Good point. One of the most damaging exponents of mobile investment capital and the undercutting of local development is the fabled Norwegian oil fund even though they pay lip service to being responsible investors/ not investing in tyrannical regimes. The point is that they invest to get a return to protect the fund, not for lofty charitable reasons.

  9. MBC says:

    As someone who is half Norwegian and has been familiar with the country for many years from the inside, this piece seriously misrepresents some aspects of Norwegian defence and foreign policy.

    Norway is a member of NATO and avidly so, as it shares a land border with Russia in the far north. Norwegians are highly sceptical about Russian intentions, cold war or not. Conscription into the military is a rite of passage for all young Norwegian males, who must spend two years in the military in the far north, watching Russian activities.

    Norway IS a social democratic country, and the Labour party has achieved hegemonic power and influence for many decades, including the 1930s, though this is now starting to wane as the economy develops and diversifies and a business elite in Oslo becomes more influential. The pacifism of the Norwegian government in the 1930s in failing to recognise the German threat and adequately prepare the country for it, is widely recognised as a mistake. All the same, Norway did not take a neutral position and attempted to resist the invasion in 1940, firstly by its inadequate forces, then secondly by a resistance movement, much of which operated overseas in Scotland under Churchill’s supervision.

    The melting of the Arctic ice and renewed Russian and Chinese interest in the Arctic area and North Atlantic ensure that Norway’s involvement in NATO will continue. Since Scotland is similarly affected by opportunities and risks in the Arctic, the security of our oil installations for one thing, she would be advised to do the same.

    1. Hi there,

      I do not think for a second that Norway is a perfect example, hence why I advise caution when looking at what has motivated Norway’s path. I think that they have made serious mistakes in their foreign policy conduct over the past 50 years including many of the points you have made. My point was not to say Norway is perfection but rather holds an example of both what can be done and what not to do. Also I think a lot of discussions on Norway and policy at least should be seen through lens of what we have now and how British policy is made and acted upon.

      I additionally believe that Norway’s attitude to nations outside Europe is far better than that of other European nations.

      Thank you for commenting.

      1. MBC says:

        What ‘serious mistakes’ has Norway made? Joining NATO, the most successful military alliance ever? Contrary to certain opinion, being a NATO member does not oblige you to fight foreign wars in the Middle East you don’t agree with, there are other forms of assistance. I can assure you that Norway is in no way disinclined to leave NATO. NATO membership is fundamental to their defence policy.

        1. Haideng says:

          The problem with the position the Editor states – that Scotland could follow it’s own course as a peace broker – is that foreign policy, especially for smaller countries is dictated by the actions of others. Scotland independent or not, just like Norway and especially Sweden now with Russian antagonism/ Maskirovka (destablising states internally through deception) will have no choice but to paly the Real Politik game also. And so we should in a dangerous and unstable transitional period in history. If increased peace and security is what is sought after, the hard and blunt facts of the matter are that no two liberal democracies have ever gone to war against each other – although there has been much interference and manipulation. Liberal interventionism is a tricky path to follow – see the mess Blair made, after the successes of Kosovo and Sierra Leone + others in tacit support, when he thought he could temper the neo con hawkishness of the Republicans who had more economic and US centric ambitions for Iraq. But this doesn’t mean Liberal interventionism is not a worthy pursuit if done through international law/ the UN – see Rewanda and the failure of the international community, especially France and Belgium.

          And here in lies the problem of the Norwegian position. It is used very often, not a means to secure peace, but as a diplomatic smoke screen by those who have no intention what so ever of pursuing peace. It puts lipstick on pigs who can then say as it all fails, as they simultaneously pursue more direct coercive means…look we tried are trying peace talks etc… See Sri Lanka.

          1. Haideng says:

            Would be interested to here the Editor’s/ authors view on Liberal interventionism (was an interesting and well considered and thought provoking article addressing very difficult, complicated and complex questions). Personally I don’t really know where I stand. Kosovo and Sierra Leone were clearly the right thing to do, as is French intervention in Mali, but Iraq, Libya? And then the failure to not act in Syria? Should we just play the moral coward and sit it all out, putting on a nice spread for despots? Perhaps the best, most heartening negotiated peace has been the Iran nuclear deal.


            good doc.

  10. David Sangster says:

    Excuse me, but when exactly did “The Baltics” become “our friends”? I’d suggest it was when Angus Robertson managed to have overturned the SNP’s altogether sensible policy of non-membership of NATO. So now we are inevitably aligned with the sabre-rattling Americans. Robertson’s “nuanced” approach will be treated with the contempt it deserves by the “big brutish players”. We should have nothing to do with the Baltics or the Caucasus or anywhere else that is none of our business.

    1. Bill Ramsay says:

      Interesting contribution by David Sangster,
      A prop the “nuanced approach ” that is in the article that he references.

      1. The initial pro NATO vote at the SNP Conference was won by only 15 votes.
      2. In as speech to the Brookings Institution by the then then FM ( on line worth a watch for the interested) on 8 April 2013, in recognition of the internal realpolitik of the party said on a question of NATO ” I can take it or leave it”
      3. In response to the new rotational troop deployment in the Balitic’s President Hollande, at the NATO Warsaw summit said ” NATO will not dictate Europe’s relationship with Russia”.
      4 Meanwhile the SNP defence team take a more , hardline? call it what you will approach to Russia
      A. Looks forward to Finland and Sweden joining NATO ( see my response to MBC)
      B. “Warmly welcomes” the troop deployment that the French and indeed the Germans just about thole.
      C. Bemoan the reduction in forces protecting the Falklands.
      Not quote the , in my view, more measured approach taken by the Ex FM

  11. Gail Gyi says:

    I read the article, listened to the podcast and perused the comments and this is what I have deduced and decanted below.
    Norway are a peace loving nation who ideally prefer diplomatic solutions to conflict and wish to be viewed by the rest of the World as a purveyor of good karma using their soft power of persuasion to influence the best outcomes, not only by sharing their knowledge, but by embracing and learning even from less developed nations than their own, in the belief that each nation on earth has something to offer in their uniqueness. But just incase that ever backfires “we’ll have four dozen of the 5th generation Lockheed F35 fighters.” (earlier commentor Bill Ramsay) with chips to takeaway !
    Yes Norway is a country we could aspire to be like, however we would have to accept a slight personality disorder in that we keep up our NATO membership and have s solid gold backup plan to deter warring neighbours!

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