Ambassador Gjelstad's speech to the students at the University of Aristotle, Thessaloniki on the 20th of March.


I am grateful and honored for having the opportunity to address you all this evening at this prestigious and highly esteemed Aristotle University of Macedonia. I have been asked to comment on basic components of the Norwegian foreign and security policy, the use of soft power and present some perspectives on the most pressing challenges we all are facing today.

And I have to be clear on this: The current political and security situation we are facing today is more challenging than it has been for a long time. Unpredictability has become the new normal. The world as we has known it seems to change constantly. And cooperation is being put to the test. This new reality is, more than anything else, defining our options, the measures to be taken and the broader policy framework to be developed. This makes decision-making on foreign policy more demanding than ever.  Ideal solutions are the exception rather than the rule. Conflicting considerations must often be weighed up against each other. And on several occasions, we rarely see only good alternatives to choose between. We have to be honest about this.

In terms of shared interests and values, Norway will continue to be closest to the Atlantic, European and Nordic communities. At the same time, we will actively seek to cooperate with new partners and take part in global activities.

But we have to realize: the current unpredictable dynamic of political, economic and military forces makes it essential to maintain a strong basis of values, principles and responsible governance.

This is particularly important at a time when identity politics and populism are convincing many people that the problems they are facing are due to globalization and migration – and that the answer is more protectionism, more nationalism and a barricaded Europe. These undercurrents are challenging democratic values, principles and institutions of constitutional liberalism – the very foundations on which the European Union is built. If we are to lose the vision of a Europa as an open and inclusive continent, we will all loose.

The many contradictions and changes that take place around us, do require a thorough debate on current dilemmas and priorities. I am happy to say that in Norway we have a long-standing consensus in our parliament, the Storting, on the main principles of Norwegian foreign and security policy. And this consensus reflects in more general terms the high level of openness, the inclusive political debate and the fundamental trust we all have in our own institutions. These are valuable strengths in a world of increasing polarization and confrontation. 


  1. Let me start by reflecting a bit on the phenomenon “Soft Power”.

Norways foreign policy is about soft power. There is no way Norway can include hard power or coercive elements unilaterally. Regarding our security policy we are completely dependent on the collective alliance-obligations within NATO, and if targeted sanctions are to be applied, Norway’s position is to act upon the request from the UN Security Council only. I think it is fair to say that the focus of Norwegian policy makers is on achieving influence by building bridges and networks, communicating compelling narratives, promoting international rules and principles and drawing on our resources that can make Norway attractive to others. Norwegians would rather work indirectly by shaping the environment for our own policy goal, than wield power in a more resolute and direct way.

I believe the American political scientist Joseph Nye, who was the first to coin the concept of “soft power”, is right when emphasizing culture, political and social values and a legitimate and constructive foreign policy as the three most important elements for the effective use of this political instrument.  And I am certain that the application of soft power will become even more important for the coming years. As countries work to make sense of a rapidly changing political environment and adjust strategies accordingly, the soft power resources at hand will be a critical part of the foreign policy tools needed in going forward.  And if countries are to become successful in projecting influence and pursuing policy objectives, I believe that Nye’s three elements have to be somewhat expanded or elaborated.

Countries that would like to play a role in international politics and aspire for a place on the central stage, have to develop a holistic framework that can inter-connect areas within their own societal structure that would  cater for global and regional attraction. In this way inspiration, legitimacy and credibility can be built, which would be key assets for opening doors and being listened to.    

To be more concrete, a successful display of soft power would be contingent upon a strong inter-connectivity of a country’s cultural assets; the attractiveness of its economic model, business friendliness and capacity for innovation; the level of its human capital and quality of its educational system; its capacity to develop networks and to contribute to global engagement and development; and least but not last; its commitment to good governance, human rights, democracy and the quality of political institutions.

This is a big deal. However, by setting good examples, inspiring others by our achievements, fostering openness, inclusiveness and prosperity, living up to our principles and values at home and abroad, and safeguarding multilateral institutions –

small and medium sized countries can really make a headway in international politics, become relevant and increase their leverage and influence.


II At this point, please allow me to dwell a bit on the Current International Trends as we are all facing.

Norway ’s security and economic stability are dependent on alliances and cooperation with other countries. Any change in the political, economic and security environment of  the region closest to us, such as the EU, makes therefore a difference.  That is why pressure on the economic, political and social stability in Greece also concerns Norway. The same goes for Russia’s economic and political priorities. And not to forget, change s in the framework for international trade and multilateral cooperation. All these factors will both separately and combined, have immediate and significant consequences for Norway. Please, let me at this point comment briefly on six important trends that we can clearly identify as integral parts of the overall political picture, with a direct impact on Norwegian policy-making.


First, the new assertiveness of Russia. Russia’s annexation of Crimea in the spring 2014 and the de-stabilization of eastern Ukraine have changed the security landscape in Europe. To Norway, this transgression and hard power brutality was a reminder of State security being challenged once again in Europe. As a result, NATO is turning its attention back to collective defence, and expectations of more pro-active EU in the area of security are increasing. In the north, Russia is strengthening its military capabilities and presence. This has implications for Norway.


Second, the long belt of instability south of Europe. This tier of instability on the southern and southeastern periphery of Europe, namely in Northern Africa and the Middle East, has increased to a matter of concern only through the last few years. This destabilization is having a far-reaching and direct consequence for the whole of Europe, also up in the high north of this conctinent. The number of refugees and other migrants is much higher today than was envisaged only a few years ago, and there are strong indications that migratory pressure on Europe will increase further. For the future, we have to prepare ourselves for migrants deciding to come out of rational calculations connected to a variety of reasons: local conflicts, the negative impact from climate change, increasing economic deprivation, systemic discrimination, harassment and persecution as well as other forms of marginalization. These circumstances serve all as push factors, and Europe is for many the Promised Land. We have to acknowledge that.


Third, a decreasing European cohesion is playing out. In Europe we can see that cohesion within and between countries is being challenged. The UK’s decision to leave the EU highlights this. At the same time, the need for European leadership is greater than it has been for a long time. Security threats are moving closer to Europe. Unfortunately, these threats are not felt as strongly on the other side of the Atlantic as on our own continent. We are today observing major changes in US foreign and security policy. This is affecting transatlantic relations. In addition we can also see how deep rooted democratic values and principles have come under pressure in certain parts of Europe, prompting a re-nationalization of politics, and thus leaving behind the specter of a new East-West divide.


Fourth, a significant increase in competing interests and disagreements between major powers is taking hold. If this trend is not being checked, joint efforts to promote international peace and security can easily be undermined. The UN is the world’s most important body for conflict management. However, in certain key areas the members of the UN Security Council are not managing to uphold their responsibilities under the UN Charter. Shifts in the balance of power are undermining support for international norms such as respect for human rights. And increased polarization is making it difficult to develop new international agreements and common solutions.


Fifth, asymmetrical and unconventional means are more often used to project power and influence. We are observing increased activity as regards covert operations, war by proxies, cooperation with non-state actors and not at least cyber-warfare. The vast array of information sources combined with targeted disinformation activities can create uncertainty and concern among the population. This is making crisis management more difficult than it was in the past.

Sixth, the challenge from globalisation. Globalisation is definitely continuing, this trend seems to be irreversible. Its impact our societies is comprehensive and far-reaching. At the same time, forces opposed to globalisation have gained strength. In several countries, political protest parties are competing for power. Several of these are advocating nationalist and inward-looking policies. If coming to power, these forces could pose a significant challenge to our foreign and security policy interests, and make binding international cooperation and free-trade relations more difficult.


The unpredictable nature of our time and the increasingly complex challenges we all are facing, leads me therefore to conclude that

targeted and coordinated efforts of cooperation at the national, at the European and at the international levels seems more important than ever to sustain the equilibrium.


III:       In the following, I will try my best to explain how Norway is responding to the challenges as described, the rational for our policies, and how we, as a small country, can play a constructive role in setting the international agenda.

Let me start with The international legal order.

Norway is strongly dependent on common rules of international behavior and conduct on the global arena. International law is our first line of defense. And Norway will be first in the line to defend it, in principle and in practice. We will stand together with our allies in doing so. We have to promote an understanding of the fact that respect for international law is in the interests of absolutely everyone, large and small country alike. Legal rights have to prevail over might or power, in order to uphold security, peace, stability, predictability and democracy.  

The single most important threat to Norway’s security and territorial integrity is therefore a weakening of the current international legal order and multilateral systems of governance. Maintaining these pillars of peace and stability is a primary objective of Norwegian foreign policy. These pillars are sustaining the very equilibrium we all are benefitting from.

As a maritime and energy producing nation, Norwegian interests are closely linked to protection from international rules, principles and regulations. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea confirms Norway’s rights as a coastal state on the continental shelf and within the 200 mile exclusive economic zone. This provides a comprehensive framework for Norway’s management and exploitation of marine resources. A very large proportion of Norway’s revenues, business and industry, research, and settlement patterns is directly related to the sea economy.  And as Norwegians, we have to acknowledge that a significant part of our own wealth is partly a result of protection from the international legal order and the strong, unequivocal norms this order sets out.

Cooperation within the UN is the very foundation of our rule-based world order. It brings countries together to address challenges in areas such as global security, human rights, development and the environment. The role of UN organizations is indispensable. They seek to build consensus on the way forward towards better, freer and fairer societies. Regrettably, we are seeing increasing polarization, and this is making it more difficult to reach agreement on value-related issues.

Today’s challenges are more complex than they were in 1945, when the UN was founded. But in order to stay relevant, the UN including the Security Council has to expand its capabilities and strengthen its capacity to reach viable agreements. This should be the first line of priority when dealing with global challenges and security issues.

Some countries perceive the existing structures within the UN as mechanisms for sustaining and enhancing the influence of the traditional major powers. We have to take this argument seriously. As many other UN member states, Norway believes that the Security Council needs a fundamental reform. The main goal must be to ensure that it has the necessary effectiveness and legitimacy to address threats to international peace and security, while at the same time reflecting the global balance of power by becoming more representative.

This bring me right to our own continent.


Europe and the EU.

In commenting on Europe and the EU, please let me briefly dwell on four areas of particular importance to us, namely democratic values, migration, economics and security.

Our aim is to see a Europe where rights and freedoms of individuals are respected, democracy is promoted, and intergovernmental cooperation is based on international law. We can see today a Europe where European countries are struggling to maintain cohesion at the national and European level. At the same time, there is a great need for European leadership.

NATO, the EU, the OSCE and the Council of Europe make up the cornerstones of the European security architecture. Norway participates in all these organizations. We support the Council of Europe’s efforts to promote democracy in Europe by ensuring freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and not at least freedom of the press. We collaborate extensively with the OSCE in order to promote good governance and to carry out election observation missions. And we have an extensive and deepened cooperation with the EU, not as a formal member, but as a practical, participating partner. In addition, the other Nordic countries are of particular importance for Norway given our shared values and mutual understanding.

Developments in several European countries in recent years, however, show that we cannot take respect for these values for granted. But as the French President Macron has made clear: in the area of human rights and democracy we cannot accept a two-speed Europe. On this basis, Norway is seeking, both bilaterally and in cooperation with the EU, the OSCE and the Council of Europe to influence governments that are adopting legislative amendments and other measures that are not consistent with the principles of the rule of law.

Migration. Managing migration is another challenge in Europe. The accelerated migration flow is coming towards us from all kind of directions, threating to transform liberal, tolerant Western societies into a construct of identity politics. In the long run, such a dynamic can  -  at its worst -  transform a democracy from an instrument for inclusion into an instrument of exclusion. When dealing with migration, Norway believes that a concerted and unified European cooperation on migration is now essential. This should include common policies on reception, asylum procedures as well as returns. Norway attaches great importance to contributing to a coherent European system making use of a wide range of measures.

The migration crisis in Greece should be looked at from that angle. As I have stated many times before, this crisis is not only a national responsibility for Greece, it is also an over-all European responsibility. And  Greece is bearing the brunt for the rest of Europe. Because of this fact, both the EU and several bilateral European countries have stepped up with adequate and relevant support. However, even more support is required. In this connection, I would like to underline that a continued support to Greece for further strengthening the migration and asylum management capacity, is a priority of the Norwegian fund for Greece, the EEA Grants. I will come back to that funding mechanism later.

It is important to bear in mind, that safeguarding the institution of asylum is a double task. Giving protection to those who really need it, is only one part of the  obligation. In order to preserve the integrity of this institution, it is just as important to readmit nationals not being in need of international protection to the their country of origin. In that case, we must strengthen cooperation with the countries of origin and countries of transit. In this way, migration has to be looked at within a larger, global context.

Let me turn to the economy. Economic strength is essential if we are to safeguard our security and promote our values. And binding cooperation based on common rules is essential for ensuring positive economic development. Under the EEA Agreement, Norway has access to a 'domestic market' of almost half a billion people – the most important market by far for Norwegian goods and services.

To give one example:  more than 170 lorries containing Norwegian seafood freely cross the border into the EU every day. This would not have been possible without the EEA Agreement. Almost 80 % of our total exports go to the EU.

The Agreement also helps to strengthen Norway’s cooperation with other European countries on common, cross-border challenges in areas such as climate change and the environment, research and education, health, consumer issues, and civil protection. In the Government’s view, it is therefore in Norway’s national interest to safeguard the EEA Agreement.

The Government is strongly committed to ensure that the EEA Agreement functions well. Therefore, we implement common rules correctly on time, and promote Norway’s interests by taking part in the development of these rules.

The paradoxical thing is that despite the Norwegian reluctance to become a former member of the EU, there is a strong support for integration with the EU in most of its aspects, including common policies and joint participations.

Through the EEA and Norway Grants, we will help to reduce social and economic disparities within in EU. This is our contribution back. For the new program leading up to 2021, Norway has decided to allocate 2,8 billion euros for 15 countries within the EU, in order to support economic development, good governance, the development of green energy and the empowerment of civil society. When it comes to Greece, I am happy to inform you that our allocation will be doubled and reach almost 120 million euros throughout this new period.

In Greece, our programme will include cooperation with several Greek partners and focus on a number of relevant areas. In addition to migration and asylum management already mentioned, we will support entrepreneurship and innovation with a particular view to assisting the young educated people. We believe it is urgent to develop enabling factors that can give these young professionals a renewed hope and opportunities. Moreover, there will be a strong focus on green energy and water management programs and the Greek civil society organizations.  And not to forget, we will also support the compelling task of digitalizing the Public Administration.


Now Security: The EU’s security policy is highly relevant to Norway, and its relevance will probably increase. This is due to three factors:

First, the increased Norwegian participation in EU defense cooperation. This is becoming more important within the Euro-Atlantic security architecture. It is in Norway’s interests to participate systematically in security and defense policy cooperation in Europe, through the ESDP format.

Second, the EU’s extensive contribution to global security through non-military/ soft power engagement, such as conflict resolution, dialogue and reconciliation initiatives. This kind of approach resembles Norway’s own policy of engagement.

And Third, the strong political and moral support the EU is providing to the global legal order, global governance and multilateral institutions serves as a model for Norway. We have aligned us with this endeavor, because it is  indirectly affecting both regional security as well as international stability.


Let me now turn to NATO.


NATO has been the most important instrument and pillar of Norway’s security policy since World War II. This is still the case, but the global reality in which it operates has changed, and so have the challenges it faces. We can today observe a greater diversity within NATO than before. Because of this, measures that can enhance the cohesion within the Alliance is therefore a top priority for Norway. All members of the Alliance must contribute to this end, and all members must feel that their security are safeguarded properly.

In many ways, Norway is the  NATO in the north. With this comes responsibilities. We have developed an in-depth knowledge of this region through changing times, just as Greece has done within the South-eastern part of Europe. Our two countries have both a geo-strategic location within the alliance that is both unique and useful.

Ever since Norway joined NATO, our policy has been to have no permanent bases for foreign combat forces Norwegian soil. This policy has not prevented an Allied presence on Norwegian territory, in the form of stored equipment or regular exercises. This in order for Allied assistance to be effective should a crisis or armed conflict arise, or in order for the collective security guarantee to be credible.

In the following, I would briefly comment on six core elements of importance to our NATO-policy.

First, Shared political values. It is a priority, as I briefly mentioned, to promote political cohesion within the Alliance with a view to maintaining NATO solidarity and effectiveness. Promoting closer links between NATO and national defence headquarters is in this regard is key.

Second, Core tasks. Norway will play its part in ensuring that NATO is able to perform all three of its core tasks, namely collective defence, crisis management and cooperative security. Promoting increased cooperation between NATO and the EU is in this connection a priority for Norway.

Third, Defence capabilities. In the new Long-term Defense Plan, my Government sets out its intention to substantially strengthen our defense sector. This will also benefit the Alliance. This plan, already endorsed by the Norwegian Parliament, is opening up for an increase in Allied exercises and training in Norway, involving Norwegian forces. The Government will also follow up the decision made at the NATO summit in Wales in 2014 to gradually increase defense spending and to aim to move towards a 2 % spending of GDP within a decade.

Fourth, Operations. The Government will continue to give priority to providing troop contributions to international operations through NATO or in cooperation with our close allies. The NATO framework provides the greatest security for our troops and ensures the highest degree of political control.

Fifth, Partnerships. Norway will seek to ensure continued close cooperation between NATO and its partners. The Government will give priority to partnerships that strengthen the security of the Alliance, in particular our Nordic neighbors Sweden and Finland. In this context, Norway will advocate allocating a larger share of NATO support for partnership tools and crisis prevention efforts in NATO’s neighboring areas.

Sixth, Adaptation. The Government supports efforts to further develop NATO’s role and responsibilities. In order to maintain a strong and united Alliance, we believe it is important that NATO can provide a credible response to security threats its member states are facing. The Government will therefore support efforts to adapt NATO’s three core tasks in line with the changing security environment and increasing unpredictabilities, including in the areas of cyber security and counterterrorism.

Let med now draw your attention to Russia.

Our relations with Russia remain a constant and important element of Norwegian foreign policy. Norway's policy towards Russia has been and will continue to be clear and predictable. As neighbors who share together both a land and sea border, we face many common challenges.

Over the years, we have developed close collaboration in a number of areas, ranging from fisheries management to people-to-people cooperation. That said, Norway's relationship with Russia has always been complex. The substantial and increasing concentration of military forces on the Kola Peninsula is also affecting the situation. And in terms of values and governance practice, I think it fair to say that the distance between Russia and the West has grown.

Russia’s great power ambitions have become clearer since the turn of the millennium. Its rhetoric has become tougher. This has been matched by actions that underline Russia’s desire to control parts of its ‘near abroad’ and play a more prominent role internationally. Russia’s military forces have become more coordinated, flexible and mobile. This has implications for both Norwegian and Allied security.

Russia’s interventions in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 demonstrate that Russia is willing and able to use all the instruments of state power, including military force, to safeguard its interests and project its influence. The use of military force in violation of international law creates uncertainty.

On this issue, Norwegian policy is 100% predictable. We strongly condemn all violations of international law.

 At the same time, we recognize Russia's own security interests in the north. An increase in tensions between our two countries is in no one's interests. In the current situation, our approach is to be predictable and firm, while also showing willingness to cooperate and be open for dialogue.

To sum up, our policy towards Russia is shaped both on extensive cooperation in areas of common interest, but also on expectation that international law and other norms of international cooperation will be respected.


Arctic Region.

In today's turbulent times, it is interesting to observe that the Arctic comes forward as a region of stability. In this region, there is a willingness to engage in international cooperation based on international law. The Arctic Council is the most important arena for discussing common challenges but also opportunities. And this is one of the forums where Russia and Norway often have common interests and cooperate well.

The new agreement to prevent unregulated fishing in the central Arctic Ocean is a good example of the way in which Russia and Norway, together with the other Arctic states, are taking joint responsibility for our shared region.

My last issue to comment of today will be Norway’s global responsibility and contribution to Global Security:  

Through the years, Norway has developed an extensive toolbox with a variety of instruments that can be used to promote stability. This is specifically designed for situations in fragile states.  Development aid, business opportunities, peace and reconciliation diplomacy, various forms of capacity building, and military contributions can all be used. The instruments chosen and the way they are combined will vary from case to case.

Stabilization is a comprehensive process that involves building mutual trust between the authorities and the population, and promoting better governance and long-term development. Norway’s stabilization efforts are broad in scope, but is generally used to strengthen local, sociatal structures.

One such measure to create and buttress stabilization is conflict prevention and peace and reconciliation diplomacy.

Conflicts can only be resolved through political solutions. Norway, with its resources and experience of peace and reconciliation diplomacy, is well placed to play a role in this area. This engagement is in practice a text-book on effective soft-power application for a transformative change. In this connection, I would draw the attention to three elements:

To make a difference, you have to become involved at an early stage of the process. An early involvement can significantly reduce financial and humanitarian costs. Second, you have to recognize the need for a long-term approach, and for relevant networks that include all affected parties. You really have to be in it for the long haul. And finally, you have to be willing to use significant aid funds to support peace processes.

Every Norwegian government, irrespective of party composition, has taken an active supportive role in this regard. And this consensus policy puts Norway in a particularly good position to contribute and gain international relevance.

 I would also like to underline that women’s participation is in particular vital for ensuring the credibility of peace processes and for promoting an adequate  level of ownership.

Last, but not least, Norway is also participating extensively in peace-keeping operations across the globe. We have seen Norwegian contribution to UN operations in the Middle East (UNTSO, UNIFIL and TIPH) and Afghanistan (UNAMA), Liberia (UNMIL) and Sudan (UNMISS and UNAMID), and in Chad (MINURCAT).

We are supporting the UN in its efforts to develop the concept of integrated operations, based on political, military, humanitarian and development-related assistance measures.


Conclusive remark:

I began this address by saying that the current political and security situation is more challenging than it has been for a long time, and that the world is full of contrasts and contradictions. We should have no illusions: the gravity of today's foreign policy situation demands a great deal of us.

Within the sort term perspective, I believe we should all be alerted and prepared for more instability and less predictability.

At the same time, we should continue to believe that we can reverse negative developments, alleviate human suffering and resolve intractable conflicts. Positive trends often seem to go unobserved, not receiving the attention they really deserve.

By developing a responsible and forward-looking foreign policy based on core values and principles, and an intelligent application of the soft-power instrument, we will in the best possible way safeguard our own country and citizens, and at the same time push the world in the right direction.

Thank you for your patience, thank for your attention.