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The role of small states in conflict resolution: the Norwegian experience

Norway has mediated in over 20 conflicts around the world over the last 25 years with varying success.

Ambassador Kamsvåg held a lecture on the Norwegian experience in conflict resolution and peace-building efforts at Jawaharlal Nehru University this week, addressing Masters and PhD students in International Relations and European Studies.

Norway has mediated in a number of conflicts including Israeli-Palestine, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Colombia, the Philippines, Guatemala, Nepal, Afghanistan and Sudan. Some conflicts have been resolved, but others have not. Some efforts have been publicized, but others have not.

Ambassador Kamsvåg stressed the need for secrecy in conflict resolution. Conflicting parties standto lose political support domestically if they engage in dialogue with their enemies. Usually, both sides will be forced to grand standing if followed by the eyes of the media. This is not a constructive starting point for dialogue and compromise which is needed to resolve any conflict.

Norway is often seen as an honest broker without significant interests in the conflicts. While some may see Norwegian involvement as an expression of idealism, it may be argued that it is self-interest driving Norway’s involvement. Arguably, it is in the interest of small states that conflicts are resolved by peaceful means. Holding warring parties to agreed international humanitarian standards, and thus reinforcing the normative framework of a rule-based world order, may prevent aggressors to violate their own sovereignty.

The students at JNU seemed delighted to listen to the seasoned Ambassador speak about the role of small states as there was a very engaged discussion after the presentation . In the end, small states like Norway may play a small part as a facilitator for dialogue, but the support of big power states will remain central to conflict resolution. Furthermore, conflicts may not be resolved or conflicts may arise again after laying dormant. The mediator can only do so much. As Ambassador Kamsvåg emphasized, Norway is not in any way capable of pressuring anybody to do something they do not want to do. Therefore, if the parties involved are not willing to compromise, in conflict they will remain.