Norway bombs away

From 'caring' to killing: Norway's new international role.

Helene Guldberg

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Topics Politics

On 24 January 2003, Norwegian fighter pilots fired two laser-guided missiles on the supposedly liberated Afghanistan – the first bombs to be dropped by Norway anywhere since the end of Second World War.

The Norwegian pilots had joined American forces to pound caves in southern Afghanistan, from which the Islamic group Hizb-i-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, has allegedly been taking pot shots at American troops and plotting a war against the interim government in Kabul.

Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik hailed the operation as a success. But questions are being asked in Norway about the legitimacy of attacking Hekmatyar’s men, as there is little evidence that Hizb-i-Islami has connections with al-Qaeda or that it was involved in the 11 September attacks.

And whether the target was ‘legitimate’ or not, serious concern is being voiced about whether Norway should involve itself in military interventions abroad. After 11 September 2001, the Norwegian military was restructured in order to join the ‘war against terror’ (1). But, should Afghanistan descend into a civil war, many argue, Norway may be dragged into more than it bargained for.

Eva Björeng, general secretary of the Norwegian NGO Norsk Folkehjelp, would rather Norway fulfilled its international role by providing healthcare workers around the world rather than taking part in military action. ‘Norway is now involving itself in the “sharp end” of war; we don’t want this’, she says. ‘We want Norway to do peace work.’ Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Red Cross also argues that Norway is of more use as a key humanitarian actor than a marginal military player.

But as Brendan O’Neill has shown elsewhere on spiked, there is no contradiction between humanitarian interventions – which have allowed Norway, along with other Scandinavian states and Ireland, to develop a distinct ‘humanitarian’ role in international affairs – and military aggression (see Iraq: inspecting the situation).

In the 1990s, foreign interventions were increasingly justified in humanitarian terms. From protecting the Marsh Arabs from Saddam’s regime in the Gulf War of 1991, to protecting Somalis from ‘from warlords and poverty’ in Operation Restore Hope in 1993, to protecting the Kosovans from the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in Kosovo conflict of 1999 – foreign interventions have become operations that care as well as kill.

Yet as we have witnessed, there wasn’t much that was humanitarian about such interventions. Thousands died in these conflicts, nations were torn apart, and divisions were created. Norway’s new taste for military action may be depicted as altruistic rather than self-serving, but the motivation behind today’s foreign interventions, and the consequences of them, are no less destructive than in the past.

Some Norwegians may have preferred Norway to carry on its role as the nation that cares for others (while allowing other armies to do the killing around the world). But it seems that even Norway sometimes has to do some of today’s dirty work, presented as a war of Good v Evil.

(1) Norwegian defence status and challenges, Norwegian Atlantic Committee

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