A little war, if appropriate

Peace nation Norway
Forfatter: Kristoffer Egeberg
Forlag: Kagge Forlag (Norge)
The Peace Nation Norway shows how ruthlessly guided our "peace contributions" in the world are.


There are a number of scenes in Peace nation Norway which makes you as a reader sit and moan. Not necessarily of the war situations – although these are very well portrayed, and just as dramatic as one might imagine. Most people realize that this is, after all, a matter of sharp missions, and that the situation has demanded – and characterized – human life. On the contrary – the resentment lies not in the realities of the war, but in the way there, in the way the Norwegian forces have been throwing balls at various (lacking) ambitions, and in how one hand has very often not known what the other has done.

"Consensus" is a smart construction

The concept that often becomes central in discussions about the Norwegian foreign, security and defense policy approach is consensus. It is a smart construction, partly because it is true, built on an understandable ambition that such vital decisions are up to the entire political spectrum of a nation as small as ours, and not just to the government currently sitting.
Most often, the political environment manages to agree on the road ahead. The debate is kept far away from the boiling point, and there is an impression that, after all, it all goes quite undramatically. The fact that consensus is often reached before there has been an open debate about the content gives the whole field a shine of inevitability, that the decisions that are made are the only ones possible, and that they are taken in the most thorough way.

Skiing in Somalia

The problem – as the Peace Nation Norway emphatically shows – is that history is far more chaotic than it is. It all starts in Somalia, with a mission that was already completely under the shadow of the situation in the Balkans and which in the aftermath may well be said to have ended in oblivion. The Somalia mission is most approved of all because there is "room in the budgets". The risk assessment is extremely flawed, and is only carried out after Åge Danielsen's ministry order orders a full stop in the process and wants a new investigation – where it is then found that the risk of loss of life is very high.

When Danielsen is interviewed by the author, he says that he does not remember the Somalia involvement at all (!). It may seem incredible – but the matter is never up in the Storting. Norwegian soldiers go to Mogadishu, a city full of civil war, at 50 degrees plus, equipped with winter equipment, including ski lubrication – believe it who can. "The [Somalia] process is a good example of how random Norwegian military peacekeeping was controlled and how little priority they had within the defense and government," Egeberg writes.

Peacekeeping missions

This is how it continues throughout the 90s to Kosovo – where the Armed Forces Special Command is at the forefront of the largest sharp country operation in NATO's history – and on into the world post September 11, with ever closer ties with the United States. It is a time of change we know well; of NATO's role and Norway's position in the alliance; of the view of peacekeeping missions – from a slightly unpopular side-
gift (but which many Norwegians participate in) to an increasingly centralized and specialized one, and thus also distant from people's consciousness; a defense that must be dealt with in parallel with falling unemployment and subsequent recruitment problems; governments and parliamentary arrears in terms of defense capabilities at home as well as the foreign capabilities of the forces; At times there is considerable uncertainty about what has been approved where, and what Norwegian forces can do.

Short-term response

The 90's is a story of how the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Many of the trends we can look back on today have not necessarily been desirable
bored, created by "views" of defense politicians, but are the results of short-term responses to what's happening around the world. The author refers to politician and career diplomat Knut Vollebæk's contradictory statements 17 years after Bosnia, after we withdrew from Lebanon and also with regard to our efforts in Afghanistan and the Middle East: "Politicians are not proactive, but reactive. Mankind is also impatient. Therefore, there is no pressure on governments today to continue to look after Bosnia, still be present in Kosovo. Now everything is about terror, Iraq, Libya and Syria. This with perseverance and willingness to follow a process long enough is lacking. And then things must go wrong. "

On the soldiers' side

Much is lost in the criticism of the Norwegian defense's turn if one fails to take in Vollebæk's perspective, which the Peace Nation succeeds in supporting. The said consensus of politicians does not necessarily mean that there are hidden agendas to move Norway in a particular direction – even if too many discussions are taken in closed forums. That things do not endure the light of day may as well be about a lack of clear objectives. Why do fundamental failures occur in the communication between political leadership and defense leadership? Are there general reasons why military contributions are so poorly controlled? These questions should be asked, regardless of what Norway believes (should not) provide military support to and what direction one wants Norwegian foreign policy to take.

Norwegian soldiers head to Mogadishu, a city full of armed civil war, at 50 degrees plus, equipped with winter gear, including ski lubrication – believe it, the one who can.

Egeberg's book is compulsory reading for anyone interested in these issues. If the author takes sides, it is first and foremost the soldiers, and as a consequence of this, the people they encounter down on the ground. A natural perspective for an old UN soldier and journalist – but the interesting thing is how the book, as the author himself describes it, could not be told solely from these points of view. The decision-makers at higher levels had to be involved, to also point out the personal responsibility that lies there.

Useful antidote

Over time, the gap between politicians, military leadership and most people has grown. The debate has been lacking, and this has given way to misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Stories like Egebergs are a useful antidote. There is a great need for a more open debate ahead of important decisions, and military efforts should have clearer follow-up, such as modeled on the Afghanistan report. For there, too, the lesson is quite obvious: Things could have been different.
The skin of inevitability is the big opponent in this story. That is how it is in a lot of good storytelling – it finds "fate" in chance, and chance play in what seems predetermined. The visibility of the connections between (non-) discussions at the top of the system and the work that ultimately requires life must be praised, and speaks its clear language: Norwegian soldiers deserve better.

ALSO READ: The mask game in Congo

Subscription NOK 195 quarter