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How to trick a state

Ola Tunander
Ola Tunander
Tunander is Professor Emeritus of PRIO. See also wikipedia, at PRIO: , as well as a bibliography on Waterstone
Norway's foreign policy after year 2000 has been characterized by a lot of ignorance. This probably also applies to the intervention in Libya.


In Ny Tid no. 22, Per Ottestad writes an answer to my article in Ny Tid no. 20 on «Norway's responsibility for the disaster in the Mediterranean». Per Ottestad argues that the Norwegian government must have understood that NATO's air bombing of Libya in March 2011 was about a regime change and not about a defense of civilian Libyans. Ottestad writes that before 2011 it was well known that the United States would get rid of Muammar Gaddafi, and that there are documents and key people who support this version. France, Britain and the United States had wanted regime change for decades, and Gaddafi had been assassinated many times. The United States' former head of NATO's forces in Europe, Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) General Wesley Clark, was very clear on this point. The governments of Libya, Iraq, Iran and Syria were to be "taken out" – and the Norwegian government could not have been unaware of this, Ottestad writes.

Avoid leakage. Wesley Clark quotes Deputy Foreign Minister Paul Wolfowitz, who has said that we have 5-10 years to "take out" the Middle East regimes before a new superpower can challenge us. The regimes he wanted the US to "take out" were primarily the oil-rich countries of Iraq, Sudan, Libya and Iran (and Lebanon and Syria, to enable an attack on Iran). Libya had the largest oil reserves in Africa, and Ottestad is right in its description of US interests. This policy is also described in a Draft Defense Planning Guidance of 1992 (see National Security Archive). Gaddafi's project for Africa with its own army and currency was also a problem for the United States Africa Command. But these were hardly the problems the Norwegian government was concerned about.

Of course, I do not know what the whole truth is, but I do know that a Norwegian threat described a real threat to civilians in Benghazi – something we now know was completely wrong – and this information could hardly have come from anyone other than US and British intelligence . I know people in political leadership apparently believed in this false information. I know that Americans and Britons generally did not convey sensitive information to Allied governments, and Norway was no exception. For example: In the United States, very secret documents were labeled "NOFORN" ("not for foreigners") to prevent American activity from becoming known among allies. In the case of very sensitive documents, Americans within NATO were denied access, precisely to prevent leakage to allies. The real reason for the war in Libya should not have been communicated to Norway. Of course, one can argue, as Ottestad does, that essential information was already in the public eye – but the time immediately before a war is characterized by massive propaganda, and the information that shows the real reason for the air bombing of Libya is disappearing in the media noise.

Benghazi. This is why I quoted in my previous article General Vigleik Eide (former Norwegian Defense Commander and Head of NATO's Military Committee in the early 90's). He said that he, as head of the Military Committee, did not receive any delicate information. He was informed by Norwegian intelligence, but Americans and British told him nothing. It has subsequently emerged that Americans and the British have used NATO as an instrument to legitimize regime change in some countries. It was easy for them to gain support by launching an attack on a NATO operation to defend civilians from state violence. In the case of Libya, it was said that hundreds of thousands of people could be killed – one would get a new Rwanda if nothing was done. But there was, as I wrote in my previous article, no threat to Benghazi. There were only 14 tanks on the way to the east, and these could only block the way for the rebels' attempts to take the oil installations west of Benghazi. They did not have the capacity to enter Benghazi with 650 inhabitants. What was said by the Benghazi elite about a future genocide was pure lies. Now we have destroyed a state with a disaster as a result.

Professional. To understand how a state like Norway can be seduced, we must be aware of the difference in competence. US and British diplomats and military are often very well-trained, and when a Norwegian minister meets his American counterpart, he has not so much to say. The Americans also say only what the Norwegians want to hear. General Eide's predecessor as Chief of Defense, General Fredrik Bull-Hansen, claimed that he had a very good relationship with his American counterpart, Admiral William Crowe (who was US Secretary of Defense in the period 1985-89). But when I told Fredrik Bull-Hansen about Admiral Crowe's memoirs and his close ties to Deputy Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, he was upset. For Bull-Hansen, based on the multinational force at Sinai, Perle was the least trusted American. But Crowe and other Americans have their archives. They know exactly what they can say to Fredrik Bull-Hansen and others. Americans are charming, but they are also professional. They only disclose the information that suits their interests. This means that Norwegian ministers, diplomats and generals can be completely fooled.

The time immediately before a war is marked by massive propaganda.

Worldview. There is hardly any journalistic investigation that can compensate for Norway's lack of information. Researchers can often present information afterwards. Sometimes they can also present information in real time, and the intelligence service naturally presents that kind of information to the government – but if false intelligence is provided by allied services, the government is also misinformed. The intelligence may be unwilling to confront a close ally, and one is also unwilling to accept information that does not fit into a given pattern. The same mechanisms apply to journalists and researchers.

Let's look at the background of ISIS as an example: Wesley Clark told CNN that ISIS was originally built with the support of "our friends and allies". If you are going to fight against Hezbollah (and against Syria and Iran), you will not insert an ad to recruit soldiers you like, he said. Muslim fundamentalists – Al Qaeda and ISIS – are recruiting to fight Hezbollah. But the major newspapers and television do not report on these things – perhaps because it does not fit into their notion of what the world looks like.

War Glade. In Norway, there is an idealized picture of the United States. Some diplomats say we should try to find a seat at the US president's table to whisper in his ear. They believe in a value partnership – but Norway is allied to the United States because we are close to another superpower (which we cannot defend ourselves against). The fact that Norway is an ally does not mean that we like US politics. When the United States ambassador to the United States and later Foreign Minister Madeleine Albright said that the sanctions against Iraq with 500 dead children were "worth the price", we will not listen to this. We do not like mass murder, but for Albright, not 000 killed children were serious enough, because at any cost she would change the regime in Iraq. When I sat in an international panel with one of America's best-known academics and security politicians, he said, "We Americans enjoy war. I have been to three wars, and I liked it. ” Important Americans are on a different planet than us, and we do not need to support the US wars to gain American support. The United States will intervene despite Norwegian decisions. What matters is that Northern Norway lies on the Kola Peninsula with its strategic submarines, "the most valuable piece of real estate on earth", to quote the former US Secretary of State John Lehman. Norway does not need to go to war in Libya, Afghanistan or Iraq for support. The United States will come to Norway, regardless of whether Norway will or not. Norway's policy after the year 500 has been characterized by a great deal of ignorance. When Ottestad says that the Norwegian government may not have been so ignorant, I think he is wrong.


Tunander is a research professor at the Institute for Peace Research (PRIO) in Oslo.

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