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Norway joins Arf!

Drop the EU and US debate. Norway should ally with Asia instead.


After a visit to Toronto this summer, British author Timothy Garton Ash wrote a controversial article in The Guardian: He suggested that the EU invite Canada to join the European Union! The reason is that hardly any country in the world – yes, hardly any of the future Eastern European member states – would meet EU requirements better than the rich, tolerant and peaceful country in North America.

Ash's proposal may seem somewhat resilient and forward-looking, but if nothing else it brought hundreds of engaged reader posts.

Transferred to Norwegian conditions: Where should overseas Norway seek new economic and cultural allies in the 21. century? Initially, EU membership is irrelevant: after more than 40 years of debate and two referendums, the Norwegian opposition is still strongly opposed to joining a European Union. And in the event that Norway is able to gather an application, in fact even the EU is liable to play other violin on a worldwide basis with today's economic development.

But where should internationally-oriented Norwegians turn, as an alternative to the narrow yes or no to the EU debate, now that the WTO negotiations between broke down in July?

In the best Ash spirit, the answer in the long run should be obvious: ASEAN, which stands for the Association of Southeast Nations. Today, the economic-political cooperation has Asean 10 core member countries, with Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand as original drivers. But Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India, China and South Korea have now become so-called dialogue partners. And thus, large parts of the world's population are covered, not to mention an ever-increasing share of the world economy.

Norway is already heavily influenced by Asean-utilized countries: Thailand is Norway's premier overseas resort. Australia is the most popular university in Norway. India and Punjab are home to Norway's most important immigrant group. China has passed the United States as Norway's largest importing country outside of northern Europe. While Japan produces Norwegians' favorite cars and TVs, while also providing Playstation, Pokemon, manga and other expressions of the most important children's and youth culture of today.

The only thing that is lacking in practice for Norway is a formal connection to the most important countries in the 21st century. For such purposes, Norway could in the first instance join the security cooperation ARF – the 25 countries in ASEAN's regional forum. Canada, for example, is also participating, which at the 13th conference of ASEAN in Malaysia on 28 July signed an anti-terrorism agreement with the organization.

So far, Norway has chosen to stand outside, but it probably loses Norway more than what seems to be the most important countries in the 21. century.

It may seem unlikely that official Norway will start to look more eastward than westward. About as likely as anyone in 1989 had predicted that the unknown Soviet enclave Latvia would soon become a NATO and EU member. It's time to think big.

Dag Herbjørnsrud
Dag Herbjørnsrud
Former editor of MODERN TIMES. Now head of the Center for Global and Comparative History of Ideas.

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