All hindsight notwithstanding – the Russian one invasionone came bardus on the vast majority of us. In terms of peace policy, we were also poorly prepared for what was to come. Although the Russian build-up of forces against Ukraine had been going on for over a year, and the danger of war was thus well covered in the Norwegian media, there was very little debate about peace policy alternatives in the face of the coming aggression. Questions about possibilities for non-violent defence, detente as conflict prevention, the need for civil peacebuilding and the need for a closer connection to Russia through people to people cooperation, was simply not the topic. Rather, the debate had revolved around how we should traditionally meet military power with more military power.
The question of whether the Ukrainians should be armed with Norwegian weapons became a hot topic in all political parties from the first day of the war. With astonishing speed, the very foundation of Norwegian export control – the principle that Norway shall not export weapons to countries at war or where war threatens – was lifted.
With Ukrainethe war got too NATO a new spring. The organization had been in an identity crisis for a long time. For the past two decades, the alliance had mainly waged wars of aggression and occupation in foreign regions, and it was no longer entirely obvious that this was primarily a defense pact. It was also not clear that we would get the most defense for the money through this alliance. NATO therefore had to justify its own existence. The organization had to reinvent itself, and prove that the alliance was the right instrument to bet on in future security policy. Therefore, an extensive "reflection process" was initiated in NATO in 2019. The work led to a vision for "NATO 2030", and from 2021 the development of a new strategic concept for the alliance began. With Russia's attack on Ukraine, it became much easier for NATO to define its role.
Friend of peace or Putinist?
As you know, there is always more than one side in any conflict. In the spring of 2022, many people in the country forgot exactly that. The demonization of both the Russian authorities and the Russian people was for a period almost free in the public discourse. Suspicion and mistrust of most things that came from Russia became the modus operandi, especially in Norwegian newspaper editorials. Previously recognized Russian state interests could no longer be recognized. Could the Russian state even have legitimate interests in the conflict with Ukraine, or in the conflict with Vest by the way? Few wished to have this side of the matter presented at this time. In the heat of battle, the unity of the kingdom was more important. In the face of Russian aggression, we Norwegians first and foremost had to stick together with our allies. Whether this would make Norway a co-belligerent in Ukraine, or bring us into a proxy war against the Russians, seemed less important.
This is how Norway's also fell silent peace policye votes quite quickly, then with a few honorable exceptions. Within the peace movement, people feared being considered Putin's accomplices if they were so bold as to criticize the West militarism. Several peace activistare then also branded as useful idiots for an imperialist Russia. The leading peace organizations therefore chose to keep their heads low in the initial phase of the war. One of the major debates during this time revolved around how to strengthen the Norwegian military as a result of our neighborhood with the Russians. When a united political elite called for an increased defense budget, the debate really only revolved around how much more Norway should now invest in which types of military power. Here the peace movement was conspicuous by its absence. An honorable exception was Ingeborg Breines, a veteran of the peace movement, who on private initiative took the bull by the horns. In the Dagsnytt 18 studio, she argued against an increase in the country's defense spending in lonely majesty. But mostly it was quiet from that end. So quiet that one of the country's leading political editors declared the peace movement dead.
The peace flock we lost with the civil workers is now deeply missed
We humans depend on social communities to feel good. We are herd animals for better or for worse. Compared to all other animals, we are simply hypersocial. Our formation is conditioned by our relationships, and social communities are decisive for our formation of meaning. The civil service in its time laid the foundation for important peace policy opinion formation. With institutions such as the magazine Balder, and the Civil Servicemen's Trustees' Committee, each year nearly a thousand young men took part in meaningful communities, which actively promoted peace politics, and expressed opposition to militarism.
Ten years after the abolition of the civil service, we no longer have our civil worker herd. Society is thus an important community poorer. The consequences have been great for the peace movement. Those of us who have been active in the last decade have particularly noticed that the recruitment of young men has fallen dramatically. This is because we do not reach out to this target group as we did before, with a presentation of peace organisations, and an introduction to current peace policy.
After ten years, I also mean to see a deeper change in the way we peace activists work, which can also be explained by the reform of conscription; we discuss the ethics of participating in war far more superficially than before. This is because we are less reflective about the personal responsibility for life and death that being a soldier entails. At the time when most men were called up for military service, we also had to make an active choice: do you want to submit to military authority, and thus become an instrument of prevailing military policy, or do you want to refuse this and seek civilian service? This choice produced an amazing number of deep ethical reflections, which almost all young men had to deal with at the age of 17-18.
By forcing individual choices about adherence to military power, society also fostered more reflective citizens. Taking the consequences of one's own attitudes towards killing or being killed became a necessity for the individual. The election produced both the taking of a position and the obligation to live up to one's position.
This requires both free-thinking, ethical reflection and responsibility in action. We who chose the civil service, thereby became far more dedicated to non-violence than would have been the case if we had not been forced to take a stand.
The constant public discussion about the young men should serve their time conscription with or without arms, also contributed to society at large having to deal with what military actually is, and what it means in practice to be a soldier. Society has therefore become duller without the civil service.
Without the civilian workers, the war resistance has also become less visible in society. We no longer meet civilian workers as assistants in kindergartens, as cheap labor for voluntary organizations or as the face of cultural institutions. Provided that civil workerwas a clear expression of anti-militarism in the public eye, anti-militarism as a phenomenon in our time has also weakened with the civilian worker's final graduation. When one less often experiences opposition to rearmament and zeal for war in everyday life, we must also assume that the population's objections to militarism are reduced. With this, it will be far easier to lead the people into our next war.
The Defense Commission of 2021
The Hurdal platform confirms that the government will draw up a broadly composed defense commission which will contribute to the basis for the next long-term plan for Forsvarsector. The Defense Commission shall assess which potential security and defense policy choices and priorities Norway can take to best safeguard Norwegian security in a 10–20 year perspective. The commission must highlight the consequences this should have for the further development of Norway's defence.
This defense commission is composed of seventeen members from political parties. With one exception, they are all employed in the civilian sector, and the group is academically heavy in the area of security policy. What the government particularly wants the commission to look at is how the defense sector should be further developed and organized to safeguard Norwegian security interests. The government is also interested in complex threats, military strategic developments and technological development. But part of the government's order also goes beyond what strictly concerns military power.
In the government's assignment to the defense commission, it is often pointed out that the country faces a complex threat picture, where areas of society outside the defense are also exposed. They want the commission to take a closer look at interaction between the military and civilian sectors within the framework of total defence. In addition, the government asks the commission to look at how sustainabilitygoals, climate and environmentchanges will affect the defense sector and the security policye the situation. Furthermore, the commission is free to identify other issues of relevance. Given that this commission is to contribute to public debate, and is open to input on their website www.forsvarskommissinen.no, the peace movement should also feel called to contribute.
When: the Defense Commission must assess the civilian support of the defense
ability through the entire crisis and conflict spectrum, and what role the Armed Forces should have in supporting civilian authorities in meeting security challenges, it is important that peace-politician voices come to the fore to ensure that this does not end with any form of militarization of society. When the Commission is to contribute to an open and broad public debate, including by bringing new ideas to the fore and discussing these in public, it is important that the peace movement is also on the ball.
In a similar way, the peace movement should feel called to contribute to the Total Preparedness Commission, set up in January 2022, when it must include civil-military cooperation in its assessments. When this commission is to give a principled assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the current preparedness systems, non-violent forms of defense should also be introduced. There is still room here to bring up old peace proposals such as the establishment of social defense and a Norwegian civilian peace force. When the commission is to assess and put forward proposals for how society's overall resources should be arranged to further develop social security and preparedness, such old fads from the peace movement definitely belong in the mix.
Military consumption and arms trade
In 2021, world military spending amounted to 2 billion dollars (SIPRI Yearbook 113). Here, not only the adopted defense budgets are used as a basis, but how much of this was actually set aside for military consumption, and which has actually been used. It is the Stockholm Peace Research Institute, SIPRI, which calculates this sum every year. What is defined here as military consumption is far more than just spending on weapons. This includes all available information on public expenditure on the military, such as salaries, costs for training and exercises, all forms of equipment, expenditure on all military infrastructure, military research and administrative expenditure.
Although the world's military spending thus amounts to over two thousand billion dollars annually, an enormous sum in itself, this is a consumption that only continues to grow. Even the years of the covid pandemic failed to slow down this growth. The world's total value creation decreased by 4,4% in 2020 as a result of the pandemic. Despite this, the world's states chose to spend far more of their resources on the military this year. Some countries, such as Brazil, Chile, Russia and South Korea, did reallocate funds from their defense budgets to fight the pandemic, but these were the exceptions. The vast majority of states chose instead to increase their military spending this year. This was also the case in 2021. This year, the world's military consumption accounted for 2,2% of the world's total production. On average, each state spent 5,9% of its funds on military spending. A relevant question then becomes how much more human security could be ensured by how much reallocation of these funds to development-promoting investments. How many loaves for how many bombs? What development advantages do you get by investing in books rather than tanks?
Over the past 20 years, the value of the world's arms deal grew strongly. Today's security policy situation is tense: it makes a large number of states unsafe, and thus also more willing to pay on the international arms market. The marked growth in the world's military consumption also indicates that volume growth in the arms trade is more likely than the opposite in the time to come. This also concerns the Norwegian arms industry, and the forecast for their export earnings. While Covid-19 put a damper on most of the world's trade in goods, the trade in war materials seems to be an exception. The Norwegian arms exportsone also continued its growth. In Norway, the arms exporters are organized in the Defense and Security Industry Association, which can say that the Norwegian arms industry was not badly affected by the pandemic. This is because the authorities listened to the industry's needs, and quickly implemented measures to mitigate the effects of the crisis on the industry. Therefore, the Norwegian arms industry has also kept production up through the pandemic.
Not only is the global market for warmaterially increasing, but the Western arms exporters are also taking more and more of the cake. Norwegian arms industry, which mostly supplies its war materiel to major US and European weapons systems, benefits from this market distortion. With more dollars from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, which will be used on Western weapons systems in the future, new large contracts will also go to the Norwegian contributors to the rearmament. From a human security perspective, this is also a relevant issue for the planning of the country's future defense sector, where the Norwegian arms industry also has a prominent place.
A civil service for the future?
Finally, I want to air an idea for the defense of the future, which ties part of this book's red threads together: what about reintroducing the civil service in the form of an active peace service?
Today, conscription is only a shadow of what it once was. The military simply does not need all of the country's conscripts. In Norway, conscription is still universal. This means that all women and men are conscription from the age of 19 until the year they turn 44. But only 8 Norwegian women and men are called up for initial military service each year. This amounts to only one third of the total number of those able to serve in each cohort. Conscription is thus no longer perceived as a duty for everyone, but rather as an opportunity for those who want to contribute to the military. As is known, there is also no alternative service to the military. Consequently, conscription does not seem as unifying for the population as before.
One way to contribute to increasing the relevance of conscription for future defense could be to offer the two-thirds of conscripts who are currently not offered service an alternative initial service. A service which gives the conscript the opportunity to contribute civilly and non-violently to the defense of Norway, or to service abroad within the framework of a Norwegian civilian peace force. By making it possible for young people to exercise their civic duty in such a way, not only would the glue in the peace pack be strengthened, but also the cohesiveness of our society as a whole.
Such a peace service could be a mainstay in a civil defense who are able to take care of all those who cannot take care of themselves in a crisis. Such a service would give citizens a unique opportunity to contribute to the country's social security. The service could be organized as a civil authority within the framework of total defence. If the conscript would rather contribute to strengthening human security in the world, service in a civilian peacekeeping force could be offered. Here, the conscript would have to go through recruit school for education in non-violent conflict management and peace theory before the conscript could be sent out on missions to assist in conflicts without weapons. Relevant missions can be to accompany human rights activists and other vulnerable groups in conflict areas.
Should we get a new forward-looking peace service in place in this country, adapted to the security policy challenges of the future, it will be important to learn from the history of conscientious objectors. The service had to be rigged based on both what worked well and what worked poorly with the civil service. The military refusers' need for an alternative to military service must be recognized in this. Historical experience from almost 200 years of military refusal and close to 100 years of civil service in Norway will also contribute positively to this forward-looking work.
This is an extract from the chapter in the book Military refusal. The text is printed with permission from Sandnes Bokforlag AS and the editors behind the book. Alexander Harang sits on MODERN TIMES' editorial board. Harang (born 1976) teaches at the master's program in Mediation and Conflict Analysis at the Åbo Academy in Finland. He is also the founder of International Peace and Understanding, and head of the No to Nuclear Weapons Political Committee. Harang has, among other things, led Norway's Peace League, been part of the leadership of Norway's Peace Council and for fifteen years has represented the Norwegian peace organizations in the International Peace Agency (IPB). He has also been a political adviser to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Storting from 2005 to 2009.