Traditionally, the Storting debate on Norwegian arms exports has primarily been about control over where Norwegian weapons end up. How will Norway ensure that Norwegian-produced weapons are not used against Norwegian interests, in wars we are opposed to, or directly against Norwegian soldiers? This is the reason why the regulations for arms exports are so important, and why the Government's report to the Storting is given great weight. In these statements, foreign ministers from the current as well as previous governments have consistently emphasized that Norway has "one of the world's strictest regulations" for arms exports.
This claim has been an effective response to most proposals to change the policy of the Norwegian arms trade in the last decade. The agreement on having strict regulations can still be an advantage now that export controls are to be tightened. When, for example, the foreign ministers Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide and Jonas Gahr Støre have continuously claimed that the Norwegian regulations are some of the strictest in the world, it is also because this has been the Storting's expectation. Anything else would not be accepted in the political landscape. And with this starting point, political Norway also expects the control regime to have a practice that is in line with the strict regulations.
Export control criteria
Now that the Office of the Auditor General has revealed that practice does not comply with the regulations, the Storting must take strong measures. In previous statements and parliamentary consideration of the reports on Norwegian arms exports, all parties have expected Norway to have one of the world's strictest control regimes for arms exports – in terms of both regulations and practice. This has been a rare unison and long-standing consensus.
Now that the Office of the Auditor General has revealed that practice does not correspond
regulations, the Storting must take strong measures.
But what must be done to put this into practice? As a constructive partner, the Peace Movement can present concrete analyzes of countries Norway should not contribute to arming – and argue why arms exports there are not desirable.
The export control criteria include topics such as the human rights situation in the recipient country; danger of arms race in the region to which it is exported; and the possibility that the munitions will go astray. In addition, the recipient country's purchase of munitions should not reduce its ability to develop by prioritizing its resources too much for the military. This requires specific peace policy perspectives, alternative assessments of risk, and information about the actual problems Norwegian munitions exports create and maintain in the world.
But other voices must also contribute. More involvement is needed from academia, civil society organizations, aid workers and others with special expertise in the conditions in the approximately 70 states Norway currently allows the export of munitions to. Their insights and perspectives will be decisive for the clean-up that is now being forced forward according to the Office of the Auditor General's report.
The clean-up of arms export policy can increase the reputation of those politicians who take the challenge seriously. The alternative is that the whole matter is dozed off, or that the dishes become so politically toxic that no responsible politician can recover from it. If the politicians withdraw in this matter, the challenge will be left to the civil service – and the current moment for tightening arms exports may disappear.
The statement about "one of the world's strictest regulations" must be understood as the Storting's expected standard for a far more restrictive practice for Norwegian exports of munitions – and be better established at an operational level.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is now sending the Storting a new report on Norwegian export control, precisely to review current regulations and associated practices for Norway's arms exports in 2020.