On Tuesday, a small caravan of military vehicles drove past my window, on their way to the center of town a few blocks away. A look at the local newspaper provided the explanation that for a few days this week there would be certain activities here in town connected to Cold Response, the NATO exercise that takes place in Norway every other year at around this time (although it was canceled in 2020 because of COVID) and that this time around involves about 30,000 troops from 27 member countries as well as Sweden and Finland. The exercise, according to NATO’s website, “deals with a fictional scenario where Norway is attacked” and is designed to test the alliance’s “ability to deploy tens of thousands of forces to the High North” by land, sea, and air. Our own little town was apparently chosen as the best place to train security forces — some 200 in all — tasked with protecting the royal family, members of parliament, and other top government functionaries.
Under the circumstances, the sight of those uniforms was a strange comfort — and the explanation of their presence was especially sobering. In recent weeks, I’ve been more aware than usual that Norway has a border with Russia. Yes, that border, some 200 miles long, is way up in the Arctic, 1200 miles away, but still. A few years back Norwegian TV broadcast a series called Occupied, the premise of which was that, in response to a breakup of NATO and a halt to North Sea oil drilling by climate nuts in the Norwegian government, Russia has invaded Norway. It seemed like an unlikely prospect at the time. It still seems unlikely, but a bit less so.
Most Norwegians, especially those who lean right, are patriots — flag-wavers, even, unlike most other Western Europeans — who take their country’s defense very seriously.
In a strange way, Norway is two nations in one. One of them is the “peace nation” celebrated by Norway’s academic, media, and cultural elites. Norway, of course, was the site of the Oslo Accords. Also, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has been awarding the Nobel Peace Prize since 1901, and many of the winners have parroted Norway’s own rhetoric about itself. For example, South Korean president Kim Dae-jung, the 2000 laureate, began his acceptance speech by saying, “Human rights and peace have a sacred ground in Norway.” Famously, some Peace Prize winners have been more deserving than others, with leftists having a big leg-up. Barack Obama won for not being George W. Bush; Donald Trump made more peace than any president in decades, but never stood a chance of winning. Awards to such decidedly non-peaceable characters as Yasser Arafat have caused international mirth and debate.
Norway is also the home of Johan Galtung, now 91, who founded the academic discipline known as “Peace Studies.” Galtung isn’t just some starry-eyed pacifist. He’s something much worse: a bitter enemy of America and the U.K. and a hopeless admirer, in their time, of Stalin and Castro. He was especially fond of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which he found “endlessly liberating” in a way that admirers of Western freedom and individuality, he explained, were simply incapable of understanding. Peace Studies, alas, is made in this evil old codger’s image: if free countries dare to react militarily to tyrants or terrorists, it’s those free countries that are violating the peace.
Because so many Norwegians are fixated on peace — and believe in peace through mutually respectful dialogue — Norway played a major role in the founding of the United Nations. The first UN Secretary-General, Trygve Lie, was Norwegian, and a Norwegian architect, Arnstein Arneberg, was chosen to design the Security Council chamber. To this day, polls show that no people on Earth have more trust and respect for the UN than do Norwegians. From the earliest grades onward, Norwegian schoolchildren are fed propaganda about the UN’s magnificent wonder-workings, and every year UN Day (October 24) is celebrated with sanctimonious TV specials and commemorative events at schools, including parades at which small children gaily wave the UN flag. Also, the Nobel Peace Prize has been repeatedly presented to UN organs — from UNICEF and UNHCR to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Plainly, the enthusiasm of many Norwegians for the idea of Norway as a “peace nation” is rooted in the country’s Lutheran missionary tradition. But coexisting with internationalist-minded, do-gooder Norway, whose adherents can be found mostly on the left, is a Norway whose hard-nosed appreciation for the facts on the ground can be traced all the way back to the Vikings and was reinforced in modern times by the Nazi occupation. Thanks probably to their relatively recent (1905) independence after centuries of control by Denmark and then Sweden, most Norwegians, especially those who lean right, are patriots — flag-wavers, even, unlike most other Western Europeans — who take their country’s defense very seriously. (READ MORE from Bruce Bawer: Is It Cruel to Cancel Russians?)
Hence Norway is every bit as gung-ho about NATO as it is about the UN. It spends 1.6 percent of its gross domestic product on NATO, which is relatively high; but its NATO payment as a percentage of population is even more impressive — lower than the U.S., but higher than Germany, France, and the U.K., almost twice as high as the Netherlands, almost three times as high as Italy, and more than four times higher than Spain. The current secretary-general of NATO is a Norwegian, former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg — perhaps the only socialist politician in Norway to have gone on record as praising Donald Trump, who, he acknowledged, had made NATO stronger by pressuring members to pay up.
And now, while a war rages in Ukraine, troops from across the Western world are yet again training here in the self-proclaimed “peace nation” of Norway. It may seem unlikely that Vladimir Putin will decide to invade a NATO member, especially a country of long standing that was never a part of the USSR or the Warsaw Pact; given, moreover, just how much of a run the Ukrainians, fighting alone, have given the Russians for their money, the idea of Putin following up on the present debacle by taking on the entire NATO alliance sounds like sheer madness. But NATO, of course, can’t allow such calculations to keep it from seeing to its up-to-the-minute readiness. And besides, “sheer madness” may turn out to be exactly what we’re up against.