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Small but powerful, Norway holds the concept sacred

By Kai Sandvig, Business Editor
Posted June 17, 2007

    Knut Vollebaek, Ambassador of Norway to the US

    Shrouded in the event of King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng’s death on Thursday, May 24, Norway’s Ambassador to the United States, Knut Vollebaek, attended the dinner that evening and gave a presentation Friday at The World Trade Center on how small nations, such as Norway, hold global influence.  

    On Thursday, Vollebaek attended a Nordic heritage dinner at the UW Center for Horticulture where Maleng went into cardiac arrest and died. Maleng was 68. 

    On Friday, Vollebaek appeared for his scheduled luncheon on the waterfront in Seattle and gave his presentation, “When size is power, is there a role for small countries?” He began his speech with informal chit-chat that provided an insight to how important the Pacific Northwest is to a Scandinavian country such as Norway.  

    “Norwegians are clearly visible in the state of Washington,” Vollebaek said, “This is part of my constituency.”  

    Vollebaek mentioned he primarily travels to regions in the United States that hold large populations of Norwegian descendants. He listed a few upper Midwest states besides Washington State.   

Diplomacy and Oil 

    The Norwegian Government recently devised and implemented a two-year plan to address their role in globalization. Vollebaek outlined this two-year plan by discussing Norway’s role in energy, development and international diplomacy. He said Norway hopes to play a constructive role in global development and believes this effort will create “more progress into the fight against world poverty.” 

    Vollebaek also addressed Norwegian military obligations in Afghanistan and the need for new means of diplomacy. He said Norway is “heavily involved in Afghanistan with 700 soldiers,” and that military operations need to involve humanitarian support.  

    “Military needs are necessary but not always sufficient,” Vollebaek said.  

    To illustrate the success diplomacy can bring, Vollebaek highlighted Norway’s role in the 1993 Oslo Accords which brought Israeli and Palestinian leaders together to sign a truce. Current Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, and former Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, signed the agreement in Washington D.C.; however, most of the substantial face-to-face negotiations occurred in the Norwegian capital.   

    Vollebaek extolled the U.S. as representing a “new kind of bargaining power” within international diplomacy, but also gave the audience a caveat that if the Middle East further deteriorates into violence without action “too late means too many injuries and too many deaths.”  

    Vollebaek discussed how Norway has “normalized” contact with Palestinian officials and is “ready to listen to all groups.” He said Palestine must become self-reliant and must create a “functioning economy and not simply rely on foreign aid.” 

    According to Vollebaek, Norway allots one percent of its GDP to foreign aid obligations. The amount most certainly comes from oil revenue provided by Norway’s vast fields. He said Norway desires to be a predictable and reliable supplier of oil, “using this power can be a double-edged sword.” 

    The country’s oil exports flow into Europe’s mainland, with most going into France, Germany, and the U.K. However, Vollebaek said majority control of the world’s energy sources rests in the hands of unstable governments. This does not bode well for the U.S. as “no one consumes as much as the U.S.” 

EU Membership and Immigration  

    After rejecting European Union membership in 1994, Norway has not voted on membership since.  

    “Norwegians felt insecure about EU membership,” Vollebaek said regarding the last referendum vote.  

    According to Vollebaek, “we are a rich country and people don’t feel the need to be apart of the EU.” This is a perfect characterization of the majority sentiment in Norway, with extensive government programs and cradle-to-grave benefits, the country may not hold another vote until the government is positive the referendum would pass. But as Norway’s population grows more diverse, minority segments of the population who view Europe as a whole may apply pressure to initiate another vote.  

    Many countries around the globe have problems with the influx of new immigrants as their needs match or surpass those of their citizens. Vollebaek mentioned how collapsing states feed into Norway’s growing refugee population, as it has become “a new and challenging scenario.” 

    According to Ambassador Vollebaek, immigration is a bit of problem due to the size of the country, but Norway is trying to integrate new citizens in an effective way. He discussed the issue of guest workers not feeling the need to return home after their tasks are completed, and how it is an issue that both the guest workers and the Norwegian Government must address together.  

    The Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce alongside the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Trade Development Alliance of Seattle, WA and the Washington Council of International Trade arranged for Vollebaek’s visit to Seattle. 

    In the subsequent few days, look for further discussions with Norwegian officials, particularly concerning Norway’s oil supply and the United States’ increasing demands for the energy source.

You can reach Kai Sandvig at

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