Nato changes boss, not its hard line

Rather than a free and visionary spirit, Stoltenberg is a team manager, who does what needs to be done.

The September 4-5 Nato summit in Wales confirmed former Norwegian Social Democrat prime minister Jens Stoltenberg as the new secretary general of the organisation and, on Oct. 1, he will take over from Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who was the Danish prime minister before coming to the Nato post in 2009.

We live in a period of dire need for reduced temperature in international affairs, but Stoltenberg was probably not chosen through a wish for a person who could innovate, rethink and reform the military alliance. It is much more likely that there was a desire for a loyal implementer of the policies that the Nato may decide upon.

 Rather than a free and visionary spirit, Stoltenberg is a team manager, who does what needs to be done. I am afraid the new secretary general will set out with efficiency to realise the expansive, aggressive and confrontational policies that were chosen as the Nato line in the main item on the agenda of the Wales summit – the relations with Russia over Ukraine.

The new Nato secretary general, my fellow countryman, is an economist by education and, except for a period in Norway´s central Bureau of Statistics, has lived his life in politics. As a politician, he never had foreign and military policies as his speciality.

In his years as prime minister (2000-20001 and 2005-2013), he probably did not have to concern himself much with international affairs. In these matters he could lean confidently on a very seasoned foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Store, who has now succeeded him as the new leader of the Labour Party and candidate for prime minister in 2017.

Bombing of Libya

Stoltenberg’s eligibility for the Nato post may have been helped by the fact that, in 2011, Norway took the most offensive tasks in the bombing of Libya while he was prime minister. The engagement followed a strong personal initiative in having Norway participate. Indeed, Stoltenberg’s hurry was so pronounced that the decision to deploy early and send Norwegian F16 fighters to the bombing campaign was, in the view of critics, taken in breach of the constitutional requirement of a proper decision in Parliament.

Stoltenberg only made a series of phone calls to party leaders, where he was given the green light. ‘A war decided by cell phones,’ say the critics of Norway’s warfare that went far beyond and had little to do with the UN mandate to protect the civilian population.

A request to have Stoltenberg, along with two cabinet members and the chief of staff, investigated for the illegal warfare is on the table in the Norwegian parliament. Still, up to now, the prospect of prosecution is unlikely to have cost Stoltenberg many sleepless nights. This is due to the lack of disagreement on foreign policy in Norway. The broad consensus on defence and security politics is strong enough to guarantee that all challenges to the historically and currently very broad political consensus on the relationship with Nato and the United States are bound to fail. 

There is, however, a chance that Norway's war crimes in the bombing of Libya may be taken to the International Criminal Court in The Hague if there is no prosecution in Norway. It is surprising to see a Norwegian follow a Dane as the Nato secretary general. The choice of Stoltenberg may have an even wider bearing on the Nordic countries, where two countries – Finland and Sweden – have traditionally been neutral, but where for years there have been efforts to draw them into membership in Nato.

It has been revealed that, during the Cold War, Sweden secretly cooperated much more with Nato than was publicly known, and in later years the ties have broadened and have been more open. Sweden has provided Nato with vast areas in its sparsely populated North as training ground for air warfare.

During his eight years as prime minister, Stoltenberg, now 55, made Norway change its military policy from a focus on national defence to making 'deployment forces' available for Nato´s international operations. In this period, the country saw a pronounced militarisation of its mentality and culture. This is an alarming development.

Not only has Norway been involved in wars abroad but at home there have been numerous big PR ads for its forces in newspapers and propaganda trailers in cinemas. Newspapers have distributed 60-page supplements in which the Norwegian military glorifies itself.

 Most likely anyone who may still hope or dream that Nato will dissolve and leave a less violent world will be disappointed. The points stressed in a NATO media release in June tell a lot about alliance policy and what is liked about Stoltenberg. Rather than finding someone to wind up Nato, the alliance is more likely to have enlisted Stoltenberg to improve the chances for growth by recruiting two missing Nordic countries as new members. 

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