*This was a research paper I co-wrote last semester. I’m excluding my partner’s name for privacy reasons, but I certainly do not wish to minimize her contributions, which were immense.

Sam Seitz

Norway has garnered a global reputation in recent decades for its extensive role in peacemaking efforts. Mediation has become a central element of Norway’s foreign policy, and Norwegian diplomats have helped broker negotiations in conflicts throughout the world, including in the Middle East, Guatemala, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. In this paper, we examine how and why Norway became the “Viking Peacemaker” by examining the country’s peacemaking evolution as well as two detailed studies of Norway’s efforts during the Oslo I Accord and the Sri Lankan Civil War. By combining a more general discussion of the country’s peacemaking tradition with an examination of specific cases of Norwegian mediation, we explain Norway’s approach to peacemaking and, beyond that, how Norway leverages its peacemaking activities to its advantage on the international stage.


Norway is relatively new to the international system, having become a sovereign country only in 1905.[1] This fact has greatly enhanced Norwegians’ appeal as mediators by sparing them the colonial baggage of so many of their European peers. Norwegian diplomats have been able to credibly argue that they have neither colonial interests in the conflicts they mediate nor a historical record of forcing themselves upon other states like colonizers. Instead, Norwegian peacemaking focuses on neutrally arbitrating among all parties involved. Norway also profits from its location on the periphery of Europe. Tucked into the northwest corner of Scandinavia, Norway is a relatively secure country – though Russia continues to engender concern in Oslo – that is physically isolated from much of the world.[2] This has bolstered Norway’s image as an honest broker, as geographical separation from the regions in which it conducts mediations enhances its perception as a disinterested outside actor.

Norway is not only fortunate by virtue of its geographic location and anodyne history, however, but also by its resource wealth. On August 21, 1969, the Norwegians discovered massive oil deposits within their exclusive economic zone in the North Sea.[3] These deposits have provided an immense economic boon, increasing Norway’s fiscal might and having salutary effects for Norwegian peacemaking efforts. It is important to emphasize that this wealth did not provide an impetus for peacemaking. However, it supplies the Norwegian state with the means to conduct peace operations. In this sense, Norway’s oil wealth serves as a necessary, though insufficient, component of its peacemaking capacity.

Finally, it is important to consider the development of Norway’s diplomatic position within the international system. Unlike Switzerland, the other major peacemaking state in Europe, Norway was a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and enjoys an extremely close bilateral relationship with the United States.[4] Furthermore, while Norway is not a member of the European Union, it cooperates closely with the supranational organization, participating in both the Schengen Zone and the European Economic Area.[5] Although these political and military ties are a core component of Norwegian foreign policy, they have been carefully cultivated to enhance Norway’s credibility as a peacemaker. Norway specifically seeks to portray itself as a humanitarian and peaceful actor by engaging more frequently in peacekeeping operations than in active combat missions, for example. This approach manifested clearly during the 2003 invasion of Iraq: Norway declined to assist American forces during the initial invasion, but they quickly moved to provide personnel in support of rebuilding and stabilization operations following the end of initial hostilities.[6]

Norway’s ties with the United States and NATO inform its approach to peacemaking. As one of the pioneers of Norwegian peacemaking efforts, former State Secretary Jan Egeland, explained, “The United States has big sticks and carrots it can use to mediate, but we are activist facilitators. [Norway] can try to beg, to convince, to propose, to suggest, to prod, and to help, but [it] never endeavor[s] to say ‘Here is a draft agreement.'”[7] In other words, Norway and the U.S. have different strengths, and Norway has frequently benefited from leveraging American material capabilities and international influence.

Conceivably, Norway’s close ties with the United States could also hamper Norway’s ability to portray itself as an honest broker, and several critical scholars have indeed critiqued Norwegian peacemaking efforts as nothing more than a Norwegian attempt to ingratiate themselves with the U.S. by mindlessly promoting the Washington Consensus.[8] However, it seems that intransigent parties will always be able to find perceived Norwegian bias, and this is true even if one ignores Oslo’s close ties with Washington. For example, during Norway’s mediation efforts in Sri Lanka, prominent voices within the Sinhalese population criticized Norway for sympathizing with “Tamil terrorists” and attempting to exploit the conflict to gain privileged fishing rights within Sri Lanka’s EEZ. Indeed, one op-ed went so far as to assert that “[the Norwegians] are not, and never have been a balanced, genuine or honest facilitator.”[9] Despite these critical voices, the fact that many countries continue to solicit Norway’s help in mediations every year suggests that Norway adds value beyond simply promulgating Washington’s interests and policy preferences.

Norway’s Capacity for Peacemaking

Norway’s size and resources are not comparable to those of the United States, China, or other great powers, but it is large enough to exercise influence both within its own region and across the world. In many ways, Norway’s impact is greater than its small size might suggest, leading President Obama to note that it (and its Scandinavian neighbors) “consistently punch above their weight.”[10] Comprising a total area of about 125,020 square miles, Norway is slightly larger than New Mexico.[11] In terms of population, Norway is home to 5.32 million people, of which 94.4 percent are ethnic Norwegians. Evangelical Lutheranism is the dominant religion in the country, as 82.1 percent of the population are members of the Church of Norway.[12]

Today’s Norwegian economy is a powerhouse. Norway’s 2016 gross domestic product (GDP) was approximately $370.6 billion.[13] Its GDP ranks 29th in the world, which is especially impressive given that Norway ranks 117th in population.[14] Though Norway’s economy is dependent on the service sector, natural resources continue to play a significant role in its economy. The Norwegian petroleum sector alone accounts for approximately 22 percent of GDP and 67 percent of exports.[15] In recognition of the eventual and inevitable decline in oil production, Norway saves state revenues in the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, worth $1 trillion (approximately the size of the Mexican economy).[16] The combination of petroleum wealth and an effectively managed sovereign wealth fund has allowed Norway to allocate resources to international concerns that might otherwise receive little attention—and in particular to peacemaking and mediation efforts around the world. As Kelleher and Taulbee explain, “oil wealth means that Norway can afford to pursue its selectively focused and long-term peace initiatives.”[17]

With regard to peacemaking, Norway puts its money where its mouth is. In 2017, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) received a budget of 36.8 billion kroner, or approximately $5.8 billion.[18] This sum represents an impressive 2.27 percent of Norwegian government expenditures. It is not only Norway’s MFA budget that distinguishes it from other states but also its commitment to benefiting the global community through aid. In 2016, Norway spent $4.4 billion on official development assistance (ODA), or 1.1 percent of its gross national income (GNI). Based on this metric, Norway is the largest donor relative to its economic size, and the 9th-largest donor country overall.[19] Since 1976, Norway has spent more than 0.7 percent of its GNI on ODA every year, and there is cross-party consensus to continue this practice in the future.[20]

The annual MFA budget supports 99 foreign service missions including embassies, permanent delegations, and general consulates. In total, approximately 2,435 people serve in the Norwegian foreign service, making the MFA the largest ministry in the Norwegian government.[21] MFA staff are divided into nine different departments whose focus run the gamut from regions to international organizations to economic relations and development.[22] Each department is further subdivided into sections with even more specific tasks and aims. In total, the Ministry of Foreign affairs houses 48 sections spread across the nine departments.

The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also houses another critical group: the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad). Norad performs quality assurance for Norwegian development work and has five main tasks: aid advisory services, quality assurance and monitoring, grant programs, communication, and evaluation.[23] In basic terms, Norad is responsible for providing expert development advice to the Norwegian foreign service, performing due diligence to ensure that ODA is properly directed, and determining which NGOs will receive Norad funding.[24]

Norway’s capacity for peacemaking is high, as it has both the financial resources and institutional structure to support its peace and reconciliation work around the globe. This capacity has allowed Norway to adopt a number of enduring touchstones in its peacemaking work regardless of the nature of the conflict.[25] These include a permanent willingness to commit to long term peace work and consistent provision of accompanying ODA. As Kåre R. Aas, Norwegian Ambassador to the United States, explained, the Norwegians are not “day traders” in peacemaking.[26]

In spite of its significant capacity, however, Norway still faces limitations in its ability to manage peacemaking efforts. In particular, as a result of its relatively small population, the Foreign Ministry sometimes lacks the requisite regional experience to engage in certain peacemaking initiatives. To address this challenge, Norway pioneered the “Norwegian Model.” As Jan Egeland, the Norwegian diplomat who originated the model described, “The purest form of the Norwegian model is the foreign ministry working in symbiosis with one or more academic or non-governmental humanitarian organizations.”[27] The MFA cultivates strong relationships with Norwegian NGOs and civil society groups who may be better positioned to address the details of a peacemaking intervention. Some of Norway’s traditional aid partners include Norwegian Church Aid, the Norwegian Red Cross, and Save the Children Norway.[28] This relationship is a hallmark of the Norwegian approach to peacemaking and has resulted in a growth in so-called Track 1½ diplomacy, where NGOs work closely with the MFA to help broker settlements. As the MFA explains, “In many cases, Norwegian NGOs have acted as a door opener for Norway in peace and reconciliation processes. The wide range of activities carried out by Norwegian NGOs all over the world has allowed Norway access to places where it has had little or no official presence.”[29] This unique approach has proved critical to some of Norway’s greatest peacemaking successes.


Norway’s capacities demonstrate that it is well positioned for peacemaking, but it does not answer the question of why Norway pursues peacemaking as a core component of its foreign policy. This question is complicated by the fact that, although much of Norway’s adoption of a peacemaking strategy was fortuitous, there has always been a deliberate strategic aspect to this foreign policy priority as well.

Perhaps the most obvious reason that Norway has adopted peacemaking as a core component of its foreign policy strategy is its comparative advantage in the field and status as a smaller state. Unlike some of its bigger neighbors and allies, Norway does not command immense economic, political, or military power on the global stage. As such, it has needed to find specialty niches through which it can attain influence and respect internationally. Norway has several unique features that grant it a comparative advantage in the fields of mediation and peacemaking: It is fairly isolated geographically, lacks a history of aggressive imperialism, and maintains close ties with powerful states and organizations while, at the same time, preserving a non-aggressive and independent foreign policy posture. It only makes sense, therefore, that Norway chose to emphasize peacemaking as one of its areas of foreign policy excellence.

The value of this strategy can be demonstrated anecdotally in the context of the Sri Lankan civil war, a conflict in which Norway played a major role in mediating. During the war, Norway was able to use its position as mediator to obtain privileged access to both sides of the conflict, allowing Norway access to information that even great powers like the United States could not acquire. The Norwegians were able to leverage their deep knowledge of the conflict to gain access in major capitals. So when the Norwegian Foreign Minister vsited Washington, he always met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Their meetings focused on Sri Lanka, but they also discussed issues of importance to Norway such as the salmon trade.[30] In this way, Norway was able to leverage its acumen for peacemaking to access the great world powers and advance core national interests.

However, Norway’s shift toward peacemaking was only possible due to reinforcing elements from within Norwegian society, the international media, and other regional actors. A key inflection point coincided with the conclusion of the Cold War in 1989. At this point, Norway began to consider its strategy for the new, post-Cold War order, and it published an influential white paper that argued for a more expansive view of security that included a wide range of global challenges.[31] This white paper provided the framework for future Norwegian foreign policy and also defined a self-interested rationale for peace promotion.[32] However, the real test for Norway came in the mid-1990s with the negotiation of the Oslo I Accord. The positive media coverage Norway received while undertaking mediation between the Israelis and Palestinians greatly enhanced its international image and suggested to Norwegian policymakers that peacemaking initiatives could serve as an effective tool in Norway’s diplomatic toolbox.[33] International praise also encouraged Norway to more rigorously theorize potential approaches to peacemaking.[34] In short, the Oslo I Accord served as the catalyst that triggered a more coherent and deliberate move toward peacemaking as a national strategy.

It is also important to note Norway’s Lutheran missionary background when considering its motivations for peacemaking. As Geir Lundestand, the former director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute once put it, “the Norwegian mixture of idealism and realism” is a unique attitude resulting from the combination of Norway’s strong Christian Lutheran tradition, and its similarly strong democratic heritage.[35] Indeed, much of the early peacemaking work conducted by Norway was a result of religious NGOs reaching out to contacts within the Norwegian state to secure funding and technical support. For example, initial efforts at peacemaking in Guatemala were undertaken by Petter Skauen of Norwegian Church Aid and Gunnar Staalsett of Lutheran World Federation, and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs only became involved much later in the process.[36] Without the actions of these two men, it is far from clear that Norway would have become involved at all. Despite the clear benefits Norway garners from cooperating with religious NGOs, it is important to note that these connections have been a double-edged sword. And they have occasionally led to claims that Norway imposes and promotes the interests of religious donors when conducting mediations.[37] Nonetheless, the enhanced capacity provided by NGOs seems to usually outweigh these occasional charges of religious bias.

Finally, it is important to highlight the broad public support for peacemaking activities in Norway. Recent polls suggest that support for foreign aid stands at around 80%.[38] And while foreign aid is not exactly equivalent to peacemaking, it functions as an effective proxy. This broad domestic consensus has contributed to enduring Norwegian support for peacemaking, even as administrations and coalitions change.

The 1993 Oslo I Accord

On September 13, 1993, the world witnessed one of the most important handshakes in Middle Eastern peacemaking.[39] On the back lawn of the White House, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands after witnessing the signing of the Oslo I Accord.[40] The final deal was the product of eight months of Norwegian facilitation of negotiations between representatives of the PLO and Israel. The 1993 Oslo I Accord stand out as the first major peace deal in which Norway played a crucial role.

The conflict between Israel and Palestine was a longstanding one by the early 1990s. Following the establishment of the Israeli state in 1948, tensions immediately emerged between Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arab states in the region. Resolution of the conflict quickly proved to be nearly impossible, in part because of the sheer number of stakeholders with an interest in any potential agreement. These parties included Israel and Palestine, of course, but also virtually every other state in the region as well as the United States and other global powers. As a result, little meaningful work had been done to resolve the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians prior to the 1993 Oslo Accord. Momentum for a resolution had picked up speed during the lead up to the 1991 Gulf War, as many Arab neighbors, as well as the Soviets, predicated their support and participation in the coalition against Iraq on the promise that the United States would push for talks about Palestine’s status.[41] This agitation culminated with the 1991 Madrid Conference. However, the potential for a meaningful outcome from the Madrid talks was severely constrained, in part because the PLO was not permitted to represent Palestine.[42]

After the end of the Madrid Conference, there was a mutual recognition by both Israel, Palestine, and Norway that the negotiations had been too public, and this level of exposure had limited both PLO participation as well as each side’s ability to grant concessions and seek common ground. These conditions made the conflict especially ripe for outside facilitation, and Norway was particularly well positioned to fulfill this role. Members of the PLO approached Norway in 1991 and 1992 to request assistance in establishing a direct backchannel between the PLO and the Israelis.[43] In response, Jan Egeland, then the State Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, his assistant Mona Juul, and her husband Terje Rød Larsen, who was director of the Institute for Applied Social Science (FAFO), worked together to get the approval of Foreign Minister Thorvald Stoltenberg to respond to this request.[44]

On September 11, 1992, Norway offered secretly to open a channel for communications between Israel and the PLO, as well as its services as a facilitator.[45] The PLO agreed, and dispatched three PLO officials to serve as negotiators. While Israel indicated an interest in the backchannel, they were not in a position to subvert Israeli law to speak with members of the PLO, so two Israeli academics originally served in this role instead.[46] As Jan Egeland describes, there was a general agreement on all sides that “the official multiparty negotiations had become too big, too public, and too much of a buffer between the real leaders who could make the real decisions regarding war or peace in the Middle East.”[47]

In January 1993, the unofficial talks between the PLO and Israeli academics began. From the very beginning, the negotiations were hosted under absolute secrecy. The FAFO was invoked as a cover for the meetings, as Norwegian officials could claim that the group was simply working together on standard of living studies in the West Bank and Gaza.[48] After the talks had been arranged, Norway also communicated with the Clinton administration in the United States about their intentions to host this backchannel discussion. The plan received approval and support, so Norway was able to move forward without concern about the eventual reaction of the United States had the Clinton administration been kept out of the loop.[49] It immediately became clear that representatives of both sides were serious about negotiating, so there was little need for Norway to act as a mediator. Instead, Norway served a critical role as a facilitator. Traditionally, Norwegian facilitation centers on offering the right settings and resource support to permit negotiations, and the Oslo I Accord talks were no different.[50] The first round of discussions was held at a country house 100 miles outside of Oslo, and the meetings produced a detailed and serious text that offered a solid basis on which to formulate a final declaration of principles.[51]

After showing this draft text to government officials in Israel and within the PLO, Norway was able to upgrade the talks from unofficial to official, at which point Israeli government representatives joined the negotiation. In June 1993, the group rejoined to continue the process towards a final declaration. At this point, Norway’s countermeasures to ensure security were put to the test, as leaks in the American State Department resulted in news reports suggesting that Norway was hosting backchannel talks. Fortunately, Norway had hosted a public conference on Palestinian refugees in May, which served as part of the elaborate “smoke screen” that succeeded in maintaining the secrecy of the talks.[52] Unfortunately, continued secrecy and the upgrade to official status was insufficient to keep the talks running smoothly, and they suffered their first breakdown in July of 1993. Norway was hosting the representatives at a large country estate outside Oslo. After 35 hours of negotiating over a two day period, the representatives decided to call off talks over their differing desires for the language of the declaration.[53] A second July meeting, only a week after the first, ended similarly. After both breakdowns, the Norwegian staff working on the talks played a critical role in keeping up the momentum and driving both sides to continue with their negotiations. Egeland’s team had daily phone calls with representatives from both Israel and the PLO, and used these conversations to ask for new policy positions that they could present to the other side. This constant cajoling ensured that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were able to truly abandon the talks, even after walking away. Finally, Juul and Larsen traveled personally to Tunis to meet with PLO leadership and then immediately to Israel to report on the meeting with the PLO, convincing both sides to come back to the negotiating table in late July and early August.[54]

This hands-on, shuttle-cock style mediation remained important, even after the negotiators restarted talks and returned to Norway. The group had created a self-imposed deadline to finalize the declaration in advance of Shimon Peres’s official visit to Norway in mid-August, at which time they hoped that the deal would be finalized so that Peres could initial the declaration.[55] On August 17th, the last night of negotiations, Foreign Minister Johan Jørgen Holst sat on the phone with Arafat for eight hours, transmitting messages from Peres who was next door.[56] Finally, in the early hours of August 20th, Peres initialed the document in front of the Israeli and Palestinian advisors, setting the stage for the formal signing ceremony at the White House on September 13th.[57] The final Declaration of principles was signed by the foreign ministers from the PLO, Israel, Russia, and the United States, while Arafat, Rabin, and Clinton looked on. The final terms of the agreement created a five-year framework for future talks to resolve the conflict.[58] The Oslo I Accord also included the Letters of Mutual Recognition which completely changed how each side viewed the other. Under these terms, the PLO recognized Israeli statehood, and pledged to reject violence. Israel, in turn, recognized the PLO as the representative of Palestine and as a partner in future negotiations. Arafat was also permitted to return to Palestine.[59]

Norway’s successful facilitation depended on a few critical facets of the process. First, Norway was well positioned to act as a reliable, neutral intermediary between Israel and Palestine. From the perspective of each side participating in the negotiation, Norway’s ties with their opponent were sufficiently close to suggest that Norway’s involvement would be beneficial. The PLO believed that Norway’s strong ties to Israel could help gain them access and influence, while Israel thought the same thing about Norway’s direct contact to Arafat and the PLO.[60] Of course, strong ties can also hinder the role of the facilitator by undermining its position as a neutral third party. Fortunately, Norway’s historical connections allowed it to walk the fine line between trusting relationships and impartiality. Norway had established strong ties with Israel soon after WWII, in part because of the atrocities against the Jews they had witnessed. However, Norway had also shown a willingness to speak out against Israeli human rights violations, and Norwegians developed a strong relationship with the PLO, in part through the provision of aid and assistance in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[61]

Second, Norway showed a clear recognition of the high stakes of the negotiations, and adopted important secrecy and security measures to safeguard the process. Public attention was incredibly dangerous, and would likely have undermined the entire set of talks, as both the Israeli and Palestinian publics were likely to push back against even the perception of concessions by their leadership. More generally, secrecy allowed the talks to avoid the over enthusiastic and premature scrutiny that the media had applied during previous, public negotiations, often to the detriment of the talks.[62] Furthermore, leaks about the talks also posed a threat to the Israeli academics who were bravely engaging in the talks. At this point in time, it was still illegal for an Israeli citizen to meet with the PLO.[63] Concerns about physical safety were ever present, particularly as the talks progressed, so maintaining absolute secrecy was imperative to success.

To this end, Norway adopted several highly effective measures to handle this challenge. They rented out private spaces on the basis of fake purposes to host the talks, and they never used the real names of any of the guests. When negotiators arrived, they were brought to the VIP facilities at the airport in Oslo and were processed quickly to limit the potential for recognition.[64] As few staff as possible within the MFA were informed of the talks to limit the potential for leaks, and the lowest possible number of security forces were informed to ensure the safety of participants without compromising secrecy.[65] Norwegian officials even developed code names to use while speaking on the phone, in case their phones had been tapped. Finally, Norway wrapped the talks into the FAFO’s research work, in order to create a plausible cover story in case the talks were revealed.[66] Ultimately, these tactics were effective, and as Egeland points out, “not even the Israeli Mossad had detected the Norwegian back channel.”[67]

In many ways, the 1993 Oslo I Accord is a classic example of many of the hallmarks of Norwegian peacemaking. First, the Norwegians entered the discussion through personal relationships with key figures on both sides, some of which had been developed thanks to the work of Norwegian NGOs. Unlike the United States, who considered the PLO a terrorist group and was thus unwilling to engage with them, Norway faced no such limitations and could thus mediate the conflict without concern. However, Norway still recognized that its facilitation only meant something if there was real force to support the final deal, so they were careful to loop in the United States to ensure great power backing at the end stage. Finally, Norway showed a willingness to commit substantial resources to the process. Not only did the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs arrange and fund locations for talks and travel for the negotiators, they also made a commitment of human resources, and assigned several key staff to oversee the process. Norway maintained this support throughout the process, even when the Israelis and Palestinians were ready to walk away. The totality of this approach is what Egeland calls “venture capital for peace. The costs are so low, and the potential rewards are so high that even one success in 100 makes it worthwhile.”[68]

Sri Lanka Mediation

Norway’s mediation in the Sri Lankan Civil War was one of Oslo’s signature foreign policy undertakings during the late 1990s and early 2000s. Norway’s efforts in helping orchestrate negotiations between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) garnered significant amounts of attention from both foreign governments and academia, and Norway’s continued involvement in mediating the conflict solidified its reputation as a committed peacemaker. The Sri Lanka mediation is also interesting in that it illustrates the evolution of Norwegian peacemaking: At the beginning of the process, Norway’s efforts were directed by several individuals, including Jan Egeland. However, by the end of the civil war, Norway’s mediation initiative had become much more institutionalized, in many ways mirroring the evolution of Norwegian peacemaking efforts more broadly.

The origins of the Sri Lankan Civil War are complex, but the central catalyst was the post-independence Sri Lankan government’s early promotion of the Sinhalese language and culture. This, unsurprisingly, divided the nascent democracy along ethno-nationalist lines, creating conditions conducive to the outbreak of civil conflict. The promotion of Sinhalese culture also took on a strong religious bent, as nationalist discourse was paired with Sinhalese Buddhist concepts such as righteousness and moral regeneration.[69] Institutionalized favoritism toward the Sinhalese population only worsened after the 1956 election of the Sri Lankan Freedom Party (SLFP), which mobilized rural Sinhalese voters and gave them access to state power. This increased political activism among rural Sinhalese groups increased pressure for top-down government programs favoring the Sinhalese population, and the state began to institutionally favor the Sinhalese in the areas of language rights, employment within the state, university admissions, and land ownership.[70] This political discrimination engendered resentment among the Tamil population in northern Sri Lanka, which ultimately led to creation of the LTTE insurgency.[71]

Norway first began to reach out to the Sri Lankan government in January of 1991. While initial feelers failed to generate much interest from within the Sri Lankan government, former Norwegian Foreign Minister Arne Fjørtoft remained in close contact with leaders of the government and LTTE throughout the 1990s and served as an important backchannel between Norway and the warring parties.[72] The peace process began to receive more attention from Norway in the mid-1990s in large part because the new State Secretary Jan Egeland worked hard to push peacemaking as a core component of Norway’s foreign policy. The laudatory coverage of Norway’s efforts with the Oslo I Accord coupled with increased pressure from the Tamil diaspora led the Norwegian government to more actively seek a role in mediating the conflict.

[73]Some early progress occurred in 1995, as Sri Lanka invited Norway to help lead a team to monitor a ceasefire between the LTTE and the government. The ceasefire failed, but the invitation Norway received suggested that its early attempts at outreach had not gone unnoticed. Following the failed ceasefire, peace talks stalled. However, the LTTE reached out to Norway, declaring that the Norwegians were their mediators of choice. Norway was further courted by both sides after Catholic bishops in Sri Lanka urged them to consider using the Norwegians as mediators.[74]

Jon Westborg’s appointment as Norwegian ambassador to Sri Lanka also helped Norway build trust with both sides, as his previous experience in the country working for the NGO Norwegian Save the Children gave him an intimate knowledge of the country and its conflict. Interestingly, however, despite the ambassador’s connections with the NGO community, the Norwegian government decided against working through NGOs in Sri Lanka. In 1997, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Assistant Director General Knut Vollebæk and Ambassador Westborg met with representatives of the Sri Lankan government to discuss avenues for achieving peace with the LTTE. However, the Norwegians concluded that they had insufficient contact with Tamil representatives to move forward.[75]

The first big breakthrough occurred in May of 1999. By this point, the Sri Lankan government had succeeded in obtaining several crucial tactical victories against the LTTE and was attempting to stabilize and deescalate the conflict. A core aspect of the government’s strategy was the invitation of Norway to act as mediator. The government liked Norway in particular because, unlike other mediators such as India, it had no strong interests in the region. The LTTE also supported Norwegian mediation because they viewed Norway as a competent and powerful state actor with more clout than informal mediators outside of government.[76]

This promising start quickly began to fall apart, however, as the LTTE experienced several large battlefield successes and initiated high profile terror attacks, one of which even came close to killing Sri Lankan President Kumaratunga. In response, Kumaratunga publicly announced Norway’s role in mediating peace to demonstrate her commitment to peace and, by extension, shame the LTTE. However, this move frustrated Norwegian negotiators, who preferred to remain behind the scenes so as to maintain maximum flexibility in the negotiating process. Then, another setback occurred within the Sri Lankan Parliament after the United National Party declared it was no longer in support of the devolution plan, eliminating one of the core incentives government negotiators could offer the LTTE.[77] Progress still appeared possible after the LTTE declared a unilateral ceasefire, but this quickly lead to chaos when the government, seeing the ceasefire as a sign or weakness, decided to escalate the conflict. Tensions also began to rise between the Sri Lankan government and Norwegian negotiators whom the Sri Lankan government accused of “one-upmanship,” leading the Norwegians to establish an international “group of friends” composed of both the United States and India.[78]

Despite the best efforts of the Norwegians, the peace process seemed to be dead. But the 2001 electoral success of the UNP, which reversed its position on the devolution agreement during the campaign, allowed for the establishment of unilateral ceasefires by both sides and the negotiation of a comprehensive ceasefire in February of 2002.[79] The ceasefire was far from perfect, and was in fact frequently violated by the Tamils, who practiced ethnic cleansing against Sinhalese villagers to further solidify Tamil control in the northeast.[80] However, the ceasefire meaningfully lowered violence and allowed internally displaced people to return to their homes and attempt to reestablish their pre-war lives. The ceasefire also led to several rounds of diplomatic meetings, many hosted in Oslo, between the two sides. This culminated in the Oslo Communique, which officially declared both parties’ desire to find a solution through federalism. However, the Communique ultimately came to nothing, as Tamil leadership quickly backed away from anything short of full independence.[81]

Talks began to break down again in 2003 after the LTTE announced that they would be suspending their participation in the peace talks.[82] Both parties then began to pursue separate strategies for resolving their differences, with Norway continuing to maintain contact and conduct shuttle diplomacy with both sides. On October 31, 2003, the LTTE presented their proposal for an Interim Self-Governing Administration (ISGA), which was quickly condemned by elements of the government and the Muslim community of Sri Lanka due to the LTTE’s insistence that the Tamils maintain an absolute majority within the ISGA.[83] Four days later, President Kumaratunga declared a state of emergency, sidelining the prime minister and alienating the Norwegians, who decide to put their mediation efforts on hold.[84]

Nonetheless, there still existed some hope for de-escalation after the 2004 tsunami hit Sri Lanka, presenting a more immediate problem for both government and Tamil leadership. The Norwegians quickly moved to exploit this breakthrough, conducting intensive shuttle diplomacy that ultimately led to an agreement for a joint Tamil-government aid disbursement program. And while neither side publicly admitted that this effort was part of peace negotiations, behind the scenes cooperation and trust grew tremendously.[85] Unfortunately, political posturing in Colombo caused the agreements implemented post-tsunami to stall. By 2005, organized violence had risen precipitously. Norway continued to try to work as mediator, but Norwegian efforts had become extremely unpopular among Sinhalese nationalists to the point that anti-Norwegian conspiracy theories became a major element of the 2005 Sri Lankan presidential election.[86]

The 2005 election represented a major setback for peace efforts, as it was won by the opposition leader Rajapaksa and was largely decided along ethnic lines.[87] Despite Norwegian attempts to meet with the new government and continue mediating a peaceful long-term solution to the conflict, violence continued to increase. Nevertheless, Norway sought one last big push for peace and laid out three demands in exchange for continuing its efforts at mediation: a meeting with Prabhakaran — the LTTE leader ­— every three months, a cessation of government efforts to undermine Norwegian efforts, and a commitment by both sides to continue the peace process in good faith.[88] This diplomatic effort saw some success early on, but it soon became clear that both sides were negotiating in bad faith, and mass violence returned only two to three months after the ceasefire talks began.[89]

This return to violence led most in the international community to cut all ties with the LTTE, and in 2006 Norway became the only Western country to maintain contact with the organization.[90] Norway persisted in their efforts because they feared that withdrawing would only lead to increased violence and would undercut their reputation as patient peacemakers. By this point, though, Norway was fighting a lost cause: International and regional impatience toward the Tamils resulted in Indian and American intelligence support for the Sri Lankan government, and this produced rapid government advances throughout the country. By 2009 the civil war was over.[91]

Norway’s efforts in Sri Lanka are interesting in several ways. First, they highlight Norway’s often ad hoc and personal approach to peacemaking. While the mission became increasingly institutionalized and formal over time, Norway became involved in the conflict largely due to the connections and personal motivations of its diplomatic corp. Jon Westborg’s first hand experience with the country through Norwegian Save the Children and Jan Egeland’s personal mission to increase Norwegian involvement in peace mediation played a major role in jumpstarting Norwegian efforts at ending the conflict. These personal connections significantly improved Norway’s ability to get both sides to the negotiating table, as it created trust between the Norwegians and the two warring parties. However, the close cooperation between Norway and members of the Sri Lankan government also created impediments to peace when elements of the Sri Lankan government manipulated Norwegian efforts to achieve short term electoral gains.

Second, the Sri Lanka case reveals how Norway utilizes peacemaking to enhance its international influence and image. As discussed previously, Norway’s efforts in Sri Lanka gave it privileged access to Washington policymakers who otherwise would have been off-limits to Norwegian diplomats. But the Sri Lankan mediation also granted Norway influence and access in Brussels and Delhi due to the E.U.’s interest in the conflict and India’s participation in the “group of friends.”[92] What’s particularly interesting about the Sri Lanka mediation is the fact that Norway consciously decided to remain involved even as the country collapsed into war post-2005. If the Foreign Ministry’s reports are to be trusted, Norway viewed Sri Lanka similarly to how the United States viewed Vietnam: Norwegian policymakers felt they had to stay involved or risk reputational consequences among their allies and partners.

Third, Sri Lanka demonstrates the risks inherent in Norway’s policy of demanding that the conflicting sides “own the process.”[93] Norway explicitly sought to have the LTTE and government take the lead in the peace process while it acted primarily as a mediator and facilitator. This approach had the advantage of minimizing perceived conflicts of interest, but it also made it depressingly easy for both sides to manipulate Norway and the peace process to buy time for rearmament and military expansion. By embracing a more hands-off approach, Norway also refused to become involved in internal disputes, allowing intransigent groups to effectively veto and sabotage peace efforts at every turn. This approach also led important minority groups like the Muslims to be excluded from negotiations. While this undoubtedly simplified negotiations by decreasing the number of actors involved, it also complicated peace efforts by creating resentment among important minority stakeholder, a fact demonstrated by the violent Muslim reaction to the establishment of the ISGA.

Finally, Norway’s concerted efforts at remaining impartial throughout the process occasionally hampered peace efforts by limiting its ability to single out individual sides for violating agreements. This was especially pernicious during the LTTE’s exploitation of the 2002 ceasefire to commit limited acts of violence against the government. Norway failed to consistently call out these violations, and this helped lay the groundwork for the more destructive 2005-2006 escalation of violence. Ironically, by sending peacekeepers to observe the ceasefire, Norway created something akin to a conflict of interest by putting itself in the position of monitoring a ceasefire it wanted to succeed. In other words, Norway had an incentive to overlook minor transgressions that could have blown up the peace process. Unfortunately, these small acts of violence eventually escalated, contributing to the collapse of the peace process.

Sri Lanka was ultimately a mediation failure for Norway, as Norwegian diplomats were never able to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict. Nevertheless, Norwegian efforts in Sri Lanka were not a total loss for the country because they both provided valuable experience and granted Norway unique access to the major capitals of the world. Peacemaking is an often fickle process, and Norway’s lack of success speaks more to the difficulties presented by the Sri Lankan case than any kind of major failings by the Norwegians. And, at least from the perspective of smaller state diplomacy, Sri Lanka was a great success: Norway expanded its diplomatic clout and cemented its reputation as a dedicated and competent peacemaker, providing it with a unique niche capability that it continues to use to differentiate itself from other middle powers.


Norway is one of the foremost small state peacemakers in the global community, and its historical successes over the last three decades are a clear indicator of the government’s longstanding commitment to ending conflicts around the world. Major accomplishments, such as the Oslo I Accord, show the benefits of the work of Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its partners. Norway’s record is marked by challenges as well. In the case of Sri Lanka, for example, Norwegian officials struggled to coordinate a lasting peace deal. Nonetheless, Norway remains committed to peacemaking. Recently, Norwegian officials played a major role in facilitating the successful peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC. Today, the Norwegian MFA is playing a role in at least 15 ongoing peacemaking engagements around the world, according to Ambassador Aas.[94] 

Regardless of the nature of the conflict in question, Norway’s response nearly always relies on a few key strategies. First, the Ministry of Foreign affairs has developed deep relationships with nongovernmental organizations in areas of conflict around the world. These NGOs provide critical assistance to the MFA — they offer local expertise and support that Norway, as a small state, could not muster on its own. Next, Norway pairs its diplomatic attempts with financial investments in the region. The MFA, and its subset Norad, guide foreign assistance to foreign governments and valuable regional partners to aid development and incentivize participation in meaningful peace talks. Finally, Norway’s approach to peacemaking emphasizes long-term engagements. Norway’s other resources allow it to commit to peace talks that may last years, and the MFA is more than willing to see those talks through.

Norway’s approach to peacemaking has not been static. At first, Norway’s efforts were highly decentralized and dependent almost completely on local support from Norwegian NGOs. This method, while highly effective in leveraging previous knowledge and relationships, required an immense coordination effort by a select few in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Former State Secretary Jan Egeland had the skills and personal relationships to handle this approach, but his departure from the MFA in 1997 necessitated greater institutionalization of the Norwegian peacemaking style. Now, Norway still depends on NGOs and individual relationships to guide its peacemaking but the MFA and Norad hold greater control over this process. In the future, Norwegian peacemaking is likely to continue to develop and change as the government’s capacity and experience increases. Politicians on either side of the political spectrum in Norway continue to demonstrate their commitment to peacemaking, and there is nothing to suggest that such engagements will not remain a central feature in Norwegian foreign policy in the years to come.



[1] Asoka Bandarage, “‘The ‘Norwegian Model’: Political Economy of NGO Peacemaking,” The Brown Journal of World Affairs 17, no. 2 (Summer 2011): 221.

[2] Author interview with Norwegian ambassador Kåre R. Aas

[3] Jörg Baten, A History of the Global Economy. From 1500 to the Present. (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 30.

[4] “Member countries,” NATO, last updated June 12, 2017. https://www.nato.int/cps/su/natohq/nato_countries.htm.

[5] “Norway’s membership in international organisations,” Samfunnskunnskap, accessed November 16, 2017. http://www.samfunnskunnskap.no/?page_id=416&lang=en.

[6] Leiv Lundy and Henrik Thune, National Interest: Foreign Policy for a Globalised World The Case for Norway (Oslo, Norway: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2008), 261-262.

[7] Peter Ford, “Norway as Peacemaker,” Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 2000, 10; Vidar Helgesen, “Peace, Mediation and Reconciliation: The Norwegian Experience,” State Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Norway’s presentation in Brussels, May 21, 2003, 3.

[8] Francisco Gil White, “Oslo War Process,” Historical and Investigative Research, October 29, 2005. http://www.hirhome.com/yugo/oslo-intro.htm.

[9] S. L. Gunasekera and Gomin Dayasri, “Bauer a facilitator or agent for int’l terrorism?” The Island, September 9, 2016. https://lankapage.wordpress.com/2006/09/09/bauer-a-facilitator-or-agent-for-int%E2%80%99l-terrorism/.

[10] Gregory Korte, “Obama greets Nordic leaders, saying they ‘punch above their weight’,” USA Today, May 13, 2016. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2016/05/13/obama-nordic-leaders-summit-punch-above-their-weight/84330852/.

[11] “The World Factbook: NORWAY,” Central Intelligence Agency, November 14, 2017, accessed November 21, 2017. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/no.html.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “GDP Ranking,” World Bank, July 1, 2017. https://data.worldbank.org/data-catalog/GDP-ranking-table.

[14] Ibid.

[15] “Norway – Trade,” European Commission Directorate-General for Trade, accessed November 21, 2017, http://ec.europa.eu/trade/policy/countries-and-regions/countries/norway/.

[16] Niall McCarthy, “Norway’s Sovereign Wealth Fund Hits $1 Trillion,” Forbes, September 22, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2017/09/22/norways-sovereign-wealth-fund-hits-1-trillion-infographic/#6e9f80383c9e.

[17] Ann Kelleher and James Larry Taulbee, “Bridging the Gap: Building Peace Norwegian Style,” Peace & Change 31, no. 4 (2006).

[18] Norwegian Ministry of Finance, “Budget 2017,” 2017.

[19] “Norway Donor Profile,” Donor Tracker, accessed November 21, 2017, https://donortracker.org/country/norway.

[20] Ibid.

[21] “About the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accessed November 21, 2017, https://www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/ud/about_mfa/id838/.

[22] Ibid.

[23] “Norad’s Five Main Tasks,” Norad Development, accessed November 21, 2017, https://www.norad.no/en/front/about-norad/five-main-tasks/.

[24] Ibid.

[25] “Norway’s Approach to Peace and Reconciliation Work,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accessed November 21, 2017, https://www.regjeringen.no/en/topics/foreign-affairs/peace-and-reconciliation-efforts/innsiktsmappe/norway-peace-work/id446704/.

[26] Author interview of Kåre R. Aas

[27] Peter Ford, “Norway as Peacemaker.”

[28] Bandarage, 225.

[29] “Norway’s Approach to Peace and Reconciliation Work.”

[30] Kristine Höglund and Isak Svensson, “Mediating between tigers and lions: Norwegian peace diplomacy in Sri Lanka’s civil war,” Contemporary South Asia 17, no. 2 (Summer 2009): 179.

[31] Government White Paper no. 11, “Om utviklingstrekk i det internasjonale samfunn og virkninger for norsk utenrikspolitikk,” (Oslo, Norway: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1989).

[32] Øystein Haga Skånland, “‘Norway is a peace nation’: A discourse analytic reading of the Norwegian peace engagement,” Cooperation and Conflict 45, no. 1 (2010): 37.

[33] Skånland., 39-40.

[34] Ibid., 37.

[35] Peter Ford, “Norway as Peacemaker.”

[36] Kelleher and Taulbee, 487.

[37] Bandarage, 230.

[38] “Attitudes towards and knowledge about Norwegian development aid, 2013,” Statistisk sentralbyrå, November 5, 2013.

[39] Gary Hershorn, “The Arafat-Rabin Handshake 20 Years On,” Reuters, September 13, 2013. http://blogs.reuters.com/photographers-blog/2013/09/13/the-arafat-rabin-handshake-20-years-on/.

[40] Jeff Lunden, “‘OSLO’ Tells The Surprising Story Behind A Historic Handshake,” NPR, August 06, 2016. https://www.npr.org/2016/08/06/488737544/oslo-tells-the-surprising-story-behind-a-historic-handshake.

[41] James Baker, The Politics of Diplomacy (New York: Putnam, 1995), 315.

[42] “The Madrid Conference, 1991,” U.S. Department of State, accessed November 21, 2017, https://history.state.gov/milestones/1989-1992/madrid-conference.

[43] Jan Egeland, “The Oslo Accord: Multiparty Facilitation through the Norwegian Channel,” in Herding Cats: Multiparty Mediation in a Complex World (US Institute of Peace Press, 1999), 530.

[44] Ibid.

[45] “Norway’s involvement in the peace process in the Middle East,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accessed November 21, 2017. https://www.regjeringen.no/en/dokumenter/involvement/id420034/.

[46] Hilde Henriksen Waage, “Norway’s Role in the Middle East Peace Talks: Between a Strong State and a Weak Belligerent,” Journal of Palestine Studies 34, no. 4 (2005).

[47] “Norway’s involvement in the peace process in the Middle East,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

[48] Jan Egeland, “The Oslo Accord,” 532.

[49] Henriksen Waage, “The ‘Minnow’ and the ‘Whale’: Norway and the United States in the Peace Process in the Middle East,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 34, no. 2 (2007).

[50] Author interview with Norwegian ambassador Kåre R. Aas.

[51] Jacinta Sanders, “Honest Brokers? American and Norwegian Facilitation of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations (1991-1993),” Arab Studies Quarterly 21, no. 2 (Spring 1999).

[52] Jan Egeland, “The Oslo Accord,” 535.

[53] Clyde Haberman, “Mideast Accord and The Secret Peace: How Oslo Helped Mold the Mideast Pact,” The New York Times, September 04, 1993. http://www.nytimes.com/1993/09/05/world/mideast-accord-secret-peace-special-report-oslo-helped-mold-mideast-pact.html?pagewanted=all.

[54] Jan Egeland, “The Oslo Accord,” 536.

[55] “Norway’s involvement in the peace process in the Middle East,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

[56] Jan Egeland, “The Oslo Accord,” 537.

[57] Haberman.

[58] Israel, Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements: Washington DC, 13 September 1993 (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Media and Communication Centre, 1994).

[59] Letters of Mutual Recognition, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1993.

[60] Jan Egeland, “The Oslo Accord,” 531.

[61] “Norway’s involvement in the peace process in the Middle East,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

[62] Jan Egeland, “The Oslo Accord,” 532.

[63] Ibid., 533.

[64] Ibid., 543.

[65] Jan Egeland, “The Oslo Accord,” 543.

[66] Ibid., 532.

[67] Ibid., 529.

[68] Peter Ford, “Norway as Peacemaker.”

[69] R. Venugopal, “The Politics of Market Reform at a Time of Ethnic Conflict: Sri Lanka in the Jayawardene Years,” in Liberal Peace in Question: The Politics of State and Market Reforms in Sri Lanka, edited by K. Stokke and J. Uyangoda, 84, London, United Kingdom: Anthem Press, 2011.

[70] Gunnar Sørbø et al., Pawns of Peace: Evaluation of Norwegian peace efforts in Sri Lanka, 1997-2009, (Oslo, Norway: NORAD, 2011), 19.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Ibid., 29.

[73] Ibid., 29-30.

[74] Ibid., 30.

[75] Sørbø et al., 30.

[76] Ibid., 31.

[77] Sørbø et al., 32.

[78] Ibid., 33-34.

[79] Ibid., 35-36.

[80] Ahmed S. Hashim, When Counterinsurgency Wins: Sri Lanka’s Defeat of the Tamil Tigers (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), 133.

[81] Sørbø et al., 42.

[82] Ibid., 44.

[83] Sørbø et al., 47.

[84] Ibid., 47-48.

[85] Ibid., 53.

[86] Ibid., 55-56.

[87] Ibid., 56.

[88] Sørbø et al., 57.

[89] Ibid., 58.

[90] Ibid., 60.

[91] Ibid., 63.

[92] Höglund and Svensson, 179.

[93] Harriet Martin, Kings of peace, pawns of war: the untold story of peace-making (New York, N.Y.: Continuum, 2006), 125.

[94] Author interview with Norwegian ambassador Kåre R. Aas



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