OsloSenior Researcher and Russia-expert Julie Wilhelmsen argues that this year’s election campaign in Norway sees little talk of major and significant issues. (Photo: Christopher Olssøn)
Senior Researcher and Russia-expert Julie Wilhelmsen argues that this year’s election campaign in Norway sees little talk of major and significant issues. (Photo: Christopher Olssøn)

Shallow Russia talk in Norwegian Election Campaigns


– When it comes to Russia, arguments are presented based on morals. We should instead discuss what we are to do in order to prevent a new cold war dynamic, says researcher and Russia-expert Julie Wilhelmsen.

Wilhelmsen works as a senior researcher with NUPI, the Norwegian Institute of Foreign Affairs, and she monitors the Norwegian election campaign that leads up to elections on September 11. Wilhelmsen is worried by what she observes.

– Hearing politicians talk only superficially of foreign policy frustrates me, she says.

The NUPI researcher argues that politicians use well-known labels and recognizable phrases in foreign and security policy debates.

– When it comes to Russia, arguments are presented based on morals, on whether one is ‘Russia-friendly’ or not, rather than discussing specific initiatives in various policy areas and how these work, Wilhelmsen says.

She argues that Norway should move a step forward from discussing whether or not we support the sanctions against Russia.

– We must discuss what we should do to prevent a new cold war dynamic and to secure cooperation with Russia in areas where we can and must cooperate, the Russia-expert say. She argues that there is little genuine discussion about shaping of politics that can be put into practice.

Lack of substance in the High North

In addition to lacking genuine discussion about practical politics, Wilhelmsen argues that the current debate in Norway lacks two key questions.

– There is little talk of the High North in this year’s election campaign because there is little discussion about important foreign and security policy issues, and the Norwegian discussion also lacks substance, the researcher says.

She claims that few question whether or not Norwegian soldiers should participate in military operations abroad.

– There are too few who discuss the consequences of operations far away from Norwegian territory and what we have really learned from Norwegian participation in western intervention politics, even after very critical evaluations such as e.g. the Godal Committee’s Afghanistan report, she says.

Her conclusion is that there is too little discussion about the most important issues during this year’s election campaign, whether it is about the High North or about whether or not Norway shall participate in wars a long way from home, she says. From the sidelines, she does not see many new political initiatives that can change Norwegian foreign policy in the time ahead.

Labour and Conservatives are identical

Last week, NUPI hosted an election debate about the High North, foreign and security policy where all parties participated.

– The High North policy is not gone. The problem is that Labour and the Conservatives in reality are so similar when it comes to the shaping of policies towards Russia following the annexation of the Crimea that they do not spend time discussing the issue, Wilhelmsen says.

She argues that both High North policies and foreign policy in general should be mandatory issues in an election campaign.

– But we never move beyond platitudes like ‘secure sufficient defence capacity’, ‘dialogue’ and ‘we must uphold the sanctions against Russia’, Wilhelmsen says.

She claims that what really happens is that politicians never are pushed hard enough to have to expand on what foreign policy they actually represent.

– That makes it impossible to understand the difference between the Conservatives’ and Labour’s policies in these areas. The truth is probably that these two parties’ policies towards Russia and in the question of Norwegian participation in international military interventions are rather similar, and that leaves the debate absent, the Russia-expert says in closing.




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