Norway’s Parliament wants a ban on nuclear weapons
The majority in Norway’s Parliament have reconfirmed that they want an international ban on nuclear weapons and that they expect the government to contribute to achieve this goal.
Norway’s current government has been criticized by civil society and the opposition for abandoning the humanitarian initiative on nuclear weapons, which was started by the former government. After a period of heated debate, the Parliament’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on 9 March submitted a Recommendation on a White Paper on global security challenges, which included a section on nuclear weapons with majority amendments that reconfirm that the parliamentary majority in Norway want an international prohibition on nuclear weapons.
In a foreign policy debate in Parliament on 11 March Jonas Gahr Støre, Labour Party leader and prime minister candidate, highlighted the majority amendments in the Recommendation and sent a clear message to the government:
“The parliamentary majority supports the work with balanced and mutual nuclear disarmament within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, including a long-term goal of an international prohibition on nuclear weapons. This is clearly stated in the White Paper, and when a majority in Parliament has expressed itself like that, then the government can rest assured that the Parliament will pay close attention to whether this is what the government is doing,” said Støre.
Støre was foreign minister in the previous government when Norway started its work with the humanitarian initiative and invited states to the first Conference on the Humanitarian Consequences of Nuclear Weapons. In the debate in Parliament he now spoke of Norway’s contributions to the processes to prohibit antipersonnel mines and cluster munitions and said:
“A total ban on nuclear weapons is a greater, more complex and probably more long-term task. Now the government has been given a clear marching order for Norway’s contribution to reach this goal.”
Støre also said that “a real total ban on nuclear weapons” is “a goal that is fully possible to combine with the wording in NATO’s strategic concept”.
Anniken Huitfeld (Labour Party), the Head of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence also talked about Norway’s NATO membership:
“In disarmament policy our NATO membership places obvious limitations on what kind of role Norway can play, but the scope of opportunity is greater than that which is being used by the current government. On the nuclear disarmament agenda we did not have to abandon our position in the humanitarian initiative, nor did we have to let Austria run alone with this,” she said.
Huitfeldt said that she believed foreign minister Børge Brende “would be wise to recognize that the majority in Parliament is not satisfied with the way in which he has followed up on the humanitarian initiative.”
While the parliamentarian majority in Norway has made it clear to the government that it expects it to listen to their view and work for an international prohibition on nuclear weapons, it did not manage to convince the parties in the minority government to support a proposal explicitly mentioning a prohibition on nuclear weapons. Great emphasis was placed in the Committee on reaching agreement on unanimous language. Norwegian media have reported that the foreign minister Brende and Støre negotiated bilaterally to reach agreement on a compromise, resulting in the following proposal:
”The Parliament asks the government to work actively for a world free of nuclear weapons and contribute to the implementation of the obligations contained in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), take an active role as a driver for non-proliferation and for disarmament with a view to balanced, mutual, irreversible and verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons, and on this basis work long-term for a legally binding framework to secure this objective.”
This proposal was supported by all parties including the two government parties, the Conservative Party and the Progress Party. In the view of Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and ICAN, it is difficult to envision a “legally binding framework” to secure a world free of nuclear weapons which does not comprise a prohibition on nuclear weapons. The Labour Party have also made statements to Norwegian media supporting this understanding.
Even though NPA would have preferred for the Parliament to adopt a majority resolution which mentioned a prohibition explicitly, we see the settlement in the Recommendation as clear progress. The government has not previously accepted the need for new international treaties to regulate the terms for nuclear weapons. With the unanimous proposal in the Recommendation, it has now done so. Furthermore, the majority amendment about a prohibition as the long-term goal must also be reflected in the government’s policy and work on nuclear weapons.
“With this task from the Parliament, the government cannot continue the policy which it has pursued until now. We expect that it now follows up by participating actively in the UN Open-Ended Working Group, that it makes the case for the need to develop new legal instruments, and that it supports recommendations and resolutions about negotiations and treaties which can create the legally binding framework necessary for a world free of nuclear weapons,” said NPA’s Secretary General Sunniva Ørstavik in a press release.
In the debate on 11 March, Huitfeldt asked foreign minister Børge Brende how he would secure that the will of the parliamentary majority is expressed in his foreign policy priorities. He did not comment in detail on this, but said: “Now we have achieved a broad basis which we of course will follow up on also in international fora.”
More debate on the issue will follow in connection with the vote in Parliament on the above mentioned amendments and proposal, which is due to take place on 26 April.