Norway, NATO and the NPT

May 15, 2015

By Sigrid Z. Heiberg, Advisor at ICAN Norway

Strong parliamentary support for a ban

Although Norway played an important part in starting the humanitarian initiative and hosted the first conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons (HINW), it has not yet officially endorsed the Austrian Pledge. This has sparked a domestic debate and raised doubts in the international community regarding how committed the Norwegian government actually is when it comes to nuclear disarmament.

On the 12th of March this year, a parliamentary motion Dok.8: 72 (2014-2015) was put forward by several representatives from Senterpartiet (the Centre Party), Venstre (the Liberals) and SV (the Socialist Left).The motion contains three concrete suggestions:

1) that parliament ask the government to work towards an international binding treaty banning nuclear weapons

2) that parliament ask the government to present a declaration, or a pledge, similar to the pledge that Austria presented at the HINW conference in Vienna in December 2014, to work to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons.

3) that parliament ask the government to initiate and participate in a core group of countries that will work for an international ban on nuclear weapons

In the debate that followed in parliament, it became clear that a majority of parties and of the elected representatives support a ban, and want Norway to work actively towards this aim. However, the Foreign Minister does not agree, and has said on several occasions that although the government supports “the goal of a world free from nuclear weapons”, Norway will not at this time support a ban because, according to him, it would be in conflict with our obligations as a NATO member.

No legal grounds why Norway as a NATO member cannot support a ban

Experts agree that as matter of international law, there is no barrier to NATO member states’ support for a treaty banning nuclear weapons. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has, in meetings with civil society, admitted to this fact, but upholds that there are strong political implications. It is true that NATO’s strategic concept from 2010 states that as long as nuclear weapons exist, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance. But since a ban on nuclear weapons does not entail unilateral disarmament, but rather would be a means to put pressure on all states to disarm, we do not see this as problematic. And perhaps more importantly, the strategic concept also declares that the NATO alliance should work to create conditions for a world free of nuclear weapons.

In mid-April, Arbeiderpartiet (Labour) held their annual congress, where they presented a strong statement on nuclear weapons. “The Labour Party demands that Norway become a driving force a in the continuing efforts to promote this initiative, including in the upcoming the NPT Review Conference in April 2015.” The former Prime Minister and Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg, now General Secretary of NATO, visited the congress and stated that in his opinion, the resolution of the Labour Party is not in conflict with the approved NATO policy.

The Netherlands is, like Norway, a NATO member. On 23 April, the Dutch Parliament (Tweede Kamer) adopted a motion saying the government must join, in a substantive manner, international negotiations on a treaty banning nuclear weapons, without preventively judging an end result. This is another strong signal, proving that it is possible for NATO countries to push for a ban. We strongly hope that the Norwegian Parliament, and other NATO members, will be inspired by the Dutch and adopt a similar resolution.

Parliamentary hearing May 12th

On Tuesday, the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, which is the committee responsible for the above mentioned ban motion, held a hearing. The first speaker was Dr. Patricia Lewis, who is Director of International Security Research at Chatham House, and an expert in nuclear risks. She explained to the committee how the new evidence is emerging which is altering the risk framework in regards to nuclear weapons. “For as long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of an inadvertent, accidental or deliberate detonation remains”, said Lewis. Until their elimination, vigilance and prudent decision-making in nuclear policies are therefore of the utmost priority. It is particularly important to challenge status quo doctrines and force postures and take every opportunity to prohibit nuclear weapons at the global level.

The second speaker was Executive Director of ICAN, Beatrice Fihn. She informed the committee on the development of the humanitarian initiative, and highlighted how this initiative, co-founded by Norway, has turned into the most promising movement on nuclear weapons in decades. “The focus on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons is a starting point for looking at these weapons for what they really are: indiscriminate, inhumane and unacceptable weapons of mass destruction”, said Fihn. “It leads directly to a conclusion that prohibiting nuclear weapons is the right next step.”

Fihn updated the committee on what is happening at the NPT Review Conference, and explained how Norway’s lack of support for the Austrian Pledge and working paper 30, is creating doubt among other progressive states and former allies as to how committed Norway really is to the humanitarian initiative. “As a leader on humanitarian disarmament and a member of NATO, Norway has a unique role to play in developing the humanitarian initiative into a concrete and practical step towards nuclear disarmament”, said Fihn. “By working for a ban on nuclear weapons, Norway will not only implement its national obligations under the NPT, but will also encourage other NATO states to reduce the reliance on nuclear weapons in its security doctrine and implement its commitments.”

Cecilie Hellestveit, Senior Legal Advisor at International Law and Policy Institute, spoke about nuclear weapons under international law. She mentioned the many nuclear weapons free zones, as examples of regional bans, and explained that if one considers international humanitarian and environmental law, it is difficult to imagine any use of nuclear weapons that would be lawful. However, while other weapons of mass destruction are categorically prohibited, there is no comprehensive treaty outlawing nuclear weapons. Seeing as all states parties to the NPT are obliged to pursue effective measures for disarmament, it would be natural that Norway address this “legal gap”, and work for a treaty banning nuclear weapons.

The Norwegian Red Cross was represented by Knut Sverre and Preben Marcussen, who explained how the Red Cross has warned about the effects and dangers of nuclear weapons for decades, and has come to the conclusion that a treaty banning nuclear weapons is a logical and necessary next step towards disarmament. “A treaty banning nuclear weapons could, in the Red Cross’ opinion, create the political basis for a world without nuclear weapons and thereby save an enormous number of people from future catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons”, said Sverre. “The Norwegian Red Cross therefore strongly urges Parliament to support the call for Norway to work actively for a binding international agreement banning nuclear weapons.”

The Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence will present their position on Dok.8: 72 (2014-2015) on May 27th, and the motion will then probably be put to a vote in Parliament in mid-June.

Norway at the NPT

At this NPT RevCon, all eyes are on the humanitarian initiative. Norway has played a leading role in creating the initiative, and Foreign Minister Børge Brende has stated several times that it is important to bring the new knowledge and perspective from HINW into the NPT debate. Norway is a member of the 16-member group that has previously been a driving force in the NPT and HINW. It is therefore very disappointing to observe that Norway is no longer standing shoulder to shoulder with this group, and has, to date, not supported Working Paper 30. When confronted with this by one of the MPs behind the ban motion, Liv Signe Navarsete, Brende answered: “the Austrian working document, promoted on behalf of 15 countries, also contributes to create attention concerning the humanitarian perspectives of a detonation of nuclear weapons, in accordance with the results from the Oslo-conference in 2013 and the following conferences in Mexico and Austria. Overall the document contains a set of arguments which leads to a ban as a natural conclusion. This is why Norway has not joined the document. Nor has the NATO member Denmark joined. “

The Conservative government in Norway has stated that their foreign policy does not differ from the previous “Red-Green” government, lead by the Labour party, but in practice, it most certainly does.

Norway should be clear at the NPT RevCon that effective measures need to be implemented. States should start negotiations for the prohibition of nuclear weapons, and their total elimination, within a defined time period. This should be done even if the nuclear armed states are not on board. Concrete steps are also needed to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in military plans, doctrines and policies. These measures derive from long-standing political commitments and action plans agreed to at earlier NPT conferences and should be delivered as a matter of urgency.

On a positive note, the head of the Norwegian delegation at the NPT, Sten Arne Rosnes, stated last week that the humanitarian initiative has been the most positive contribution to this RevCon when is comes to disarmament and Article VI. Also, after the first drafts were presented at NPT last Friday, Norway has been clear that they believe the outcome document should more clearly reflect the new knowledge and perspectives from HINW.

On the same day, Friday 8th, ICAN sent a letter to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asking them to support the Austrian Pledge and the efforts to stigmatize, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons. The letter was delivered by ICAN campaigners and Hibakusha Setsuko Thurlow, to the Norwegian delegation to the NPT. Mr. Sten Arne Rosnes thanked ICAN for our efforts, and promised to do what he can to promote a positive outcome of the RevCon. He also said that Norway firmly supports the humanitarian initiative.

All in all, Norway seems to stay committed to the humanitarian initiative, and we believe it is only a matter of time before our government will publicly support a ban treaty. As representatives of a democratic and peace loving country, we must assume that the Norwegian government will follow the will of its people and parliament. As former Prime Minister, and now general secretary of NATO, put it: “striving for balanced nuclear disarmament is in line with a good and long tradition within Norwegian foreign policy”.



  • aiweiwei

    “Let’s act up! Ban nuclear weapons completely and unconditionally.”

    Ai Weiwei Artist and activist

  • sheen

    “If Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were alive today, they would be part of ICAN.”

    Martin Sheen Actor and activist

  • bankimoon

    “I salute ICAN for working with such commitment and creativity.”

    Ban Ki-moon Former UN chief

  • yokoono

    “We can do it together. With your help, our voice will be made still stronger. Imagine peace.”

    Yoko Ono Artist

  • jodywilliams

    “Governments say a nuclear weapons ban is unlikely. Don’t believe it. They said the same about a mine ban treaty.”

    Jody Williams Nobel laureate

  • desmondtutu

    “With your support, we can take ICAN its full distance – all the way to zero nuclear weapons.”

    Desmond Tutu Nobel laureate

  • herbiehancock

    “Because I cannot tolerate these appalling weapons, I whole-heartedly support ICAN.”

    Herbie Hancock Jazz musician

  • dalailama

    “I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons, and I support ICAN.”

    Dalai Lama Nobel laureate