In defense of multilateralism

An interview with Hans Brattskar, ambassador of Norway to the UN

Marit Fosse

Hans Brattskar

Photo: Marit Fosse
Hans Brattskar, Norway’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva.

Behind the patina of diplomatic politeness, Hans Brattskar, the Norwegian ambassador in Geneva, is pleasant, even friendly. Despite a long list of achievements, he also comes across as modest. Brattskar was trained as an economist with a doctorate in political science before entering the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the early 1980s.

Commensurate with his long list of achievements, Brattskar has had an impressive career. He has been embassy secretary of the embassies in Washington, D.C., and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and head of the Secretariat for the Minister of International Development in the Ministry before going back to the United States as ministerial counsellor at the Norwegian United Nations (UN) delegation in New York. Later, he was Norway’s ambassador to Sri Lanka. Back in Oslo, Brattskar became the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s special adviser for peace-building operations and then head of the government’s climate and forest project. He was appointed Norway’s ambassador to Kenya and Norway’s representative to UN organizations in Nairobi. From 2013 to 2015, he was state secretary for development assistance for Foreign Minister Børge Brende (who was appointed president of the World Economic Forum in 2017), and finally, he arrived here in Geneva.

Marit Fosse: 2019 is an important year for Norway in Geneva. Could you tell us about it?

Hans Brattskar: This year, we have again, for the third time, taken on the presidency of the Mine Ban Convention. The official title is the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention. It was adopted in Norway in 1997 and signed in Canada later the same year.

This year, we have something called the review conference to assess what has been done over the last five years. The last review conference was in Maputo, Mozambique, in 2014, and I headed the Norwegian delegation there. At the time, I was state secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and this year I am the president of the Mine Ban Convention, so I’ll be leading the review conference in Oslo, from Nov. 25 to 29. In addition to reviewing the last five years’ achievements, we’ll develop what we’ll call the Oslo Action Plan, which looks at the priorities for the next five years.

MF: You have just finished a mine conference here in Geneva. Were you happy with the outcome?

HB: Very much so, although it was not part of the Mine Ban Convention; it was the UN Mine Action Conference. On Feb. 8, I chaired a meeting on what we can do better to protect children. The last official figures we have are from 2017, and they clearly show 2,450 casualities—children either killed or injured by landmines. We brought together persons from different parts of the world working on this issue, both from the UN and representatives from the field. We have to teach children in school what they have to be careful about in terms of mine awareness. About 80 percent of all mine victims are boys and men, so this we also take into account and tailor education to the different needs that boys and girls have.

MF: In one of the side events, it was said that $1 spent on de-mining gives a return of $5 to the community.

HB: Yes, it’s very important, and, with that in mind, last year Norway created a new humanitarian development strategy under our Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide. The key words there are protection and prevention. What can be done so that we do not need to spend huge amounts of money, over and over again, when disaster strikes?

Mine clearance is in many places a requirement for development. Mine clearance comes first and opens up land again for productive use. This then enables people to invest in education, health, infrastructure, education, and job opportunities in the areas that are opening again. It is something that must be done so that sustainable development can take place and thereby achieve the millennium development goals. The ambition is that, in 2025, we should have a mine-free world.

MF: Isn’t that very ambitious, when the cheapest form of warfare is to lay mines?

HB: It’s indeed very ambitious, and we will still have challenges in 2025. But I think it’s crucial to stress that the Mine Ban Convention has been a huge success! Around 52 million anti-personnel landmines have been cleared around the world in the last 20 years! Mauritania was the last country to be declared mine-free, recently, and it is no longer acceptable to produce, buy, and sell landmines.

I should also say that we have an increasing problem with what we call improvised landmines, which are made by non-state actors. That, for instance, is a huge problem in Syria. It is important to stress that the Mine Ban Convention State Parties must tackle the huge challenge of improvised mines.

MF: I see a poster behind you that says “Norway for the Security Council.” Do you have a special assignment in this regard?

HB: It is a vital task for all of us in the Norwegian Foreign Service. Norway has been a reliable and consistent partner since the UN was founded in 1945, and we continue to be a loyal and active member of the global community. If you look at net contributions, Norway is the seventh largest contributor to the UN system. That’s quite significant for a small country such as ours. We provide 1 percent of our gross national income to development assistance. I think that Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Luxembourg are the countries giving 1 percent. We have had 40,000 persons participating in peacekeeping operations since their beginning. We are very active in environmental and climate issues, as well as peace-building and peace negotiations. As a strong supporter of the multilateral system, it is natural for Norway to once in a while be a member of the UN Security Council, as part of our strong international engagement

We have not been a member of the council since 2001 and 2002—almost 20 years. We would like to make ourselves available, because we think that we can have an important voice in the Security Council.

Last time we were in the Security Council, I was based in New York and was the Security Council coordinator, so I was very much involved last time, and I hope to see Norway back in the Security Council in two years’ time.

MF: How was that?

HB: It was a very interesting experience. We saw close up the importance of and the positive achievements that the international community can do if we work together.

MF: You said earlier that Norway is the seventh largest contributor to the UN. Does Norway benefit from it?

HB: I would say that we benefit greatly from being a member of the UN. We have benefited from international collaboration in general. If you look at Norway, we have an ocean that is seven times larger than the land mass of our country. Without the laws of the sea and other regulations of the use of ocean areas, Norway would not have the same opportunities that we have today. We have benefited from ocean resources and will continue to do so. This is also one reason Norway is now working with others to reduce marine litter and microplastics. Having rules and regulations benefits all states, large and small. Being a smaller state, we benefit greatly from rules and regulations, international laws, and active cooperation, whether it is humanitarian issues, human rights, trade, or economic cooperation. So my answer would be, we would not have the living standards that we have today if it was not for rule-based international cooperation.

Since we benefit greatly from having this system, we will continue to work with others so they can also benefit further by Norway investing in, for example, education and health around the world, and working to create job opportunities. Climate cooperation is another example. Yes, we do benefit from many aspects of international cooperation, and that is why, when you look at opinion polls, you see that, when Norwegians are asked about our engagement in the UN, there is strong support from the general public. In addition, people in Norway have a great deal of faith in the UN.

MF: The UN family consists of many specialized agencies. How do you see Norway’s role in these organizations?

HB: We have a very strong voice in these organizations. Norwegian politicians make frequent visits to Geneva to follow up on the work of international organizations and to promote Norwegian policy.

We also have a steady stream of delegates from Norway visiting Geneva to participate in the more technical organizations, such as the World Meteorological Organization, the International Telecommunication Union, etc.… All these and others are very important for what I said earlier about rules and regulations and practical collaboration.

Then we have [multipal agencies working with refugees, migration, and] human rights—Norway is one of the largest donors to these. The World Health Organization, GAVI, the vaccine alliance, and the Global Fund are followed with great interest for all the normative work being done in the medical field. Our voices are definitely heard, and we see a clear interest by these organizations in Norwegian policies and priorities.

MF: Do you have a final message for our readers?

HB: The international architecture that came out of the two world wars is under more pressure than before. My message to everybody would be that we need to stand up and defend a system that has benefited us in so many ways. If we want to continue to move forward we need to preserve what has been established by previous generations. We need to move forward in cooperation, not in confrontation!

This article originally appeared in the March 22, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Marit Fosse

Marit Fosse trained as an economist from Norwegian school of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen (Norges Handelshøyskole NHH) and then earned a doctorate in social sciences. She is the author of several books. Nansen: Explorer and Humanitarian, co-authored with John Fox, was translated into Russian/Armenian/French. In addition, Fosse is the editor of International Diplomat/Diva International in Geneva, a magazine set up 20 years ago for diplomats and persons working in the international organizations in Geneva but also elsewhere. In her free time, Fosse is an accomplished painter.