Diplomacy in Blackberry Age

Ambassador Barry White (far left) at the Edvard Grieg Garden at the University of Washington. Photo courtesy of the University of Washington.

Ambassador Barry White (far left) at the Edvard Grieg Garden at the University of Washington. Photo courtesy of the University of Washington.

Obama’s appointee visits Seattle, Wash.

Professor Christine Ingebritsen

Dept. of Scandinavian Studies

University of Washington

On Jan. 6, 2011, the Honorable Barry White, U.S. Ambassador to Norway, visited the University of Washington campus in Seattle, Wash., connecting his work in Oslo to the most substantial population of students and faculty who study Norway and the Norwegian-American in the western states of the U.S.

Ambassador White, a Harvard graduate with a distinguished record in law, addressed the UW class “Scandinavia in World Affairs,” providing insights to the way things look from his new post and introducing students to the speed and challenges associated with representing the U.S. government overseas in an internet age. Not unlike President Obama, he consulted his handheld Blackberry, providing immediate references and updates, as needed. The ambassador came to Seattle to share his unique experiences representing the U.S. in Oslo, as well as to learn from us how Norway is portrayed in American universities.

Crossing the campus, the ambassador and his delegation passed through the Grieg Garden, an enclosed green space honoring the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, just adjacent to the entrance of the School of International Studies, named after Norwegian-American state senator Henry Jackson.

In the classroom, the Ambassador provided a detailed overview of the domestic and foreign policy priorities of the Norwegian government – from poverty alleviation, peace promotion, universal health care, a strong preference for independence, a sustainable policy for coastline management, and a hydropower capacity and petroleum export economy that permitted unprecedented wealth, set aside for future generations in a sovereign fund. He also described the intensity of witnessing the empty chair at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo.

From the student’s perspective, hosting an ambassador on the second day of class was surreal. Nonetheless, they prepared thoughtful questions, which followed a diverse set of issues – from new security threats to economic and trade partnerships, as well as the legacy of Norway’s historic preference for neutrality and how this is reconciled with NATO membership in the modern age.

The themes the ambassador address included the diplomatic challenges associated with the WikiLeaks crisis, the puzzle of why Norwegians have rejected the government’s attempts to join the European Union, and the ways Norway balances its membership in NATO with a strong anti-nuclear position.

Ambassador White’s capacity to connect ideas generated through his role as a diplomat in Oslo with diasporas of Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans located in New York, Houston, Minneapolis and the Pacific Northwest promises to open a new avenue of social networking, commerce and transnational agenda-setting.

This article was originally published in the Jan. 14, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email subscribe@norway.com.

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