Lecture for peace
Dr. Kristian Harpviken from the Peace Research Institute of Oslo visits U.S.
On Wednesday, Nov. 6, Dr. Kristian Harpviken visited the campus of Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash. to participate in the annual Svare-Toven lecture. The lecture is sponsored by the Svare-Toven Endowment and NORLA (Norwegian Literature Abroad), and was hosted by the Scandinvian Cultural Center at PLU.
Dr. Harpviken is the director of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, an international institute whose overarching purpose is to conduct research on the conditions for peaceful relations between states, groups and people. He has published numerous articles on topics of peacebuilding and peacemaking, transnational mobilization and civil war, and war-related migration and social networks. Among his most recent articles are “Refugee Militancy in Exile and Upon Return in Afghanistan and Rwanda” and “A Peace Nation in the War on Terror: The Norwegian Engagement in Afghanistan.” Dr. Harpviken holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Oslo, and has been a guest researcher at Georgetown University and the University of Chicago.
Dr. Harpviken’s lecture was entitled “Norway’s Peace Engagement: Approaches, Achievements, and Deep Dilemmas.”
Claudia Berguson, Associate Professor of Norwegian and Scandinavian Area Studies at PLU, introduced Dr. Harpviken.
Dr. Harpviken began the lecture with a short film, which detailed the work Norwegian diplomats do in pursuing peace agreements in the world. The short film did a brilliant job of showcasing this work from a human perspective: the long meetings, the late nights, the boredom, the back-to-back flights, and the frustration when sometimes, even after all of this, an agreement isn’t reached.
After the film, Dr. Harpviken explored a little bit of the history of Norway’s work as a peacemaker.
“Most people think this is something Norway has been doing forever,” he said. “It isn’t.”
There are several factors, he explained, that can account for Norway’s current status as a peacemaker in the world.
“It’s not the money itself that is the key here,” he said, referring to Norway’s wealth. “It’s the lack of red tape.” Norwegian diplomats have an ease of movement within their government that others in the world don’t have, and this allows them some flexibility.
It also helps that Norway has no colonial past.
Dr. Harpviken explored several interesting issues surrounding Norway’s role. One that stood out was a simple question: why?
“Norway’s peace engagement does not help Norway,” he said. “Is it really in Norway’s interest to do this, to invest so many resources into this?”
The answer seems to be yes.
“We’re simply doing this because we want to make the world a better place,” said Dr. Harpviken.
There are other benefits, too: it is engagement in the Middle East and related conflicts – not Norway’s status as a major oil producer or exporter of salmon – that gives Norway better access to the White House and the U.S. government.
“And while we’re there, in the White House, we can also sneak in some words about salmon and oil,” Dr. Harpviken added.
He did not shy away from introducing the criticisms against Norway’s peacekeeping efforts. Some believe that Norway could actually be forestalling the progress of peace by sitting down with the actors in conflicts, and by giving them attention when it would be better not to.
“These are serious criticisms, and do deserve to be aired; they do deserve a response,” Dr. Harpviken said.
Dr. Harpviken ended the lecture with an overview of the challenges Norway has to continue to face in its role as a world leader in conflict resolution. One example: demand for conflict resolution in the world is far too high for a small country like Norway, especially when it comes to military resources. Therefore, as a response Norway is focusing more on special operations and intelligence.
In addition, competition is increasing. Dr. Harpviken had just arrived in Washington from a conference in Brazil, a country that is trying to step into a similar role in peace engagement.
Norway’s response? To reorient their efforts and to strike alliances.
Dr. Harpviken took several questions from the audience at the end of his lecture, including a question about Norway’s decision not to help destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in Norway.
This article originally appeared in the Nov. 15, 2013 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.