Jonas Gahr Støre visits Minnesota
Historical and cultural ties between Norway and the United States remain strong
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American
Norway’s prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, completed a two-day visit to Minnesota, Sept. 17–18. On his whirlwind tour, the prime minster had the chance to visit soldiers, students, and others who have close ties to Norway.
In Minneapolis, Støre met with U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar for a fireside chat on world affairs and transatlantic cooperation at Norway House.
While there at Norway Block, he attended services at Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, where he was also treated to lunch that he said he would never forget.
The prime minister also paid a visit to Camp Ripley in Little Falls, the training area for the Minnesota National Guard. It has cooperated closely with the Norwegian Home Guard for over 50 years. Each year, about 100 soldiers from the Norwegian Home Guard travel to Camp Ripley to train with the Minnesota National Guard under the Norwegian/United States Reciprocal Troop Exchange (NOREX).
In exchange, a corresponding number of U.S. soldiers travel to Værnes in Trøndelag in Norway for training under Norwegian climatic conditions. The program increases understanding and military insight to provide for better soldiers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Minnesota is one of the U.S. states with the closest historical and cultural ties to Norway. About 850,000 people—or one-sixth of all Minnesotans—have Norwegian roots, and a number of institutions continue to maintain close ties to Norway.
This became evident when the prime minister met with students at St. Olaf College, located outside of the Twin Cities in Northfield. The college was founded by Norwegian immigrants in 1874, and today its curriculum includes programs for the study of Norwegian culture, history, and language.
“I have really enjoyed coming to Minnesota and spending time with the Norwegian-American community here,” Støre said. “The close historical and cultural ties between our two countries form one of the pillars of our relationship with the United States, Norway’s most important ally.
“It is inspiring to see the deep mark that Norwegian immigrants have made here in the Midwest and to see so many young Americans who still take a keen interest in their Norwegian heritage.”
A fireside chat with Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre
A week after his Labor Party suffered its worst showing in 100 years in the municipal and county elections, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre visited North America, including Norway House in Minneapolis, where he engaged in a friendly dialogue.
In an hour-long “fireside chat,” he and Minnesota Democratic U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar fielded questions from Tom Hanson, diplomat-in-residence at the Alworth Institute for International Affairs at the University of Minnesota–Duluth and a U.S. Foreign Service veteran.
Støre wasn’t flustered by the anti-fossil fuel protestors and hoped they would stay for when the question came up later, but they didn’t. He still has to govern for at least two more years so it was still important to reinforce the U.S.-Norway relationship.
A common thread was Ukraine and Russia. No matter the question, Ukraine and Russia overlapped all of them.
In her introductory remarks, Klobuchar discussed the strong Norwegian heritage in Minnesota: “If you start to feel homesick, there are plenty of Hansons and Olsons, Larsons, Andersons, Petersens, and Jensens in our home state who will take you in.”
Klobuchar was quick to bring up Ukraine in her opening remarks: “I’m sure one of the reasons that the prime minister is here today is the unrelenting inhuman barbarism of Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine. The scenes that we see every single day in the news, for our Ukrainian population in Minnesota, is not distant. It’s right there. It’s their family members, it’s their aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers. The demolition of the apartment buildings, the mass graves.
“Last year, I went there with former Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and met at length with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Every devastating moment in Ukraine has been met with Ukraine’s incredible resolve. Ballerinas who put on camo and go to the front lines. The cellist who plays melodies on bombed out remnants of a town square. Citizens turned soldiers, turned heroes. Because of their resilience and most importantly, the resilience of NATO.
“I don’t think Vladimir Putin ever expected the resolve that we have seen from countries like Norway and Germany and the leadership of the United States and President Joe Biden. When I visited Kyiv last August, President Zelenskyy said to tell Americans that he and his people are grateful for the generous, unending and continuing help that we in the United States provide. We have the budget coming up in Congress. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., vowed that any aid package we put together for disaster relief domestically will also include additional funding for Ukraine.”
Before diving into this topic, Støre talked about how touching it was for him to visit the Midwest, where so many have knowledge of “valleys and fjords and parts of Norway,” Norwegian Americans who remember their ancestors. He noted how deep and meaningful the relationship is, a story “actually going beyond lutefisk.”
But it did not take long for the focus of the discussion to shift back to Ukraine.
“Visiting Ukraine again two weeks ago left an extremely strong impression,” Støre said. “But this is also a fight about principles of the rule of law and the rule-based order with authoritarian regimes coming up in small and big countries alike. When they start to unite in what may resemble an alliance, we have to have a strong alliance of democracies that can stand together. It’s so important that we defend free and fair elections, and that we maintain our relationship and alliance.”
Hanson then asked the prime minister about the significance of Sweden and Finland joining NATO.
“You will have the northern part of Scandinavia as a member of NATO, “ said Støre. “That has significant implications for how we plan, train, exercise as allies. We started to work militarily together in Norway, Sweden, and Finland. We have been deepening that cooperation. Now we are doing it inside NATO according to the same interoperability standards. I say this because you will find families around in this great state from all Scandinavian countries. So now we are coming together also in that alliance, which I believe is of great significance for Ukraine.
“We have to show that we are there for the long haul. I read a research paper yesterday that Norway was the country with the biggest per capita support to Ukraine. Norway is a small country. Even though we are big per capita, that is not really changing things. President Zelenskyy told me the most important thing about your program is that it is a five-year program. I went to parliament and all parties in parliament are behind that program.”
The moderator then asked the prime minister to give some of the specifics about Norwegian military and economic aid.
“In this first and second year, the emphasis on the military has been more focused because this struggle is real,” Støre said. “Like other European countries, this has been, for the first time, a change in our policy. Norway had the long-term policy of not contributing military support to ongoing conflicts, which was a guiding principle of our military industry that we don’t sell weapons to an ongoing war. This was different. This was a foreign policy situation going on in Europe. We have been giving from our own stocks and we have also been contributing economically to buy necessary military equipment and ammunition. I think the most important part that we have been contributing is in air defense.
“We developed a technology in Norway, in cooperation with American industry, that is now of critical importance for the cities of Ukraine. I was there two weeks ago. I saw how these young Ukrainian commanders were operating the system to protect the skies over Kyiv. Our industry producing military equipment is not tailored for a situation like this one where you have to speed up the production line. Norway has been co-funding enough gas for Kyiv to get through the winter. We are also supporting programs through the World Bank to rebuild. We have to help them repair their grids so they can get electricity for key functions.”
Hanson then turned to Klobuchar to ask about U.S. policy toward NATO, what main changes can be expected with Sweden and Finland joining the alliance, and the overall importance of that.
“I see this as a big net gain for NATO,” she said. “It helps the United States in so many ways. Finland has at the ready a force of 900,000 people in a country of 5.5 million people. [There is] the geographic synergy to have Sweden and Finland in there when you already have Norway in NATO. They’re going to bring technological prowess.
“I also see the United States continuing our leadership. One of the things that people did not expect is that the U.S. and European technology that Ukraine is using, while there are supply chain issues, as the prime minister points out, was far superior to the Russian technology,” she said.
Hanson then noted that in the wake of sanctions against Russian oil and gas, Norway’s role in the European energy markets is growing. He asked the prime minister about what steps has Norway taken to help meet the energy security needs of its allies and Ukraine and whether there is there a clean energy component to this new role.
“It’s a pity that those young people [protestors] left, because this is a key issue, but it is not a yes-no issue,” said Støre. “It is an issue that will require the best of everything we can mobilize because I agree with them. We have to move out of fossil and we are moving out of fossil.
“The paradox of the war in Ukraine and Russia’s taking Europe hostage with cutting off gas, is that the energy transition is speeding up tremendously. It gives us pain in the short term because prices go up. Even in Norway, electricity prices went up because there is energy simply falling out on the market. But the challenge here was that Germany was cutting down on nuclear, not speeding up wind fast enough. All of a sudden, gas fell out. Then, you get the trouble. Here we are at the critical point.
“We need to phase out fossil fuels at some speed, but we cannot do it if we cannot replace it with energy that runs industries, households, and economies. Because if we do that, people will lose their jobs and they will turn against this transition. It is as simple and complex as that. While building down on the fossil side, we have to build up on the renewable and cut emissions, create jobs. In Norway, there are floating offshore wind platforms being built on the continental shelf by people of my generation who are educated in oil, gas, and building oil platforms. Now, they are building extremely advanced offshore wind platforms. My government is now handling license applications from energy companies for drilling but not drilling for oil.
“They want to drill for reservoirs where they can deposit the CO2. So they use the experience they have from their energy sector to make this transition. We are now moving into hydrogen, solar, and moving into wind. President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act package is a huge boost. There will be bottlenecks. Despite these incentives, wind is struggling to take off because everyone wanted wind at the same time. It’s getting expensive. The market economy has to work that out. But the mistake we are making—we are having that debate in Norway, too—is to say, you need to put a date to closing down this industry. That is not how energy transition happens.
“It happens by replacing one energy source with another. That is a transitional process. I want that to happen as fast as possible, and I want Norway to be there and really take part. After the invasion of Ukraine and gas disappearing from Europe, Norway was able to increase its gas exports to Europe by 8% to 10%. That represents about 100 kilowatt hours of electricity. If it hadn’t been for that, I think our partners in Germany and other European countries would have been in deep trouble. That kind of trouble is the worst trouble you can have for the task of climate change we have ahead of us, because then you will have an unfair transition, and you will have people who will lose their jobs, their income, and they will simply block the progress we need to do.
“So I’m now working as a government and as a prime minister with my German colleague, with my Dutch colleague, with my Nordic colleagues, to accelerate offshore wind, accelerate transition to hydrogen, which means that we can produce hydrogen from wind. We can produce hydrogen from gas. We know how to capture the CO2 and store it 2,000 meters under the seabed. Paradoxically, it has been accelerated by Russia’s aggression.”
Hanson then noted that many countries have gone back to coal. He asked Klobuchar how she sees this situation and what should be done about it.
“I would like to see much more bipartisan support for this conversion that existed when we first took on climate change in the Senate,” she said. “I’m proud of the work the Senate did with the Inflation Reduction Act. That was a big negotiation. It was the biggest investment ever in moving the grid to more wind, solar, and clean energy.
“We need to build the political support. The way you build the political support is to make sure you continue to have affordable energy while you transition to cleaner energy. We can lead the way in Minnesota. We have a lot of wind, we have a lot of solar, and we have a lot of manufacturing that goes on in small nuclear. Replacing some of this energy by being willing to look at nuclear again is, I think, part of the answer.
“There are ways you can do it now with smaller nuclear reactors. I believe that is part of the answer because when you look at the greenhouse gas numbers, at where we’re headed, you look at the horrible weather events all over this country and the world, this is not sustainable. Everything that we heard 20 years ago from our own military is happening now.
“This has got to be a group effort so that we can transition to more energy efficient buildings, cars, get the materials, and they’re all not going to be here in the United States,” Klobuchar stressed. “One of the hardest things for me is that you can have different opinions. You can dispute how fast we respond. You can dispute where the money should go, but to pretend it’s not happening is really dangerous because it is happening.”
In conclusion, Hanson asked the Norwegian prime minister how he sees U.S.-Norwegian bilateral relations at this moment in time.
“Norway invites our allies, the United States first among them, to come and exercise and train in Norway for winter training, training for the fjords, for how we do reinforcements,” Støre said. “That perspective is now changing with Sweden and Finland joining NATO. [It is] not only about reaching the Norwegian shores in northern Europe, but that has to be coordinated with how you reach Sweden and Finland.
“The bilateral cooperation and agreement that we have with the United States is a cornerstone of that security package. We are a small country next to a big authoritarian state, which is unfortunately moving in the wrong direction. Our security has to be handled in one perspective by having an orderly relationship with our neighbor. We have and we can manage that.”
Klobuchar also weighed in. “We’ve seen from this war that there’s all kinds of cold weather factors in the Ukrainian war, who can fight in the winter and who’s used to fighting in the winter. I have seen videos of our Minnesota troops training in Norway and the Norwegian troops training here, and no one’s better able to handle this kind of training than Minnesota and Norway, and now, Sweden and Finland.
“But you also look at these other countries on the Russian border with the Baltics. They’ve been dealing with this for a long time. They’re in a state of high alert because they don’t know what’s going to happen next as well. Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia don’t have the ability to fight without NATO’s help.”
Støre stressed the importance of envisioning a secure Europe for the future.
“As we defend Ukraine’s right to defend itself and contribute to that, we must think what the European security order will look like in the future,” he said. “There’s no way you can take a pair of scissors and cut Russia out of that map. It’ll be there in the future as well. This war is going on, and look at how big Ukraine is. We have to avoid Ukraine being landlocked. We have to defend its coast and we have to support Ukraine for the day that will come when they have to sit down and negotiate something with the other side. They have the right to defend and take back their land.
“The Baltic states are not small countries but great nations that have a right to live in security, “ he continued. “Even Russia has the right to live and be a secure place, but everything that’s going on is hampering our efforts to do climate change negotiations, to do anti-poverty work for the rest of the world.”
Klobuchar added her final remarks: “The other positive is this incredible exchange of innovation and building on it, not just by ourselves anymore, but with this alliance. It’s something that we haven’t seen for decades and the advancements that we’re making in our countries and the fact that our economy is strong in Norway but also strong in the United States. But we have come out of this pandemic and we are moving forward. We’re inventing new things and exporting them to the world.”
About Jonas Gahr Støre
Joans Gahr Støre has served as the 36th and current prime minister of Norway since 2021 and has been leader of the Labor Party since 2014. He served under Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2005 to 2012 and as Minister of Health and Care Services from 2012 to 2013. Støre has been a member of the Norwegian parliament for Oslo since 2009.
Støre grew up in the privileged west end of Oslo. He underwent naval officer training at the Royal Norwegian Naval Academy and then studied political science at Sciences Po in Paris from 1981 to 1985.
Originally associated with the Conservative Party, he was a career special adviser and director-general in the prime minister’s office from 1989 to 1997. He became known as a protégé of Gro Harlem Brundtland in the 1990s, and her mentorship inspired him to become a member of the Labor Party in 1995.
In 1998, he followed Brundtland to the World Health Organization, where he became her chief of staff. Støre was then state secretary and chief of staff in the Prime Minister’s Office in the first government of Jens Stoltenberg. He later served as secretary-general of the Norwegian Red Cross from 2003 to 2005. Like his political mentors Brundtland and Stoltenberg, Støre is associated with the business-friendly right wing of the Labor Party.
Despite the Labor Party receiving 1% fewer votes and losing one seat, the center-left won a majority in the 2021 parliamentary election. Støre was appointed as prime minister by King Harald V. Støre leads a minority government with the Center Party.
Biographical information source: Wikipedia
This article originally appeared in the October 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.