Two takes on foreign aid

Photo: Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) / Flickr
R.E.D.D. for the rainforest: The fictive characters Rein Egerberg and Dagfinn Dreggstadnesmoen make up the fictive music group R.E.D.D. (“redd” in Norwegian translates as “scared”). R.E.D.D. worries that the tropical house genre will disappear if we don’t take care of our tropical rainforests.

Espen Haugen
Tromsø, Norway

Both Norway and the United States have unique cultural and sociopolitical characteristics that affect their approaches to international development assistance. Norway prioritizes the equal treatment and care of its own citizens while contributing an ambitious level of support to international development assistance, encouraging more opportunities for human equality abroad. The United States has been the leading contributor to international development assistance in dollar amounts since World War II, but its percentage of GDP contributed annually has been dropping since the 1960s with indications of this amount to drop further.

Norway is widely praised for its work in the field of international development assistance. This small country annually contributed approximately 1% of its national GDP towards foreign aid during the past 40 years, a level matched by very few nations. In 2016, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) recorded that Norway contributed 1.14% of its GDP (or $4.6 billion) to Official Development Assistance (ODA), the country’s largest international assistance/aid amount to date. Norway’s contribution is a far cry from the largest contribution in 2016 by the United States at $33.2 billion, but it sets a high symbolic precedence globally (OECD). The United States’ contribution equaled 0.181% of its GDP in 2016.

As with much of Europe, Norway was economically depressed after World War II and had very little to offer towards foreign aid and development. During this period, the United States led a historic initiative to help with the post-war recovery process via the Marshall Plan in Europe (and other assistance abroad) and then continued to offer global assistance and development via the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (USAID). In the 1960s, the United States’ contribution to international development assistance reached almost 0.6% of its GDP before descending towards its present-day level.

Norway’s contribution towards international development assistance began to increase at the end of the 1960s and was supported by the country’s discovery and export of petroleum. As Norway’s economy grew, it maintained a progressive socialistic tax system that prioritized the equal distribution of surpluses among its citizens over individuals’ opportunities to accrue wealth quickly. Norway’s strict wealth distribution structures can be attributed to the country’s recent memories of poverty before the 1960s, and therefore economic security for all is still held in high regard. This in part is why Norway has taken its commitment to assist countries in need so seriously, recognizing the importance of equal treatment towards all global citizens as it does its own.

As a social democracy, Norway has considerable influence over numerous sectors, including its own media channels. Daily news broadcasts via national radio and television channels are informative about diverse international topics that keep viewers and listeners updated about global topics and Norway’s potential role in them. As these media outlets are not financed by paid advertising, their main priorities are the delivery of mostly objective information rather than viewer ratings.

The goals of both Norway and the United States’ international development assistance are led by each country’s national interests, which naturally influence initiatives abroad. Norway is currently being led by a more conservative party than in previous years, which has inspired further debates about how Norway will prioritize its foreign assistance. The United States’ current administration is promoting drastic changes in its foreign policy and support of international development assistance, which seemingly seeks to further isolate the United States from the rest of the world.

Norway’s commitment to international development assistance is commendable considering its small position on the international stage and thereby the seeming selflessness of its contributions. Norway’s political ideologies, cultural homogeneity, history, and resource-rich economy make it a fascinating country case and this includes its approach to international development assistance. Norway has made a quick transition from a poor nation to a wealthy state that contributes positively to the global community, and it can attribute much of this to its perspective on human equality. While Norway and the United States have significantly different GDPs and political ideologies, it would be wise of the U.S. to reflect upon Norway’s approach to international development assistance and how the world could benefit from more help rather than less.

Espen Haugen was born and raised in Alaska by Norwegian parents and is a dual citizen of both Norway and the United States. He studied international development and geography at a bachelor and masters level in both the United States and Norway, and has since worked in both Central America and Uganda. He currently resides in Tromsø, Norway.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 8, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.