[INTERVIEW] Ukraine aid an imperative for democracies: Norwegian parliamentarian

Home > National > Diplomacy

print dictionary print

[INTERVIEW] Ukraine aid an imperative for democracies: Norwegian parliamentarian

Masud Gharahkhani, president of the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, speaks during an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily on Friday afternoon at the Norwegian Embassy in Seoul. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Masud Gharahkhani, president of the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, speaks during an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily on Friday afternoon at the Norwegian Embassy in Seoul. [PARK SANG-MOON]

Masud Gharahkhani, president of the Norwegian parliament, the Storting, paid an official visit to Korea from Wednesday to Saturday to foster increased cooperation with Korea in democracy, foreign policy, energy and trade.  
The visit by the chief of the Norwegian parliament came weeks after a trip to Seoul by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, a former prime minister of Norway, who thanked Korea for its humanitarian support to Ukraine and called on Seoul to consider revising its prohibition on exporting weapons to countries in conflict.
Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store of Norway told the Storting earlier this month that the oil-rich Scandinavian country will seek to use its profits from windfall oil sales to finance additional aid to Ukraine.
The Norwegian prime minister has proposed some $7.3 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine over five years, which if approved by the Storting would make the country one of the biggest donors to Ukraine.
The Korea JoongAng Daily sat down with Gharahkhani to better understand how this unprecedented aid package came about, and what lessons it could offer to Korea.
Prime Minister Gahr Store recently announced that Norway should provide $7.3 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Can you tell us a bit about how and why the Norwegian government reached this decision?
Although foreign policy lies with the government in Norway, economic proposals and other spending packages are voted on by the parliament. While we are now negotiating over this proposal and will likely vote on it very soon, I can say that almost all of the political parties stand together in long-term support of Ukraine.

Norway once had a very restrictive policy regarding sending weapons to countries at war, and we recently changed that because it’s been very important for us to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people. As the war is in Europe, it hits closer to home for us. This war is not only about Ukraine’s future, but it’s also about what kind of values we want Europe to be built on, such as democracy and human rights. So while we are still discussing the details of the aid package proposed by Prime Minister Gahr Store, I’m sure it will receive support from across the board.
What has been the reaction in Europe? Do you sense this support is widespread in other countries?
I was elected as President of the Storting in November 2021, only three months before we were faced with this war. I have since had many meetings with my colleagues in Europe — the presidents of different countries’ legislatures. What I see is that in most of Europe, all of us stand together with Ukraine.

I understand that Korea is supporting Ukraine with humanitarian aid. Norway is a member state of NATO, and I think everyone understands that if European countries in NATO do not provide Ukraine with military equipment, it will not be possible to ensure that Russia doesn’t win this war.

This is why we changed our policy very early on and allowed military support to be sent to Ukraine. That’s still one of the main debates in Europe now: what kind of aid is needed, and how to organize the deliveries of weapons that Ukraine needs to win this war.
What has been your role in these policy changes since the war began?
I was elected by all of the political parties to serve as president of the Storting, so my job is to facilitate discussions. Many of the discussions I have both in the Storting and abroad concern what is happening in Ukraine. I’ve visited President Zelensky, and this is also why I’m visiting Korea, with whom Norway shares many of the same values, like democracy and human rights. My role is to keep on using my voice in support of Ukraine.  
Leading Norwegian academics have penned a joint letter calling Norway “the only country profiting from the war.” How do you respond to that criticism? Do you think your country can contribute more in aid to Ukraine?
We are not a selfish people, and nor is Korea, I believe. Norway and Korea are both top in the world in giving humanitarian aid. This kind of support is our long-standing policy for several years, even before the war in Ukraine. We’re also currently the largest supplier of gas to Europe at a time when that kind of assistance is most needed. We have increased our production by 10 percent, which was crucial to ensure that Europe would have gas in the winter months. I believe this aid package of $7.3 billion proposed by the government shows our support of Ukraine as well.

At the same time, it’s sometimes difficult to explain this aid domestically. Even though we use hydroelectricity rather than gas for heating, prices have still risen, and we’ve had to ensure households and businesses also get relief from the government. We also have inflation and rising interest rates in Norway as well, and with our economy in difficult circumstances, we also have that to support that, too.
What role does Norway play in NATO? Has former prime minister Jens Stoltenberg’s appointment changed Norway’s role and prominence in NATO?
Jens Stoltenberg has been a great leader of NATO, but our policy has always been one that supports a strong NATO.

After the Second World War, we saw that the United States would be a strong ally for us. They already had a large presence in Norway, and of course our border with what was then the Soviet Union meant it was important for us to find allies that shared our values, and that was NATO.

One of our main concrete contributions to the alliance has been patrolling our long maritime border with Russia. We also took the lead in welcoming membership applications by Sweden and Finland to join NATO — we were one of the first parliaments to ratify the accession protocols admitting them into the alliance.

Since Norway was one of the founding countries of NATO, we were one of the first countries Finland and Sweden turned for knowledge and support when they started their accession discussions.

The Norwegian people are also strong supporters of NATO — the last time there was an opinion survey on Norway’s membership, 95 percent of respondents said they supported their country’s membership in the alliance.
How might the relationship among Nordic countries change or evolve once Sweden and Finland join NATO?
I was on an official visit to Sweden and Denmark the same week that the war broke. When I met my colleagues in those two countries at the time, they were asking about NATO because the aggression from Russia was starting. Once the war was underway, they began to rethink their policy regarding NATO.

Cooperation among Nordic countries has always been good — I meet Nordic colleagues several times a year. We conducted joint defense exercises outside of NATO even before Sweden and Finland applied to join the alliance, and we always have dialogues over border issues and especially border issues concerning Russia, since Finland shares a very long land border with Russia.

That, together with Norway’s maritime border with Russia, has entailed a lot of defense cooperation amongst ourselves. I think their joining NATO will allow us further complement and deepen our strengths in the defense area.
As someone with extensive parliamentary experience, how would you suggest that political parties and their elected members in government foster bipartisan cooperation, such as the kind that made the Ukraine aid package possible?  
Real democracies entail real disagreements and debates. But in Norway, we also have an entrenched democratic culture of working together for the common good, especially in crises.

During the pandemic, all of the different parties worked together to create different packages to support individuals, households and businesses who needed economic help.

Demonization of political opponents is, of course, a real problem in some democracies, but I think my job is made easier by the fact our society is built strongly on trust. For example, trust in parliament in Norway polled recently at 76 percent, and Norway is one of few countries where trust in media is also rising. Of course, we can’t take this for granted, but these are just a few examples of how our society is built on trust.  

BY MICHAEL LEE [lee.junhyuk@joongang.co.kr]
Log in to Twitter or Facebook account to connect
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
help-image Social comment?
lock icon

To write comments, please log in to one of the accounts.

Standards Board Policy (0/250자)