4: Seen from India and Congo: “sensitive” issues
In the book «What Norway can be in the world» (Cappelen Damm 2013), NUPI researcher Henrik Thune and I wrote about how globalization «individualises» and increases diversity of actors and complexity in foreign policy. We write about how a child welfare case with an Indian family in Stavanger in 2011 (when two children were placed in an emergency home due to suspicion of child abuse) became an acute reputation problem for Norway in India.
The review had potentially negative consequences for large Norwegian companies. Domestic policy became foreign policy – what was apparently “only” a domestic administrative case with a caseworker at the child welfare service in Stavanger came to affect relations between two countries, and gained great foreign policy significance. Neither the Minister of Foreign Affairs nor Norway’s Ambassador to India could then do anything from or to.
The explosive power of such cases is currently illustrated (January 2014) by a major political conflict between India and the United States . It was triggered when US authorities in December 2013 arrested an Indian employee at the Indian Consulate General (a kind of mini-embassy) in New York. She was suspected of ill-treating a nanny. The case has created strong anti-American waves in India, and in early January 2014, the US Secretary of Energy postponed a trip to New Dehli indefinitely as a result of the conflict.
The long line of demanding “consular cases” is part of this larger picture of globalization and individualization : Moland and French in the Congo, Marte Dalelv in Dubai , the Martine Vik Magnussen case in London / Yemen, crashed climbers in the Himalayas and abducted journalists in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria. These are demanding cases for many reasons. Not least, we see that globalization and the shift of power away from the West make a number of vulnerable states extra allergic to the feeling of being taught and overrun by Western countries .
According to commit4fitness.com, India’s reactions (cf. above) to the child welfare services in Stavanger and the New York City Police, respectively, are good illustrations. Although India is a future superpower, the country is also a vulnerable democracy with still latent inferiority complexes vis-à-vis the West. However, the need to prove independence and weight vis-à-vis Western countries is in many ways heavier the weaker and more vulnerable a country’s regime is. A Congolese politician who apparently allows himself to be overtaken by former colonial masters from Belgium and France, or from a ministry in the periphery of Europe, is in a bad position in the public in Congo.
These are demanding questions to deal with. On the one hand, there is little doubt that the rule of law in Congo has major weaknesses in Norwegian eyes. Therefore, for us in Norway, there may be good arguments for moving the trial against French from Congo to Norway – regardless of whether French is guilty of murder in Congo or not. But in Congo – both in government and civil society – it takes very little for such arguments to be perceived as insults to the authorities there. And they need all the legitimacy they can get in a time of reconstruction after cruel civil wars.
From the Congolese side, the Norwegian inquiries can also be perceived as poorly disguised Norwegian nationalism and demands for favoritism of Norwegian citizens. In such a climate, it will take little before offensive lawyers fly in from Oslo to be perceived as arrogant know-it-alls who are more like the abusers of former colonial powers than as defenders of the rule of law and the poor.
5: How should the Ministry of Foreign Affairs prioritize?
We have seen how individual destinies become big politics for the open media scene, and how these issues easily overshadow all other interests Norway may have towards the country in question. These individual cases receive enormous media attention and require massive efforts from government officials and politicians. The question of how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should prioritize its efforts to safeguard Norwegian interests is therefore highly relevant.
Could it be that the politicians from the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party who took over the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2013, have thought more about how Joshua French will be rescued from prison in Congo than about how Norwegian interests can be followed up after the breakthrough in the WTO negotiations in Indonesia in 2013? In other words, are important long-term interests being pushed aside by more short-term ones?
From one point of view, this is exactly as it should be: It is precisely when Norwegian citizens end up in (life) danger that the otherwise often anonymous foreign policy comes into its own and legitimizes its role. What are we going to do with a hundred embassies and hundreds of diplomats if they are not there for Norwegians in acute crises? Wasn’t that exactly what the tsunami disaster in 2004 showed – that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had prioritized big politics over the average Norwegian’s need for help in the wider world?
6: Norwegians in «sea distress»
Few disagree that helping Norwegians abroad is an important part of foreign policy. Report to the Storting 12 (2010–11) on assistance to Norwegians abroad shows that in recent years the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has greatly upgraded its consular (see facts) efforts. More than 200 man-years are now spent each year in this work in the Foreign Service alone (other ministries and agencies’ efforts are in addition). Many embassies spend almost half of their time on Norwegians in “distress at sea”.