IT HAS become standard for countries which discover large deposits of oil or gas to declare that they will copy Norway. A president will announce the creation of a fund to park revenues from hydrocarbons. Grand plans are drawn up for spending the bounty on improving the lot of mankind. But being Norway is much harder than it sounds. Only one country seems to have the necessary mixture of wealth, generosity, internationalism, optimism and modesty required to pull it off.
Norway is the biggest contributor to conflict resolution, the optimistic name given to efforts to get warring parties to talk to each other. A high point here came in 1993, when Norwegian diplomats and researchers cajoled Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate face to face. The resulting Oslo accords were signed in Washington by politicians from America, Russia, Israel and Palestine. Norway was more than happy for them to take the credit for its initiative.
Since then Norway has sought to involve itself in many other conflicts—the less tractable the better. It has tried to repeat its Arab-Israeli success (as it seemed at the time) in Colombia, Haiti, Cyprus, the Philippines, Burma, Indonesia and, most recently, Sri Lanka. This last has been criticised as naive, leading as it did to a ceasefire that allowed the combatants to rearm before the killing resumed. Yet a consistent principle runs through these efforts: that it is better to sit down with all parties, even those considered pariahs, than to exclude anyone from peace talks.
Norway is a generous funder of a huge number of good causes. It has, for instance, given more to alleviate hunger in the Horn of Africa this year than France or Germany. It has set up a mechanism to pay Brazil not to chop down the Amazon. And it shovels money into the United Nations.
This makes Norway sound like a place that models its foreign policy on the banners held up at Woodstock, but that is not the case. It is a member of NATO and is playing an outsized role in the campaign in Libya. It has repeatedly shown a willingness to put its soldiers in harm’s way. The foreign ministry estimates that 120,000 Norwegians served as peacekeepers between 1947 and 2008, and Norwegians wearing the UN’s blue berets can today be found in Sudan, Congo and Afghanistan.