Dan Banik and Ine Eriksen Søreide discuss Norway’s reputation abroad, the foreign policy priorities of this small but extremely prosperous state, what it hopes to achieve as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, and why a photo of her giving a hug to her successor went viral last year.
Ine Eriksen Søreide served as Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2017 to 2021 – the first woman in the country’s history to hold the position. She represents the Conservative Party and is the current Chair of the Norwegian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. Between 2013 and 2017, she served as Minister of Defense.
Professor Dan Banik, University of Oslo, Twitter: @danbanik @GlobalDevPod
Banik: Ine, I’ve really enjoyed interacting with you all of these years, different debates, different panels, and I’m so delighted to have you on the show today. It’s good to see you, welcome!
Søreide: Thank you, and it’s very good to see you too in your basement right now, no, sorry in your attic!
Banik: Yeah, in my attic today, I've been upgraded.
Banik: Let’s just begin with a very general issue, Ine. I’m intrigued, I’m wondering, how do world leaders, how do your colleagues around the world, you’ve been interacting with lots of people as Minister of Defense, Minister Foreign Affairs, how do they view our country – Norway? Because on the one hand in academic writings or in newspaper articles you have this one narrative that we are small, we are prosperous, we have a well-functioning, robust welfare state, there’s political consensus on that, and there’s another narrative that we are very generous in providing foreign aid, everybody comes running to us if they need financing for something innovative, and then there is another narrative about how we are facilitating peace processes around the world, we give out the Nobel Peace Prize. Are these the kind of narratives you heard during your term as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, or was there something else that that came up?
Søreide: Well, I think all of the descriptions that you give do come up in the discussions around Norway, but I think first and foremost people view us, or countries rather, view us as you said, a relatively small country with an open economy with quite a good level of trust between the authorities and people, between people, but also with quite a consistent foreign and security policy. And I meet my former colleagues, and when I met my colleagues at the time from different countries, there were a lot of foreign ministers and defense ministers also who envied quite a lot that we were actually able to keep a consistent line on, I would say, the long lines and the major issues of a foreign and security policy and been doing so for decades, and I genuinely believe, and I said that in Parliament on Thursday as well, that what actually made us win a seat at the Security Council is our consistent foreign policy. We've always been very, I would say, outward looking. We want to engage with other countries, so even though we are small, we always enter into alliances, collaborations, and that is actually how we extend our foreign policy space.
Banik: I was recently in India, we have this project, we’re looking at Indian foreign policy, so one of the things that comes out in the literature is that Indian foreign policy is also characterized by continuity, despite these major political disagreements every time a new regime comes to power, and it appears to me that even though in Norway we do you have a somewhat polarized discourse on many domestic issues there is that similar continuity in terms of foreign policy. In fact, a lot of people say it's actually nice to be Foreign Minister because you're popular, I mean, people aren't really against you. Is that how you see it too?
Søreide: Well, of course there are nuances, but I would say that by and large there is a great deal of consensus on the bigger issues, so of course we have some discussions now, both with the Progress party and the Communists who both disagree, for instance, on our seat in the Security Council, and interestingly enough they find each other much of the discussions which I find politically interesting also from a domestic point of view. But I do think that one of the reasons why Norway is able to do many of the big processes for instance on mediation and peace diplomacy is that we know that these processes take a lot of time, they take a lot of time, they can take many years until they are even publicly known. When they are publicly known, it could take years until you reach an agreement, and when the agreement is reached, the really hard work starts on implementation, and you know this better than most people. We have always been able to follow the process through from beginning to the end, and that rests heavily on the fact that if a government, if our previous government started a process, I would be absolutely confident, and I could tell the parties, that the coming government would just pick up the baton and continue the process. And that also gives the parties who asks us to take a part the confidence that they can trust that Norway will be there regardless of a change of government, and that also makes it easier for the parties to invest what they need to invest in a peace process. That's just one example, but I think that's one of the good examples on that continuity. We see the same thing on for instance humanitarian aid, on long term development aid, we see it on security policy that even though there can be nuances and we can disagree on certain aspects and certain issues and, I mean, I think that's healthy for democracy.
Banik: I agree, but you know that there is one critical point there Ine and some people of course are arguing that the level of continuity leads in expanding our commitments, that every time a new party comes to power, you continue with what the others were doing, the previous government and then of course one adds something to it and that leads to an overload of obligations. What are your thoughts there?
Søreide: I mean, that's a valid point because even in a country like Norway, even though we have the resources we have, even though we spend 1% of GDP on aid we still have to prioritize, and that has to do with the fact that we are a small country and we don't have either ministries or agencies that can continue to grow and grow and grow to deal with new issues all the time. So, I do think it's a valid point that we also have to prioritize. One of the things that we did in in our time in government was, among other things, to reduce the number of agreements we have with for instance NGO's and countries when it comes to aid. It was not to reduce the volume of aid because that has expanded, I would say, enormously over the years, but it was to make sure that we can follow through with the projects, that we prioritize, that we have a certain number of countries, 17 countries, who are partner countries which we follow more closely than others, and also to make sure that we are able to control the flow of money and the projects. So, I think both on a thematic point, from thematic point of view, but also from the point of view of actually having control with a huge amount of taxpayers’ money. We have to narrow things a little bit down.
Banik: I remember you, as I think one of your first meetings, I think, as Foreign Minister you visited Norwegian NORAD and you were busy taking notes. I remember I was there and one of the things I think came up in that discussion was that, talking about aid, the bureaucracy, of course, is constant, whereas the tasks are increasing, so there's this need to expand, you know, have more people hire more of my students to work in development aid.
Søreide: The good students.
Banik: Yeah, the good students. And of course, the criticism against other, say, emerging countries like India and China, is that their aid bureaucracies are very limited, they also have to increase. So, there's this never-ending story, but I wanted to get back to this idea that maybe, Ine, we have certain values in Norway that we would like to promote elsewhere, right? So, I don't know if they can be called Norwegian values or Western values, but we do cherish democracy, women’s empowerment, gender equality, decent work, climate. These are not necessarily always in sync with the values of other leaders, I would think. So how was it then for you to talk about these issues in these diplomatic forums?
Søreide: Well, you're absolutely right that these values are not shared by everyone, and I made a couple of interesting observations, and also, where I think that things changed a bit over time. One is of course that we do see that many of the challenges on the human rights area, for instance, they are coming closer to home. We see European countries who are right now dealing with a lot of issues that are highly problematic, for instance when it comes to rule of law, when it comes to minorities rights and basic human rights, more or less, the freedom of assembly, the freedom of speech. To deal with that in a European context has been really important to us, and I really also observed very clearly, I would say, a move towards the more negative end for some of these countries during the past ten years, say. It resulted in in quite tough policies from our side, we do not have an agreement now with Hungary on the aid funds and the reason for that is that we could not agree on a fund for operating the civil society, civil society means, from the aid grants. That is a basic prerequisite from our side to all 15 beneficiary countries that it has to be independent from the state. And even though we in principle agreed with Hungary on that we were not able to agree on the fund operator and that means that they are missing out on 2.4, almost, billion Norwegian kroner over the next years. But for us it was also a matter of principle, I mean, this is for us a country who is moving in the wrong direction on almost every parameter that we see when it comes to rule of law and human rights. And we have also been tightening on Poland because of their declaration, at least in some municipalities and regions, that they are LGBTI free zones, which is a horrendous word in my opinion, so we've been kind of typing the grip there. What I also have been experiencing over these years is that in order to get a breakthrough, to get results, and this is really important to me because there are two ways of doing human rights policies. One is to only speak with a very loud voice and feel quite happy with yourself because you've delivered a message, but it doesn't lead to anything, it doesn't change the situation for the people who are either repressed or not able to express what they feel, what they think, they're not able to have assemblies and the crackdown on human rights are quite gross in many countries. And then you have the other form of doing human rights work which is to engage as much as you can to achieve changes and results that acquires you to have a mix of different tools in your toolbox. Sometimes you need to have a one-on-one conversation with the Foreign Minister, sometimes you have to speak out loud in the Human Rights Council or elsewhere, and other times, and this is the observation that I made over the past years, is that to form alliances with other countries in the region is sometimes very much more effective than only Western countries asking a country, for instance in Asia, to roll back on their clamping down on human rights. So, I've seen that to form alliances with countries we do not necessarily always agree with, on other issues can be quite effective on human rights issues. And I brought up human rights issues with all colleagues I had where the issues or the problems were quite prevalent, and I found that a very interesting entry into the discussions were the UPR from the Human Rights Council, because that concerns every country, it's not a kind of pinpointing of one country or the other, it concerns everyone. So, they give recommendations to us and we give recommendations to them, and to have a starting point for the conversation there was very often more effective than only delivering a message and getting no discussion or no feedback at all. And I just last point on human rights and values, when we did our campaign for the Security Council, we spoke to absolutely every country, and we still do, I mean that's part of who we are, we talked to everyone. And it was quite interesting because I think people knew what they would get with us in the Security Council, so much so that those who didn't like what they knew they would get they didn't vote for us either, and some of them did not vote for us because of our human rights policies and the fact that we are outspoken on that, and that's OK. I mean, if countries think that we are too tough on human rights for them, I think that is, well, a hallmark, in a way.
Banik: On the one hand, you're absolutely right that megaphone diplomacy, shouting out loud and criticizing, often can have the opposite effect, but I think, or I know that politicians often feel the pressure to do so because there's also a constituency back home. So, you have civil society organizations, you have many other actors demanding that you as the representative as Minister of Foreign Affairs you will make noise about certain things, and I'm sure you've faced this, that it is often difficult to manage those expectations, right? So, at home you have people saying be more critical, resort to megaphone diplomacy, whereas as you were saying it is often, or at least sometimes, more useful to do sort of backroom discussions outside the spotlight. How do you balance that, Ine?
Søreide: But it is a balancing act because you have to know the country, the situation and the people quite well, the people you meet quite well, to understand what could be a useful full tool. Sometimes, as I said, megaphone diplomacy is the only thing that will work, a united international pressure is the only thing that will work. But at other times, what I increasingly also experienced with many countries is that, for instance, bringing up a case with a certain, for instance, political prisoner could in some cases endanger the prisoner even more. So, in some cases international attention would give some sort of protection for you because people are aware that you are in prison and that you, for instance have been exposed to torture. In other cases, it's exactly the opposite, and that is why it's so important to listen to, for instance, the families, the NGO's, the human rights organizations and activists who are working on the ground, to know whether or not this is an issue that can be raised publicly, or if a public discussion would actually endanger the person even more, or shut the door for improvements in the human rights situation in many countries. And I also think you have to realize and also respect that a human rights organization, which is very important for Norwegian authorities, and we have a lot of dialogue with them and in my time as Foreign Minister as well, it was a very, it was an open and very good dialogue with human rights organizations. But we have to realize that we have different roles. As a government you have a different role and also different tools, I would say, compared to human rights organization. They know it and we know it. And of course, we sometimes disagree on what is the right level of criticism, how do you shape the criticism. But as a foreign minister, as a government, what we were concerned about was whether or not this would bring about a real change. So, what tool to choose if change is the ultimate goal. And the second thing was, and increasingly over my time as foreign minister, that became a very important part, not to do harm and not to inflict harm and danger on those who want to help.
Banik: In most of these situations, a lot of countries that are being criticized for their human rights records would say you have problems back home, so I thought it was interesting what you said about Hungary and Poland and what Norway did or did not do with them. But increasingly, Ine, I also notice something else and that is, like in the old days, and I've been in Norway for 30 years, I say like old days, 30 years ago, the critique against Norway was against whaling. You always had to be on the defensive a bit about that, but nothing else, everything else was pretty positive. I've been noticing something new off late, and that is this critique– well firstly, during the 2016 elections in the US there was Bernie Sanders talking about the Nordic model and the welfare state, all of that, so we got some attention, and there was some dissatisfaction in U.S. media saying, hey, come on Norway is different and US is so big. But increasingly I hear, and I see much more of a pushback, people questioning whether our model of development is that great, and there's particular criticism about our footprint in terms of emissions, because most of our riches is from oil. I notice that people are now saying, hey, you are being hypocritical, that you guys are talking about climate change etcetera, but you've benefited from this fossil fuel industry, so who are you to tell us what to do, now it is our turn. And this, particularly Ine, relates to, say, natural gas. I've had a conversation recently with a colleague saying that Norway is telling financial institutions don't support fossil fuel projects in other parts of the world in low-income countries, and the discourse is extremely polarized. Have you been noticing this kind of pushback against this really nice narrative that we are well liked all over the world?
Søreide: Well, I wouldn't say it's a pushback against Norway being, I would say, on relatively good footing with most countries in the world. But of course, climate issues are very important in our time, and rightly so. However, I think it's too simple and too easy just to say that, well, Norway is the producer of oil and gas and therefore we have no say in climate and environmental issues, for instance. I would say on the contrary, I mean, we've been doing this and extracting this very responsibly for all the years that we've been doing this, it's close to 40-45 years. At the same time there is no doubt that many of our energy solutions, be it gas, natural gas, or are now very big projects on, especially on offshore wind that we do in many parts of the world, they are also extremely important elements in the transition towards greener solutions. So, I think that one of the interesting points is also how we can use our resources and our technology and our knowledge on this to form a greener environment and a greener society. One of the things I find interesting is that much of the technology that was used once for the offshore oil platforms are now used to build offshore wind farms and the technology, especially when it comes to how to make it stable, is the same for both. It’s interesting how that knowledge can transform in the same companies in the same sector, and that many of the oil companies also are looking much more at renewable energy now than they did just some few years ago. And of course, we also have our national interests that we need to take care of in a globalized world. We have to take care of our interests in the high North, in the Arctic. We need to manage our resources in a responsible way for future generations and we need to take steps nationally that reduces our emissions, and our emissions have been reduced for many years in a row now. And that is of course you do policies as well, that we in government we had a very forward leaning climate and environmental strategy and policy that reduce the emissions, and that's the only way I plan to go right now.
Banik: Let's move on to multilateralism, Ine. Talking about how there's continuity in Norwegian foreign policy, we have always been I suppose, big supporters of the United Nations, right. We support UN, we support many of the international financial institutions, and we'll get back to that. But you mentioned the Security Council and one of the things, I would say one of the signature achievements of your reign as Minister of Foreign Affairs, was that we were elected to the Security Council for two years and I remember being in a panel with you discussing what Norway's role should be. In hindsight, Ine, what do you think the result has been, the impact? Obviously, you know we're there just for two years, along with certain other countries, but then there are these big five ganging up on us, perhaps. What are your general sort of observations on the influence of these non-permanent members?
Søreide: Well, it's very interesting because in January now we hold the Presidency of the Council, so it is an extra amount of Security Council issues buzzing around right now. I'd say that, I could give speeches about this, I will try not to, but we went into the campaign mode with a set of four main priorities. That was peace, diplomacy, women, peace and security, protection of civilians and climate and security. And in hindsight I think that these four priorities have really stood the test of time very well, both because we have a continuity in working with these issues from many years back, so countries knew what our profile and policies were and we see that they are very much at the core of today's challenges. And even though not all of them are all that easy to discuss in the Council, like climate and security, there has been a major change, especially when the US changed their administration and they came around to realizing the connection between climate change and security implications and issues. So that is one thing where I think the priorities were good. We've had quite a leading role in many issues in the past year and this year has really moved very quickly, and I'd like to just highlight some of them. We were quite central in the beginning when the Gaza crisis hit in May. Together with China, who then had the Presidency, and Tunisia, we were pushing for the parties to enter into a ceasefire. We were quite central when the military coup took place in Myanmar and 1st. February to condemn the violence and the attacks and of course right now we are in a situation where things have not moved. But at that point, to get China, especially, and also India at the time, to agree on a statement from the Council was very complicated, but also quite an achievement. And I would like just to highlight two things in addition to resolutions and other things that we've done. We are the penholder on two very important issues: humanitarian assistance to Syria border crossing, humanitarian assistance and also Afghanistan. So, we’ve managed to get for the first time in five years a consensus on anything relating to Syria with the resolution on border crossing aid that was unanimously passed on the 9th of July. That was a major achievement from our diplomats, both in New York and elsewhere. We did around the clock work also from the ministry in Oslo, and very happy that that actually took place and it was, as I said, quite an achievement. We also managed to renew the mandate of UNAMA in Afghanistan at a time that was quite critical because it was in the very chaotic situation that took place when Taliban regained power in in Afghanistan. So, those two things, in addition to the focus that we've had on the other issues, I think are very much, it very much shows that a small country can actually do a lot of heavy lifting in the Security Council, but you need to be on solid footing with the permanent members and also the other elected members. And interestingly enough, over the past years, we've seen quite a shift where the P5 of course have their disagreements, as they’ve always had, and I mean, there's a lot of things that can be done in Security Council, but there are also limitations, and whenever poor basic interests of the different countries are at stake you would see the countries revert to their national interests more than the kind of global interests. But at the same time, I think it's fair to say that the elected members have gotten more of a, I would say, more of a prominent place wherever they can agree on things, because when the E10, the elected 10, agree on something it also pushes the P5, or the different fractions of the P5, a little bit in the right direction, and it's a possibility of getting more things done. Of course, the voting rules and all of that is a bit complicated, but bear in mind that over the past year there has only been one veto in the Security Council, only one, and that was on the resolution on climate and security.
Banik: I wanted to talk to you about that very briefly, because this was, I think this happened on my birthday, I think 13 December or something like that. So, Norway was pushing for this resolution on climate security, and the argument was that climate security, that agenda is a preventive agenda, and it is important to climate proof conflict prevention, that really was the argument. Norway wasn't asking to take over the tasks of other UN agencies, I think it was that statement that was wanting this resolution from the Security Council. But that failed, that draft resolution was not adopted, and so obviously, the question is did it surprise you? But going back to what we were just discussing, on the one hand as a non-permanent member, obviously Norway could as the others, raise certain low hanging fruit issues where you know there would be some sort of consensus, it would help project us having achieved certain things. But we could also take on something really controversial, right, and maybe know from the beginning that this would be a hard sell, but we pursue it nonetheless because it could have some sort of symbolic value and maybe push the needle a bit further.
Søreide: Well, I'd say that during our tenure in the Security Council, we have not really pushed the low hanging fruit.
Søreide: I mean we've taken on tasks also in the subcommittees, the sanctions committees that are quite heavy and quite difficult. So, we've tried as much as we can to take our part of the responsibility, and then some. So, the resolutions that mentioned on Syria and Afghanistan are very good examples of penholderships that are not easy in any shape or form, but we still manage to reach agreements and consensus. But on the climate and security resolution I think it's fair to say that we were more than aware that this would be a really tough one to get through. I participated in a meeting in the Security Council in September where the US were present with their Foreign Minister and there were a lot of foreign Ministers and presidents around the table, it was a high level meeting, and of course it was obvious from the discussion also there that even though the US had changed their entry into this, and we're very concerned about the connection between climate and security, Russia was very inclined on the opposite, China was taking quite a middle stance, or a middle position, and India was also coming out very strongly against a resolution at this time. So, we knew that it was going to be difficult, but we couldn't let the chance pass us first and foremost because we think that this is the right thing to do and we see the connection very clearly. There's a lot of consequences of climate change taking place. There is a fight for resources, there's displacement, there is conflict and we see that many of these very, I would say, dramatic consequences take place in countries where you have weak systems for governance for instance, and there is a connection that kind of aggravates an already very difficult situation. So, for us it was important to raise it. The US took on a leading role together with us and others to kind of push it and completely changing their position on this compared to the previous administration.
Banik: Itself is an achievement.
Søreide: Yes, they actually came up very strongly on this, but I mean we cannot, again, we cannot completely get away from the fact that again, national interests and other interests can also be very powerful in the Security Council, and if a country and permanent member do not want to raise an issue that could end with a veto. But I mentioned the fact that we only had one veto last year as an example of, contrary to what many people think, they think that there are vetoes in the Security Council all the time. The major rule is consensus and that is something I think needs to be more highlighted also from us as politicians because this is not a dysfunctional body. Yes, we can sometimes agree that the Security Council should do more, they should be braver, they should put more agenda and more points on agenda, but at the same time things are also moving in the right direction in many in many areas, and I think that this year the discussion and also the implementation of the resolution on border crossing aid to Syria, was the most prominent and the most important.
Banik: I think it's a very good point you raised that sometimes the media, even us academics, we are hung up on what doesn't work, on all the problematic aspects and we don't tend to sort of highlight what actually works, and I think this this focus on consensus, I think it is a very valid point. Ine, one of the things that you, during your period of course you know you issued this very important White Paper on multilateralism and I'm...
Søreide: I was hoping you’d get there.
Banik: Yes, a key goal of course, for Norway and related to what we were discussing earlier about continuity etcetera is this support for binding international cooperation. For Norway the multilateral system has been very important because for Norway, at least officially, the White Paper says it enables us to strengthen our ability to address common challenges and safeguard both national and global interests. Our prosperity, much of our international influence actually rests on that multilateral system and therefore Norway's multilateral work is an extension of its national priorities and international cooperation is vital for us in all kinds of areas. But Ine, not everybody thinks the multilateral system works very well today. Not everybody thinks that the current status quo is good for global development. Is that something that you can relate to?
Søreide: Absolutely, and as we very clearly state in the White Paper as well, if you are concerned, or if you, if you promote multilateralism today, you have to be equally active and promote reform of multilateralism, so that it works better to solve today's and tomorrow's challenges. Because there is no doubt that much of the international architecture and system has not been reformed in a way that makes it able to respond good to tomorrow's challenges, so that's a very important part of this. But my point is also that if we do not engage, we who are friends of multilateralism, if we do not engage in reforming and changing, we leave that arena open to those who either want to undermine multilateralism, or to shape it very much in their picture and. On Thursday, we had a debate in in Parliament on Security Council, and I heard from some of my colleagues, or at least one of my colleagues that, we should not spend time trying to either change or promote multilateralism because this was the arena for bigger countries. Well, the best recipe of multilateralism either being undermined or not being shaped as we'd like it to with international law and human rights at its core, is to just retract and say, well, this is only for the bigger countries. For a small country like us, we depend heavily on multilateralism, on binding international cooperation for our economy for our security, for our prosperity. And I think that it's so under communicated in so many ways that had we not had our security guarantees in NATO, had we not had an international trading system, a small country like ours with an open economy would be left in a very much more difficult situation than we are. Multilateralism is good for small countries and for bigger countries. The difference between small countries and big countries is that big countries can to certain extent choose. We have to cooperate with other countries and to do that within binding norms is definitely the most attractive solution for any country, small or big, but especially for smaller countries like ours.
Banik: You're right that the White Paper does raise these issues that there are major problems, it has to do with how representative some of these organizations are. And I've heard numerous proposals, how we should have more leadership positions from, or leaders from low-income countries should be represented better in many of these more influential organizations, say like the World Bank and the IMF. My take on this is also that I see India and China and certain other countries, of course, placing a lot of faith in the UN, whereas some of the Western countries are more skeptical towards the UN, so there's this whole polarized debate on how effective the UN is. And then there are these calls by some countries like China saying that one should not resort to unilateralism, that one should use the multilateral arena. But when I talked to others, you know representing some of the big powers they would say these arenas are often ineffective, and so we have to find other ways of resolving these issues because we don't want to be part of a talking club, we want to do something. So obviously the global balance of power is changing, as you know, and there are all of these calls for reforms, Ine, and what surprises me is that everybody talks about reform, but that kind of reform isn't taking place very effectively. There's so much criticism about global vaccine delivery, Covax having failed. So, if you were to highlight what needs to be done in terms of reforms to the multilateral system, what would you highlight as the key reforms that should be done today.
Søreide: Well, I think it depends a little bit on what kind of organization you talk about or what kind of problem we would like to solve because the problems are multifaceted. In some organizations it is a situation where everything has been more or less in a deadlock for many years, like WTO for instance.
Banik: Yeah, exactly.
Søreide: So, it means that you could run the risk of not being able to solve anything unless you discuss it for 20 to 25 years. And that means that more or less every discussion or every issue will be more outdated than you would like it to see when the solution finally comes, if it comes. Fisheries subsidies in WTO is one very good example. When I became Foreign Minister in 2017, one of my first meetings was to the WTO ministerial meeting in Buenos Aires. We were so close to fixing fisheries subsidies and the deadline was actually at the end of last year 2020, and no result was found and we still don't have a result. What is interesting is that in the WTO there has been several, I would say, organs or collaborations of countries who pursue some plurilateral solutions to things just to get things moving. They're open to everyone, and there are absolutely no limits as to who can join in. I think it's a very interesting way of reforming multilateralism in a way from the inside of the organizations. So as long as you don't exclude anyone, it is fine. Of course, we have challenges in many organizations where you have a demand for consensus and the EU is one example where many of the decisions on rule of law and human rights in member countries have been stalled because they demand consensus and you would easily get one country vouching for another country and this goes back and forth. What the EU has done really is to introduce mechanisms of conditionality that does not acquire consensus. So, you try to find ways of getting that organ to function again without being dead locked in the same systems, or the same discussions that have been there for many years. Those are only two examples, but I mentioned them because the answer to your question will be different regarding what kind of problem or institution needs to be.
Banik: You’re right, my question was somewhat vague. I was talking about the WTO or the UN and the World Bank, I mean there are very different institutions. I was just, was it a few weeks ago, talking to Jeff Sachs and I asked him a similar question and he said the big problem with multilateralism is the lack of goodwill.
Søreide: But I think to a certain extent he's right because the multilateral system at its best can actually solve problems for countries and people in the country. At its worst, it is an arena where countries who do not want to move their positions can easily do so without too much consequences. It is a system that we need that binding international cooperation is something that we need, but it's also a system where you can, to a certain extent, hold other countries prisoner or hostage if you don't want to see a change, if you don't want to see a movement. And it's really interesting how this is developing, but it's also interesting that more and more countries are gathering in different alliances to promote multilateralism. When we presented the White Paper, the German Foreign Ministry, then German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, was here to presently with me, and Germany was obviously inspired by our White Paper because they presented their White Paper last year and I was in Berlin to present it together with Heiko. And they took as a starting point much the same as we did, and I know other countries that have also thought about making similar White papers. Germany and France have called together a number of countries in the alliance for multilateralism that was launched 2-3 years ago at the UN General Assembly, and there are so many good initiatives and it was a good political will as well. But we need to find ways to move around the countries that are not willing to move any of their positions so that they do not hold the whole of the multilateral system hostage of their opinions where other countries wants to move and find solutions.
Banik: You became Norway first female Minister of Foreign Affairs and I was surprised it took us so long, given our long history of active female representation in politics, I mentioned Gro Harlem Brundtland, who I've known for many years, she was our first female Prime Minister in 1981. And of course, you’ve been Minister of Defense for around four years, but when you did become Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2017, there were apparently 29 men that held that office before you. I'm sure you were in many situations where it was a very alpha male dominated scenario. How was that to sort of represent and be Norway's first female foreign minister?
Søreide: Of course, it was an honor and, I've been talking to many people about this and I'm quite sure that if there had been someone else who became the first foreign female foreign minister and the reaction would be much of the same. I was very fortunate, I would say, to have the experience as four years of Defense Minister before I became Foreign Minister, for many reasons, both for political reasons and knowing security policy well. But also, because I had a lot of colleagues that also became foreign ministers after a while, and I’d been in NATO for four years, I've been in dealing with many of these issues for four years, and of course having the experience of being in government for four years was also good. Interestingly enough, I found the environment in foreign policy more male dominated than in defense policies and I remember very well that I had several female predecessors as Defense Minister and once it was a little kid who asked me if it was possible for a man to become Defense Minister in Norway, and I said “Well, it depends a bit, you know”. It’s interesting how perceptions change, and I think young people growing up today they have no other experience than Erna Solberg being Prime Minister, so they think it's very strange that a man now is Prime Minister, so it's changing. But I think that, the base that four years as chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and then four years as Defense Ministry gave me was really a very important basis for being a Foreign Minister, because you need to deal with practically every issue and very diverse issues, as you know. It can seem strange, but I've never felt situations in my time as Foreign Minister where it has been an issue that I was a woman. On the contrary, I would say that I never came across any situation where that was that an issue. I think part of that is because I had a network and I had an experience from before that people knew who I were and knew that had been Defense Minister, and that I think also helped a little bit. But I would say by and large people are more interested in what you say, what you think, that you know than if you are a man or a woman in that environment, in the international environment today. I don't know if you have a different experience on this but I've only had good experiences I would say, and to the extent that sometime I felt that someone had a bit of a strange comment or anything, I'm quite quick to fire back.
Banik: Of course, I don't have an experience of being a woman, but I do have an experience of being an immigrant. My experience is that if somebody is being arrogant towards me, I'm double as arrogant towards them. So that is my sort of response, but I think I share that same experience that you do in the sense that it helps to just know your stuff.
Søreide: And to have the experience.
Banik: And that gives you confidence, the experience, and you being the chair of the foreign and defense committee in the Parliament, and Defense Minister, obviously gave you that head start in a way, you could hit the ground running and that confidence. A final thing, Ine, one of the photos that went viral when you quit office was you hugging your successor, Anniken. I thought that video was a wonderful way of projecting Norwegian soft power. And just ending on what we started, in this world that we live today where there's so much political polarization, that was actually a wonderful image of Norway that did the rounds.
Søreide: I didn't know until some days later that it had really gone viral. Anniken and I have known each other for the better part of more than 20 years and we've been also working together both in the Committee on Education back in the day and before she became Minister for the first time, when she became Minister of Culture. Now she's been chairing the committee for eight years all the eight years where I've been Defense Minister and foreign minister she's been chair of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, so I mean, we've known each other for a long, long time. I think from both our sides a very genuine hug. I really wanted her to succeed and to wish her all the best and all the success. And of course, it’s a day with a lot of emotions. You can just imagine leaving the ministry and all the wonderful, wonderful people at the ministry after four years. It's really a sad day, but it's also a day where you really want to wish your successor all the best because you know that she will face a lot of challenges. And even though we disagree on certain political issues, and I mean, it has to be possible to have that debate because we don't agree on everything, we have some disagreements, but generally I think what that hug also symbolized is that we do think, both of us, that even though we disagree on some issues, we want the best for Norway, we want the best for Norwegian interests and to take care of Norwegian interests, and we genuinely want the best for the work that we both shall do in in difficult and different positions. So, it was it was interesting to see how much attention that picture really got. I didn't know it at the time of course when we gave that hug, but when we saw the reaction, I think we, both of us also, thought it was a very nice contrast to much of, as you say, the polarized political debate that takes place everywhere, to realize that change of power can not only go peacefully but also friendly. I mean we have this position for a certain period of time and then you pass it on and the only thing you really want is to see that your successor on behalf of Norway takes good care of Norwegian interests and you want to wish her well.
Banik: Ine, I’ve always had great fun chatting with you. Thank you so much for coming on my show today.
Søreide: Thank you so much, Dan for inviting me.