Business for Peace Awards Summit and PRIO in Oslo.

I knew Norway was the home of the Nobel Peace Prize but I didn’t quite appreciate how much of a central mediator this little country had become in global peace negotiations.

I was staying with Trine and Katarina while I was in Norway, they’re students of Peace and conflict studies and Anthropology at the University of Oslo and as such I got a rare insight into the work of Norwegian research institutions and the pivotal role they play in global politics.

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This is the University Library; my office for the week.

Norwegian think-tanks such as the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) and the International Law and Peace Institute (ILPI), produce research material that influences policy makers all over the world. I was lucky as, while I was there, PRIO was holding the Business for Peace Awards Summit. Trine wasn’t able to go so she signed me up instead.

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Norway is a rich country, but it hasn’t always been that way. For centuries it was controlled by Denmark before it was ceded to Sweden. In 1814 they declared independence only to be re-occupied by Sweden. They had their own parliament but it wasn’t until 1905 that the union with Sweden was dissolved.

The Germans took over during 1940-45, despite Norway’s position of neutrality.

After the war they went through a period of reformation, which was helped along by their finding huge reserves of oil in 1969. By 1995 Norway was the world’s second biggest exporter of oil.

 

The Business for Peace Awards Summit was held in the Oslo City Hall. I caught the train into town and the sun was shining as I walked along the foreshore of the harbor. The weather report on my phone was telling me that the temperature on this summer’s day in Oslo was about the same as in Byron Bay, where it was supposedly winter.

The harbor was dominated by an old tall-ship, the Gotheborg. There was no mistaking the ships homeport, its blue and yellow paint screamed Sweden.

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The City Hall building was overbearing. The architecture seemed soviet inspired with its severe grey stonework and square lines. The entrance was facing away from the harbor and it was bordered by two huge walls that formed a corridor. It blocked out the light and there was a biting wind that whipped through the space as I leaned back to pull open the heavy glass door.

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Photo: Wikimedia

Once inside I took in the marble floors and huge columns, the design was neither modern nor classic. It was built in the 30’s but it already felt dated. It lacked the opulence of Sweden’s castles but it also lacked the complex simplicity of German minimalism.

PRIO

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I got my name-tag and some booklets and headed up the palatial stairway. I found a function room that had views over the harbor, the ceiling shone with frescos of gold leaf, there were silky, high-back chairs and portraits of the royal family hung on the walls.

I’d been to my fair-share of conferences and the furtive mingling of the people present was not dissimilar. I had made the effort to wear my best shirt and my leather boots but I still felt a little out of place. I nodded hello to the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister. A director from the UN in Washington asked me where the Treadgold organization was from. I explained that that was my name; unfortunately my name tag lacked my title and my role, unlike everyone else who had some very official sounding job titles.

The Foreign Affairs minister spoke and I listened politely while enjoying the French wine; I was eyeing off the macaroons, they looked good.

I started chatting with a Danish guy called Nick. He was an engineer and would be moving to Oslo soon to live with his girlfriend. He’d been invited in much the same way as I. We drank more wine and met a few of the other attendees.

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We moved into another room for the afternoon’s seminars and there was a portrait of the Norwegian King. At first glance it was the typical pose with a puffed-out chest and a stern gaze. But the artist had gotten a little creative and used some surrealist techniques to add texture. It was far more interesting and showed the Royal Family to have an edge, surprising for Norway as I saw it as the most conservative of the Scandinavians.

The first seminar involved a speech by former US Congressman, Jim Marshall, who is President of the US Institute of Peace. His idea was the introduction a kind of Chamber of Commerce that would be global. He talked about how much vested interest businesses had in there being stability and peace and that a Global Chamber of Commerce would pull together the best business minds to consult when policies were being developed.

Some other speakers were invited to debate the issue. They took him to task, it got pretty radical.

There was Greg Reichberg (Research Professor, PRIO and the University of Oslo), Heba El-Kholy (Director of the Oslo Governance Centre, UNDP) and Erik Edling (Project Leader, International Council of Swedish Industry)

They all maintained a well-practiced sense of poise and politeness as the discussion grew more heated. It was a thrill to watch such interesting thinkers debating advanced policy issues.

Then came a bunch of mining guys discussing; Natural Resource Extraction: Blessing or Curse? There was Siri Aas Rustad, Senior Researcher, PRIO and Harry Tzimitras, Director, PRIO Cyprus Centre. They spoke about how access to minerals had helped bring feuding countries together eg. Israel is in talks with Turkey to facilitate the building of oil and gas pipelines. And they discussed how Cypress having oil is the only way they are going to develop and turn around the dire state of their economy.

Through the whole process there was the assumption that environmental concerns would not disrupt the status quo of the minerals industry. They didn’t suggest the possibility that energy policies might change and that we’ll stop burning coal and oil with abandon.

To me this is the key policy issue, the issue of how mineral rich countries are going to transition to a carbon constrained world. There was some brief discussion, using Cypress as an example, that asked whether leaving the resources in the ground is an option. But it wasn’t taken very seriously. The world needs oil and countries like Cypress are desperate to sell it.

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The sky was growing dark as I headed downstairs to the main hall. I had other plans and wouldn’t be staying for the awards ceremony but it was a fun atmosphere to be part of. I took a seat on a bench that ran along the wall. Copies of the International Herald Tribune dotted the seats, the newspaper was a sponsor. There was brief mention of the Australian federal budget and its lack of surplus.

The room was buzzing with people; mingling and chatting on phones. There were people in suits and Uni students handing out brochures.

I got to talking with a woman sitting next to me on the bench. She was very well spoken and her eyes didn’t leave mine as we chatted about the sessions we’d been to that day. I explained I was from Australia and she was interested in how I ended up here.  She was very knowledgeable about Australian politics, which surprised me, until I found out she worked for the United Nations, that she was the Director of Democratic Governance for the UNDP in New York.

With hesitation I began to explain that in the latest budget the Australian government wouldn’t be increasing aid spending, that they would not meet their goal of Aid spending being equal to 0.5% of GDP. She gave me a look of frustration and we discussed the sad regression of Australian politics towards the right.

At this point she had to take a phone call, but she wished me good luck. I asked her her name and she pointed to her photo that was on the back of the program I was holding in my hand.

As I was leaving, weaving through the crowd, she stopped me as she wanted to introduce me to some of her colleagues. I hadn’t realized how short she was, not much over five foot tall, she was from South Africa originally, she’d been a government minister there. Her colleagues were a little confused about why she was introducing them to a sloppily dressed Australian who towered over them, but they were polite and welcoming. Before long she was ushered away, she was due to speak soon.

As the proceedings were beginning I headed for the shadowy slate corridor that led outside. The wind hit me as I pushed the door open, I pulled my big coat around me and smiled at the cold air on my face.

(PS. anchors are cool).

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