Britain = the new Norway? I *wish*

At the Chatham House seminar a couple of weeks ago on David and my paper on how the UK organises for influence – part of the Institute’s program on rethinking the UK’s international ambitions and choices – one of the members of Britain’s foreign policy making community put a blunt question on the table. Do we want to be a global player, or do we want to be Norway?

Pleasingly, this question was answered moments later by another participant who does a lot of consulting work for Chinese, Indian and Russian firms, who pointed out that as far as emerging economies are concerned, the UK is already Norway.  (Well, actually it was slightly less good than that – specifically, they felt that the UK was irrelevant except as far as its indebtedness was concerned – but let’s not get stuck on details.)

Me, I feel we’re at risk of losing sight of a larger point: that being Norway would be awesome for British foreign policy. Consider:

– No-one trusts us because we’re Perfidious Albion and we keep invading people. Everyone trusts Norway, on the other hand, so they’re like the capital of peace mediation and get peace processes named after their capital city.

– Norway used their North Sea oil to set up a vast Sovereign Wealth Fund. It’s worth £259 billion. They’ve used this to become the mother of all socially responsible activist investors, and can just unilaterally decide to launch massive global policy initiatives to halt deforestation.  Hey Gordon – where’s our North Sea Oil SWF? Huh? Huh?

– While we make a lot of noise about Official Development Assistance Spending, Norway gives nearly twice as much ODA as the UK as a proportion of GNI: 1% versus our 0.56% in 2010.  Norway also does way better on policy coherence for development than the UK: in the 2009 CGD Commitment to Development Index, Norway scored 6.6, ranking 3rd overall among 22 rich countries. The UK only got 5.1, placing us 12th.

– Norway still has fish in its fisheries, because it successfully used the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to tell the EU fishing fleet to go screw itself.  (The EU duly subsidised its flotilla of mainly Spanish boats to clean out African waters instead. Heh heh – ever the enlightened ‘post-modern superpower’, eh readers?)

– Ummm… oh yeah, Norway’s not in the EU!  They are, though, in the EEA – so they still get membership of the Single Market (though not the CAP or the CFP – result!) and still get access to fun x-Europe schemes like the European health insurance card, Erasmus university exchanges, etc. (Admittedly, I’m actually in favour of increased European harmonisation on foreign policy. But being a realist, I recognise that Europe’s heads of government are not with me on this one. This being so, colour me unconvinced on the argument that “being an EU member increases the UK’s influence on foreign policy”. Er – Copenhagen?)

Plus they have the Northern Lights, and the Hurtigruten, and they officially read more than anyone else in the world.

Case closed. Just figured out our project’s core recommendation. Time for lunch.