Norway in Afghanistan Part I

By | October 23, 2021
  • What is a just war?
  • What goals did the Norwegian authorities set for Norwegian participation in Afghanistan?
  • What did the government hold on to all the time for the Norwegian participation?
  • How did the goals change along the way?

In this article, we look at the language that Norwegian governments used in the argument – both the content and the expression. The article shows that the involvement in Afghanistan had many different goals and intentions , from fighting evil and defending Norway’s security and Norwegian values, to contributing to development and self-help. The article does not address whether the goals were achieved, only how the authorities justified the commitment.

2: UN mandate: a common thread

On 12 September 2001, the UN Security Council (Res. 1368) decided that the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center (New York) and the Pentagon (Washington) posed “a threat to international peace and security”. Since then, the Norwegian authorities have repeatedly confirmed Norwegian support for what became the “war on terror” or the “fight against terrorism”.

According to BEAUTYPICALLY.COM, the UN had “established” that the terrorist attacks were a threat to international peace and security. Thus, UN member states could legally (the UN Charter) use force. This was the so-called UN mandate. The legality of using military force almost established the government as a fact – as if there was nothing to discuss. The tone of the argument gave the impression that “that’s just the way it is”. The Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that we had both a duty to participate (Petersen 2001a), and a responsibility to comply (Petersen 2002). In addition to the obligation to the UN, Norway was also bound by a collective self-defense obligation, as a member of the NATO alliance (alliance solidarity).

But what did the UN mandate really mean? In the beginning, it was a mandate that approved a collective self-defense . Eventually, the governing powers also referred to the UN mandate when international peace and security in general were to be maintained . The same applied to prevention and deterrence against future attacks, as well as when it was argued for a strong national (Norwegian) defense. Towards the end of the decade, the focus shifted towards “softer” prevention, such as development, aid and democratization, but still with reference to “a clear UN mandate”.

3: 2001–2002: Just War and Existential Argumentation

In addition to referring to a clear UN mandate, the government clearly argued based on ideas of just war . The theory of just war includes six criteria (Syse 2003) that must be met for the use of military force to be considered fair:

  1. right reason,
  2. legitimate authority,
  3. right intention,
  4. reasonable hope of success,
  5. proportionality
  6. last resort.

The references to these criteria can therefore be said to constitute the moral basis for the argument and the Norwegian participation in Afghanistan.

The Norwegian authorities referred in whole or in part to all these requirements. The US retaliation against Afghanistan and the Taliban regime there was considered self-defense . And since the threat was international, it was also a matter of collective self-defense. Both self-defense and collective self-defense confirmed to the government that the requirement of good cause was met: “The resolution (…) affirms the United States’ right to individual or collective self-defense , in line with Article 51 of the UN Charter” (Bondevik 2001). The approval from the UN also meant that the use of military means had legitimate authority.

The intention was to fight international terrorism (Bondevik 2001). It also meant removing the terrorist camps of Al Qaeda and the Taliban regime, as they had allowed Al Qaeda to operate freely. Prime Minister Bondevik stated that “everyone agrees that they (the Taliban) should leave”. That “everyone” agreed on it, that “a whole world is united” (Bondevik 2001), confirmed to the government that the decision was the right one.

The Taliban had been given “chance upon chance to cooperate” (Bondevik 2001a), but chose not to cooperate. Therefore, war became the last resort “to protect the values ​​we value most” (Bondevik 2002).

Referring to the results of the engagement can be interpreted as a desire to show a reasonable hope of success : “The campaign against terrorism has begun to bear fruit”, Bondevik wrote in 2001. The engagement appeared meaningful: “The day weapons can be silenced in Afghanistan , has moved closer »(Bondevik 2001a). In 2002, he dismissed criticism of the war as “a fundamental misunderstanding” and characterized it as “inappropriate and imprecise”. The refusal does not appear as a counter-argument, but rather as a correction of incorrect information.

Proportionality is an important, but difficult, criterion to live by in a war. The authorities believed that military force was a reasonable reaction to 9/11: “Osama bin Laden and his supporters cannot be fought without the use of military force” (Petersen 2001). To prevent new attacks, military force was considered imperative. The opponent was in fact “willing to commit the most heinous acts again, and has the resources and will to do so” (Bondevik 2001).

The argument of a morally correct struggle is strengthened when the opponent is referred to as evil or as the nature of evil . Then it is no longer a just war, but a battle against evil. In such a battle, no cost is too high. It can be interpreted as an “existential extension” of the moral argument, since it affects our very survival drive. What the enemy wanted to hit was “our democratic form of society” (Jagland 2001). Stoltenberg put it this way (2001): “If democracies fail to stop terrorism, then terrorism can put an end to democracies.”

Not only were “our democratic societies” threatened, the threat was existential and came from evil itself: “We must fight the nature of evil – and we must fight evil at the root” (Stoltenberg 2001). Bondevik (2001) used evil as a justification for war: “For me, the use of military means only makes sense when they are needed to limit the consequences of evil – in this case terrorism”. In his New Year’s speech, Bondevik said: “Human evil has broken new boundaries. (…) Politics is also about setting boundaries for evil ”(Bondevik 2002). When terrorism is described as evil, it becomes difficult to argue against the use of military force, as disagreement can easily appear immoral.

The struggle between good and evil forces is no longer “just” a struggle for justice; it is a struggle to survive. It becomes difficult to argue for proportionality in a battle where evil itself is the enemy. With such a view, the fight against terrorism lacks an end: When can that fight be said to have been won?

The use of the words “we” and “Norway” represents “us” as a unified entity. And by describing opponents as evil, “we” the good and the fight against terrorism become a fight for good. This becomes clear when the fight against terrorism and evil is gradually referred to more as a fight for peace.

Norway in Afghanistan 1