Solidarity at Home and Abroad:
The Norwegian Experience of World War Two
Among the smaller nations of the western world, watching through the 1930s the unfolding of events that threatened to unleash another major war, few were less able than Norway to identify with the problems of nationality, and of threats to territorial integrity, which appeared to lie at the source of Europe's troubles. No appreciable minority problems, and no identifiable threats to the nation's security, seemed to mar Norway's peaceful existence on Europe's outskirts. As late as August 25, 1939 the Foreign Minister Dr. Koht expressed the view that although hard times would fall also on Norway in the event of another great war, he was reasonably confident that the country would be able to stay outside the conflict.1
Norway's problems in the 1930s were of a different kind. The economic and social upheavals in the wake of the First World War, subsequently overtaken by the economic crisis of the early thirties, had had a polarizing effect on the political situation. The radicalization of the labour movement, which for a period brought the Labour party--then the third largest of the political parties in the Norwegian "Storting" or Parliament--into membership of the Moscow Communist International--instilled into the non-socialist parties the fear that the revolutionary language could at any time be translated into violent political action. Bitter labour conflicts and large-scale unemployment suggested a widening gulf between the haves and the have-nots which might become a real threat to the nation's social fabric. The gradual moderation of the Labour party's policy line, clearly visible in the party's election platform of 1933, and the subsequent "crisis compromise" between the Labour and Agrarian parties, which ushered in a Labour Cabinet two years later on a programme of state intervention to reduce unemployment and alleviate the hardships of the farmers, suggested that the rifts might yet be overcome. Even so, it was not until the eve of World War Two that those who belonged to the labour movement could bring themselves to regard the national symbols--the flag and the national anthem--as anything but the symbols of the bourgeoisie.
Class conflict was also at the root of Labour's anti-military stance, which created a hostile climate for any attempt to increase the country's readiness to defend its neutrality by armed force. In this respect, however, the main factor was the generally unspoken, but widely shared assumption that Norway continued to enjoy what The Times had called "effortless security"2 behind the shield of British sea power. This assumption--shared as it turned out by the British themselves - lent to the debates on national defence in the 1930s an air of sterility and irrelevance. Nobody was able to establish a credible threat against which the country would have to defend itself by armed force--with the possible exception of intermittent fears about Soviet designs on north Norway. The nation's interminably long coastline was considered out of reach to any but the British, and the latter would hardly need to secure by violent means what they already controlled. Furthermore, in the unlikely event that such a need should at some point arise, what sort of defence preparedness would be required to enable a nation of three million people to keep the Royal Navy at bay?
Thus it seemed to be in the cards that Norway in an eventual major conflict might
expect and be prepared for some sort of replay of the First World War, resuming the role of Britain's "neutral ally",3 attempting to secure the best possible terms for survival on the frontlines of economic warfare.
The German invasion of Norway on April 9, 1940 reversed the verdict of all such calculations. To the surprise of all--the Germans themselves included--British sea power in the North Sea turned out to be a paper tiger, insofar as the German navy was able to operate in the waters round south Norway with relative impunity. And after a two-month campaign, whose outcome was partly settled by the collapse of the allies in northern France towards the end of May, the Norwegian King and his Cabinet had to give up the armed struggle on home territory and go into exile in London. The precariousness of the exiled government's position had many aspects. One of them was the question mark over the British Isles as a safe place of refuge from the victorious German armies, which in June and July prompted the Cabinet to make active preparations in consultation with Canadian authorities for a further move across the Atlantic to Canada.4 In a more long-term perspective, however, there arose the dangers inherent in the heavy burden of political liabilities which the government had to shoulder. Its foreign policy had been shipwrecked through the German invasion on April 9. And the outcome of the Norwegian campaign, despite the fact that Norway had somehow resisted an apparently invincible enemy for two months, put the stamp of failure also on its defence policy. The government was also aware that its decision to seek refuge abroad could lead to its final, fatal defeat. For in leaving the national territory, they inevitably left themselves open to the accusation of having abandoned a people faced with foreign occupation. Seeking refuge in Britain also meant joining with an ally that many Norwegians felt was at least partly to blame for dragging the country into war; an ally whose assistance during the campaign had been woefully inadequate; and whose chances of winning the war seemed remote at the time. The main danger inherent in these liabilities was that they could be used, through skillful enemy propaganda, in order to turn the Norwegian people away from their government and towards some internal regime loyal to the occupiers. Then the government would become exiles in every pejorative sense of the term: an emigré clique cut off from the people of Norway and consequently of little or no use to a fighting alliance.
However, the government also brought important assets. First of all, with the King firmly on their side, their legal and constitutional status was beyond doubt. And the authority of the King and Cabinet to represent their country abroad was never questioned either by allied or neutral states. Turning to assets of a more material kind, the Norwegian government had one immense advantage in being financially independent of the allies. Having secured control over the vast majority of Norway's overseas merchant navy, about four million tons of modern tankers and cargo ships, the Norwegian government could not only make a considerable contribution to the war, but could also be sure that its war effort in exile would be a self-financed affair. Further financial security was provided by the gold reserves of the Bank of Norway which had been shipped abroad to Canada and the United States during the campaign.
With the home country under foreign occupation, it was clear that Norway's contribution to the war effort could not be based on significant manpower resources. The twenty to thirty thousand men employed in the merchant navy would obviously have to be reserved for allied maritime transport. As far as the Norwegian armed forces were concerned, only small elements of the navy and air force had managed to escape to Britain with the government. Any further addition to the manpower resources would have to be contributed by refugees from the home country. Yet the Norwegian government was determined from the first
moment to maintain its own armed forces, land, sea, and air, as a recognizable Norwegian element of the allied forces. On this basis the first Norwegian naval squadron was formed on June 30, 1940, based on Rosyth. Also in June 1940 the Norwegian government decided that the officers and men of the Norwegian air force, for whom training facilities could not be provided in Britain, would be sent to Canada for training in a newly established Norwegian training centre at Island airport, Toronto.
Evidently, however, Norway's place in the alliance would not only be determined by what it could effectively contribute to the war effort. It would also depend to a large extent on how the Norwegian government organized that contribution; in other words how the Norwegian government determined its posture in the alliance and in particular its attitude to Norway's major ally, Great Britain.5
The process of laying a political groundwork for Norway's role in the alliance took the form of a debate which lasted well into the autumn of 1940. In this debate, three alternative postures were outlined. The first alternative was represented by the Foreign Minister, Halvdan Koht. His attitude to Norway's place in the alliance was, in the summer of 1940, dominated by his view that Norway's future independence depended on not one but two great powers. First, naturally, there was Great Britain. Koht from the beginning advocated active cooperation and close association with Britain, and was instrumental in establishing close collaboration, inter alia in intelligence matters. However, Koht's willingness to cooperate closely with Britain was tempered by his lack of confidence in a British or allied victory in the war. Should the war end in a compromise peace, there was another great power, presently cooperating with the enemy, whose attitude to Norway would also be of major importance, namely the Soviet Union. In any case Norway's geographical position, in an area where the strategic interests of three great powers overlapped, would seem to make it only common sense to take into account the interests of more than one of these powers. On the assumption that the Soviet Union's major interest in Norway was that the country should remain free of domination by any other great power, Koht was anxious to underline Norway's independence of Great Britain. In Koht's view, therefore, Norway's best posture was to maintain active practical cooperation with Britain, while retaining a clearly independent profile.
Dissatisfaction with Koht's line was to appear from two quarters. One line of opposition was voiced within the Cabinet from two of Koht's colleagues. The two ministers, who had joined the government in early June 1940 as part of the Prime Minister's effort to give it a broader political basis, advocated what might be termed traditional Norwegian attitudes to foreign relations--particularly relations with great powers. Theirs was the old emphasis on formal written guarantees or treaties, whereby Norwegian rights could be secured and the corresponding duties and obligations of great powers specified. Although obviously reflecting deep-seated small power resentments at great power politics, this policy however seemed irrelevant to the immediate problems confronting the government, and did not have much support. In the more isolated atmosphere of the home front, nevertheless, the feeling that the World War was not really Norway's war lingered on, and was a factor which the government had to take into account in its longterm policy planning.
The third alternative for Norway's alliance posture was put forward in a letter to the cabinet by five prominent Norwegian intellectuals who had accompanied the government into exile. The authors of this letter took as their point of departure the fact that Norway, through refusing the German ultimatum on April 9, had de facto become allied to Great Britain, and that
Norway's fate therefore was primarily tied to Britain and to the war the British were determined to pursue this war would have to become, in their view, a revolutionary and ideological struggle against Germany and all that Nazism stood for. Like Churchill, the signers of the letter wanted Europe to be set ablaze, not just in the material sense. And in this process the nations which had refused to capitulate and which still had their free governments, like Norway, could play an important and active role. A central part of their argument was that Norway could only hope to safeguard its independence and protect its national rights during the war through active and effective support for Britain and the common cause. "If the British Government is convinced that the Norwegian Government will do its utmost, then Norway's authority will be respected and we will at least to some extent be taken into the councils of the alliance. But if the British Government thinks that the Norwegian Government is lukewarm towards the struggle, is unreliable, or goes its own ways, then sooner or later the British authorities will end up by pushing our own military and administrative authorities aside."6 With particular reference to Koht's concern for Norway's relations with the Soviet Union, the letter stated that Norway could not have its ally's enemy as a friend. It would therefore be foolhardy to let distant and uncertain promises of Soviet political support get in the way of the immediate necessity for close cooperation with Great Britain.
The issue between Koht and his opponents thus was not whether Norway should be an ally and a belligerent. Rather it was a question of to what extent Norway should, so to speak, "wear the alliance on its sleeve". There was no disagreement that Norway should both protect its independent rights within the alliance and at the same time cooperate actively in the common cause. To a large extent the problem was one of priorities. Koht wanted to protect Norway's longterm rights first of all, while cooperating actively with Great Britain. His intellectual opponents, and their supporters inside and outside the government, put first priority on active and positive cooperation with Britain, and saw this as an essential means to assure Norwegian independence and Norwegian rights. In questions affecting vital Norwegian interests, such as the complicated issue of the Norwegian gold reserves which the British government at one stage coveted; that of control over the Norwegian merchant navy; or in matters concerning the organization and employment of Norwegian armed forces, there was little or no disagreement among the Norwegians in exile. Koht's resignation as Foreign Minister, in November 1940, was therefore not so much a matter of a change of policy as of a change of emphasis and above all of attitude towards the wartime alliance. Koht's resignation was taken as a sign that the Norwegian government had demonstrably broken with its neutral past. And the new Foreign Minister, Trygve Lie, was evidently determined to show a new spirit of cooperation.
The central idea of Norwegian foreign policy planning during 1941-45 is usually referred to as the "Atlantic idea" or "Atlantic policy". This idea was in fact barely visible in the first official foreign policy statement of the Norwegian government--a radio speech by the new Foreign Minister, Trygve Lie on December 15, 1940.7 That statement only referred in very general terms to Britain and the United States as Norway's historic and natural partners, leading up to the suggestion that the wartime alliance now being forged should form the basis also for post-war cooperation. The government's main purpose in issuing such a policy statement was to demonstrate its complete solidarity with the alliance, and its concomitant rejection of the neutralist and isolationist policies of the past. The Norwegian government wished to convince the British that it was a fully reliable partner in the alliance, and therefore deserving of every possible consideration and goodwill on the part of Great Britain. As The Times put in an editorial commentary, the Norwegian Foreign Minister had "admitted that Scandinavian unity
and Scandinavian neutrality which had previously been regarded as protection was no longer enough".8 Only a new relationship with the leading powers of western democracy could in the future ensure national freedom and economic and social security for Norway. The policy of isolation and neutrality was no longer a viable option, and would have to be replaced by a binding cooperation for mutual advantage with Great Britain and other western powers.
As to what new forms this post-war cooperation should take, the Foreign Minister's speech was deliberately vague: speaking of the wartime alliance "which our allies and all progressive forces of the world are endeavouring to build up and strengthen", he went on to say that this endeavour would in its turn "provide the basis for a cooperation which can and must endure after the war: a political cooperation to secure our national freedom and remove the danger of assaults by arrogant and tyrannical aggressors, and an economic cooperation providing social security and preventing the destruction of our economies and our welfare."
Only between the lines can one here discern the far-reaching proposals for post-war military cooperation which the Foreign Minister was at the same time putting forward in private conversations with officials of the British Foreign Office:9 a future alliance for mutual security covering the North Atlantic and embracing Britain, Norway, the United States, Iceland and the Faeroes. For the post-war world, Trygve Lie here envisaged nothing less than a mutual defence system with a network of naval, military and air bases in the respective territories.
With these specific suggestions about a post-war alliance, the Norwegian Foreign Minister was undoubtedly way ahead of most of his Cabinet colleagues. A long period of gestation would therefore be needed before such thoughts could become official government policy. In the short term, however, they served their purpose as a strong reinforcement of the message contained in Lie's public speech, to the effect that Norway was a reliable ally and therefore deserved Britain's full support. And initial reactions in the British Foreign Office showed that this final purpose was on its way to being fulfilled. The Norwegian policy declaration, and in particular the practical aspects entailed in the proposals for a mutual security system for the North Atlantic, were termed "an exceptionally important development in Norwegian foreign policy". In order to ensure that this new policy should take firm roots among the Norwegians, therefore, the British Minister to the Norwegian government advised that "His Majesty's Government should bear it steadily in mind in all their dealings with the Norwegian Government, and be careful that the latter retain their present enthusiasm for it."10
Almost a year was to lapse before Foreign Minister Trygve Lie made another public declaration of the Norwegian government's long-term policy aims. In the meantime Trygve Lie sought to promote his point of view at various levels. Thus in April 1941 he informed the Minister of the United States to the Norwegian government of his plans, without of course expecting any official reaction as yet from neutral America. Lie's clear desire to include Iceland in the Projected postwar cooperation also found expression during this time. When the Norwegian Minister to Reykjavik suggested that Norway might perform a mediator's role between Iceland and Denmark, after Iceland in May 1941 formally decided to dissolve the union with Denmark, Trygve Lie rejected this idea. Iceland's action had his support, and he also thought that "it would be easier to interest Iceland in a military security arrangement once it has become a free and independent country". During the spring the Norwegian Foreign Minister also sought to propagate his ideas among Norwegian exiles in Stockholm.
The second major statement of Norway's foreign policy was made at Oxford in
October 1941, where Trygve Lie We a lecture which was subsequently transformed into an article in The Times.11 Here the main focus was on the "Atlantic idea". The statement referred to the need for complete and unilateral disarmament of Germany after the war, and pointed to the common military tasks of the allies in this respect as forming a natural basis for further military cooperation. "We ought to reach an agreement which gives to each of the allied powers specific tasks, and for the smaller states these would be of a regional character. Norway is naturally particularly concerned about the defence of the Atlantic...." In his Oxford lecture Lie had been even more specific: "What I would like to see would be an agreement on Eastern Atlantic defence between Britain, the U.S.A. and Canada, covering Greenland and Iceland. Norway would then wish to come in for the sake of her own defence, before the mood of the present time should change.... Norwegian defence must be based on permanent strategic facts, not on talk, and must endure for many years. It is a strategic fact that the defence of Norway is part of the defence of Britain. I am therefore hoping to start with arrangements for the common defence of Norway and Britain. The U. S.A. should be kept fully informed of such arrangements from the beginning of conversations; she would participate in turn if she entered the war."12
It may in retrospect seem odd that the Soviet Union as late as October 1941 had not yet been given a role in the Norwegian Foreign Minister's policy plans for the post-war period. On the other side: what place could one give the Soviet Union in 1941? The traditional uncertainty about the aims and means of Russian policy in a global, European, and north European perspective had admittedly been resolved on a preliminary basis through the accession of the Soviet Union to the alliance against the Axis powers. But it was uncertain how long the Russians could hold out against German pressure, and one still knew little about long- range Russian aims. Norwegian policy-makers therefore had only two alternatives as regards the place of the Soviet Union. They could either fall back on traditional sceptism--not to say fear--concerning Russian expansionism in northern Scandinavia, or they could take up the line which former Foreign Minister Koht suggested in 1940--a line which actively aimed at avoiding conflict between Norwegian and Soviet security policies. For the time being, however, Foreign Minister Trygve Lie remained ambivalent on this issue, and kept the question of the place of the Soviet Union open.
It is worth emphasizing therefore that the central motive for Norway's Atlantic policy scheme at this stage was not to create a bulwark against communist expansion. The purpose was the more general one of taking Norway out of its security isolation from before the war and of preventing a new "April 9", that is to say renewed German aggression. The problem of Russia was nevertheless bound to crop up. The British Foreign Office at this time were speculating that the Russians might have territorial ambitions in the north, including an ice-free port in north Norway. British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden therefore advised the Norwegian government to proceed with caution regarding its plans for the northern Atlantic so long as Russian views were not known. However, during Eden's talks with Stalin in late December 1941, no Russian claims to Norwegian territory were put forward. The Russian claims concerned Bessarabia; Finnish territory up to the frontier that existed before the German attack in June 1941; Poland east of the Curzon Line; and Soviet Russian bases in Roumania. In return, Stalin seemed to view with favour the prospect of a military alliance between Britain, France, Belgium and the Netherlands, and "was not opposed to Great Britain acquiring naval bases in Norway and Denmark", although a guarantee concerning the exits from the Baltic would be appreciated.13
After this clarification of Soviet aims, the British Foreign Office after New Year 1942
saw fit to consider the "Atlantic" policy scheme somewhat more fully. An inter-departmental meeting produced a long memorandum14 for the Foreign Secretary, in which the Atlantic policy was viewed in a larger context, tied in with a Greek proposal for a similar system in the eastern Mediterranean, and with Roosevelt's stray thoughts about American bases abroad. The interdepartmental meeting had seen a security scheme based on such a system of naval and military bases as "one of the few ideas in regard to the post-war structure which seem to have practical value and to have some chance of general acceptance. M. Lie's proposals should therefore be welcome in principle, and there are special reasons why it appears desirable for His Majesty's Government to consider it without delay."
The Foreign Office memorandum concluded with a proposal to request the opinion of the military experts about the strategic aspects of the plan. To this Eden agreed, but added in his minutes that there were still two big questions to be resolved concerning the political aspects. They were on the one hand the old problem of relations with the Russians, and on the other the opposition which had already been expressed in the British Cabinet against a system of military and naval bases as a foundation for post-war security.
In fact, a main reason why the British government's attitude towards Norway's "Atlantic policy" had so far never gone beyond expressions of general encouragement and positive interest, was that high-level British political consideration of the post-war international order had at this time hardly begun. Of the many preliminary questions which would have to be clarified before the British government could take a stand, only two made some progress towards a settlement in the first half of 1942. Firstly, the Chiefs of Staff gave as their opinion that in a future defence system against renewed German aggression, bases in Norway would not be of decisive value unless backed up by the United States. When specifically requested to review the situation for the eventuality that Russia might be a future enemy, the Chiefs of Staff at first thought Norway would be too exposed as a defence bastion unless accompanied by a defence arrangement with Sweden. But on reconsideration the Chiefs of Staff still advocated a British naval base at Stavanger in order to secure control over the maritime routes from the Baltic to the Atlantic.15 The other issue in which progress was made in the first half of 1942 concerned relations with the Soviet Union. In May 1942 a twenty year British Soviet treaty of alliance was concluded, stipulating among other things that each party undertook not to conclude any alliance nor to take part in any coalition directed against the other. Further the two powers pledged their common efforts to prevent future German aggression. This in some ways could be seen as providing the Soviet Union with a veto over any kind of defence arrangements entered into by Great Britain for the post-war period. At least it would seem to ensure that any such arrangements could not be openly directed against the Soviet Union.
The growing importance of future relations with the Soviet Union in any consideration of post-war Atlantic or European defence arrangements was reflected in the next official statement of Norway's foreign policy aims. This official document, entitled "Principal Features of Norwegian Foreign Policy",16 was fully debated and then voted on by the Cabinet in May 1942, and therefore stands as an authoritative expression of the consensus of the government. Relations with the Soviet Union were here given a prominent place. Speculations about Soviet threats against north Norway were rejected as groundless, and closer relations and better cooperation with the Soviet Union were strongly recommended for all the western powers. In matters related to defence the following formula was used:
During this war, Northern Norway has been one of the starting points for the
German attack upon Soviet Russia and the western powers, the Soviet Government will be positively interested in the development of the defence of Northern Norway. Should the relations between Soviet Russia and the western powers be hostile, the position of Northern Norway would be much more complicated. Norway will, therefore, do her utmost to prevent such a conflict from arising. The basis of friendly relations between Soviet Russia and the western powers must be laid now, during the war.
On the whole, this foreign policy statement of May 1942 reemphasized Norway's advocacy of its Atlantic policy. But Atlantic cooperation was now seen in a wider context and related to both universal and Nordic cooperation. In its central paragraph regarding post-war security the document contained the following propositions:
Until it becomes possible to create an effective and universal League of Nations, Norway will be compelled to seek security in regional arrangements. Norway, therefore, desires binding and obligatory military agreements concerning the defence of the North Atlantic, and she is anxious that Sweden should be a party to these agreements. The Norwegian Government would also look with satisfaction upon the adhesion of Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France, to the system. The Norwegian government desires that the military cooperation shall be developed as far as possible in the course of the war itself. The Norwegian Government desires to initiate negotiations even now regarding this future military cooperation.
In many ways, this document has come to represent the high point in the development of Norway's "Atlantic policy". From then on, as the post-war planning of Britain and the other great powers got into its stride, Norway's role as the initiator of new policy approaches was over. Henceforth the tasks of Norwegian policy-makers became that of adjusting their ideas to policy developments determined by the great powers. To some extent the Norwegian government also had to face the problem of dissenting opinions, as well as a revival of interest in closer Nordic cooperation. In liberal and conservative circles outside the government the isolationist impulse was not yet dead. From the United States the Norwegian conservative leader C.J. Hambro attempted to reestablish the old distinction between the cynicism of the great powers and the moral superiority of small states, and warned against a peace settlement dictated by the "Big Four".17
A final attempt to extract from the British government, and also from Washington, some sort of commitment to an Atlantic defence system was made in the autumn of 1942. In the meantime, support for the idea of tying Great Britain and the United States into a defence system had been forthcoming from the Foreign Ministers of the Netherlands and Belgium. And dutch Foreign Minister Van Kleffens, after a visit to the United States, claimed to have found much positive interest in the idea among American leaders. Prompted by this widening support, Eden in October 1942 attempted to get War Cabinet consent to new instructions to the British Ambassador in Washington, authorizing him to discuss the idea with the State Department and to express general British support for the political implications of a security scheme on these lines. But the consensus of the War Cabinet was against even such a limited commitment on the part of Britain, and the outcome of the debate was a request that the Foreign Office develop the broader lines of British and international post-war security first.18 The resulting memorandum, entitled "The Four-Power Plan", gave primary emphasis to the emerging American ideas of a
universal system of post-war security and cooperation dominated by the great powers. Regional defence systems might still have their place. "In particular, it is to be hoped that in North Western Europe special agreements will be made whereby it will be possible for Great Britain and possibly the United States to establish naval and air bases in the territories of the various powers bordering on the North Sea ...."19 But regionalism seemed by now to have been relegated to a somewhat ancillary concept, and during 1943 the idea of a global framework for international cooperation, under great power leadership, began to take precedence also in Norwegian foreign policy planning.
In January 1944 the change of emphasis in Norwegian foreign policy planning for the post-war world was publicly stated both in a major speech by the Foreign Minister and in a parallel article in The Observer by Trygve Lie's chief adviser.20 First priority was now clearly given to the universalist concept of the United Nations. And this was done, as Trygve Lie admitted to the Foreign Office, in order to conform to the views of Great Britain and the United States. An Atlantic regional arrangement was still put forward as the concept most likely to provide the maximum degree of security for Norway in the post-war world. But this took second place to the global scheme of four-power cooperation, and was moreover made conditional on the goodwill or at least tacit acquiescence of the Soviet Union. As Trygve Lie put it, "Norway's interests would be best served by an agreement embracing the countries bordering on the North Atlantic, on condition that it was subordinated to an international organisation and was accompanied by an extension of our good relations with the Soviet Union." This, then, was the general order of priority applied by the Norwegian government in its approach to the organization of peace during the remainder of the war. But the new proviso regarding relations with the Soviet Union points to the final and major development in Norwegian wartime foreign policy: the special relationship developing between Norway and its new great power neighbour to the east.
In fact, ever since the autumn of 1942, the Soviet Union had been showing an increasing interest in Norwegian foreign policy guidelines. And in April 1943, while enquiring of the Norwegian Finance Minister whether there were any new developments in Norway's Atlantic policy, the Soviet Ambassador to the Norwegian Government in exile said that "Norway should be aware that in order to obtain their security aims, it was not only necessary to be in agreement with the western powers. One should in addition make sure of a good relationship with the Soviet Union, which also was a power with Atlantic interests."21
But the major impetus for an increasing attentiveness to Soviet interests in the north was provided by the prospect that the Red Army, in the eventuality of Finland withdrawing from the war, might become the first allied liberation troops on Norwegian territory. This prospect, and the lack of interest on the part of the western power in providing allied liberation forces to counter-balance the possible presence of Soviet troops in north Norway, lay behind a series of cooperative approaches towards the Soviet Union in the spring of 1944, culminating in the conclusion of a Civil Affairs Agreement between Norway and the Soviet Union simultaneously with similar agreements with the western powers. This agreement was intended to regulate the exercise of Soviet military jurisdiction on Norwegian soil and the gradual transfer of sovereignty to Norwegian authorities, and was concluded in spite of British warnings against "inviting Soviet troops in". Soviet policy during and after the conclusion of this agreement showed a clear preference for conducting Soviet-Norwegian relations in regard to north Norway on a strictly bilateral basis, excluding any involvement of the western great powers.22
However, the possibility of establishing bilateral relations and closer cooperation on a more permanent basis was wrecked when Molotov, during a midnight meeting with Trygve Lie in the Kremlin in November 1944, presented his demands for a revision of the 1920 Svalbard Treaty which established Norwegian sovereignty over the archipelago, and for a cession of Bear Island to the Soviet Union. These demands inevitably produced shock waves that were to reverberate far into the postwar period. The immediate effect of Molotov's brusque tactics was to pulverize the prospects of a cordial relationship being established in the north in the wake of the Soviet-Norwegian liberation agreement of May 1944. The presence of Soviet troops on Norwegian territory in Finnmark, which had been warmly welcomed by the Norwegian government in an official statement on 26 October as "a further manifestation of the friendship between our two countries", was henceforth bound to serve as a reminder that Soviet aims and Norwegian territorial sovereignty in the Arctic might be at cross purposes.
The result of these developments was that the Norwegian government in the course of 1944 had passed from an early restatement of its Atlantic policy preferences, through a period of accommodation to Soviet interests -sufficiently marked to elicit warnings from Eden about the effect of such a pro-Soviet attitude on the other Nordic countries--to an attitude of detachment from international politics. From the autumn of 1944 the prevailing mood in the Norwegian government was one of disillusionment with the western powers, and deep suspicion of the aims of Soviet policy in the north. With such a fundamental uncertainty about the direction of future Norwegian foreign policy, it is hardly surprising that the belated British attempts during 1944 to regenerate interest in Atlantic security should fall on stony ground as far as Norway was concerned. The time for Norway's open commitment to collective western defence arrangements seemed to have passed.
Formal non-alignment, however, was not the same as a return to the prewar status quo. The basic premise of Norway's Atlantic policy, the realisation that a small state not only has to come to terms with the great power on whom its survival might depend, but that it should also aim to provide a positive contribution to the establishment of a relationship based on close cooperation and mutual trust, remained in force. Hence, despite the eclipse of the Atlantic idea in its 1942 configuration, and a certain resurgence of the isolationist impulse from the summer of 1945, there remained a strong under-current of functional links between Norway and its western wartime allies which ensured that the nucleus of the vision about a continuation into peacetime of allied military cooperation was preserved. Through cooperative ventures in the fields of arms and equipment supplies and of training, combined with the joint tasks undertaken in the occupation of Germany, an infrastructure was maintained which, while not tied to multilateral treaties and organizational set-ups, had the peculiar advantages of a purely functional cooperation. And this network of practical arrangements at least went some way towards preserving a central element in Norway's "lesson" from 1940: the conviction that, as one of the chief architects of Norwegian foreign policy stated, "military cooperation cannot be improvised"23. For the time being this was all that could be achieved, and perhaps all that was needed. Only a renewed sense of impending crisis three to four years later persuaded the country to draw the full consequences of the 1940 experience, by way of a formal commitment to the concept of a mutual North Atlantic defence system -- precisely the sort of "formal and binding military agreement for the defence of the North Atlantic" which the Norwegian government in exile had called for in its May 1942 policy declaration.
The conclusions suggested by the wartime experiences on the domestic front were perhaps less clear-cut, and their long-term consequences are correspondingly harder to trace.
But the available evidence at the very least suggests that the social and political cleavages, alluded to earlier, had at least temporarily been submerged in the united resistance against the German occupant and against the attempt to impose an alien ideology. At the end of the war, inspired by this national experience of internal solidarity in defence of common values, an effort was made to translate that unifying spirit into practical terms. Stimulated by the widespread realization within the resistance movement that political or social divisions weighed less than the values about which a broad consensus existed, leaders of different political complexions agreed on a joint programme. This document, in the form of a common election platform for all the political parties, serving as a superstructure for the party political platforms, listed the aims and means which it was intended should remain above party political dispute. Among those were a firm commitment to full employment, to a more just distribution of incomes, and to an organization of the economy based on the close cooperation of the state, capital and labour.
Although party political divisions gradually reasserted themselves as the 1940s approached their end, the spirit and to some extent the letter of the "Common Platform" proved remarkably durable. It is hardly too much to say that the spirit of that platform set the tone for Norwegian politics in the whole of the post-war period, with its general lack of extremism on both sides of the political spectrum and a convergence towards the centre on major political issues. So although election campaigns and parliamentary debates may have suggested irreconcilable differences, there seems to have remained not only a sense of what the Common Platform termed "the experience that we were one nation", but also a desire "to preserve that experience as a living impulse for people's life and work in Norway's future."
Table of Contents
Previous Chapter (7) ** Next Chapter (9)
Transcribed and formatted by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation