Norway holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council in the country’s 2021-2022 term only once — in January — so it is aiming to make the best of this moment. “We have to make sure to put our mark this month and to make sure that our priorities will be reflected,” Mona Juul, Norway’s ambassador to the United Nations, told PassBlue on Dec. 14.
Among Norway’s priorities are the women, peace and security agenda as well as the protection of civilians in conflicts. To tackle these topics in the country’s two signature debates this month, it is planning a session on Jan. 18 addressing violence that targets women peace-builders and human-rights defenders; and another one on “war in cities: protection of civilians in urban settings,” scheduled for Jan. 25.
As always, there will be Council meetings focusing on recurring agenda items, including the renewal of various UN missions. Norway is also concerned about the boiling crises around the world, some of which the country will watch especially closely in January.
“In Myanmar, Ethiopia, Libya, there are developments that are not necessarily going in the right direction,” Juul said. “Of course, we have a troop buildup on the border of Ukraine. There is always something that can also flare up in the Middle East, and also, of course on the Korean peninsula. We don’t know, but we should be prepared because we think it is the duty of the Council to be ready to convene and to express itself if there are things happening that are a threat to international peace and security.”
One issue that the Council will be watching in Libya is the country’s plan to hold a presidential election, which was supposed to occur on Dec. 24 but was called off, and a new date still has to be set. The mandate for the UN’s political mission in the country, Unsmil, is due to be renewed on Jan. 24 as well.
When Norway started its current elected term exactly a year ago, it took over such challenging files, as penholder or co-penholder, on Afghanistan, North Korea (sanctions) and UN humanitarian aid to Syria. According to Niels Nagelhus Schia, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Norway’s work on these files has been a success so far, especially regarding the renewal of the UN’s cross-border mechanism in Syria last summer, despite Russia and China pushing against the mechanism: “This was not a given that it would be renewed this time, so that was an achievement,” he said.
After a royal visit in December, with Prince Haakon of Norway attending a Council session on the protection of education in conflicts, the country is expecting more high-level guests in January: the country’s recently elected Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store is supposed to travel to New York City, as is the new foreign minister, Anniken Scharning Huitfeldt. Even if the government changed halfway through Norway’s Council term, it isn’t expecting any significant change in its approach to the body.
“The huge advantage with Norway and party politics in Norway is that on foreign policy, there is almost close to unity on our common approach to foreign policy,” Juul said.
Norway is also tentatively inviting its 14 fellow Council members on a retreat in upstate New York from Jan. 13-14 for a “mini-Oslo forum” on preventive diplomacy. (See video of Juul’s media briefing on Jan. 4, below.) The meeting is meant to be informal and held privately, but the Omicron variant of Covid-19 may force the forum to be held at a location near the UN for a single day.
Each month, PassBlue profiles UN ambassadors or other high-level diplomats as their countries assume the rotating presidency of the Security Council. In 2021, the column reported on Tunisia, Britain, the United States, Vietnam, China, Estonia, France, India, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico and Niger.
To hear an original analysis with more details on Norway’s Council presidency and insights from Nagelhus Schia of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, download PassBlue’s podcast, UN-Scripted, produced by Stéphanie Fillion and Kacie Candela, on Patreon or SoundCloud. (Excerpts are included in the interview portion below.)
Ambassador to the UN: Mona Juul, 62
Languages: Norwegian, English
Education: M.A., political science, University of Oslo, B.A. political science, University of Oslo
Her story, briefly: Ambassador Juul is one of the few diplomats currently at the UN whose life and career are well known — or, at least, part of it. She is the real person behind a main character in HBO’s “Oslo,” a movie based on the secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in the 1990s that led to the two Oslo Accords, as well as the Broadway production also called “Oslo.”
It does not come as a surprise when Juul says that the career accomplishment she is proudest of so far is her involvement in those talks: “For a country like ours,” she recalled to PassBlue, “and for those very few of us that were involved in these secret talks, to manage to have them agree to come to Washington to sign that agreement was quite a proud moment for me.” (The Oslo I accord was signed in Washington in 1993; the Oslo II, in Egypt in 1995.)
Juul worked without much sleep for months leading up to the agreement, she said, and everything had to be done in utmost secrecy. “My own role was working with the deputy minister and the foreign minister [of Norway] as their sort of representative into the talks,” she said. “I was certainly the only woman on the team. It was really, really hard work, very demanding, because we ended up being a little bit of a punching bag between the two sides” in the back-and-forth between the negotiating sides.
Born in Steinkjer, a town of around 24,000 people in north-central Norway, Juul had not initially intended to become a diplomat. “I would say I never had any plans to become a diplomat,” she said. “I grew up in a small town in Norway, on a dairy farm and, actually, I planned to be a social worker.” She studied political science at the University of Oslo to “broaden her perspective,” she added, and eventually went to London, where she got a call from a Norwegian acquaintance encouraging her to apply for the country’s foreign service.
After the signing of the Oslo Accords, Juul’s diplomatic journey took her to postings in Israel, New York City (as deputy ambassador from 2005 to 2010 at the Norwegian mission to the UN) and Britain, where she was ambassador before returning to Manhattan in 2019.
In 2019, Juul was also president of the Economic and Social Council (Ecosoc), one of the UN’s five main bodies.
She is married to Terje Rod-Larsen, a fellow Norwegian diplomat, who was also instrumental in the Oslo talks. Rod-Larsen resigned as head of the New York City-based International Peace Institute in 2020, after a report by an Oslo news site, Dagens Naeringsliv, that he had taken a personal loan from the now-deceased, convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
Juul and Rod-Larsen have teenage twin girls.
Her remarks to PassBlue on Dec. 14 have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Will the new Norwegian government elected in 2021 affect your work in the Security Council? The huge advantage of party politics in Norway is that on foreign policy, there is almost close to unity on our approach. That was a huge strength for us during our campaign running for the Council seat, because we knew that we would have an election when we were on the Council and, of course, in some countries that could mean quite a dramatic change.
Can you tell me more about the Council negotiations on the Syria and humanitarian aid file? What was instrumental for the co-penholders, Norway and Ireland, in getting the UN mandate to deliver aid approved? Last summer, we worked really, really very hard, also among the other elected members, because we feel that this is really an elected member file. We knew what we were up against, but we worked very systematically with our E10 [elected Council members] colleagues, but of course, also speaking to all the P5s [permanent members]. I think Norway has managed to maintain good relations with all the P5s. That has also been what we are striving for when we are working on the different issues as well — really making sure that we are talking to everybody, using diplomatic tools to get to a result. Of course, we have our policies, we have our principles. On the Syrian case, I couldn’t think of anything more meaningful than working to provide humanitarian assistance to millions of people in Syria.
Head of Government: Jonas Gahr Store
Foreign Affairs Minister: Anniken Scharning Huitfeldt
Type of Government: Constitutional hereditary monarchy
Year Norway Joined the UN: 1945
Years on the Security Council: 1949-1950; 1963-1964; 1979-1980; 2001-2002; 2021-2022
Population: 5.4 million
CO2 emissions, 2019: 8 (world average, 4.7 tons per person; US: 16 tons; target for 2030 to achieve a 1.5-degree Celsius limit: 2 tons)
Stéphanie Fillion is a New York-based reporter specializing in foreign affairs and human rights who has been writing for PassBlue regularly for a year, including co-producing UN-Scripted, a new podcast series on global affairs through a UN lens. She has a master’s degree in journalism, politics and global affairs from Columbia University and a B.A. in political science from McGill University. Fillion was awarded a European Union in Canada Young Journalists fellowship in 2015 and was an editorial fellow for La Stampa in 2017. She speaks French, English and Italian.