Moderated by Carrie Wojenski, SHU’s executive director of global affairs, the hour-long interaction was facilitated through a computer connection between Aas’ office in the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Washington, D.C., and Wojenski’s laptop. More than 60 people were present for the talk, which focused on peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan and the Middle East and Norway’s diplomatic role.
Aas began his career with the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1983, serving early on as director general, Department of Security Policy and the High North. In that role, he handled relations among Norway, the U.S., Russia and Asia, worked on nuclear disarmament and facilitated international peacekeeping. He also served as the Norwegian ambassador to Afghanistan before becoming the political director of the ministry and, ultimately, Norwegian ambassador to the United States.
The audience primarily included students from three departments: Assistant Professor Alka Jauhari’s Government Politics & Global Studies class, Marla Heath’s English Language Institute Listening & Speaking classes and members of the Human Journey honors classes.
Jauhari said her current course focus is on the United Nations’ role in conflict resolution, so the timing was perfect for her students to hear from Aas. “This is a great learning experience, and he is such an important person…and has been involved in those issues,” she said.
Sandie Samrin ’17, wanted to know Aas’ position on the current and much-discussed refugee crisis. “My family comes from Syria, and I want to know how countries can incorporate people into their economic systems,” she shared.
Patrick Blair, who graduated in December and plans to pursue a career in international business, was more curious to know what Norway is doing with regard to territorial disputes in the Arctic region among Norway, the U.S. and Russia. “I’m interested in Norway’s steps to counter Russia’s moves and also his country’s plans for environmental action,” Blair said.
Aas spoke for the first half hour of the webinar, explaining Norway’s position on the world scene before opening it up to questions.
“Since the end of the 1980s, Norway has been heavily engaged in trying to facilitate peace between Israel and the PLO,” he explained. “That’s a key priority area for Norway’s foreign policy. Overall, Norway is engaged in about 20 different crisis areas, trying to create political dialogue. We feel responsible to make such contributions and try to reach stability.”
Aas admitted there is some self-interest at the core of Norway’s approach. “We’d like to avoid the influx of refugees and instead bring about social development and prosperity in conflict areas,” he said. “The cost of war is huge — both humanitarian- and resource-wise. Countries involved can invest their resources in more productive things.”
Besides Israel, Norway is actively involved with diplomacy in Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan (where it seeks to elevate the role of women and see that girls are schooled), Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the Philippines. “All in all, it’s a huge challenge to stay engaged, but interesting to work with all the various governments,” he concluded.