Vote on confirmation of U.S. ambassador to Norway

Thomas A. Loftus (Ambassador to Norway, 1993-1997)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Loftus’ January 27, 2016 op-ed in the Cap Times.

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On April 9, 1940, Nazi Germany invaded neutral Norway in a surprise attack. Control of the Norwegian fjords would give Hitler harbors from which German submarines could attack the British fleet and disrupt supply ships in the North Atlantic.

The American ambassador, Florence Jaffray Harriman, took the code book used for encrypting secret cables out of the embassy safe and tucked it in her brassiere, confident no German officer would dare search her. She then joined the crown princess and her three children in a motorcade to try to reach safety in Sweden. It was a harrowing, several-day journey, with the Luftwaffe bombing the route and special troops charged with capturing the royal family chasing them.

Norway is even more strategic today, yet the United States has not had an ambassador in Oslo since September 2013.

President Obama’s first nominee withdrew. The current nominee is Sam Heins, a distinguished attorney from Minneapolis. He has passed all his background checks and has had his confirmation hearing. Regrettably, the full Senate has failed to act on his confirmation vote.

The lack of an ambassador is an embarrassment, especially given that Norway has been one of our closest allies and truest friends since May 7, 1945, when the 360,000 German troops that administered the harsh occupation surrendered.

After the war, Norway stated its foreign and defense policy as “Aldri Mer,” which means “never again.” Never again would they rely on neutrality or be surprised. Norway became a founding member of NATO. The current head of NATO is Jens Stoltenberg, the former prime minister of Norway.

During the Cold War, the Norwegian border with the Soviet Union high above the Arctic Circle became where NATO focused resources for the defense of the United States. Across that border is Murmansk, the only port Russia has ever had on the Atlantic. This is where the Russian nuclear submarine fleet is based and it is where the ballistic missiles ready to rain down atomic bombs on American targets sit in hardened silos dug into the permafrost. The target path over the North Pole is the shortest route.

To counter this, a series of air bases designed to accommodate American F16s were built in northern Norway, with pre-positioned equipment to service them stored in vast bunkers tunneled into mountains. And the spyware to monitor the Russian missiles is a prominent fixture on the horizon near the border.

Norway today exports its bountiful production of oil and natural gas to Germany. This is the main counterbalance to any Russian threat to cut off gas supplies to Europe meant to weaken NATO members and the economy of the European Union.

We ask a lot of Norway, yet the Senate does not have the decency to send the personal representative of the president to his post in Oslo. It is common to describe the Senate as dysfunctional, and this has become nothing but a kind way to describe collective arrogance. Our allies don’t understand.

Ambassador Harriman made it to Sweden and stayed to help Americans escape Norway. President Roosevelt sent a destroyer to an Arctic Ocean port in northern Finland to pick up the princess and the children, and they came and lived with him in the White House. The current king of Norway was one of the children.

King Haakon and Crown Prince Olav made it to England after a month of hopeless but heavy resistance to the German invaders from the remnants of the Norwegian military. They became the government in exile. Hitler was denied his goal of capturing them and setting up a puppet government.

Florence Jaffray Harriman was only the second woman appointed as an ambassador in United States history. She came to prominence as a leader in the suffragette movement. Although a Democrat, she threatened Woodrow Wilson that she would rally women to oppose his nomination if he did not change his position and support ratification of the 19th Amendment. He did.

The American ambassador is a powerful person and can act as the situation dictates. I can think of many examples during my tenure as Norwegian ambassador from 1993 to 1998, but the most memorable was over tea with Nelson Mandela in his suite at the Grand Hotel after the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, when I committed President Clinton to a change in our trade negotiation posture the future president of South Africa needed. I did not have clearance or instructions. It was important I was there.

I urge the Senate to vote on Heins’ confirmation.

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