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Norway: Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Tighten Parliamentary Control over Foreign Deployment of Armed Forces

(June 27, 2012) It was reported on June 18, 2012, that Norway's Socialist Left Party (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, or SV) has proposed and presented to Norway's Parliament (Storting), a constitutional amendment requiring a parliamentary decision before Norwegian forces can participate in overseas military operations. The government would retain the authority, however, to decide on going to war if Norway's borders are threatened. Audun Bjørlo Lysbakken, deputy leader of the SV, stated: “[we] discuss and make decisions about the most trivial matters, while some of the most important thing [sic] – such as sending Norwegian men and women to war – we don't debate in the Parliament,” and “[i]t is worrying that there is little public debate about Norwegian war participation … .” (No More War Without Parliamentary Decision, THE NORDIC PAGE (June 18, 2012).)

The proposed amendment would affect section 25 of the Norwegian Constitution. That section already calls for Parliament's consent for the transfer of Norwegian forces to the service of foreign powers as well as for the deployment of the territorial army and troops that are non-combat forces outside Norway's borders. It states:

§ 25 [Commander-in-Chief]
(1) The King is Commander-in-Chief of the land and naval forces of the Realm. These forces … may not be transferred to the service of foreign powers … without the consent of the Parliament [Storting].
(2) The territorial army and the other troops which cannot be classed as troops of the line must never, without the consent of the Parliament [Storting], be employed outside the borders of the Realm. (Norway – Constitution, International Constitutional Law (ICL) website (last visited June 25, 2012) [includes all amendments up to and including that of May 21, 2012, on partial secularization of the state].)

However, the SV argues that the process of sending troops abroad to serve in foreign wars is not transparent, because in practice such decisions are not debated in open session, but only in secret (closed) meetings held by an expanded foreign and defense committee; moreover, a minority government could send the country's armed forces to war without the backing of a parliamentary majority. At the same time, the SV acknowledges the need for a safety valve in the Constitution to ensure swift action by the government to defend the nation's borders. (Grunnlovsforslag 3 (2011-2012) (Midlertidig) [Constitutional Proposal 3 (2011-2012) (Temporary)], Doc. 12:3 (2011-2012) (last updated June 14, 2012) [machine translation consulted].)

The SV has suggested three possible alternatives for the wording of the amendment, but all of them include the addition to paragraph 1 of section 25 of the sentence: “Nor may the land and naval forces of the Realm be employed outside the borders of the Realm without the consent of the Storting, unless absolutely necessary for the country's defense.” (Id.) One alternative would retain the wording that the King is Commander-in-Chief of the land and naval forces; alternatives two and three replace “King” with “the government” and “the President,” respectively. (Id.)