During 1397–1814 Norway was part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and during 1814–1905 it was part of Sweden. Norway has also had significant ties with Britain as a trading partner and guarantor of its access to the high seas. During World War II, in spite of its effort to remain neutral, Norway was invaded and occupied by Germany (1940–1945). The outcome of the war gave Norway a shared border with the Soviet Union.
At the end of the war, King Haakon (ruled 1905–1957) returned to Norway from exile in Britain and called on Social Democrat Einar Gerhardsen to form a government. One immediate task was to investigate wartime collaboration with the Germans. Some 93,000 Norwegians were investigated. Twenty-five were executed, the most prominent being Vidkun Quisling, the Nazi puppet ruler of Norway during the war. Seventeen thousand others received lesser sentences.
The ruling Social Democratic Labor Party (DNA), which held power during 1945–1961, initially hoped for the restoration of Norwegian neutrality through great power cooperation within the context of the United Nations (UN), but the advent of the Cold War shattered this. Norwegian leaders attempted a balancing act between East and West but soon gave that up in the face of a growing Soviet threat.
Many Norwegians had admired Soviet economic progress in the years before World War II. Norwegians were also grateful for the Red Army's liberation of northern Norway toward the end of the war, and they were pleased that the Soviet Union supported the candidacy of Norwegian Foreign Minister Trygve Lie as UN secretary-general. Nonetheless, Norwegians harbored a general distrust of the Soviet Union.
Skepticism of the capitalist West and the fear of provoking the Soviets made a firm alignment with the West difficult, but strong wartime ties with Britain, the failure of efforts at creating a defensive alliance among Norway, Sweden, and Denmark in early 1949, and fears that the Western powers might not come to its defense without a firm security arrangement all led to a decision by the DNA leadership to opt for a defensive arrangement with the West. Thus, Norway formally abandoned its traditional neutrality in signing the North Atlantic Treaty on 4 April 1949. Finland had been forced to sign a treaty aligning it to some degree with the Soviet Union in 1948, while Sweden remained neutral. The constellation of Norwegian and Danish NATO membership, Swedish nonalignment, and Finnish ties to the Soviet Union has frequently been termed "the Nordic balance."
In order to minimize tensions with the Soviets, Norway imposed limitations on its NATO membership and objected to specific NATO policies. Thus, the allies were not allowed to establish permanent bases in Norway during peacetime and were not permitted to hold military exercises in close proximity to the Soviet border. Oslo also opposed U.S. attempts to bring Francisco Franco's fascist Spain into NATO and resisted Turkey's and Greece's accession as members because of their undemocratic governments. Norway also had reservations over the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany) joining NATO in 1955.
Norwegian territory played a key role in the polar strategy of the Cold War. The Arctic provided the shortest flight path for long-range bombers and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) between North America and the Soviet Union. The Soviets' naval buildup in the Kola region following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and U.S.-Norwegian operations to track Soviet submarines also demonstrated the growing strategic importance of the region.
Domestically, Norway reached considerable national prosperity in the Cold War period. Wartime damage had been relatively modest. The main priorities of 1945 were economic reconstruction and the creation of a modern welfare state. Economic planning was heavily influenced by Keynesian economics. Norway participated in the Marshall Plan, which proved a major boost to the nation's postwar economic rehabilitation. After 1949, a consensus over foreign policy existed between the DNA and center-rightist political parties. However, the DNA itself was divided. Its left-wing faction opposed
NATO membership and broke away from the DNA in 1961 to form the Socialist People's Party (SF), later renamed the Socialist Left Party (SV). It had close ties to the international peace movement. The Norwegian Communist Party remained small.
The DNA and the largest right-wing party, the Conservative Party, wanted Norway to join the European Community (EC). However, an alliance of the SF, the left-wing of the DNA, and center-rightist parties based in rural Norway mobilized the electorate to defeat membership in a 1972 referendum (repeated in 1994). These same political forces have, since World War II, sought to prevent the depopulation of rural Norway by securing heavy government subsidies and the regulation of major industries.
Shipping, fisheries, and industrial raw materials such as aluminum had been traditional Norwegian sources of income. After 1970, however, oil revenues from newly developed North Sea fields contributed substantially to the expansion of the public sector and governmental welfare programs. The developing welfare state helped to preserve Norway as an egalitarian society with few socioeconomic divisions. Since the mid-1970s, the Samí ethnic minority, living mostly in the far northern region of Norway, has received growing recognition and cultural autonomy. By 1991, Norway ranked among the world's five wealthiest countries, and the public sector remains dominant despite reforms during the 1980s and 1990s.
Norway imposed compulsory military service throughout the Cold War period, with the armed forces divided into a navy, an army, and an air force. Based on the experience of the 1940 German surprise attack, a ready reserve force, the Home Guard, also came into being to secure the vital infrastructure. Through the reorganization of Free Norwegian Forces in Britain during World War II, unit structures, equipment, and training had closely mirrored British models. From the 1950s, however, Norway adopted U.S. equipment, routines, and unit structures as a consequence of its participation in the Mutual Defense Assistance Program and bilateral programs. From the 1950s, the Norwegian Air Force has been equipped with American-built fighters, while small arms used by the armed forces have mostly been German models. Norway's principal contribution to NATO weaponry was in the Penguin antishipping missile and small arms ammunition.
The main role for Norway's armed forces in the event of a shooting war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact was to delay Soviet advances sufficiently to allow allied assistance to arrive. Supplies for units earmarked for this task were stored in facilities deep in the Norwegian mountains. With the strengthening of NATO's Central European defenses by West Germany's membership in 1955 and the Soviet buildup on the Kola Peninsula, the Norwegian Army was increasingly concentrated in the northern part of the country.
Despite the end of the Cold War, Soviet-Norwegian territorial disputes in the Barents Sea remain unsolved. Neither economic aid nor political encouragement from Norway and other Western nations has succeeded in removing the environmental hazards resulting from the decaying bases of the former Soviet Northern Fleet. These continue to pose great risks to Norway's shoreline and important fishing grounds, which are perilously close to potential radioactive and chemical leaks.
Cole, Wayne S. Norway and the United States, 1905–1955: Two Democracies in Peace and War. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1989.; Lundestad, Geir. America, Scandinavia and the Cold War. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1982.; Riste, Olav. Norway's Foreign Relations: A History. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 2005.