Portfolio plan Global Development and International Relations

Thematic Priorities

The Portfolio prioritises thematic research within the areas of international relations, foreign and security policy, development issues with a particular focus on poverty reduction, climate change, humanitarian need and global health. The following areas are considered to be of particular importance;

World Order and the International System

The liberal world order, where democracies of Europe and North America have pursued their national interests through global and regional institutions as well as multi- and bilateral security organisations, has come under increasing pressure in recent years.

New knowledge is needed to understand how rivalry between great powers, particularly between the United States and China, but also between the Russia and the West, may affect international cooperation in the years to come. Major powers, including the US, are increasingly resorting to bilateral or even unilateral rather than multilateral solutions. The rise of China and other emerging powers, politically and economically, have enabled these countries to wield significantly increased multilateral influence. This necessitates research on how liberal norms and values, including human rights, are being challenged.

As a small country with an open economy, Norway has a major stake in a rules-based and stable world order and open and free markets. A functioning multilateral system is also of importance if the Sustainable Developments Goals are to be reached. Hence, research is needed on ways to strengthen multilateral cooperation and the institutions in which it takes place, with a view to enhancing the effectiveness and representativity of key organizations, including the UN.

Research is furthermore needed to understand the implications of China's rapidly growing economic, political and military power, and how this affects international change. The evolution of US-China relations will increasingly dominate the international agenda and is likely to also entail major consequences for Norway and the rest of Europe. The status and influence of other Asian countries are also raising their profiles. India, for its part, is expected to become the third largest economy in the world by 2030. Almost 20 per cent of the assets of Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global are invested in Asian securities or companies.

New knowledge is required to understand how heightened competition between major powers is contributing to further challenge the established world order and its institutions, and how this development creates a new, more challenging and less predictable context for international cooperation on matters related to security, trade, commerce and the world economy as well as development issues.

Although not a member of the European Union, Norway has close ties with the EU, politically and economically, and as such, the Norwegian Government and Norwegian business need knowledge about the development within the EU. As part of the European Economic Area (EEA), Norway enjoys full access to the single European market. This is essential since, even after Brexit, half of the Norwegian foreign trade will be with the EU. Norway is also a part of the Schengen travel area, frequently aligns itself with the EU on foreign policy issues, and cooperates closely with the EU in areas such as justice and home affairs.

EEA citizens, under the single European market, have the right to free labour immigration to Norway. Additionally, the immigrant population in Norway consists of refugees and asylum seekers from countries outside of EEA. In the fall of 2015, Norway as many European countries, experienced an increase of refugees due to the conflict in Syria. Norway's ability to handle increased immigration has led to major discussions and debates and posed challenges for the authorities. This is a common problem throughout the EU.

The EU is also facing other challenges. Several member-states have imposed measures that undermine basic rights and freedoms and democratic principles. Following the British departure, only France will possess the military capabilities and the global outlook required to play a significant military role beyond Europe. As a result, the Union´s crisis management capabilities have been reduced. And the EU has struggled to find a coordinated and effective response to the Covid-19 crisis. Research is needed to understand the challenges the EU is facing in areas such as these, as well as their implications for Norway, a closely aligned non-member of the Union.

System of government, democracy and human rights

Democracy as a system of government has been expanding geographically since the mid-20th century, but now this trend seems to have been reversed or at least stalled. Authoritarian government is on the rise in many parts of the world, including Europe. There are many reasons why people are losing faith in democratic governments. Immigration and globalisation are but two examples. But one common feature is a forceful political rhetoric built on antagonism towards existing political elites. This is often expressed in demands for more direct democracy, a weakening of the rule of law, and the emergence of independent power centres. Democratic principles and individual human rights are thus under strong pressure.

New and inexpensive digital platforms and the social media have enabled extensive and rapid exchange of information and opinions and research is required to understand if, and how, this development can lead to mobilisation along new and old dividing lines and new forms of group identification. Change is taking place at varying pace and with varying effect among different countries. New digital technology is being used to prop up effective police states with access to information about their inhabitants. This threatens universal rights relating to elections and freedom of expression, as well as minority rights intended to protect against discrimination.

Human rights include the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion and expression, the right to work and education, and many more. They are inherent to all, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. As liberal democratic ideals seem to be ever more challenged, there is a need to monitor closely the global state of human rights.

Severe incidents that are serious threats to society, such as natural disasters, terrorism or pandemics, normally triggers extraordinary measures and regulations by the authorities. There is a need to understand the wider consequences of such measures, like emergency laws and infliction of severe restrictions, on human rights.

Research is needed to understand the implications of the European integration process, which has redistributed power and resources in Europe and made collective action possible in a broad field. Understanding how this process has implications for the well-being of citizens, their interests and values, as well as the ability of European states to secure democracy and the rule of law, is vital. Insight into the multiple challenges faced by the EU, is likewise important, as, in several member states, basic principles of the rule of law and basic human rights are being infringed.

Foreign and Security Policy

A close security relationship with the US, strong transatlantic ties, and NATO's mutual assistance commitment remain the linchpins of Norwegian security. To protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity, Norway relies on assistance from allies, and thus Norway has a strong interest in ensuring that NATO remains strong and united.

Throughout its history, the Alliance has successfully adapted to a changing security landscape. Today´s intra-Alliance divisions have led to increased uncertainty about the solidity of NATO´s security guarantee, and as such trigger unease in Norway. While pushing for modernisation of the Alliance, Norway is also intensifying its security cooperation with key European allies, notably the UK, Germany, France and the Netherlands, as well as the Nordic non-NATO members Sweden and Finland.

The bilateral relationship with Russia is a key component of Norway's foreign and security policy. With a common border on land and at sea, Norway and Russia have many shared challenges. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, far-reaching bilateral cooperation has been established across a wide range of areas, at the level of capitals, on a regional basis and – not least – through wide-ranging people-to-people cooperation across the shared border.

New knowledge is needed in order to understand the wider consequences of the deteriorated relations between Russia and the West, including Norway, in the wake of Russia´s 2014 annexation of the Crimea. Russia is pursuing a more assertive foreign policy and has invested heavily in upgrading its armed forces, including in areas close to Norwegian territory. Knowledge of the Russian domestic situation, politically, economically and as regards social issues, as well as its approach to foreign relations in Europe and beyond, is obviously of vital importance in the formulation of Norwegian policies governing relations, bilaterally as well as in the alliance and other international contexts. Norway's Russia policy needs to be informed by sound research and analysis as well as experience-based diplomatic knowledge.

The main aims of the Norwegian High North policy are to foster peace and stability, and to protect Norwegian political and economic interests in this resource-rich region. The High North has long been a region of low tension and wide-ranging international cooperation. Jurisdictional issues have largely been settled on the basis of the UN Law of the Sea Convention, which is adhered to by all the Arctic coastal states.

While the conflict potential remains lower in the Arctic than in many other parts of the world, the situation is becoming less predictable. This is partly due to the general deterioration of relations between Russia and the West. On top of this the rich natural resources of the Arctic, and the prospect of opening up a Northern Sea-route between Europe and Asia are attracting increased international interest. Research is needed to monitor and understand the implications of these trends.

And, finally, new knowledge is needed to understand how global security challenges are affecting Norway's security. Trans-national crime, international terrorism and cyber threats are placing societies, including Norway, under pressure. Hacking of critical infrastructure, fake news, disinformation campaigns and other external meddling: these are all parts of a complicated new threatening situation and add further complexity to the challenges posed by the traditional threats to the nation's sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence.

Peace and Conflict     

The number of armed conflicts characterised by extreme brutality and complexity has increased in recent years. In addition, non-war violence, which is a problem throughout the world, is a particular challenge in developing countries. Combined with natural and other disasters, and partially exacerbated by the consequences of climate change, these create immense challenges for the international community and an unprecedented need for humanitarian assistance. In the absence of sufficient means to prevent or reduce the scale of conflicts or to manage the consequences of disasters, forced migration and internal and external displacement will continue to increase.

In order to resolve issues such as these, the underlying causes and dynamics of conflict must be understood and addressed and even more importantly, knowledge on efficient conflict transformation should be increased. New knowledge is needed in order to help the conflicting parties to create a situation in which differences and conflicts can be addressed in a non-violent and constructive manner. This is essential in preventing violent conflicts from arising or existing conflicts from escalating further. International peacekeeping is likely to remain a key tool of international conflict management. International peacekeeping is evolving towards the use of a broader spectrum of force, including peace-making operations, new technology and increased emphasis on intelligence. While the key role of the UN is broadly supported, there is an urgent need for reform and strengthening of UN peacekeeping.

Participation in international peacekeeping operations has been a key part of Norwegian foreign and security policy. In a globalized world, global conflicts are increasingly affecting Norwegian security, and the government has long urged all UN member states to support efforts to strengthen the organisation's ability to deal effectively with crisis and foster stability.

New knowledge is needed to understand how violent conflicts change people’s lives, how women and men are affected in different ways, and how conflicts can be prevented. Research must provide knowledge on how conflicts affect development, and vice versa, result in uneven distribution of development benefits, globally, regionally, and locally, and, how this is linked to creating new or extending ongoing conflict, and increased poverty, exclusion and marginalization. Understanding how development can have an impact not only on security, but also on political and economic conditions, health, human rights, and general law and order, is vital. The effect of extractive industries on conflict, and particularly how such industries best can impact conflict levels and development positively rather than negatively, is important to shed light on. The rapidly changing international development landscape and multi-stake-holders perspective has wide implications for global order, the donor communities, as well as the recipient states or organisations, for instance with regard to how to exercise partnership and ownership. Post-conflict rebuilding is a key issue requiring new high-quality, inter-disciplinary research.

Poverty reduction

Poverty remains the state for the majority of the world’s people and nations. New knowledge is needed on how to move people out of poverty and to understand how this is interlinked with trends on a local, national and global level. It is further necessary to ensure the development and upscaling of innovative solutions to promote poverty reduction by use of new digital opportunities and new types of partnership. A better understanding of how to effectively engage and include local communities in decision making processes, and how to ensure robust long-term results from the perspective of poverty reduction is important.

Education with good learning outcomes is essential for reducing poverty, creating new jobs, stimulating business, improving health, fulfilling human rights, and achieving peace and democracy. Because of sustained efforts and investment on the part of national governments, communities and development partners, many more children are in school. However, despite significant progress in increasing educational access in recent years, millions of children still have no access to formal education and, where they do, learning levels remain very low. There is therefore a need to reorient education systems away from focusing exclusively on expanding access towards to additionally improving learning outcomes and the overall quality of education for all children.

Research is needed to resolve the urgent need for job creation, particularly for young people in the context of high population growth and increasing urbanisation in parallel to persistent extreme rural deprivation. Covid-19 has, meanwhile, raised awareness of the significance of welfare provision for the poorest and most vulnerable, as well as of new understanding of global macroeconomic instruments of support in such conditions. Widespread discrimination against women and numerous ethnic groups is prevalent in many labour markets. More knowledge is needed about how new jobs with decent working conditions can be created as well as about how increasing globalisation of trade, services, capital and information facilitate and constrain employment and income opportunities. Taxation and the prevention of illicit financial flows go to the core of financing for development, building effective and accountable institutions, poverty-reducing public spending and boosting sustainable economic growth. How tax revenues are raised can be equally important as raising revenue, and a legitimate and efficient tax system can contribute to reducing inequality and building a social contract between state and citizens.

Humanitarian Efforts

Armed conflict, climate change and persistent poverty in fragile countries and regions are now creating complex crises that last longer and affect more people than before. There are more people displaced in 2020 than at any other time since World War II. There is a growing convergence between the humanitarian and development agendas. The humanitarian caseload is a growing concern for development and has direct impact on the SDGs. The lack of resources and the need for reform in order to respond more adequately to these challenges prompted the first World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, to strengthen the shared principles governing humanitarian aid: 1) political leadership to prevent and end conflicts; 2) uphold the norms that safeguard humanity; 3) leave no one behind; 4) change people’s lives – from delivering aid to ending need; and 5) invest in humanity. In order to strengthen the area, research should also contribute to some of these aspects and dimensions with the aim of strengthening humanitarian efforts in Norwegian aid policy, based on careful analysis of and new insights into how best to support interventions and strengthen preventative initiatives in terms of local sustainability.

This Portfolio intends to include and support research programmes which will respond to the knowledge needs set out in Norway’s new Humanitarian Strategy. Topics of interest highlighted in this new strategy include innovation, cooperation, compliance with humanitarian law as well as coordinated efforts in addressing needs.

Humanitarian issues are interlinked with conflict and climate changes, which can cause migration, and research is needed to assist the international community in finding promising approaches to linking humanitarian assistance with long-term development and responding to root causes of vulnerability. This includes the roles of local, national and international actors in a humanitarian response and how social and political factors influence root causes of vulnerability and marginalisation processes, as well as accountability to affected populations and reaching the most vulnerable.

Global health

Marginalised populations in developing countries contribute disproportionately highly to the global burden of disease and experience excessive mortality, morbidity and disability due to a range of communicable and non-communicable diseases. Research is needed to support the overall objective of improving health and health care, in line with the agenda set out internationally for SDG3: ‘Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages’.

In many countries, weak health systems remain the main obstacle to progress with shortages in coverage of even the most basic and essential healthcare services and lack of preparedness for health emergencies. Achieving universal health coverage means that all people are provided with accessible and affordable quality essential health services that address the most significant causes of death and disease. Knowledge is needed on how health services can deliver high quality care, are responsive to changing population needs, are valued and trusted by all people and can consistently provide care that improves or maintains health.

Epidemics, pandemics, health emergencies and weak health systems not only cost lives but pose some of the greatest risks to the global economy and security faced today. They are an integral part of the security and global health agenda. Improved access to, availability and quality of health care with strengthened health systems is a pre-requisite to providing a high level of emergency preparedness, monitoring and assessment, and, effective defence against emerging threats, whether natural or man-made.

However, the focus on health emergencies and preparedness must not derail the effort towards eradication of, and fight against infectious diseases that still make up the largest burden of disease in developing countries. Tuberculosis, HIV and malaria are still leading causes of ill health and death in developing countries with Sub-Saharan Africa as the most effected region. Neglected tropical diseases affect billions of lives, while global immunization rates for children below the age of five have stalled. Unvaccinated children live in the poorest and often fragile and conflict-ridden nations. Research on epidemiology, diagnostics, therapeutics, development, evaluation and implementation of medicines and vaccines suited for developing countries is still needed to ensure good health for all. 

The use and misuse of antimicrobial drugs accelerates the emergence of drug-resistant strains and stalls progress in fighting infectious diseases. Poor infection control, inadequate sanitary conditions, and inappropriate food handling also encourages the further spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The global challenge to address AMR is not just about new antibiotics and therapies. It is crucial to reduce the demand for new antibiotics as well as having effective diagnosis and surveillance of antibiotic-resistant infections and antibiotic use.

Research aimed at improving and ensuring universal access to reproductive, maternal, new-born, child and adolescent health, including care during and after pregnancy and childbirth, child growth and development, family planning, contraceptive methods to delay and plan pregnancies, and, safe abortion, is considered key to improving health and survival among these groups in developing countries. Additionally, research on information and education and to ensure integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes with increase met-need for family planning with modern methods and reduced adolescent birth rates is needed.

Women and children in developing countries are still dying in childbirth, due to complications of pregnancy and the first months of life. These deaths are preventable with appropriate management and care. Research aimed at improving and ensuring universal access to reproductive, maternal, new-born, child and adolescent health is considered key to improving health and survival among these groups in developing countries. This research includes care during and after pregnancy and childbirth, child growth and development, family planning, contraceptive methods to delay and plan pregnancies, and, safe abortion. Additionally, research on information and education and to ensure integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes with increase met-need for family planning with modern methods and reduced adolescent birth rates is needed.

There is a growing burden of non-communicable diseases in developing countries. The Norwegian government launched the “Better Health, Better Lives” strategy in 2019 to combat deadly non-communicable diseases (NCDs) as part of its international development assistance.

Innovation and the development of affordable and appropriate technologies for resource constrained settings will make important contributions to solving some of the health systems and health problems in developing countries. Research and innovation for the development and application of new and existing technology and methods will help to meet the needs of patients, healthcare providers and leaders. It can strengthen the delivery as well as support the monitoring and evaluation of the health system.

Climate, environment and renewable energy

All the states inhabit the same biosphere. Human activities that alter its composition and affect changes in the world’s climate are by nature a global issue. It can only be dealt with through international cooperation, which, in turn, requires knowledge about the conditions for effective cooperation between states. To understand why endeavours to establish a well-functioning global climate regime have failed, we need to understand processes at all levels of analysis. At the national, regional and global level, as well as the dynamic between the different levels.

The understanding of how climate changes poses an important risk on a societal, economic and security dimension has evolved over the last decade, and climate change is increasingly included as a security risk in national security and defence strategies. NATO has stated firmly that climate change is in fact a security risk, and an issue to consider in the context of conflict prevention, peace and stability. The impact of flooding, disease and famine, resulting in migration on an unprecedented scale in areas of already high tension; drought and crop-failure, leading to intensified competition for food, water and energy in regions where resources are already stretched to the limit, could lead to a breakdown in established codes of conduct, and even to outright conflict within and between nations with a potential to escalate further.

In many locations, ecosystem services are threatened by degradation of habitats, loss of biodiversity, pollution and climate change. Small-scale farmers, herders and fishermen in developing countries are often seen as the major victims of environmental degradation, but they are also critical actors in terms of reducing risks. Sustainable natural resource management practices have the potential to secure vital ecosystem services and prevent natural hazards from becoming crises. More research is needed on this. The loss of habitat leading to more contact between wild animals and people may increase risk of infectious diseases with potential to develop into pandemics. More knowledge about the interplay between environmental, political, historical, social, economic and cultural factors is needed to gain a deeper understanding of how land and natural resources are managed and controlled and how this affects mitigation and adaptation strategies.

Few sectors are more dependent on well-functioning ecosystem services than the food-producing sectors. Access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets the dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life is a prerequisite for all. Food security is under threat from climate change and under- and malnutrition are on the rise globally, where the poorest countries are the hardest hit. The Norwegian government’s action plan on sustainable food systems (2019–2023) has been launched in an effort to increase sustainable food production, improve nutrition and enhance job and value creation.

A sustainable management of the oceans, fisheries and aquaculture relies on science-based policy-advice and regulations. The threats facing the oceans are many-faceted, including rising temperatures and sea levels, acidification, bleaching of corals, degradation of mangroves, and marine pollution and littering. Marine plastic waste is mainly caused by lack of waste collection and waste management on land, whereby most of the plastic enters the oceans via rivers.  Many developing countries foresee increased economic growth within the blue sectors. Diversification and new economic activities are needed but may compete with existing activities, such as those of small-scale fishing communities. It is therefore important that the social consequences for those who live by and off the sea are considered both in facilitating new economic activity and when implementing conservation measures.

Access to energy is fundamental for improving quality of life and is a key imperative for economic and social development. It is also vital to a country’s ability to generate income, provide jobs and stimulate trade and development. In the developing world, energy poverty is still rife. More than 800 million people still have no access to electricity. Understanding the energy needs of societies, energy use, energy sources, technological solutions for energy supply and distribution, their implementation, financing, effects on societies and long-term sustainability is a priority. In particular, knowledge is needed on the effects of renewable energy sources on poverty alleviation, climate and job creation, as well as on the role of the private sector. With strong population growth and a shift away from traditional use of bioenergy, Africa is emerging as a driver for growth in demand for oil, gas and renewables. The transition to a carbon-free energy supply must therefore be fast and affordable enough to be able to serve the growing demand.