CROSSING NORTH 19: THOSE DAYS ARE LONG GONE
Colin Gioia Connors: The following episode contains mentions of two mass casualty events—one in the United States on September 11, 2001, and the other in Norway on July 22, 2011. Please use discretion.
Jay Bruns: I thought I could share with you why I got involved in the Foreign Service to begin with, if you're interested.
Kristian Næsby: That would be wonderful.
Jay: I was a high school exchange student to this little tiny town in Denmark for a year, so I was 17. And about six months into my stay of a year, a new American ambassador to Denmark arrived. And I watched—he held a press conference—and he had criticized the Danish government in his press conference. It was at a time when inside NATO, Greece was part of it. And there was a military junta that was running Greece, and the Danes were, you know, true to their democratic principles, they were kind of holding their distance from the Greek government, inside NATO. And the American position was, “Well, they’re a NATO ally, we need them.” So that ambassador criticized the Danes on that. So I wrote the new ambassador a letter. And in my 17 year old way, I said, “Well, welcome to Denmark, I've been here for six months, isn't it nice?” And, “I like watching the TV, and there are no commercials, [*Kristian laughs*] and by the way, I noticed that you criticized the Danish government just after arriving. Isn't that a little bit like walking up to somebody you don't know and criticizing the tie they have on?” Well, two weeks or so later, the telephone rings in the house of the family that I live with, and my Danish mother comes to me breathlessly and says, “the American Embassy is on the phone!” [*laughs*] So I took the call, and it was the executive assistant to the ambassador inviting me in to talk. So I got the day off of school, I took the train into Copenhagen and went in, and this man who was probably in his late 60s—he was a political appointee, which means that it was under Richard Nixon. So Nixon had this guy—he was a real estate magnate from Southern California, but a very nice man. And he had basically—I think his idea was to say—sit me down and say, “Well, young man, in the real world, things are like this.” And, and we started this conversation. And I remember him saying, “well, that's the problem, you know, you mentioned no commercials. That's the problem with socialism. [*Kristian laughs*] You know, in a socialist country, even if you don't have a TV, you know, you have to pay for it.” And I said, “well, actually in Denmark, that's not the way it works. If you have a black and white TV, you pay a certain amount. If you have three TVs you pay more. If you have a color TV, you pay more. If you don't have a TV, you don't pay.” And he said— You know, that was a revelation to him. So— But it was a real turning point in my life. I thought— It was the first time it occurred to me that you could be an American, continue to be an American, and represent your country abroad. So ever since then, I had on my sites to join the American Foreign Service.
[*Intro music starts*]
Colin: Welcome to Crossing North: a podcast where we learn from Nordic and Baltic artists, scholars, and community members to better understand our world, our communities, and ourselves. Coming to you from the Scandinavian Studies Department and Baltic Studies Program at the University of Washington in Seattle, I’m your host Colin Gioia Connors.
[*Intro music ends*]
Jay Bruns is an affiliate instructor and advisory board member of the Scandinavian Studies Department at the University of Washington. Jay is also the Senior Climate Policy Advisor to the Washington State Insurance Commissioner.
Jay Bruns had a 25-year career as a Foreign Service Officer in the U.S. State Department. He represented the United States in Norway, Canada, Germany, Japan, and Trinidad and Tobago. His last job in the Foreign Service was as the US Special Negotiator for Conflict Diamonds and he worked with Congress to pass the Clean Diamond Trade Act of 2003. Before that, from August 2001 to December 2002, Jay served as chargé d'affaires, or acting ambassador, for the United States in Norway, which means he had only been acting ambassador in Norway for one month before the events of September 11.
Former visiting lecturer of Danish, Kristian Naesby and I interviewed Jay in 2018 about his experience in Oslo during those pivotal days and their aftermath.
Jay: I was acting ambassador, which means, yeah, I went out as chargé d’affaires, which in English means “in charge of affairs” or “acting ambassador,” yeah.
Kristian: How did you get— how did you get that gig? Or how were you appointed to that?
Jay: When I was leaving the White House, the National Security Council, I was…
Kristian: —We should step back a little. [*Colin laughs*] How do you get that gig? [Jay and Kristian laugh*]
Jay: Yeah— In the Foreign Service, there are all kinds of different jobs you can have moving up the ladder as an American diplomat, and one, you know, rather sought after job is to have a stint in the National Security Council in the White House. So I put my name in for that at one point and was very honored to be chosen. So for about a year and a half, a little longer than that, I worked in the Clinton White House in the National Security Council. And you may recall, they created a National Economic Council, so I was actually in both. And then I stayed in the White House complex right through the transition, which is a really weird interesting thing to to watch as the US government, you know, transfers—peacefully—transfers power from one elected president to the next, and everybody in that White House complex leaves except for a very small number of people, including the the career people who had been in the National Security Council. —[and by] career, I mean, you know, the intelligence agencies to career diplomats, civilian DOD, and the military.
Kristian: Right. This is rather different from how it's done in Scandinavian countries where the top people in the different ministries, of course, change, but all the workers on the floor in the different departments and ministries—they stay on, and are believed to be able to faithfully conduct the policies of the changing people in power. Which of those two systems do you think work the best?
Jay: Well, our system is not vastly different, I would say, because in the ministries in our departments, for example, there is of course, a change when governments change. But the career people stay on. But the difference is that in Europe generally, and also in Japan, the career people go right up to the, like, the second level or third level, whereas in the United States, like, in the State Department, when there is a transition, it's not— probably the Deputy Secretary of State, the number two, is a political person, and then there are seven undersecretaries, and quite a few of them—if not all of them—are political, and then assistant secretaries. So the change at the top is definitely bigger than the change at the top in Europe or Japan. Right. But
Kristian: Right. Can we talk a little bit about what— what affairs did you work on when you sat on the National Security Council under Clinton?
Jay: I was Director for International Economic Relations, so I worked a lot on trade policy, which is what I had done a lot of in my prior career up and up until then—
Kristian: —mostly in Japan, is that right?
Jay: There was a lot that had to do with Japan. I also focused on other things. Trade policy with regard to sugar at the time was a big deal. I'll never forget, there was one National Security Council meeting—I was reminded of it today, because I was reading some papers from some of my students and read one on whaling— And at that time, there was a very popular American television show called West Wing that really did do pretty well at describing what life was like inside the West Wing, obviously, with a lot more embellishment. But I remember we had a National Security Council meeting in the West Wing, and so all the participants were there, including Madeleine Albright, who was the Secretary of State at the time, and she looked around the table—we were working down the agenda—and she looked around the table. And she said, “Well, did you watch West Wing last night?”
Kristian: [*whispers*] Oh my God..
Jay: And almost everyone had. [*Kristian and Colin laugh*] What was so interesting was the next point that we were talking about was Japan and whaling.
Kristian: Oh, my goodness!
Jay: And she said— and on The West Wing program last night, the night before, the subject had been Japan and whaling—
Kristian: That is incredible.
Jay: —And so she kind of laughed and said, “Well, life imitates art.” [*laughs*]
Kristian: Right. Yeah. And it so often does, right. And with that show, so many of the things that were discussed there were inspired by policies of the Clinton administration.
Kristian: There was, like, an overlap of people between the show and the administration.
Jay: There were some people who were advising on that show who had just come from the administration. I do remember that.
Kristian: Yeah, that's fascinating. Yeah. So after the transition to the George W. Bush presidency, you were appointed acting ambassador to Norway.
Kristian: How does that happen?
Jay: In the US Foreign Service, you— basically it's kind of like the military. It's arranged like the military: you start as the equivalent of a second lieutenant in officer ranks and then you work your way up. And by that time, I'd worked my way up to the equivalent of a one-star general. So inside the Foreign Service, you are applying for jobs at your level, doing something you want to do. And I had—there were numerous opportunities, but I really wanted to go back to Scandinavia, and actually Denmark was one of the choices. So, it was— But I put my name in the hat for both Denmark and Norway and was offered the job to go out as—it would have been as the number two, but because there was no Senate confirmed ambassador at the time, I went out as as the acting ambassador and stayed in that position through 2002 or into 2002.
Kristian: —as acting ambassador.
Kristian: And then did they then appoint an actual ambassador, is that how it works?
Jay: Yes, a new ambassador who then came, and so I helped him make the transition. Yes.
Jay: That was that was in 2002.
Kristian: Right. And those were very consequential years, both at home here in the US and in Scandinavia as well.
Jay: It was very interesting. I arrived in Oslo—summer of— in August of 2001. And had lots of different things to take care of, and professionally, one of the big things was there was a big election right then in Norway. The then Prime Minister was Jens Stoltenberg. But in early September, there was an election, and actually his competitor, Kjell Magne Bondevik, who had also been Prime Minister before, he won, again, over Stoltenberg. So I was kind of thinking that when I got there, you know, lots of stuff—I was, kind of, just gotten used to getting to know the staff and the lay of the land and had seen through this election, and thought that things were going to get a little quiet. That was on the 10th of September. It didn't turn out to be that quiet.
Kristian: No. Can you— can you talk us through that day? How did you find out what happened?
Jay: It was, I had, like I say, was finally relaxed a bit. And so I went down the street to get a haircut—middle of the day—and my cell phone rang. And it was the administrative assistant— executive assistant in the embassy. And she said that there was a report that the World Trade Center had just been— that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. And I asked her, “was it terrorism?” She said, “Oh, nobody's saying that.” So I said, “Okay.” And 20 minutes later, she called again to say a second plane has flown into the World Trade Center. So I—basically, my haircut was done—I ran back to the embassy. Because of the time difference it was kind of toward the end of the day. And people were very concerned, obviously. And sometimes— They had children in schools and stuff like that, so I had everyone— let everyone go home, encouraged everyone to go home. And then we all kind of, kind of focused, kind of transfixed on, on what was going on in the United States. We had a big concern in Oslo because our embassy at the time was considered the most vulnerable—exposed—because it had no, what we called, setback. No…what's it called?
Kristian: Distance from the street?
Jay: —no distance from the street. It’s a pretty major street called Drammensveien, then a sidewalk, and then the building. So the security team that we dealt with that— talked among ourselves that evening, we were very concerned about that.
Kristian: You were concerned about that there would be an attack on US embassies around the world?
Jay: Yes, we certainly all had experienced that—I was in an embassy that we had come under attack before and it was in Trinidad and Tobago. Certainly terrorism attacks had killed some of my colleagues in Beirut, and Nairobi, Kenya. So this was something that was very well known in the diplomatic service, that embassies are vulnerable.
Kristian: So what happened in the— in the days, right after?
Jay: Right. So then very next morning, I was called into the foreign ministry. And I sat around with a group of very senior foreign—the number two person in the foreign ministry and some of his staff, which by the way, included Kåre Aas, who is the current US ambassador, Norwegian ambassador to the United States. And the head person said, “you know, we know you're a big country, the United States. We've been thinking all night long about how we can support you. We know you may not take advantage of this, but we have some ideas.” And he ticked through about 10 really practical, smart ideas that would have been very interesting for us. He said, for example, “we've got a lot of Norwegian flagged vessels that are in and around Manhattan. If you want them, they're yours. We have sniffer dog teams that have been involved with horrific plane crashes. We can get them to the United States as soon as we can. And you can, you can— we'd be happy to help out.” And ticked through a bunch of ideas like this. And I said to him, “thank you very much. I will convey those to my government.” I was quite sure at the time, that in the United States, we were so focused on what had just happened, that we weren't going to take any of this very, very kind offer, weren’t going to take it up. But I said to them, “you know, here our country team has been talking about our security here, and we're very concerned about it, given this history that I just talked about. And we're wondering if there's something that could be done to help protect us at the embassy.” And literally that evening, the evening of the 12th of September, all night long, they moved jersey barriers—which are these concrete barriers—around the embassy to give us that setback. And in so doing they closed off one of the two main lanes of this major thoroughfare into Oslo. And it remained that way for about a year and a half. So that's the way the Norwegian government and the people of Norway were quite supportive and very supportive after that happened.
Kristian: Right. That was— that was September 12th.
Jay: September 12th. Yeah. And then in the intervening days, I mean, it just got really very much more interesting. One of the things that happened was right across the street from our embassy there, which was next to the palace in Oslo, people just started to leave notes and flowers and candles and had— start this vigil. And the, the number of flowers and candles and notes just grew and grew and grew and grew. It was really, it was this unbelievable outpouring. And in fact, they let it stay up for about two weeks, and then one day the cleaning crew came and cleaned it all away, and it started up again. Another one of my most strong memories from that time was in— relatively soon after, the government of Norway and the people of Norway and the Church actually held a vigil in the Oslo cathedral for the victims of 9/11. And it was absolutely full, as you might imagine. And my then wife and I were given a place of honor, seated very much in front, and I'll just never forget that Jens Stoltenberg, who was still the prime minister, came up to us, he and his wife came up and conveyed the condolences on behalf of the Norwegian people to the United States. And the way he did it and she did it was just— it was so moving. And so there was just so much humanity, there was almost nothing— I've never experienced anything like that since.
Kristian: Did you have a chance to give those greetings to the administration in Washington DC?
Jay: Yes, I definitely did. You know, that's a job of a diplomat is to make sure that communications are clear. And when communications come from the head of government or head of state from the country, you make sure. And so the thing is, at that time, still, obviously, the US government was very much preoccupied with what had just happened. As you recall, the Pentagon had been attacked, there were rumors at the time that the Capitol might be attacked, and the first day or two, the first day, there were concerns that the State Department would also have been attacked. So the people, my colleagues, who I would normally go to and get help from if there's a crisis in the country I’m in— they were in crisis. So we were really operating much more independently than normally would be the case.
Kristian: How did it change your job? For those the next one and a half, two years?
Jay: Yeah, it went from what I thought would be, you know, dealing with a very helpful country on all kinds of things international to it was all about 9/11 and the aftermath. For example, almost immediately, I spent a lot of time with, I remember having a lunch for Norwegian NGOs, non-government organizations, that were involved with Afghanistan. And they knew it was very clear that the United States was going to invade Afghanistan. And, you know, the governments of NATO—one of the more interesting things, I think, that happened just in the immediate aftermath is—Norway's a NATO country— And there is a clause, Article Five, which says an attack against one is an attack against all. And since the founding of NATO in 1947 it had never been invoked. But it was invoked in September of 2001 in large part, I think, because of Norway and a few other countries that pushed very hard inside NATO to say, one of us has been attacked, we should invoke Article Five.
Jay: It’s the only time it's ever been invoked. But what I thought was very interesting was groups that would normally not be very welcoming to a military solution—that is to say, people who actually had people on the ground or were working in Afghanistan—they understood why Afghanistan. I'm not sure later that they understood why Iraq, but they certainly understood why Afghanistan.
Kristian: Right. Yeah. And definitely in Scandinavia, there was an understanding from a majority of the people and also the political parties as to why an invasion of Afghanistan seemed important or necessary. It's gone on for a lot of years now, and that's a whole different discussion. Can I go back just— just just a little bit? You came into the White House with a Democratic president?
Kristian: And you stayed over in the transition, and then in which George W. Bush—obviously a Republican president—and it was the Republican president who appointed you acting ambassador. How did you feel that shift? Or was it a problem for you to be representing a more Republican president? Or how does that—?
Jay: Well, you know, that's the one thing that I think still remains in the US Foreign Service. And that is, when people join, they may have their own political positions, they generally have— keep them to themselves. And because in— you know, I was a career diplomat for 25 years. So I started under Jimmy Carter and worked for presidents of both just right along the way. And people think that they're doing the work of the United States, for America, without taking political sides. Now, one personally can— might, might feel more affinity to one president or another, or one party or another. But generally, in my experience, a lot of people—you didn't know if they were Republicans or Democrats, or they might not—like, I did not choose a political party until I left government because I just felt I wanted to be an independent and not be part of that system. And I think that's pretty, pretty strongly felt among my former colleagues.
Jay: You know, the thing is, if you get pretty senior and you get associated with some kind of policy, that is, from one president, the likelihood in the next administration of having a position, doing the same kind of work, is probably kind of low. So you know, especially if people personally didn't want to be as closely associated with a president, they could find a job somewhere in the foreign service that was much more apolitical. And frankly, there are people who did very, very well, just representing the United States all the way through. I think of Nick— Nicholas Burns, who was a wonderful career Foreign Service officer who made it all the way to Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, or Bill Burns—William Burns, who was Deputy Secretary of State. Both of them were totally career, both of them had unbelievably high level positions in both Democratic and Republican administrations and maintained that integrity that you hope and wish for.
Kristian: There's been, obviously, these days criticisms of the lack of support for diplomacy and the State Department, now under Trump, but also under Barack Obama—I’m thinking about the book by Ronan Farrow—talking about how more and more foreign policy seems to be directed from the White House and not from the State Department and the diplomats out in the field, and using that specific, site-specific knowledge. Do you see that as well?
Jay: There has always been a tension, I think. I mean, career diplomats didn't worry too much about that because it was very clear to us from the beginning that we implement the policy. We don't make it because that—making foreign policy—is the unique realm of the President and whoever he chooses. Now, historically, we career diplomats liked the idea that the President would defer to and hand that over to his Secretary of State to help him create and then implement the policy. Over time, certainly, it depends on which White House, but yes, you certainly felt the pull of the White House, sometimes through the National Security Council, would try to run foreign policy more than—and, and sometimes to try to do it over the wishes of—the State Department and the Secretary of State. Certainly, that was true in the Nixon era with Henry Kissinger. And so there's always been that tension. And certainly I know, under Barack Obama, President Obama, there was a lot of, I think, there were a lot of special envoys kind of run out of, well, State Department as well as, as well as the White House. So it's an ongoing tension. I would say that today I've never seen it quite like this where the White House has—the President has very specifically tried to gut the State Department, the career people, and has not spent very much time supporting his foreign policy through career American diplomats.
Kristian: Right. —And [he] seems also to undercut his secretaries of state, where, you know, they sit in a meeting with some foreign power for days, and then they come out with some sort of agreement or understanding or a path forward. And then the President tweets something, and that whole work is done because he's in charge.
Jay: It certainly happened with Rex Tillerson, yeah.
Kristian: It certainly did. And you can't help to think, like, why would the foreign powers then even negotiate with the secretaries of state or diplomats if they feel like they have no weight?
Jay: That has been a debate In the past, I mean, even when I was in the Foreign Service. It's much more, you know, if there is some kind of special channel that goes outside and the negotiators don't know about the channel or don't know what's being discussed in the channel, that undermines what they're trying to do. So yes, you're exactly right. We all know, in order to conduct an effective diplomacy, that the people on the other side of the table have to know that the positions being put forward are ones that have the support of the President on down. Because if not, then, as you say, it leads to ineffective diplomacy.
Colin: Kristian told me that you were also in Norway in 2011.
Jay: I was not in Norway in 2011. My son was. But it— you know, I obviously watched that play out— the attack on Utøya and, well, the government headquarters first and then Utøya. And just really felt—as you know, that was one of the worst terrorist attacks inside— in Europe, or ever— the biggest loss of life in Norway since World War II: 69 kids at this camp on an island outside of Oslo for the Labour Party youth were— were gunned down, and this, after this lone gunman, this Anders Breivik, set a truck bomb to explode in downtown, killing 12 people and injuring a lot of people as well. So— horrific, kind of, almost, inexplicable attack on the Norwegian society and culture and political system. I was just really moved by how the people of Norway and the government of Norway handled that, and in particular, I remember reading the speech that Jens Stoltenberg, the prime minister, gave. And it was such a heartfelt speech and one of the messages was, “we're all humans here, we're not going to let this dehumanize us.” And he quoted a survivor of the attack, a teenager, who said something like, “if one man can do this much damage with such hatred, just think about what we all can do together with love.” It was such a wounding time for the Norwegians—and the world—and the way they handled it with such grace and such compassion was really moving. You know, Norway is a small country. I was reading that almost one quarter of all Norwegians either knew somebody who died or knew somebody who knew somebody who died. And the prime minister, he had friends who were, who were killed that day. And yet he gave this, such a compassionate, human speech. Just really, that's always really stuck with me. I actually wrote him a note—which was acknowledged, not by him directly, but you know, “thank you very much for your thoughts”—because I was so moved by how they handled it.
Kristian: But your son was in Oslo at the time?
Jay: I have a son, who was at the time about 11 or 12, and was visiting friends and had been right in the area where the truck bomb went off in the downtown government quarter the day before. So it was a little bit more, I felt a little more, even more than normal because I had family there at the time.
Kristian: Of course.
Colin: What was your son's experience?
Jay: He, we talked about it. I remember when I picked him up from the airport a few days later, he just talked about how it really riveted the country and everybody was— that's all they were talking about. As you can imagine, from a 12-year-old’s perspective it was really quite unnerving, I think, but certainly has not stopped him from traveling around the world.
Colin: But that, I mean— 12 is a special age because you're starting to figure out who you are as a person, and you're starting to figure out what the rest of the world is and to form opinions about things. And you lived through attacks on embassies and lost friends. What does a father want to teach his son in a moment like that?
Jay: I think that the kind of message that Jens Stoltenberg was giving is the kind of message that I hope my children—and I'm quite certain knowing what they do and who they are—that they do, and that is: they they get out in the world and embrace it and welcome it and they know how to be careful when you need to be careful. But they're out a lot. Two are headed on a sailboat to Colombia right now. And one of them started a rock climbing business in Palestine and lived in Ramallah for three years and opened the first indoor rock climbing gym and has taught 4000 Palestinians how to rock climb. The youngest was a high school exchange student in Italy for a year and has traveled quite a bit. So they know how to get out and embrace the world, which of course, I'm very, very pleased with.
Kristian: Right. And of course it’s hard not to make the comparison when you talk about a horrific attack like this in Scandinavia, and attacks like this are not something we're used to in Scandinavia.
Jay: Exactly right; it's such an outlier. And as you know, if you go around and look at the statistics— I mean, statistically Scandinavia is among the safest places in the world for— and by just about any measure. You know, I never fear having my children travel to Scandinavia. In fact, you know, from the United States where it's higher crime rates and all of that, it's— you know, you can look at it as having them go to a place that—statistically anyway—is safer.
Kristian: Right. And one of the things Stoltenberg said in his speech was, “we cannot let an attack like this change who we are. We need to still trust each other and not change the way that we live our lives.” And I feel like that is a big difference between the Scandinavian countries and in the U.S. You know, you're usually not taught “strange danger” in Norway. Did you feel the same way when you were living there?
Jay: Exactly right. I did feel that. I mean, it feels very safe, obviously, and culturally, people don't want to put up those barriers and and walls, and I just watched it with my children who I put into public schools they got to, you know, walk to school on their own, and throw snowballs, and go to the store afterward, and… they had so much more freedom than they did in a suburb of Washington, D.C. because that was the norm, and that's what you—I think—that's what you want for your kids. So: definitely felt that.
Colin: There's a new U.S. embassy in Oslo now, isn't there?
Colin: —that was redesigned with security in mind?
Jay: Any embassy being built today is going to have security top of mind. It’s kind of ironic because I remember after 9/11, one of my jobs was to try to help find a new area, new place, for the embassy. I was saddened by the fact that the one that we had, we had to give up because it was so convenient. You could just walk down the street to the foreign ministry. And this one is quite a bit further out of town. But I do remember visiting it as chargé— as acting ambassador, and, you know, making some preliminary commentary about how it would fit into our requirements. But, so, any embassy around the world that's being built today has a lot of security. That's kind of almost the number one thing that goes into it. That's just the way that is a little bit a fact of life, but it looks like a very beautiful embassy, I have to say. It doesn't— But it would, you know, has the capability of being well protected.
Colin: How did 9/11 affect Norway's response in 2011 to Utøya?
Jay: Oh, I'm not sure that there was a direct relationship. I wouldn't think that there was. I think with the Norwegian response to Utøya was as a typical Nordic response. I think, you know, rather than be driven by fear, they—I think all five Nordic countries think hard about that. And they've, you know, fought against very strong odds, and [they are] tough, resourceful people who have this strong sense of humanity. So I'm not sure that anything there was driven— I don't feel that the Norwegian response in any way was driven by a response from 9/11. I do think that there was some commentary about, well, the Norwegians did it differently from the response in the United States, which was maybe more reactive and more let's, you know, protect ourselves from any and all possibilities from abroad.
Colin: So if you feel the Norwegian response was a really good one that you were proud to be a lesson for your sons to learn, was the rebuilding of the embassy and making it much more securely sound— was that changing who America is?
Jay: Well, it's a good question. I don't second guess the fact that our embassies are being built more, you know, much more with safety and security in mind, but I do— I am sad about that. I think that, you know, kind of, wish back for another era when the idea of attacking an embassy was pretty unthinkable. And the same is true of all of our institutions. I mean, going into the White House before 9/11 was much different than going into it after or, you know, the U.S. Capitol. I mean, when I first went to Washington D.C. you could just walk in and talk to members of Congress walking down the hallways and things like that, and those days are long gone. I mean, I should say Americans who want to go to their member of Congress's office can still do that but you can't get really close to the actual Capitol where the chambers are, where they actually vote.
Colin: I think I was in eighth grade in 2001, and so, me becoming an adult after 9/11 means that when I read stories about the Icelandic prime minister or other Nordic heads of state, they usually start out with things like, “and you could just make an appointment and go right up and meet the person.” So from my perspective, the norm feels like, yes, government officials are very hard to get in contact with. There has to be a lot of security. Is— is there something that could change that in the future?
Jay: Oh, that's a good question. Well, I think that American politicians generally like the idea of being relatively accessible, very accessible, but probably under their own terms. You know, it's easier to be accessible when you don't have people who are trying to shout you down or something like that. So I'm not sure where that's going to go, but I mean, I think as time goes by and, you know, if there are fewer attacks and that kind of thing that, you know, maybe we could lessen it. Obviously there's the technology changes all the time and trying to stay ahead of technology is always going to be difficult.
Kristian: Maybe I can ask then about NATO, and you mentioned earlier how Norway's a member, Denmark is a member, and how the Scandinavian countries were pushing to invoke that—the, the fifth— the musketeer oath of NATO—right? Norway is a country that also borders with Russia up in the very north of the Arctic Circle there. How do you see the NATO alliance now with the Trump administration and the collaboration over the Atlantic Ocean?
Jay: Yeah. And I'm— I don't follow NATO issues as closely as I probably would like, but I do follow them to some degree. NATO is this really amazing, you know, post-World War II effort that the United States was central in. It's a military alliance of like-minded countries. It started with Soviet pressure on Turkey in 1947, and that helped to drive the current NATO countries together. So you rightly pointed out that Norwegians have always been concerned, like the Finns—the Finns have even more direct experience with this, I think, but the Norwegians have always been concerned with Soviet and then Russian pressure on Norway, and also they share a border. I've been taking a bus from that, on that border from far north of Norway to Murmansk. So there's a lot of trade and stuff that goes on there. There's a lot of concern that the Norwegians had, obviously. That's where the Soviet submarine fleet left to go to the North Atlantic and, like I say, the Norwegians have been wary and are big supporters of NATO. That's one reason this guy—I keep talking about Jens Stoltenberg. He's now the secretary general of NATO. So, you know, I've found it somewhat personally disconcerting that the president, coming in, would question the U.S. support for Article Five of NATO, you know, kind of indicating that, well, maybe he would come to the defense of a NATO country, maybe he wouldn't. It would depend on if they would pay up their— make their commitments that they've made financially to support the organization, that kind of thing. And certainly we're seeing it now. The Russians are, you know, annexed Crimea, and doing a lot still in Ukraine. And NATO countries are very, very worried about that. So, it just seems that it's a still a very important, necessary institution. It's one of these that was created with the help of the U.S., with the strong support and leadership of the U.S. after World War II, and it's one that is, at least by this president is being questioned, and I think that hurts it.
Colin: I'm just thinking about who are we and who is America becoming, and that part of our reaction to 9/11 was more security, more precautions, that I feel like sort of a narrative of what our reaction is and how we've responded is just, “well, the world is a dangerous place, and we need to take real precautions from it. And if that means putting up more security then that's what we need. But also, you know, I need to have open carry on me because that's the only way you can deal with a more violent world is to arm yourself better.” And that also seems to be the strategy of President Trump, “we have a nuclear arsenal so let's use that as a bargaining chip.” And so, as someone who's worked in the Foreign Service for a long time and dealt with foreign governments, is there— is there another way, or is there a different narrative or different way we should be thinking about this?
Jay: Well, I certainly think that— I don't ascribe at all to this idea that it's a dangerous world out there so the only thing that we have as an answer is to, kind of, create our own security in our own country. I mean, we know that horrific things happen, like, I was living in Connecticut when the New Town shootings took place. I mean, you can't imagine anything, kind of, more horrific than that. I certainly don't think—just like the leadership of that school and the the local police and everybody else who was involved with that—none of them thinks that it's a good idea to arm teachers to protect those kids. So I do, yeah, I think that the United States does better when it—and it shows more leadership—when it goes out in the world as confident and as optimistic and as wanting to help solve problems and and bring people together for those solutions. And it could be to solve a military issue. I think, you know, in a way, you think about the coalition that George H.W. Bush built when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and he said, “this will not stand” and he got 17 countries, I think, signed on—including, by the way, Syria was a member of that coalition of the willing. And I remember watching that unfold, and I think one of the reasons that that military action was so successful under the terms of that they had, which was to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait was this patient building and of this coalition. So I think, you know, it's efforts like that where we're all in it together, and we agree together, we are much stronger. That's the kind of coalition building and working together that really solves problems.
Colin: Much has changed since our interview in 2018. The Norwegian ambassador to the United States is different now. The Prime Minister of Norway is also different, and the President of the United States as well, after a fraught transition of power. Foreign Service Officers Nicholas Burns and William Burns have both returned to serve the United States after periods of retirement. The United States has since withdrawn from Afghanistan, and most recently, tensions between Russia and NATO countries have erupted after Vladimir Putin launched a full military invasion of non-NATO member Ukraine. We can only hope that the tenets and the optimism of international diplomacy that Jay worked towards during his time in the Foreign Service will carry us through the challenges ahead.
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Crossing North is a production of the Scandinavian Studies Department and Baltic Studies Program at the University of Washington in Seattle. Today’s episode was written, edited, and produced by me, Colin Gioia Connors. Special thanks to former Visiting Lecturer of Danish Kristian Næsby. Today’s music was used with permission by Kristján Hrannar Pálsson. Links to his music can be found in the show notes for this episode or on our website. Visit scandinavian.washington.edu to learn more about the podcast and other exciting projects hosted by the Scandinavian Studies Department. If you are a current or prospective student, consider taking a course or declaring a major. You can find complete course listings for the Scandinavian Studies Department and Baltic Studies Program at scandinavian.washington.edu. Once again, that’s scandinavian.washington.edu.
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Release date: April 15, 2022.
This episode was written, edited, and produced by Colin Gioia Connors. Special thanks to Kristian Næsby.
Theme music used with permission by Kristján Hrannar Pálsson.