Nordic Leaders’ Summit: Pomp, Pageantry, and Serious Business

The dedicated staff at the White House and State Department rolled out the red carpet early on May 13. It was going to be put to good use as President Obama and Secretary Kerry welcomed all five Nordic leaders -- from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden -- and more than 400 guests who help define and shape U.S.-Nordic relations. 

The guests came from diverse fields -- government, business, media, civil society, and the arts. “I hope we don’t do anything wrong,” replied actor and comedian Will Ferrell when reporters asked for comment on attending his first State Dinner. His wife, Viveca Paulin, was born in Sweden. More than 11 million Americans like her share Nordic ancestry. The Nordic Leaders’ Summit included a morning meeting at the White House with all five leaders, a luncheon and meeting hosted by Secretary Kerry at the State Department, and a State Dinner at the White House.

The Obamas, Bidens, and Secretary of State John Kerry visit with Nordic leaders on the Blue Room Balcony. [Official White House Photo].

During the Summit, President Obama emphasized America’s continued commitment to European security and shared democratic values, including human rights and gender equality. The President expressed appreciation for Nordic countries’ extensive contributions in underwriting transatlantic security, countering Russian aggression in Ukraine, fighting terrorism and violent extremism, combating climate change, and responding to the migration and refugee crisis in a humane and orderly way. The United States shares the vision of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace, and is committed to the proposition that the borders of Europe must not be changed by force of arms.

Addressing the critical need for justice and good governance within the international community, President Obama said our Nordic partners “have been extraordinarily important for us in shaping and maintaining an international order that is rule-based, that is fair, that is just.” Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg also recognized their collective economic influence, noting, “Nordic countries, if combined, would have the 12th largest economy in world.” Secretary Kerry echoed her remarks saying the Nordics “punch above their weight.” 

Secretary Kerry delivers remarks at a working luncheon that he hosted in honor of Nordic leaders: Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, Norwegian Prime Minster Erna Solberg, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, and Icelandic Prime Minster Sigurdur Ingi Johannsson, at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on May 13, 2016. [State Department Photo]

And indeed all five nations serve as critical partners on global security issues. Denmark, Iceland, and Norway are NATO Allies while Sweden and Finland cooperate closely with NATO. The Nordics are also part of the Global Coalition to Counter-ISIL/Da’esh. Denmark provides F16 aircraft and special operations forces. It joins Norway, Sweden, and Finland in providing substantial humanitarian and stabilization aid to Iraq and Syria and provides personnel to train and equip Iraqi forces.

In his remarks at the Summit Arrival Ceremony, President Obama acknowledged that “sometimes we have a tendency to take our best friends for granted, it’s important that we not do so.” The President made clear that the Nordics are global leaders and valued partners of the United States, and the Nordic Leaders’ Summit was an important opportunity to discuss ways to deepen our cooperation in the years ahead.

About the author: John Choi serves as a public diplomacy officer in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs.

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Nordic leaders depart the arrival ceremony. [Official White House Photo]
Posted by John Choi
May 18, 2016

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