International Collaboration in the Fjords of Norway

“International collaboration sucks”

This was perhaps the most quotable moment of a night spent on the Lysefjord outside Stavanger, Norway. It was an elegant evening, featuring delicious food, good beer and wine, and breathtaking views of the Norwegian Fjords.

The man who delivered the line was Commodore Robertus, a decorated veteran of the Royal Netherlands Navy. It was a candid moment, and one I did not expect. I used to identify “sucks” as a wholly American term. Though I suppose the Commodore has spent his fair share of time with Americans over the years and our vernacular may have rubbed off on him, for better or for worse.


 

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Rewind to three days prior and I am stumbling out into the train station of Stavanger after a grueling eight hour ride from Oslo. I feel lost for just a few seconds before I see Dakota walking toward me. It’s damn good to see a familiar face, especially one of a best friend.

The last time him and I were out of the country together was a little over three years ago. We were broke college kids, on the cusp of graduation, who scraped together enough money to fly to Cancun for a pretty epic final spring break. Now, three years later, Dakota is working for NATO in several capacities. Here in Norway he is primarily acting as a program coordinator for a steering committee comprised of 11 NATO countries and Australia. The purpose of this committee is to foster collaboration among these countries, specifically geared toward the development of a cutting edge missile system, which I know so little of that it’s pointless to even write about.

After shedding my baggage at the Clarion Hotel in downtown Stavanger, we freshen up and walk a few blocks to the harbor for a few beers.

He tells me all has gone well with the conference thus far, but that it has proven to be stressful to ensure everything proceeds according to plan. I can only imagine. A gathering of people from all over the world, of all types and temperaments, together in a foreign country, expected to collaborate and deliver results with a whole lot of money and prestige on the line. From high-level military officials, to industry leaders from companies like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, to hardened veterans turned-businessmen, to accomplished intellectuals, gifted engineers, and rocket scientists from institutions like Johns Hopkins (yes, rocket scientists. Needless to say the company we kept these past four days was vastly different than in Cancun…). It was certainly an elite concoction of brilliant people

And Dakota shoulders the load of making it all run smoothly. My heart swells with pride for how hard he’s worked and for the person he’s become (but I’ll never tell him, guys don’t do that). 

The next morning we wake up to a delicious breakfast and get ready to take on the Pulpit Rock (or Preikestolen in Norwegian), the first of two outings that I was lucky to join in on.

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Nom

The hike ended up being close to two hours including stops for views and pictures. In total it is a 6km trek of mostly rocks.  It was without a doubt one of, if not the most, epic hikes I’ve ever been on.

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Dakota lemur-leaping up the rocks
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Approaching the summit
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Made it!

I was shocked at how deftly some of the older members of the committee scaled the rocks all the way to the top. People thrice my age were moving with unexpected speed up the side of the fjord. Sharp minds, sharp bodies I suppose.

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“What if the whole thing just broke off right now” – Dakota

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1981.

It’s interesting that this steering committee picked Norway as its destination. In terms of finding a gathering spot to iron out the technical details of the program, they could have gone with a number of different locations. What separates Norway, and specifically Stavanger, from the pack is its amazing natural marvels and their ability to make a person feel humbled.

The cliffs of Pulpit Rock were formed during the ice age over 10,000 years ago. When the edges of a glacier reached the rock, it became embedded in the mountain, frozen in its crevices. Eventually when the glacier retreated it broke off large blocks of rock, creating the towering cliff we see today.

Sitting on top of Pulpit Rock, sun weary and legs feeling like jelly, I arrive at a buzzing sense of inner peace and reflection. I think about how old this incredible natural landmark is, and how much longer it will be around after I’m gone. I reflect on the things I want to accomplish in my life, the things I should say to people that I should have said long ago, among other feelings.

I look around at the other committee members who made it to the top. I wonder if they’re having a similar sense of reflection, if they are considering what they have achieved this week, and if they are wishing they had done something differently. Perhaps a grueling hike followed by the reward of a sweeping view of the Norwegian Fjords could lead to contemplation and, ideally, compromise. With the well-being of the world at stake, I am starting to realize why Norway was the choice destination.

This is further apparent when we take to the water a few nights later for our dinner cruise through the Lysefjord.

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Per Dakota, those are maritime symbols and not country flags. I was wondering why I didn’t recognize any of them…at least one of us is worldly.

After a long week of work and intense discussion, this seems like a great way to release and perhaps diffuse any lingering tension. A delicious spread of food, open bar, great weather and fantastic views; I’m just happy to be along for the ride.

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Get. In. My. Belly.
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Dakota talking with Ricardo, an awesome Portuguese dude. 

 

I get to chatting with a number of the committee members. I do best to avoid topics of their work, as I’m sure it’s the last thing they want to discuss after putting in many hours throughout the week. Still, I enjoy picking their brains on their careers outside of the steering committee, their favorite travel destinations, football squads of choice, and opinions on the state of American politics (coming from non-Americans, this is a particularly awkward yet interesting discussion. Will definitely have to write a separate post about everything I’m hearing while abroad.)

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Makes you feel very small

Near the end of the night American Admiral Hill takes the podium and delivers a rousing summation of the conference’s events. He praises the productivity and conviction of all those in attendance. Then he turns the floor over to Commodore Robertus. Hill presents him with a plaque to commend his service to the committee. Robertus has served since the inception of the committee, some six years as a leader of the directive. Robertus is clearly a gifted orator and a seasoned leader of men.

Aside from stating the suck-iness of international collaboration, the Commodore has further choice words for the committee members.

“It’s gatherings like this that keep the world turning. Smart people uniting together, having smart conversations, making smart decisions.”

His words ring true. The general safety of the world hinges upon gatherings like this; getting the brilliant minds of the world together to coalesce and find ways to reach agreeable defense accords.

As a disillusioned, politically coherent young person, I have a healthy skepticism about my country’s commitment to being the world’s “police”. We spend massive amounts of resources to ensure our continued presence as the world’s superpower, often at the expense of problems we have at home.

All that said, I also grapple with the good that this does.  Our ability to project force on a global scale quickly and efficiently keeps the world in order. Working together with other nations in assemblies such as this one ensures streamlined communication, and ultimately fosters safety worldwide. The great Teddy Roosevelt perhaps said it best, with regards to his foreign policy.

“Speak softly and carry a big stick”

The development of cutting edge military grade technology lends itself to this ideology. There are bad people in this world, and there are large groups of good people and nations without the ability to defend themselves from the baddies. NATO and the UN are both examples of collaborative groups designed to mitigate global crises. On a micro level, this steering committee does the same.

International collaboration may “suck” but it’s necessary to ensure the wellbeing of billions.

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Epic sunset on the way back to Stavanger

In the end, I feel satisfied knowing that these meetings of great minds occur, and that they sometimes occur in other-worldly places like Norway. I feel blessed to have stepped into their arena for a brief moment.

And I feel blessed to have done it with my best friend, one who I will definitely be joining for future travels. Where we go next is anyone’s guess. What I do know is that going anywhere with him is guaranteed to be an epic adventure.

A lot has changed in three years, and yet nothing at all.

 

 

7 thoughts on “International Collaboration in the Fjords of Norway

  1. Can’t resist (another) comment! Or several. I’ll try to curb my enthusiasm in the future …

    First, I gotta visit Norway soon. (One of my all-time favorite writers, Per Petterson, had already convinced me of that, but your posts and pictures are making it seem imperative.)

    Second, I couldn’t agree with you more on the importance of getting people together to talk. I happen to be reading an entertaining novel by Neal Stephenson (author of *Snow Crash*, which was made into a pretty good film) titled *Anathem*, which, suffice it to say, relies for a major plot device on this very idea, which in his imaginary world of Arbre goes by the clever name “convox,” that is talking (-vox) with (con-) others to solve problems.

    Third, interesting question: if we’re going to continue to use the phrase “world’s police” (congrats on the gender neutral language!), should we perhaps reflect on the fact that we don’t really even agree on what “policing” means here at home? Is it patrolling the fences of gated communities? Locking people up? Deterring crime by cracking heads? Community organizing? Social work? The analogies to the debate about our international posture are obvious, I think. (*The Wire* meets *Syriana*)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. No need to curb your enthusiasm! I look forward to your comments, keep them coming!

      You surely need to visit Norway. I recommend this time of year, the weather was pristine. I also recommend going when the oil market is bear-ish. While it was still expensive day-to-day, locals told me the costs of getting around are even higher when the oil market is thriving. As the barrel price goes, so goes the Norwegian economy.

      Loved the brief Latin lesson.

      I agree with you that we do not have policing figured out here at home (the prison-industrial complex is a beast that needs to be tamed). Moreover, yes, I would say that, at a local level, we do as ineffective a job of policing abroad as we do at home. Your analogy is sound. I suppose my point in this post was that a superpowered US military, with cutting edge amphibious-style assault capabilities, is the best deterrent to the ultimate in global crisis – a country going nuclear.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jack, thank you. You are traveling and will travel to more places than I have or will. And, given your descriptions of this your sojourn IN the Land of the Midnight Sun, clearly you travel well (that is to say, explore, engage, embody your experience as opposed to merely touring THROUGH the land). You also write well. You’re a pleasure to read. Love and peace, dear brother

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Paul – Thank you for the kind words. Likewise, I may add, on your writing. I so enjoy your Facebook and blog posts, they provide me with a dose of the powerful words that I cherished every Sunday in my youth. Love and peace to you as well my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

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