Friday, July 29, 2011

The ineffectiveness of "soft power"

You hate to kick a country when it's down, but in the aftermath of the massacre in Norway, increasing scrutiny is being placed on Norway's version of "law enforcement," or, as they call it, "Gentle Justice":

Trond Berntsen was not only the stepbrother of Norway’s Crown Princess Mette-Marit. He was also an off-duty policeman and former amateur boxing champion who was working as a security guard on Utoya island that fateful day when Andres Behring Breivik, dressed as a policeman, blew away as many people as he possibly could — including Berntsen.
Berntsen was by all accounts a brave man who made a heroic effort to protect his charges. Alerted to the fact that Breivik was acting suspiciously, Berntsen was one of the first to encounter and confront the gunman, although not before Berntsen had managed to save his own 10-year-old son by pushing him to safety in some sheltering bushes. But even bravery is sometimes powerless to save a person facing a determined murderer who is armed — because Berntsen, the real policeman, was not.

This lack of defensive weaponry is only one of several puzzling and frustrating facts about the actions of the Norwegian authorities that day. Because Norway has one of the few police forces in the world forbidden to routinely carry firearms, an armed SWAT team was summoned to the island. But no helicopter was available to transport them, and as a result the potential defenders were forced to travel the 28 miles by road and then to commander a boat that took on water because it could not handle their heavy equipment. Extremely precious time was lost.
But that was not all. The government buildings targeted in the initial bombing had light security, despite the fact that the offices of the Norwegian prime minister and his administration are located there. And it seems outrageous that the longest prison term mass murderer Breivik could receive is 21 years, no matter how many people he killed. Even if he were to be convicted of crimes against humanity, the maximum sentence would only be 30 years, although there is a provision in Norwegian law for imprisonment to be extended for a series of 5-year periods if it were determined that Breivik remained dangerous.
To us in this country it seems nearly preposterous that a nation could function with a police force and a penal system with so few teeth. But until now, it did not seem so strange to most Norwegians. Their kinder, gentler system of law and order was a pleasant philosophical choice that had cost them very little, and of which they were quite proud. In a largely homogeneous country, and with a long tradition of an orderly and law-abiding citizenry, things had mostly gone well since the death penalty had been abolished in 1902 for peacetime use and for wartime use in 1979.
This 2010 article about Norwegian prisons is enough to make one weep with envy of the prisoners. Wide-screen TVs in each IKEA-esque room, scenic bucolic settings, guards without guns. As Charles Lane, who calls the system “gentle justice,” writes, “The Norwegian Correctional Service’s Website makes no mention of punishment, but does refer to ‘services’ to which inmates are ‘entitled.’”
But note the tiny number of convicts, just 3,300 in a country of about 5 million inhabitants. Lane quotes a prison warden in Norway as saying, “If you treat people badly, they will behave badly. Anyone can be a citizen if we treat them well, respect them, and give them challenges and demands.”
Most Norwegians thus far have had no compelling reason to believe that this was false. Their society has continued to be remarkably peaceful, with an extremely low rate of murder, and despite increasing theft and rape rates during the last few years, both attributed largely to immigrants.
It is as though the modern Norwegian system had evolved in the absence of natural predators, and never really developed defenses against them. No doubt Breivik was familiar with the vulnerabilities of Norway’s police and population, and knew they would be unarmed. He exploited this fact in a fiendishly clever manner by using the first explosion as both a diversion and an excuse for arriving on the island dressed as a policeman carrying a firearm, ostensibly to help with security after the bombing. The uniform was a brilliant deception because it led the young people to trust him — despite his weapon — when he told them to gather round, and heightened the element of stunned surprise which may have made his victims more slow to respond than they might otherwise have been.
In an earlier post I had cited Bruce Bawer's description of Norwegian law enforcement and its dubious effectiveness.  Let me now cite a slightly different excerpt from that article:

[L]et me point out that only a few days ago it was reported that police departments in cities across Norway are being strained to the breaking point by the need to deal with people who go out on the town and get bombed on Friday and Saturday nights. “Weekend drunks require all police,” read the headline in Aftenposten. Part of the reason for this is Norwegian drinking habits. Norwegians are a highly disciplined people, but on the weekend, as if to let out all the suppressed emotion, many of them imbibe too much and get extremely rowdy.

But the larger part of the reason for this helplessness on the part of the police is that Norway, although a rich nation, has chosen not to spend much of its wealth on law and order. Talk to Norwegian politicians, professors, and journalists and you’ll soon discover that there’s a lingering sixties-ish view of the police as fascist pigs. Norway wastes millions of kroner ever year on “development aid” that ends up largely in the pockets of corrupt African dictators; it pours millions more into the pockets of non-Western immigrants who have become masters at exploiting the welfare system; for heaven’s sake, the Norwegian government even funds anarchists. It’s not entirely misguided for a Norwegian citizen to feel that his tax money is going less to fight the crime that threatens his home, his self, and his business than to support criminals

Even so, it was a surprise to read on July 11 — the same day that the newspapers reported the car fires — that out of 430 new graduates of the Norwegian Police University College, only fourteen have been offered jobs on a police force anywhere in the country. Fourteen!

Now, you can’t blame this on the economy. Norway is a rich country (which is to say that the government is rich, not the people), and it’s almost the only place in the Western world whose job market hasn’t been decimated by the economic slump of the last few years. No, this situation is the product of state budgetary priorities that are sheer lunacy. A police union spokesman complained that this shamefully low hiring figure represents a total betrayal of promises made by Minister of Justice Knut Storberget. And Roy Vega of notes that Norwegian police strength has declined steadily in recent years to the point where there are now barely over 1.5 officers per 1000 inhabitants. Next door in Sweden, 3500 new positions in the police force have been added in the last five years, bringing the number up to 2.2 (which is approximately the minimum number recommended by the UN).

A few months ago, when I called the Oslo police and asked them to send over a couple of cops for what I considered an important matter, I was told that they wouldn’t be able to dispatch anybody for several days; when I attempted to explain the urgency of the situation, the policewoman on the phone was apologetic but explained that their resources were paper-thin: at the moment, in the whole of Oslo, she volunteered, there was only a single patrol car cruising the streets.

So here’s what we’ve got: a huge part of the national capital that is actively severing itself from the larger community and social order — and a national government that, instead of responding to this aggression with assertive policing, has chosen to steadily cut down on the strength of its police. All I can say is that if you were a government official and you wanted the Islamists to take control of large swaths of the country, this is exactly how you’d go about letting it happen.

Not that I consider Norwegian leaders to be guilty of treason, of consciously aiding and abetting the forces of sharia. No, they’re just unwitting allies — useful idiots. They’re socialist fools who believe that a low-level police presence is the sign of an advanced, peaceful society — and all of whom, not coincidentally, live in parts of Oslo that are a long way from Groruddalen.
Bawer's article was written in the context of an Islamist enclave ominously growing outside Oslo, but it's applicable to law enforcement in general. 

It's just more evidence that "soft power," whether in law enforcement or in defense and foreign policy, is generally ineffective.

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