July 22, 2011
At least 17 people have died and more have been injured in an explosion in downtown Oslo and a shooting at a Labor Party youth camp outside the Norwegian capital. Norwegian police arrested the shooter at the camp and believe he is connected with the explosion, though others could be involved.
The significance of the events in Norway for the rest of Europe will depend largely on who is responsible, and the identity of the culprits is still unclear. However, STRATFOR can extrapolate the possible consequences of the attacks based on several scenarios.
The first scenario is that grassroots Islamist militants based in Norway are behind these seemingly connected attacks. Grassroots jihadist groups are already assumed to exist across Europe, and this assumption — along with previous attacks — has bolstered far-right political parties’ popularity across the Continent. Many center-right politicians have also begun raising anti-immigrant policy issues in order to distract from the ongoing economic austerity measures brought about by the European economic crisis. If grassroots Islamist militants are found to be the culprits in Norway, it will simply reinforce the current European political trend that favors the far right. That said, some far-right parties, particularly in Northern Europe, could get a popularity boost sufficient to push them into the political mainstream, and possibly into government.
If an individual, grassroots or organized domestic group with far-right or neo-Nazi leanings perpetrated the attack, the significance for the rest of Europe will not be large. It could lead to a temporary loss of popularity for the far right, but long-term repercussions for the far right are unlikely since these parties have begun tempering their platforms in order to attract a wider constituency.
There is also the possibility that the attacks are the work of a skilled but disturbed individual with grievances against the Labor Party. This possibility would have few long-ranging repercussions beyond a reworking of domestic security procedures in Norway.
Another scenario is that the attack was carried out by an international group which may have entered the country some time ago. Regardless of the time frame, if the culprits crossed a border to get into Norway, other European countries will feel very vulnerable; Norway is Europe’s northern terminus, and if international militants can get to Norway, they can get to anywhere in Europe. This vulnerability could severely damage the Schengen Agreement, once a symbolic pillar of Europe’s unity, which has been under attack in the last several months. The agreement allows visa-free travel between the 25 countries in the Schengen Area (most of which are EU members, but the Schengen Area does include some non-EU members like Norway and Switzerland). The agreement came under pressure when Italy threatened to allow migrants fleeing the Libyan conflict and Tunisian political unrest to gain temporary resident status in order to cross into France. It was Rome’s way of forcing the rest of Europe to help it with the influx of migrants. The solution proposed by France and Italy was to essentially establish temporary borders "under very exceptional circumstances." Later, Denmark reimposed border controls, supposedly due to an increase in cross-border crime.
The attack in Norway, if it involved cross-border movements, could therefore damage or even end the Schengen Agreement. Other European countries, particularly those where the far right is strong or where center-right parties have adopted an anti-immigrant message, could push for further amendments to the pact.
A transnational militant plot against a European country in the contemporary context could also be significant for European defense policy. When the 2004 Madrid attack and 2005 London attack happened, many in Europe argued that the attacks were a result of European governments’ support for U.S. military operations in the Middle East. This is no longer really the case for Europe, although European forces are still in Afghanistan. It is much more difficult to blame Europe’s alliance with the United States for this attack. As such, Europe could very well be motivated to take ongoing efforts to increase European defense coordination seriously. Current efforts are being led by Poland, which is doing so mainly because it wants to increase security against Russia’s resurgence, not because of global militancy. The problem with Warsaw’s plan is that it has little genuine support in Western Europe, other than France. An attack on Norway could, however, provide the kind of impetus necessary for Europe to feel threatened by global events.
The last scenario is that the attack is linked to Norway’s involvement in the campaign in Libya. If the Libyan government is somehow connected to the bombing and/or shooting, the rest of Europe will rally behind Norway and increase their efforts in Libya. This scenario would essentially close off the opening in negotiations prompted by a recent move by Paris and other European governments saying they would be open to Moammar Gadhafi’s remaining in Libya.
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