One of the “lands of the midnight sun,” during its long history Norway has given the world the adventurous spirit of the Vikings, the plays of Henrik Ibsen and a humane model of domestic and foreign policy. Human settlement in what is considered present-day Norway dates back approximately 10,000 years to the Paleolithic era. Most notablly, the Viking Age from 800 to 1066 saw the expansion of Norwegian travel by raiders, explorers, traders, and settlers, as well as the establishment of the Norwegian kingdom. The Black Death killed half of Norway’s population in 1349, which plunged the country into a period of social, political, and economic decline. Norway had a period of alliance with Denmark and then Sweden, but established its autonomy in 1905. Since then, Norway has claimed neutrality in both World Wars. In the last century, Norway established itself as a prosperous nation with a booming economy supplied by the discovery of petroleum and natural gas.
Lay of the Land: Located on the western third of the Scandinavian Peninsula in northern Europe, the mountainous nation of Norway sits about 600 feet higher than Europe as a whole. Norway is bordered by the North Sea to the south, the Norwegian Sea and Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Berents Sea to the North, and Russia, Finland, and Sweden to the east. The northernmost part of the country extends into the Arctic Circle, while the border with Sweden runs along the Scandinavian mountains, with the highest peak having an elevation of 8,100 feet. Norway’s coastline is slashed with countless fjords, which have long provided excellent harbors for this traditionally seafaring people. With an area of 148,746 square miles, Norway is about the same size as Montana. Approximately 66% of Norway is tundra, glacier, rock or snowfields, 25% is forested, and only 3 to 4% is arable. Norway’s climate is not as cold as its latitude suggests, because the North Atlantic Drift brings warm, damp air to the whole country. The capital and largest city of Oslo, which is home to over 800,000 Norwegians, is the third largest city in Scandinavia, after Copenhagen and Stockholm.
Human settlement has been traced back 10,000 years to the Paleolithic age. Archeological evidence has revealed the remains of settlers from Doggerland, an area that is now submerged in the North Sea.
Norway is one of the most prosperous countries in the world, boasting the second highest GDP per-capita (after Luxembourg) in the world. Norway was ranked first in the world in the UNDP Human Development Index (HDI) for six consecutive years (2001-2006), and came in second in 2007/2008. In 2009, Norway returned to its first-place ranking on the HDI. Norway has achieved its prosperity by means of a mixed economy, featuring a combination of free market activity and substantial government ownership in key industrial sectors, such as the strategic petroleum sector (StatoilHydro), hydroelectric energy production (Statkraft), aluminum production (Norsk Hydro), the largest Norwegian bank (DnB NOR) and telecommunication provider (Telenor). In fact, the government controls 31.6% of publicly-listed companies. Norway is richly endowed with natural resources including petroleum, hydropower, fish, forests, and minerals. Large reserves of petroleum and natural gas were discovered in the 1960s, which has led to continuing prosperity.
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Norway is a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy governed by a prime minister, a cabinet, and the 169-seat Storting (parliament), which is elected every four years and cannot be dissolved. Free and fair elections to the multiparty parliament have been held at regular intervals during Norway’s 100 years of independence, with the sole exception of the years of German occupation from 1940 to 1945. Civilian authorities generally maintain effective control of the security forces.
Benson K. Whitney served as the US Ambassador to Norway from November 28, 2005. Until June 20, 2009. He received his BA magna cum laude from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and earned his JD from the University of Minnesota Law School in Minneapolis. His father, Wheelock Whitney, Jr., was a classmate of George H.W. Bush at Phillips Andover Academy.