The Nordics in the World

On this theme page, you can find articles and films about the Nordics in the World. This encompasses internationalism and the Nordics’ early relationship with the United Nations, articles on development aid, foreign policy and post-colonialism. Aspects of the region’s association with Europe is also included as well as film, TV and literature that has reached beyond the Nordic countries.

In the article internationalism and the Nordic countries, you can get a general overview of the Nordic countries’ general commitment to international institutions and law, agenda-setting and bridge-building between North and South, East and West alike. The principles and aims of the United Nations resonate in the Nordic countries, which are small welfare states with an appreciation of international law, solidarity and multilateral problem-solving. From the time of the League of Nations (the precursor to the United Nations) to the 1990s, the Nordic region developed and operated a caucusing and voting group.

People from the Nordic countries have held influential positions at the United Nations, such as Trygve Lie and Dag Hammarskjöld in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1983, Gro Harlem Brundtland (b. 1939) was asked to establish and lead the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) by the Secretary General of the United Nations. She went on to become Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), amongst other things. In 1981 at the age of 41, she became Norway’s youngest and first female Prime Minister.

PICTURE: Gro Harlem Brundtland in April of 2009. Photo: GAD (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Development aid and the Nordics

The Nordic countries traditionally provide high levels of development aid, although it was not until around 1960 that creating ’development’ through economic assistance seriously broke through internationally. Read about the beginning of aid-giving in Norway, which started with the India Foundation, and an overview of the development of Danish development aid since 1960 to 2010. Nordic disability organizations have been carrying out development projects in the Global South since the 1960s and an overview of this is given in the article  disability, development and the Nordics, 1960s-2000. Connected to this is the career of Bengt Olof Lennart Lindqvist (1936-2016), a Swedish politician and an active member of Swedish and international disability organizations following his position as deputy minister for social security in 1985, the first Swedish minister with a visual impairment.

The Nordics as colonial powers

We are building up an assortment of articles on the colonial and post-colonial relationships associated with the Nordics. A succinct overview of some of these relationships and legacies is set out in this film presented by Lill-Ann Körber.

The article on the Danish decolonisation of Greenland, 1945-54 reflects the anti-colonial sentiment after the Second World War and Greenland becoming a county of Denmark. Prior to this, Denmark had sold the Danish Virgin Islands to USA in 1916. As part of that deal, on 4th August 1916, the American government issued a declaration to the Danish government that it would not raise objections if Denmark extended its interests in Greenland to include the entire island. This document can be seen here: USA's declaration on Danish sovereignty of Greenland, 1916.

Also on the Danish Virgin Islands, you can read about the Fireburn uprising. Even after the abolition of slavery in 1848, conditions for workers in the plantations of the Danish West Indies were not much improved. This led to unrest and the Fireburn uprising on St. Croix in 1878. The precise events during the uprising have been little studied, partly due to the court and other records being in Danish, but it has taken on a meaningful role in the history of the island, particularly in the ensuing colonial and post-colonial narratives such as that of ’Queen Mary’.

PICTURE: Greenland's geographical position between East and West proved to be of great interest to the Americans during the Cold War, an interest that has flared again in recent times, as explained in Thorsten Borring Olesen's Outlook on nordics.info.

The Nordic countries and foreign policy

From the aftermath of the Second World War and during the Cold War, the Nordic countries were often attributed with being neutral, or ‘non-aligned’. The article Norway, the West and the Soviet Union, 1944-48 discusses how Norway was seen as a bridge-builder at that time between East and West. Indeed, the Nordics being situated between the Eastern and Western blocs, both geographically and from the point of view of international negotiations, was important with respect to international relations. This was played out in many contexts, such as, the strategic importance of Greenland as described in an article on Buying Greenland? Trump, Truman and the 'Pearl of the Mediterranean' which looks back at lessons learnt during the Truman administration compared to today.

All the Nordic countries are members of the Arctic Council, which was established in 1996 by the Ottawa Declaration with the intent of fostering “cooperation, coordination, and interaction between the Arctic states.” Member parties work together towards the sustainable development of the Arctic region. 

The Nordic countries have moved away from the policy of neutrality, certainly since the end of the Cold War. Read an introduction to Nordic arms exports since 1990, with a focus on Finland, which sets out that all Nordic countries, excluding Iceland, have exported weapons to countries involved in armed conflicts or violating human rights during the post-Cold War period. As Nordic countries often speak for peace and humanitarian work in the international arena, their arms exports have repeatedly drawn criticism.

Sweden is well known for having a  feminist foreign policy as are the other Nordic countries to some extent. Swedish foreign policy has long been informed by issues relating to gender which was cemented in 2014 by the launch of its Feminist Foreign Policy and it has been heralded as ground-breaking and the most comprehensive of its kind. The Swedish government has however been criticised for hypocrisy, however, as they continue to be involved in arms trading.

The Nordics’ relationship with Europe

Each of the five Nordic countries has had differing economic relationships with Europe, with Finland currently being the only country to have adopted the euro, and Iceland and Norway the only Nordic countries to not have become members of the EU. A brief overview can be read in the article the Nordic countries and economic integration

An overview of Denmark and its integration with Europe, 1940s to the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 sets out that Denmark has been a cautious participant of European supranational integration since the Second World War, and the driving force behind Denmark's accession to the EEC was the desire to become part of an open European economy, rather than support for federalism per se.

PICTURE: European integration has been - and still is - a widely debated topic in the Nordic countries, which each have differing relationships with the EU. Photo: Markus Spiske, Unsplash.

Denmark and Norway both held referenda with respect to joining what was then called the European Economic Community in autumn 1972. The referendum in Denmark was positive and in Norway negative. Two days after the Danish referendum (where 63,7 % of Danes voted yes to membership), the French newspaper Le Monde published an article entitled 'A marriage of convenience' in which the victory for the yes-campaign was attributed to economic realism and Danish export rather than Danish enthusiasm for the European project. In Norway, the referendum result was the opposite. Read a translated article from  the federalist journal L'Europe en formation published in November 1972 about the two referenda. Interestingly, Norway is described as a "poor nation" and Norwegians were reportedly scared away from membership due to the likelihood that French fishermen would be able to fish in Norwegian waters, bringing uncertainty over their livelihoods.

In Denmark’s relationship with Europe since 2000, you can read that the country has been characterised by a ‘soft’ type of Euroscepticism, and how there has been a (failed) referendum on the accession of Denmark to the single currency in 2000 and a (failed) referendum in 2015 to get rid of Denmark’s four reservations.

Nordic arts

Most of our over 50 biographies are of well-known authors, poets and filmmakerswhose work has reached beyond the borders of the Nordics. 

The arts, including  ballet and architecture, are notable by their important connection and distribution outside the Nordics. 

PICTURE: Swedish ballet dancer Johan Renvall in rehearsal at The Royal Swedish Opera, c. 1985. Photo: Enar Merkel Rydberg (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Crime fiction, such as global bestsellers by the Norwegian Jo Nesbø and the Swede Stieg Larsson, has been a very popular export from the Nordic countries, particularly since the 1990s. It is usually characterised by social realism, gloomy locations and morose detectives, but often questions society in a meaningful way, such as, the state of justice, equality or current debates specific to the Nordic welfare societies. Recurrent motifs are often used, such as cracks or smart phones. Research at Aarhus University has been undertaken into how Danish TV series, such as Forbrydelsen (The Killing, 2007-2012), the Danish/Swedish co-production Bron/Broen (The Bridge, 2011-2018), have been received in other countries. You can hear more about how they have travelled globally in the presentation,  Why did the world fall in love with Danish TV drama?, and specifically in Argentina and  Germany. Read also about how the Norwegian teen-hit Shame has been received by youth in  Russia and subverted the overriding political ideology against same-sex relationships.



The Danish colony consisted of three main islands St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. The map above was created by Captain Joseph Smith Speer in 1796. Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

2020.03.12 | The Quick Read, Nicola Witcombe, The Nordics in the World, Globalisation

The 1878 Fireburn uprising in the Danish West Indies

Even after the abolition of slavery in 1848, conditions for workers in the plantations of the Danish West Indies were not much improved. This led to unrest and the Fireburn uprising on St. Croix in 1878. The precise events during the uprising have been little studied, partly due to the court and other records being in Danish. The uprising has…

Were correspondence courses in Tanzania in 1960s and 1970s essentially 'Swedish' or 'African' or a mixture of both? Photo: colourbox.dk.

2020.03.02 | Article, Nikolas Glover, The Nordics in the World, Education, Research

Nordic adult educators encounter Tanzanian development in the 1960s and 1970s

In 1962 Sweden was said to be the country with the most extensive correspondence education enrolment per capita in the world. This was explained with reference to its sparse and widespread population with a high level of literacy, an efficient publishing industry and reliable postal services. None of these conditions existed in Tanganyika (renamed…

"Union state? No Thanks!" stated on an election poster from the Popular Movement Against EU (Folkebevægelsen mod EU) in connection with the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Photo: Kjeld Albrechtsen, Folkebevægelsen mod EU.

2020.02.25 | Article, Lizaveta Dubinka-Hushcha, The Nordics in the World, Region-building

An overview of Denmark and its integration with Europe, 1940s to the Maastricht Treaty in 1993

Denmark has been a cautious participant of European supranational integration since the Second World War, evaluating the pros and cons of integration, and making the decision to ‘opt in’ when there were benefits. The driving force behind Denmark's accession to the EEC was the desire to become part of an open European economy, rather than support…

Finland's position on arms exports since the Cold War has been influenced by, amongst other things, its national economy, human rights issues and its own security position, particularly given its geographical position. Photo: Colourbox.dk

2020.02.21 | Article, Tuuli Veikkanen, The Nordics in the World, Reputation

An introduction to Nordic arms exports since 1990, with a focus on Finland

All Nordic countries, excluding Iceland, have exported weapons to countries involved in armed conflicts or violating human rights during the post-Cold War period. As Nordic countries often speak for peace and humanitarian work in the international arena, their arms exports have repeatedly drawn criticism. However, Nordic countries have also been…

Denmark entered the EEC (later EU) in 1973. The EU is today a vital part of Danish politics and law. Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

2020.02.14 | Article, Lizaveta Dubinka-Hushcha, The Nordics in the World, Globalisation

Denmark’s relationship with Europe since 2000

Denmark has been characterised by a ‘soft’ type of Euroscepticism. There are multiple institutional safeguards in Denmark to allow for selective participation in European integration, such as, safeguards in its Constitution with respect to delegating power, and a parliamentary committee which has oversight over decisions in Europe. The…

Picture of a globe with Norway highlighted and two arrows going east and west

2020.02.06 | The Quick Read, Helge Ø. Pharo, The Nordics in the World, Globalisation

Norway, the West and the Soviet Union, 1944-48

The term ’bridge-building’ is often used to describe Norwegian foreign policy from the tail end of the Second World War until Norway's turn to the West in early 1948. Even though the term is ambiguous at best, it now occupies an established place in Norwegian historiography, and reflects the perceived position of Norway between East and West in…

The cover of the official handbook to Sweden's feminist foreign policy, published by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2019.

2020.01.28 | Article, Sigrun Marie Moss, The Nordics in the World, Gender

An introduction to Swedish feminist foreign policy

Swedish foreign policy has long been engaged in issues relating to gender. This was cemented in 2014 by the launch of its Feminist Foreign Policy which has been heralded as ground-breaking and the most comprehensive of its kind. It allows for a systematic mainstreaming of gender throughout the whole Foreign Ministry and in all aspects of foreign…

A magazine cover from the Swedish disability rights movement’s umbrella organisation for international development work in 1991. Photo: Reproduced with kind permission from My Right.

2020.01.21 | The Quick Read, Anna Derksen, The Nordics in the World, Globalisation

Disability, development and the Nordics, 1960s-2000

Nordic disability organizations have been carrying out development projects in the Global South since the 1960s. Initially a preventive and rehabilitative approach was taken with, for example, a focus on schools for special education, vocational training and medical care. Although important, this type of aid became increasingly seen as…

Danida - Danish International Development Assistance - is the term used for Denmark's partnerships with developing countries, which falls under the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

2020.01.14 | Article, Peter Yding Brunbech, The Nordics in the World, Globalisation

An overview of Danish international development aid, 1960-2010

Denmark has historically been amongst the largest donors of development aid in proportion with its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Since the middle of the 1970s, the country has been one of the few to live up to the United Nation’s goals for high income countries, that is, to provide at least 0.7% of GDP. In a short period in the 1990s, Denmark…

Norwegian aid started with the establishment of the India Foundation in 1952 with the sole focus on an Indo-Norwegian Fisheries Project in the Indian state of Kerala. Photo:colourbox.dk.

2020.01.06 | Article, Helge Ø. Pharo, The Nordics in the World, Globalisation

The India Foundation: The beginning of Norwegian aid

The Foundation for Assistance for Underdeveloped Areas, or India Foundation as it was known, marked the beginning of Norwegian international development aid in 1952. Against the backdrop of the Marshall Plan and the burgeoning Cold War, there were persuasive political reasons for the initiative, over and above its purported purpose to assist India.

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Further reading


  • Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman: A Guide to References and Resources (Boston, Mass.: G.K. Hall, 1987).
  • Christine Ingebritsen, (2002) ‘Norm entrepreneurs: Scandinavia’s role in world politics’, Cooperation and Conflict 37 (2002) pp.11-23.
  • Christopher S. Browning, ‘Branding Nordicity: Models, identity and the decline of exceptionalism’, Cooperation and Conflict 42 (2007) pp.27-51.
  • Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, Scandinavian Crime Fiction (London: Bloomsbury, 2017).
  • Norbert Götz and Heidi Haggrén, eds., Regional Cooperation and International Organizations: The Nordic Model in Transnational Alignment (London: Routledge, 2009).
  • Thorsten Borring Olesen, 'Tango for Thule. The Dilemmas and Limits to “the Neither Confirm nor Deny Doctrine” in the Danish-American Relationship, 1957-1968', Journal of Cold War Studies, 12, 3 (2011), pp. 116-147.
  • Torben M. Andersen et al., The Nordic Model. Embracing globalization and sharing risks (Helsinki: ETLA B, 2007).
  • William C. Miller, Nordic Modernism: Scandinavian Architecture 1890-2015 (London: Crowood Press, 2016).