Europe's northernmost country, the Kingdom of Norway is famed for its mountains and spectacular fjord coastline, as well as its history as a seafaring power.
It also enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world, in large part due to the discovery in the late 1960s of offshore oil and gas deposits.
Norway's annual oil revenue amounts to around $40bn (£21bn), and more than half of its exports come from this sector. To counter inflation, spending of oil revenue was restricted.
The considerable surplus is invested in a sovereign wealth fund, estimated in 2009 at $400bn.
What to do with the money is one of the country's most contentious political issues. The centre-right want more of it to be used to fund infrastructure improvements, while the centre-left wants to keep it invested for future generations.
Norway declared its independence in 1905 when the union with Sweden was dissolved. Norway's people value their independence and prosperity highly. The Norwegians rejected membership of the then European Economic Community in 1972, and of the European Union in 1994, despite being urged by their governments to vote "yes".
In recent decades, Norway has forged a stronger role for itself in international politics. It has mediated between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and from 2000 to 2009 was the chief mediator in the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil separatists.
Norway has a rich, sea-faring tradition and its lengthy, rugged coastline has been central to its development.
At a glance
- Politics: Labour Party leader Jens Stoltenberg heads a centre-left government. Parliamentary elections are due in 2013
- Economy: Norway enjoys massive oil and gas wealth. Surplus revenue is invested in a sovereign wealth fund. Unemployment is low
- International: Norway is a Nato member and maintains troops in Afghanistan. Voters have rejected EU membership
Country profiles compiled by BBC Monitoring
More than a thousand years ago, Viking raids on the coasts of Britain and France were commonplace. The Vikings also mounted expeditions to the coast of North America.
Later, the Norwegians began to trade. Originally, the coastal waters provided fish for export. Today, Norway is among the world's largest exporters of fuels and fuel products.
Norway registered objections to the 1986 International Whaling Commission (IWC) ban on whaling and resumed the practice on a commercial basis in 1993. It argues that whaling is no more cruel than fishing and that stocks are sufficient to allow it to continue. Conservationists disagree.