Award ceremony speech

Presentation Speech by Egil Aarvik, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces is unfortunately a reminder to us that peace is not a matter of course here in our world. Peace has to be actively protected – and this protection has its price. 733 young people have sacrificed their lives in the service of the particular form of peacekeeping which is under consideration here.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee asks those gathered together here today to join them in honouring the memory of those young people.

They came from different countries and had widely different backgrounds, but they were united in one thing: they were willing to devote their youth and their energy to the service of peace. They volunteered to the service, knowing that it could involve risk. It became their lot to pay the highest price a human being can pay.

We honour them for their unselfish contribution, and we join their relatives in their sorrow over their loved ones’ early departure. Let us show this through a moment’s silence.

We invoke peace on the memory of these young people in a spirit of thankfulness and deep respect.

For the first time in its history, the Peace Prize is to be awarded today to an organisation which, at least in part, consists of military forces. It might be reasonable to ask whether this is, in fact, in direct contradiction to the whole idea of the Peace Prize. The fact that this question has not been raised is an indication that it is universally accepted that the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces are in the spirit of the Peace Prize.

The description “Forces” is in itself inadequate since it conjures up the idea of a military operation in the traditional sense, while the reality is in many ways the diametric opposite. A more correct description would be “The United Nations Peacekeeping Operation” – consisting of both contingents of troops and unarmed observation corps.

These peacekeeping operations were commenced in 1956 when the UNEF (United Nations Emergency Force) was established in connection with the Suez crisis. The Security Council was unable to act because of a veto from two of the member states. Instead, use was made of the so-called “Uniting for Peace” resolution which gives the General Assembly of the United Nations the power to intervene in the event of the Security Council being unable to act in the face of a threat to world peace.

The General Assembly was summoned to a special session. In the following events, important roles were played by two prominent individuals: the former foreign minister of Canada, Lester Pearson, and the then Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dag Hammarskjöld. Both of these men were later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Through the influence of these two, plans were made and a resolution passed for a peacekeeping force which was to supervise the retreat of foreign troops from the canal zone.

The principles which were defined for this peace operation were written, in the main, by Dag Hammarskjöld. It is an honour to his memory that the same guidelines are, generally speaking, in use today.

The most important points in these guidelines are:

1. The involved parties must give their support and cooperation to the United Nations forces.

2. The primary aim is to prevent new hostilities and provide a background against which it is possible to work for a peaceful solution of the conflict.

3. The force is to make use of negotiation and persuasion instead of violence.

4. The force is under the command of the leadership of the United Nations and is not allowed to accept orders from other parts, not even the states who have made the troops available.

5. All member nations should contribute to the financing of the forces.

The peacekeeping forces have, on the basis of the resolution of 1956 and the guidelines drawn up by Dag Hammarskjöld, developed into what present Secretary-General Perez de Cuéllar calls “The United Nations’ most successful renewal”.

Strangely enough, the peacekeeping forces as such were a new creation: they are not named – or even envisaged – in the original United Nations treaty. The treaty does mention the possibility of military involvement on the part of the United Nations in the event of hostilities, but, because of the relationship between the great powers, it has never been possible to make use of this part of the treaty – the possible exception being the action in Korea in 1950.

Today’s peacekeeping operations are something quite different. The troops are made available on a voluntary basis and are approved by the Security Council. They are stationed in areas where a ceasefire has already been established but where no formal peace treaty has been concluded, and they are stationed in such a way that the conflicting parties, in the event of a resumption of hostilities, would meet the United Nations troops first. Actual fighting can thus be avoided, peace and quiet maintained, and it is possible to develop an atmosphere which makes active peace work possible. The very presence of the United Nations troops can have a positive effect. The soldiers very often make friends among the local population, they can offer help and aid in many ways, and are a conciliating element in otherwise explosive situations.

In this connection it is interesting to note a parallel with one of the ideas Alfred Nobel worked on – following a model from the French duelling etiquette. The seconds in such a conflict could intervene between the combatants with the aim of achieving a delay in the duel so that tempers could be cooled and the whole business possibly solved by other means.

It is perhaps reasonable that there were powerful political objections to this model, but the point remains: the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces today have just such an “interventionist” role. Because the United Nations is, in this way, on speaking terms with both parts, negotiations which are at a standstill can perhaps be reopened, and in many situations it is possible that armed fighting can be avoided.

The English brigadier, Michael Harbottle, who took part in the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces in Cyprus at the end of the 1960’s, has written a book on his experiences there. The book is called The Impartial Soldier, and in it he relates an episode which illustrates what the United Nations peacekeeping operations mean better than any official report.

The Finnish contingent under the command of Colonel Uolevi Koskenpalo was involved in the episode. A message was received to the effect that the Turks had begun to dig trenches in a suspicious manner; the Greeks had observed this, under the leadership of a general, they had decided to take the affair into their own hands. Colonel Koskenpalo had, however, placed his three platoons in precisely the right strategic position, so that the Greeks met the Finnish United Nations troops first as intended. The Greek general disliked being hindered in this way and began to protest loudly. In fact he screamed at the Finn – an obvious mistake. In contrast to the Greek, Colonel Koskenpalo was a well built man with a chest and shoulders of Nordic dimensions. He advanced slowly and from a height of well over six feet looked down at the Greek and said in a moderately loud voice, “Don’t shout, general. I am a colonel in the Finnish army and don’t like being shouted at.”

The reaction was surprising. The general naturally didn’t believe his ears, but the shouting stopped immediately and in a little while he retreated together with his forces. This gave the Finn the opportunity to both inform and placate the Greek high command and to persuade the Turks to stop the provocative trench digging.

In this way a violent episode was avoided. There have been many similar episodes where the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces have intervened. It is a question of a strictly peaceful behaviour combined with authority. The Finnish colonel was able to act as an efficient peace medium because he had the authority of the United Nations and the force of his well-trained Finnish United Nations soldiers behind him.

What has been said about the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces is equally true of the United Nations observers. Their duties are to ensure that the Security Council’s ceasefire demands are kept. They mark the ceasefire line, establish observation posts and report to the Secretary-General if there are violations of the ceasefire.

This is an important role in critical situations. Reports from the observation corps will be non-partisan and accurate, in contrast to reports from the involved parties themselves. This gives them an obvious value both to the involved parties and to the outside world generally.

It is often emphasised that the United Nations’ peacekeeping operations are only carried out at the invitation of the countries involved. The troops and observation corps are guests in the area, and they have a special responsibility to behave in a way which is in agreement with international law and ordinary politeness. Experience to now indicates that the peacekeeping forces have been a correct solution to the problem.

To the present there have been – or are – 13 peacekeeping operations. fifty-three countries have contributed with personnel, and the maximum force has been a total of 50,000 men. If one counts all the soldiers who have been involved in these operations, the total is something like 500,000 men.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee sees this mobilisation of troops from countries all over the world as a tangible expression of the world community’s will to solve conflicts by peaceful means. The technological development of weapons systems has resulted in the peaceful resolution of conflicts becoming the only realistic possibility. Nuclear weapons have made the concept of wielding total power an absurdity. In conflict situations it is therefore vitally necessary that there are openings where real negotiations can be initiated. In the opinion of the Nobel Committee the United Nations peacekeeping operations contribute precisely to this.

The Committee believes also that the peacekeeping operations and the way they are carried out contribute to making the ideas which were the very reason for the establishment of the United Nations a reality. This year’s Peace Prize should therefore also be regarded as a recognition of the whole organisation, the United Nations. The prize gives expression to the hope we all place in the United Nations.

Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar, who is directly responsible for the peacekeeping operations, and who is therefore present today to receive the prize, is here not only as the formal recipient, receiving the prize on behalf of others. He is himself one of the prizewinners today! With his never-tiring work and the results he has achieved as an active mediator he should be accorded his part of the honour for the growing confidence which is shown in the United Nations.

Confidence in the United Nations has otherwise been a variable factor. The United Nations has for many been seen as a body without power or effectiveness, a forum for bilateral insults, a theatre stage at the side of the reality of world politics. One has been able to have negative opinions of the United Nations without thereby colliding with the accepted state of affairs. But there is one overpowering argument in favour of the United Nations: the organisation has survived, and now defends more and more both its right to exist and its capacity to survive.

It has been pointed out, quite correctly, that the United Nations can only be what the member states make it. They can paralyse the United Nations by ignoring its resolutions, by vetoing, by sabotaging its economy. But they can also make the United Nations an active instrument in the fight for peace, a focus for international law and human rights, and a forum for the development of inter-racial understanding.

The signs today indicate that it is the latter alternative which is in the course of realising itself. Perhaps the very idea of the United Nations is now coming into its own? After what we have been through: Cold War, unsuccessful negotiations, growing fear of a universal atomic death, it is perhaps not so surprising that one again looks to the decisions that were made when the United Nations treaty was signed. On the ruins of the Second World War the survivors decided that conflicts should thereafter be solved by peaceful means. Barbarism should be replaced by friendly relations between nations. Freedom and human rights should be respected without reference to race, sex, language or religion. And the United Nations were to be the means by which the aims of the United Nations Treaty were to be realised.

This year’s Peace Prize is a recognition of and homage to one organ of the United Nations. But it ought to be understood as a serious comment on the fact that we must, united and with our whole hearts, invest in the United Nations. It becomes clearer and clearer that what has to be done to secure the future for new generations has to be done together. Our determination has to be channelled into the United Nations. This is the best hope for the future of the world – indeed its only hope!

The belief and the hope which are placed in the United Nations have to be the hope and belief of the younger generations. In the ideals of the United Nations they can search for their own ideals, and it is they who are to form the world of the future.

In the selection of this year’s Peace Prize laureate the Nobel Committee attached therefore great importance to the role of young people in the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces. It is precisely the contribution of the young which makes the realisation of the United Nations’ aims possible in a positive way.

For obvious reasons it is precisely the young who today feel the crippling powerlessness in their meeting with the powers who steer the development of our world. It is easy to lose one’s foothold, it is difficult to retain one’s optimism – at times it is unclear whether there is any point in attempting to do anything at all.

To all the young people who feel their situation in this way, I would direct a question, the question which the young Norwegian poet Nordahl Grieg took up in his poem To Youth:

Well may you ask, in despondent alarm:
What is my weapon? What is my arm?

And thus it is that the young prizewinners can today raise their United Nations flag and answer with the words of this poem by one of our own young fallen:

This is the sword you must bear in your fight –
Faith in this life and man’s God-given right.
For the future of all, seek it and choose it;
Die, if you must, gird it on and use it.
Silent the path of the arrow by night;
Halt with the spirit its death-dealing flight.
Then, only then, will all warfare cease.
Man’s dignity only can give us true peace.

From Nobel Lectures, Peace 1981-1990, Editor-in-Charge Tore Frängsmyr, Editor Irwin Abrams, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997


Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1988

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