United Nations Peacekeeping Forces

Acceptance Speech

Acceptance by Javier Pérez de Cuéllar, on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, December 10, 1988


Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I should like to thank you, Mr Chairman, and the other members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, for the award which I have received today on behalf of the United Nations peacekeeping operations. I should also like to pay homage to the memory of Alfred Nobel, that visionary Scandinavian. His commitment to the cause of peace lives on in the prize which he so generously endowed.

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the United Nations peacekeeping operations gives recognition to an idea of striking originality and power and pays brilliant tribute to those who have made it a reality.

The great experiment you are honouring here today has been shaped by many people. I recall in particular its original architects, Ralph Bunche, Dag Hammarskjöld and Lester Pearson, all three of them Nobel Laureates. Their remarkable work has been built upon by their successors who set up and directed further peacekeeping operations.

You are also honouring the soldiers of peace, some half a million young men and women from fifty-eight countries. Seven hundred and thirty-three “Blue Helmets” have given their lives in the service of peace. One of them, Lieutenant Colonel William Higgins, is still in the hands of his kidnappers. I take this opportunity to appeal once again for his immediate release.1 We cannot forget these brave soldiers. Nor can we forget the civilians of the United Nations Secretariat, and especially the Field Operations Service, who have supported their military colleagues with dedication and courage in fifteen peacekeeping operations all over the world.

The technique which has come to be called peacekeeping uses soldiers as the servants of peace rather than as the instruments of war. It introduces to the military sphere the principle of nonviolence. It provides an honourable alternative to conflict and a means of reducing strife and tension, so that a solution can be sought through negotiation. Never before in history have military forces been employed internationally not to wage war, not to establish domination and not to serve the interests of any power or group of powers, but rather to prevent conflict between peoples.

We are now at a time of extraordinary hope and promise for the United Nations, after a long period when the spectre, and too often the grim reality of war have darkened our planet, there is a new mood of understanding and common sense, a new determination to move away from international conflict and devote ourselves instead to the immense task of building a better world. Recently, we have seen several conflicts give way to negotiation and conciliation.

These developments have not been fortuitous. They are the result of diplomatic activity by the United Nations sustained over the years and intensified recently. Indeed, the prospects of realising the vision expressed in the Charter of the United Nations seem better today than at any time since the organisation was founded.

In the past forty years we have experienced perhaps the most revolutionary period in all of human history. The instruments of war have been developed to the point where war itself has become a futile anachronism, an anachronism so expensive and terrifying that even the richest and most powerful countries can no longer afford to contemplate it. We have redrawn the political map of the world so that for the first time in history the international community is not dominated by competing empires, but consists of more than 160 independent sovereign states. Thus collective responsibility for peace can be evolved in a truly representative international system. At the same time, the technological revolution of the past forty years, which has radically changed the way people live, work and communicate, presents enormous opportunities as well as grave risks. We must now reflect upon these changes and start to assimilate them.

With a better international climate, it now seems possible to further develop modes and techniques to control conflict and settle disputes. We can, and must, achieve what we have dreamed of for so long, that is to make the rule of law standard rather than the exception in world affairs. Our technological capacity and the undoubted basic fact of interdependence, make this even more urgent. With a reliable system of collective responsibility we can face the vast economic and social challenges of our time and alleviate the massive poverty and suffering which are a disgrace to the human condition. Without it, we run the risk of a steady deterioration of the conditions of life on this planet.

In our striving for a world at peace with itself, and governed by the rule of law, I believe that peacekeeping operations play a vital and significant role. In some ways they are analogous to the role of the civil police in the development of peaceful, law-abiding nation states. The technique of peacekeeping, which has already proved itself in fifteen operations all over the world, can help us to cross the line from a world of international conflict and violence to a world in which respect for international law and authority overcomes belligerence and ensures justice.

Peacekeeping operations symbolise the world community’s will to peace and represent the impartial, practical expression of that will. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to these operations illuminates the hope and strengthens the promise of this extraordinary concept.

1. Lieutenant William Higgins was abducted in February 1988 near Tyre and, despite the pleas by the Secretary-General and others, was killed by his captors.

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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