Award ceremony speech


Presentation Speech by Gunnar Berge, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Oslo, December 10, 2001.

Translation of the Norwegian text.

Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, and, not least, this year’s and past year’s Peace Prize Laureates. Let me begin by extending a warm welcome to this year’s special Peace Prize award ceremony.

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2001 is awarded to the United Nations (the UN) and its Secretary-General Kofi Annan for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world.

This year we are celebrating the centenary of the Nobel Prizes, including the Peace Prize. That makes it natural to consider historical continuities where both the better organized world and the Nobel Peace Prize are concerned. The idea that mankind has common interests, and that this should find expression in some form or other of shared government or rules, can be traced back to the Roman Empire. In the twentieth century, Woodrow Wilson was a vigorous early spokesman for the belief that we people need each other. Such a belief means that, whether as states or as individuals, we should treat one another in ways that do not make us less able to live together. Tolerance, justice and humanity are essential to the unity of mankind.

Alfred Nobel had no self-evident place in this tradition. At one time, he believed that dynamite, his great invention, could do more to prevent war than any peace movement. Nevertheless, the will he made in 1895 was inspired by belief in the community of man. The Peace Prize was to be awarded to the person who had done most for “fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”.

Over the one hundred years that have passed since the first Peace Prize was awarded in 1901, the foremost sustained intention of the Norwegian Nobel Committee has been precisely that: of strengthening international co-operation between states. In the period before World War I, the majority of the Peace Prizes went to representatives of the organized peace movement, either at the parliamentary level through the Inter-Parliamentary Union, or at the more popular level through the International Peace Bureau. But the prizes do not seem to have helped much. The first world war broke out in 1914.

In the words of Woodrow Wilson, the first world war was to be “the war to end wars”, and should “make the world safe for democracy”. The new League of Nations was to be the body that resolved conflicts before they led to war. Once again, the Norwegian Nobel Committee sought to promote this greater commitment in international co-operation. In the years between the wars, at least eight Peace Prize Laureates had clear connections with the League of Nations, although the League as such never in fact received the prize.

Again the world, and not least Wilson himself, was to be disappointed. The 1919 Peace Prize Laureate was unable to persuade his own United States to join the League of Nations. For would not binding obligations to an international organization also limit American sovereignty?

Practically all of us wish to avoid the horrors of war. But we have different notions about how this can come about. All non-pacifists seek other things in addition to peace. There is not necessarily anything wrong with that. Nor can peace be absolute. That was why so many took up arms against Hitler Germany and the Emperor’s Japan.

The horrors of World War II made the hopes people pinned on the new world organization, the United Nations, all the greater. The new organization was set even higher targets than the League of Nations. The preamble to the UN Charter thus speaks of “We the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind…”. There were many points of organizational similarity between the League of Nations and the UN. But the League of Nations had failed. The answer was to give the Security Council a much more prominent role than the corresponding council had had in the League of Nations. Universal membership would be combined with special rights exercised by the Great Powers. The Security Council could use military force to maintain peace. It was even to have standing armed forces at its disposal, to be established by member states in cooperation. We have not reached that goal even today, fifty-six years on.

The UN has achieved many successes, not least in the humanitarian and social fields, where its various special organizations have done such important work. In some respects, the UN achieved more than its founders believed possible. It found itself in the thick of the process of decolonization which in a few short decades swept away centuries-old colonial empires. The UN set important standards, which influenced developments for the majority of people all over the world. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN in 1948, became one of the major documents of our time. Article 1 gives clear expression to the hope for a better organized and more peaceful world: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and human rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to give these successes the credit they deserve. Since 1945, at least 13 of the Peace Prizes have had links to the UN. Some have gone to UN organizations such as the High Commissioner for Refugees, winner of two awards, UNICEF, the ILO, or the UN’s peace-keeping forces. Others have gone to individuals like Cordell Hull, reputed to have provided the inspiration underlying the UN, John Boyd Orr, the first head of the FAO, Ralph Bunche, first of many UN mediators in the Middle East and, in 1950, the first non-white Peace Prize Laureate, Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN’s second Secretary-General, or René Cassin, main author of the Declaration of Human Rights.

In its most important area, however, preventing war and ensuring peace, the UN did not turn out to be all that its supporters had hoped for. In many serious conflicts, the organization remained on the sidelines or was used as a tool by one of the parties. The five Great Powers had all agreed that they had to have a veto. But it is not the veto itself, of course, that explains the UN’s inability to act, but rather the fact that the interests of the two super-powers diverged so radically throughout the many years of cold war.

Seeing that the main theme in the history of the Peace Prize has been the wish for a better organized and more peaceful world, it is surprising that the UN as such has not been awarded the Peace Prize before. One reason may be disappointment that the UN did not quite live up to all the expectations of 1945. Another may be the many UN-related prizes, which made it less necessary to give the award to the organization itself. A good deal can be attributed to chance: the UN could have won the award so often that in the end it never did. Until a suitably important occasion arrived. In connection with this year’s centenary, the Committee once again felt a need to emphasise the continuous theme of the history of the Peace Prize, the hope for a better organized and more peaceful world. Nothing symbolises that hope, or represents that reality, better than the United Nations.

The end of the cold war meant that the UN became able to play more of the role in security policy for which it was originally intended. The Great Powers still had diverging interests; so, too, of course, had the smaller states, but they had less impact on the international climate. Although the USA provides the clearest illustration, all countries are more or less selective in their attitudes to the UN. They favour an active UN when they need and see opportunities to obtain its support; but when the UN takes a different stance, they seek to limit its influence. Since the cold war, however, greater and smaller powers have to a significant extent been able to unite in meeting the most serious common challenges: to prevent wars and conflicts; to stimulate economic development, especially in poor countries; to strengthen fundamental human rights; to promote a better environment; to fight epidemics; and, in the most recent common endeavour, to prevent international terrorism.

No one has done more than Kofi Annan to revitalise the UN. After taking office as the UN’s seventh Secretary-General in January, 1997, he managed in a very short time to give the UN an external prestige and an internal morale the likes of which the organization had hardly seen in its over fifty-year history, with the possible exception of its very first optimistic years. His position within the organization has no doubt benefited from his having devoted almost all his working life to the UN. Experience in a bureaucracy is not always the best springboard for action and fresh approaches to the outside world, but Annan has brought about both. The UN structure has been tightened up and made more efficient. The Secretary-General has figured prominently in the efforts to resolve a whole series of international disputes: the repercussions of the Gulf War, the wars in the former Yugoslavia and especially in Kosovo, the status of East Timor, the war in the Congo, and the implementation of the UN resolutions concerning the Middle East and “land for peace”.

On the basis of renewed emphasis on the Declaration of Human Rights, Annan has given the Secretary-General a more active part to play as a protector of those rights. Time and again, he has maintained that sovereignty is not a shield behind which member countries can hide their violations. He has shown the same activist approach to the struggle against HIV/AIDS, a struggle which he has called his “personal priority”. Since the terrorist attack on New York and Washington on the 11th of September, he has urged that the UN must be given a leading part to play in the fight against international terrorism. The Secretary-General’s report on the role of the UN in the 21st century formed the basis for the UN’s Millennium Declaration. Here, too, the agenda is ambitious: to put an end to poverty, to provide better education for the world’s billions of people, to reduce HIV/AIDS, to protect the environment, and to prevent war and armed conflict.

The only one of the UN’s previous six Secretaries-General who can be compared to Annan in personal force and historical importance is Dag Hammarskjöld, the organization’s second Secretary-General and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961. For Kofi Annan, Dag Hammarskjöld has been a model. In his Hammarskjöld Memorial Lecture in September this year, Annan said, “There can be no better rule of thumb for a Secretary-General, as he approaches each new challenge or crisis, than to ask himself, ‘how would Hammarskjöld have handled this?'”. Annan is nevertheless more of a team player than Hammarskjöld was. In other respects, too, Annan goes further than Hammarskjöld could: “I suspect he would envy me the discretion I enjoy in deciding what to say, and what topics to comment on”. This can occasionally be a bit much, however, even for Annan: “I find myself called on to make official statements on almost everything that happens in the world today, from royal marriages to the possibility of human cloning!”.

Wars between states have grown quite rare in recent decades. This can be regarded as a victory for norms which the UN has stood for throughout its existence. But many wars are still fought in our time. The new development is that wars within states, civil wars, have become relatively more frequent. This is confronting the UN with major challenges. The UN has traditionally been a defender of the sovereignty of individual states. The principle of state sovereignty is laid down in the UN Charter, especially in Article 2.7. but even that Article contains a qualification: “this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII” (the chapter on action to preserve peace). Now that we are attaching ever-increasing importance to “human security” and not just to the security of states, it makes little difference whether a life is lost in an international or a civil war.

If the UN is to prevent civil war, the question soon arises of intervention from outside. Many see intervention as equivalent to invasion. Small states are naturally afraid that big states will use it as a pretext for interfering in their domestic affairs. The policies of colonial powers in Africa and Asia, the Soviet Union’s entries into Eastern Europe, and the USA’s various interventions in the Western hemisphere all illustrate the need to protect the sovereignty of small states. On the other hand, the present situation, with civil wars in numerous countries, is a high price to pay for regarding state sovereignty as absolute. The massacres in Rwanda taught us all, and not least Annan, that the world does not necessarily get any better if one refrains from intervening. As Annan himself has said, we applaud the policeman who “intervenes” to stop a fight, or the teacher who tries to prevent bullying and fighting; and a doctor “intervenes” to save patients’ lives. “A doctor who never intervenes has few admirers and probably even fewer patients.” Where humanitarian concerns are uppermost, Doctors without Borders (MSF) in particular, the 1999 Laureate, has argued that the global community has “a duty to intervene”, a principle which the UN General Assembly has accepted in several important resolutions.

The debate on “humanitarian intervention” raises difficult questions to which there are no pat answers, especially when the debate shifts from purely humanitarian to more political ground. Under Annan’s leadership, the UN has shown itself willing to participate in this difficult discussion, with significant results in the last few years. Developments have taken a favourable turn in Kosovo, though there is still a long way to go. The UN played a leading part in the process which in a short space of time advanced East Timor from the status of a colony to, before long, that of an independent state. Maybe the 1996 Peace Prize awarded to Belo and Ramos-Horta also contributed. Today large and small states alike are almost competing in urging the UN to take the lead in developing Afghanistan away from a Taliban regime that has been a leading supporter of international terrorism, and towards a broadly-based government that can lead the country back into the international community.

So we have already moved well into the discussion of what steps to take to achieve a better organized and more peaceful world in the next hundred years. It has been repeated again and again that the UN can not become anything more than the world’s ever so multifarious governments wish to make it. But in the light of the many common tasks that lie ahead, we must at least see to it that the very slowest movers among the nations are not allowed to set too much of the future pace. As globalisation expands, the question will be asked even more loudly than at present of who is to manage this development and by what means. In the view of the Nobel Committee, that will be a task for the UN, if not in the form of a centralised world government then at least as the more efficient global instrument which the world so sorely needs.

For that to come about, it will help if nations as far as possible have a shared platform. Democracy is stronger today than at any time in history; over half of the world’s population lives under democratic government. This marks a great victory for the principles in the Human Rights Declaration. One need go no further than back to the inter-war years, when democracy was a threatened species of government, to realise how dramatic this progress has been. Democracies rarely if ever go to war with each other.

The strong position of democracy today gives grounds for optimism. But much remains to be done, not least in the economic field. We have made very few advances in solidarity between countries that are growing ever richer, and the many countries and individuals who either are not benefiting to the same extent from globalisation or are even suffering from its economic and social consequences. The number of poor people in the world is ever-increasing.

There were many reverses in the twentieth century, for the world as a whole and for the idea of a better organized and more peaceful world. Two world wars, and a cold war that lasted more than forty years and spread into every corner of the world, set a limit to how optimistic we can feel about the future. On the other hand, we have witnessed a remarkable development, from the scattered and rather private peace initiatives at the previous turn of the century to the ever stronger and more efficient United Nations we have today. The Norwegian Nobel Committee wishes both to honour the work that the UN and its Secretary-General Kofi Annan have already done, and to encourage them to go ahead along the road to a still more forceful and dynamic United Nations.

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