Nobel Lecture by Martti Ahtisaari, Oslo, 10 December 2008.
Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies,
Distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Dear Friends and Colleagues around the world,
I feel both humility and gratitude at receiving this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. It is the greatest recognition anybody working in this field can be given.
What I am feeling now can only be compared with the joy I have felt when seeing the changes that peace has brought to the lives of people. When people, who have endured wars and crises, begin to build their lives in an atmosphere of peace – When faith in the future returns.
I too was a child affected by a war. I was only two years old when, as a result of an agreement on spheres of interest between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, war broke out, forcing my family to leave soon thereafter the town of Viipuri. Like several hundred thousand fellow Karelians, we became refugees in our own country as great power politics caused the borders of Finland to be redrawn and left my home town as part of the Soviet Union. This childhood experience contributed to my commitment to working on the resolution of conflicts.
Mediators do not choose the conflicts they became involved in but the parties to the conflict choose the mediator. Their participation as intermediaries is based on the trust of all the conflicting parties. The task of the mediator is to help the parties to open difficult issues and nudge them forward in the peace process. The mediator’s role combines those of a ship’s pilot, consulting medical doctor, midwife and teacher.
However, there tends to be too much focus on the mediators. With that we are disempowering the parties to the conflict and creating the wrong impression that peace comes from the outside. The only people that can make peace are the parties to the conflict, and just as they are responsible for the conflict and its consequences, so should they be given responsibility and recognition for the peace.
The process leading to Namibian independence was long and required strong commitment and determination from the Namibians. Namibia is also an excellent example of what the UN and its member states can achieve at their best. Today, looking back to those years, it feels almost unbelievable that we managed to get all the key actors, the Western five (US, UK, France, Germany and Canada), the Soviet Union, the Organisation of African Unity, (represented by the African front-line states), the South-African government and all the political parties in Namibia, including SWAPO, to work towards a shared goal. It also taught that a durable solution can only be found if one is also prepared to engage in discussions with your political opponents. I do believe that the experience from the Namibia operation encouraged the government of South Africa to begin the process of democratic change.
The peace process in Aceh showed how important it is that a country’s political leadership is committed to finding a solution to an internal conflict. Joint efforts by the political leadership in Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement resulted in a peace agreement. However, it was only a start. Social and economic reforms can only progress if both negotiating parties and the population at large are committed to them in the long term. Work remains to be done in developing a national system that protects, sustains and improves the quality of life in Aceh.
All conflicts can be resolved
Wars and conflicts are not inevitable. They are caused by human beings. There are always interests that are furthered by war. Therefore those who have power and influence can also stop them.
Peace is a question of will. All conflicts can be settled, and there are no excuses for allowing them to become eternal. It is simply intolerable that violent conflicts defy resolution for decades causing immeasurable human suffering, and preventing economic and social development. The passivity and impotence of the international community make it more difficult for us to place our faith in jointly built security structures. Despite the many challenges, even the most intractable conflicts can be resolved if the parties involved and the international community join forces and work together for a common aim. The United Nations provides the right framework for international peace efforts and solutions to global problems. However, we are all aware of the constraints of the United Nations and of the tendency of the member states to give it demanding assignments without providing adequate resources and political support. It is important that the UN member states work resolutely to strengthen the world organization. We cannot afford to lose the UN.
In a conflict, one party can always claim victory, but building peace must involve everybody: the weak and the powerful, the victors and the vanquished, men and women, young and old. However, peace negotiations are often conducted by a small elite. In the future we must be better able to achieve a broader participation in peace processes. Particularly, there is a need to ensure the engagement of women in all stages of a peace process.
Peace processes and the agreements resulting from them end the violence. But the real work only starts after a peace agreement has been concluded. The agreements reached have to be implemented. Social and political change does not happen overnight, and the reconstruction and establishment of democracy demand patience. That requires a comprehensive approach to peacebuilding, and support for civil society.
Inequality breeds conflict
Growing inequality within countries and between regions deepens the existing cleavages. It is our task to create a future and hope for regions and countries in crisis where young people suffer from unemployment and have little prospects of improving their lives. Unless we can meet this challenge, new conflicts will flare up and we will lose another generation to war.
There has been a great deal of talk this year about the financial crisis. This financial crisis also highlights the importance of maintaining the commitment of the international community to development cooperation. The effects of this crisis may prove another major setback for the developing world. The very poorest people are already being hit hardest by the impact of climate change, rising food prices and lower levels of foreign trade. A reduction in foreign assistance and investment would be disastrous for badly needed economic growth. At this difficult time, I call on all governments to remain committed to their stated goals of eradicating poverty.
We must all be able to contribute to our own future and to the future of our communities. If the present trend continues, we will be faced with a situation where hundreds of millions of young people will be out of work in countries that are in early stages of development. If nothing is done, we will be creating an effective breeding ground for crime, instability and war as young people lose all hope. I believe that the fight against poverty is also the most effective measure of countering terrorism in the long term.
I returned ten days ago from Liberia I came away with mixed feelings. First, a feeling of sadness at the scale of destruction that the war left in Liberia and the size of the challenge for the Government and the international community. Second, a degree of optimism that the people we met, can begin to make a real difference – but only if the international community can retain its commitment to Liberia over the long term.
Conflict settlement requires the injection of optimism and hope born from employment and economic opportunities. Otherwise, fragile peace agreements can rarely be sustained. Over the long term, only the private sector is capable of growing new enterprises, creating investment opportunities which provide employment and enduring economic security. Attracting private-sector investment into war-torn areas is not easy. It requires innovation. A mix of non-economic and economic incentives will have to be devised. Similarly, involvement of the private sector in the larger work of formulating strategies for post-war recovery will require innovative thinking.
A solution must be found to the Middle East conflict
The most challenging peace-building project ahead of us is finding a solution to the conflicts in the Middle East, which have continued for decades. The tensions and wars in the region have been going on for so long that many have come to believe that the Middle East knot can never be untied.
I do not share this belief. All crises, including the one in the Middle East, can be resolved. The solution would require a contribution from all the parties involved as well as the international community as a whole. We might be strengthened in our resolve if we set our sights on the future and imagine what the world could look like if the countries in the region could jointly begin to develop their economic potential, build transport links, make full use of their educated population and begin to reap the benefits of an advantageous location in the crossroads of three continents.
I hope that the new President of the United States, who will be sworn in next month, will give high priority to the Middle East conflict during his first year in office. The European Union, Russia and the UN must also be seriously committed so that a solution can be found to the crises stretching from Israel and Palestine to Iraq and Iran. If we want to achieve lasting results, we must look at the whole region.
The credibility of the whole international community is at stake. We cannot go on, year after year, simply pretending to do something to help the situation in the Middle East. We must also get results.
For many people, tensions between religions have provided an easy explanation for the intractability of the Middle East crisis. I cannot accept this view. During my career I have seen many crises in which religion has been used as a weapon or as an instrument for prolonging the conflict. Religions themselves are, however, peace-loving. They can also be a constructive force in peace-building, and this also applies to the Middle East.
Peace mediators do not work alone
All parties to the conflict play a key role in finding a peaceful solution and putting it into practice. Likewise, a single outside party is rarely able to play all the roles that are required for a peace process to succeed.
All my peace assignments have taught me that a peace process is largely a matter of cooperation and partnership between different actors, parties to a conflict, peace mediators, governments, the civic society and international organizations.
Even though all eyes are often on the peace mediators, it is important to emphasize the role of the mediation teams and the other important actors outside the direct negotiation process itself. In my work I have always been in a privileged position to build up my own team, including my colleagues at the organization I founded after my Finnish Presidency, Crisis Management Initiative. I have had the opportunity to work with many highly qualified colleagues in different peace processes. Without them I would not be here today.
I hope that all those brave women and men that have worked for the peace in their country would feel that they can share this prize with me.
However, my biggest source of strength is my family. My wife Eeva and my son Marko have always been at my side. They have provided me with both support and constructive criticism. I offer them my heartfelt thanks.
I hope that this distinguished prize awarded to me will encourage individuals and organizations to continue their efforts for peace. I also hope that they will receive full support for their work in the future.
If we work together, we can find solutions. We should not accept any excuses from those in power. Peace is a question of will.
Their work and discoveries range from cancer therapy and laser physics to developing proteins that can solve humankind’s chemical problems. The work of the 2018 Nobel Laureates also included combating war crimes, as well as integrating innovation and climate with economic growth. Find out more.