Governments “Wasting Time in Peace-Building”

Rina Amanda Kuusipalo (Finland, AC 08-10)

“For his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts”. This is why the Nobel Committee chose Martti Ahtisaari to be awarded the most recent Nobel Peace Prize. The news about the former President of Finland, member of the Liberal Social Democrat party, having won arguably the most prestigious and well-known prize in the world hit my home country by genuine surprise, “the greatest moment of the generation”. 


As a child, Martti Ahtisaari had to flee from his hometown in the eastern part of Finland because it came under the then Soviet power. This, he says, gave him personal understanding of people in distress. Ahtisaari’s presidency is remembered by a large portion of Finns by his slight limp, which provoked television skits, and by his seeming lack of passion for domestic issues. His fervor lay elsewhere, in global issues. Starting out as a primary school teacher promoting ‘Christian values’ in Pakistan, Ahtisaari soon rocketed on a fabulous career and went on to gain international accreditation as a peace negotiator who was able to solve the most problematic conflicts on the globe.


Now 71-years old, Ahtisaari indeed looks back on an array of impressive achievements. He has held several posts in the UN, such as being a special envoy of the Secretary-General to Namibia; it was Ahtisaari who steered Namibia into independence from the influence of apartheid-era South Africa. This he declares to be his greatest accomplishment. Ahtisaari also worked to stop the civil war in the Indonesian province of Aceh, attaining an agreement between the Aceh independence movement and the Indonesian government in 2005, and in the Northern Ireland conflict he acted as an impartial arms inspector. In 2000 Ahtisaari founded his non-governmental group called Crisis Management Initiative (CMI) which promotes “sustainable security”, through means such as bringing Shia and Sunni factions from Iraq together for secret negotiations in Finland.


His own beliefs about successful peace-building are that it is really a “waste of time” for governments to negotiate peace; individual, neutral negotiations are what he sees as the key to success. His pragmatism is reflected by him opening a lecture last fall with “It is more important to be efficient than just”.


However, Ahtisaari’s actions do also face criticism in Finland and elsewhere. A well-known Finnish peace organisation condemns the award winner for continuously urging Finland to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), “a military alliance of democratic states in Europe and North America” as stated on its website. The peace organisation criticises NATO for their military, sometimes international law breaking, style, for example their rather failed operation in Afghanistan and the bombing of Kosovo. This, they say, was an illegal military surge to ensure that Serbia would accept the peace terms of NATO which were at the time delivered by Ahtisaari. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for this settlement in particular, but lost that time. In 2007 Ahtisaari drafted the plan to bring independence to Kosovo, which, however, is now under the investigation of the International Court of Justice due to a request by Serbia.


The main contradiction with Ahtisaari’s ardent support towards the military alliance is that it apparently clashes with many people’s conception of bringing long-lasting peace into conflict zones. Ahtisaari also strongly supported the actions of the United States with their war in Iraq, deemed illegal from the very beginning. Well-being of people and human rights are more valuable than national sovereignty, but whether military interventions without justification are the way to truly protect this well-being in the long term remains doubtful. The NATO argument is extremely fragile in Finnish politics, because of Finland’s strong history of ‘peaceful neutrality’, which is what many analyses of Ahtisaari’s nomination hold as the ultimate secret to his success – in international negotiations impartiality is key in gaining the trust of different parties involved. For the moment being, Finland remains a rare example of a country that is not militarily allied yet remains a committed part of the EU.

Johan Galtung, the founder of the discipline of peace and conflict studies, has also been sceptic about the nomination. He claims that at the time of the Namibia peace process the native black population was in such a desperate situation that they had to accept any deal, losing huge chunks of land to whites. Galtung says that many of the conflicts which Ahtisaari mediated have not been resolved, just postponed, because international law hasn’t been obeyed all the time, and not all parties have left the table satisfied – namely the Serbs who were given the blame in the Kosovo process.

Despite certain contradictions concerning him, Ahtisaari has undoubtedly ameliorated people’s well-being in very diverse and difficult conditions. His fundamental way of doing so, no matter what he might have supported, was to simply talk with all parties involved, and thus the prize also awards international neutral diplomacy as a means of solving disagreements. Whether Ahtisaari has always held the most peaceful of views, or whether his choices have always been the right ones, only future will tell. Nevertheless, bringing peace, even an imperfect one, into a world like this is not an easy task in any way, and here is a man who devoted his entire life to issues around the world, without prejudice, and often spending years and years working on the same conflict. He tried hard, for decades, and that is what brought him this recognition.

– United World College Student Magazine –


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