Martti Ahtisaari of Finland — arguably responsible for negotiating more permanent peace agreements than any other person alive — is a worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
THE Nobel Peace Prize is being awarded today to a man who is far from a household name in this country: Martti Ahtisaari of Finland. But he is, arguably, responsible for negotiating more permanent peace agreements than any other person alive. He has been called a world champion for peace, a risk taker for peace and someone who never gives up.
Ahtisaari’s accomplishments include a crucial role in settling the conflict in Namibia by helping establish that country’s independence in 1990. He was involved for more than a decade, working with Namibian rebels, South Africa, the United States, Germany, Cuba and the Soviet Union. At the end, South African troops left a land they had occupied for 75 years.
Ahtisaari believes the deal in Namibia helped set the stage for the end of apartheid in neighboring South Africa.
In 1991, Ahtisaari led the United Nations mission to study Iraqi infrastructure following Gulf War I. He later reported that “authorities are as yet scarcely able even to measure the dimensions of the calamity, much less respond to its consequences.” He advocated humanitarian aid, but the report angered President George H.W. Bush’s administration, which undermined Ahtisaari’s candidacy for U.N. Secretary General.
While serving as president of Finland from 1994 to 2000, Ahtisaari helped solve the Kosovo conflict, forging a deal between the U.S., Russia and Serbia. The agreement contributed to Kosovo’s independence in 2007.
Ahtisaari also brought together separatist Free Aceh Rebels and the Indonesian government in 2005 to sign a peace agreement, ending 29 years of conflict that had cost 15,000 lives.
By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Ahtisaari, the committee sent a message to powerful states about how the global system should be governed. The cornerstone of his lifelong efforts has been protection of citizens. Ahtisaari believes if governments ignore this responsibility, the international community must intervene, either militarily, diplomatically or both.
Ahtisaari’s work shows how peacemaking between small nations can encourage cooperation between large and powerful ones.
Ahtisaari’s convictions display broad-mindedness, honesty and tenacity. But his work also draws on a strong tradition of egalitarianism and pragmatism. When asked to name the most important factor in being a successful negotiator, Ahtisaari said the negotiator must be trusted by all parties. And he or she must also have a clear mind about what to achieve.
“I have to live with the solution,” he says. “Be able to go home and sleep at night.” He is firmly convinced every conflict can be solved through negotiation.
Ahtisaari believes diplomats from smaller democratic countries have built-in advantages as mediators. They are not threatening to other leaders, and because their countries have only minor direct stakes in the outcome, the negotiator can deal honestly with all parties, seeking and expecting no favors.
Ahtisaari believes an open, honest process is key to forging agreements. Indeed, he has said the process of trust among all parties is even more important than outcome of negotiations. For example, Ahtisaari was one of the negotiators between the British and the IRA in Northern Ireland. He saw his job as keeping the political process alive, “keeping the patient in intensive care,” as he put it, until the IRA gained enough trust to fully engage in the peace process.
Following the 9/11 disasters, Ahtisaari again stood for pragmatic international cooperation between small and large nations.
“The most serious threats to security today are global,” he wrote. “In addition to terrorism, there is corruption, organized crime, drug trafficking and the proliferation of small weapons.”
In pursuing an inclusive and pragmatic approach to conflict resolution, Martti Ahtisaari has helped create peace.
Andrew Nestingen, left, is professor of Finnish studies at the University of Washington. Christine Ingebritsen is professor of Scandinavian studies at the University of Washington.