To end poverty we need peace

Published under: Solberg's Government

Publisher The Office of the Prime Minister

Columbia University, 25 September 2014

Speech by Prime Minister Erna Solberg at Columbia University in New York 25 September 2014.

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Ladies and gentlemen, dear students

“To end poverty we need peace”.

Next year, world leaders will meet here in New York to adopt a new set of global goals. The Sustainable Development Goals – for our common future. These must build on the success of the Millennium Development Goals – the MDGs.

Meanwhile, as co-chair of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s MDG Advocacy Group, I will seize every opportunity to accelerate progress on the current goals. 460 days remain before their deadline. However, we have a problem – conflicts and wars prevalent in many regions and stops development.

Peace and stability is vital if we are to achieve the MDGs and – looking ahead towards 2030 – the SDGs.

Millions have lifted themselves out of poverty. Several targets under the Millennium Development Goals have been met, but this positive development has not happened in states that are in violent conflict. That is why a concerted engagement in states and regions affected by conflict is crucial if we are to eliminate poverty by 2030. While 19 % of the world’s poorest people now live in fragile and conflict-affected areas, that figure will leap to 40 % by 2030 if current trends continue.

The current trends do not give reason for optimism. After a decade of decline in conflict and warfare, the pendulum is swinging back. Even in Europe, we are watching in disbelief as respect for internationally recognised borders and the territorial integrity of Ukraine is violated by Russia.

It is mainly internal violent conflicts that are preventing countries from reaching the MDGs. In many cases, this is not outright civil war but community, criminal and political violence that deprives people of peace. How can we ensure that children can receive an education when they are not safe on their way to school? How can we promote private investment if production sites are being hit by mortars or if criminal gangs control critical infrastructure?

What, then, can the rest of the world do? What can a country like Norway do? What can you – gathered here today – do? Leaving a country adrift at the mercy of warlords and extremism is no option. That is exactly what happened in the case of Afghanistan in the years before 9/11. And we see many examples like that unfortunately.

There is, in fact, quite a bit the international community can do, depending on the nature of the conflict. However, peacebuilding should not be undertaken with unrealistic ambitions.

Peacebuilding is not a linear process where clear progress can be seen all along the way, but rather a messy affair with many backlashes. During the last two decades, we have become more realistic about what we can achieve in conflict affected states and how fast we can achieve it.

International efforts to promote peace and stability are dependent on the parties’ will to engage. It is also important to get regional powers on board. It is not enough to establish peace in one country alone; it has to be rooted in a regional context.

There are many ways of promoting peaceful development, but all of them come with opportunities and limitations. From the chambers of the Security Council to modest homes in the Swat valley in Pakistan, we can all help to end poverty and injustice by promoting peace, and all these different efforts – at global, regional, national and local level must work in concert. 

1.MULTILATERAL AND GLOBAL EFFORTS

The obvious starting point for Norway’s work to promote peace is the UN Security Council. Its mandate is, after all, to maintain international peace and security. Despite some very unfortunate deadlocks, the Security Council, and the international order it represents, is one of the main reasons for the reduction in inter-state wars.

When the United Nations was formed in San Francisco in 1945, the major powers at the time were given permanent membership of the Security Council, and the right of veto. The “permanent five”, or P5, are, as you will know, China, France, Russia, the UK and the US. Many small and medium-sized countries, including Norway, supported this arrangement. We did so not only because it reflected the world order of the day, but also to ensure that the Council would have the authority to make decisions and act on our behalf.

However, the Council has failed to address the situation in Syria and Ukraine effectively. We all know why: some of the big powers still believe in outdated ideas of zero-sum games and spheres of influence.

The right to veto has been used several times to prevent meaningful actions on the part of the international community. The division in the Security Council on the issue of Syria made it impossible to enact measures that could have protected the people on the ground, and extremists on all sides have been free to kill, maim and rape innocent civilians. Three years ago, Syria was a middle-income country in which refugees from neighbouring states sought a safe haven. Today, we are seeing the worst humanitarian crisis in decades unfold before our eyes. Three years of damage may take 30 years to repair.

We welcome the US-led efforts to gather support for the fight against violent extremism and terrorism at the UN. The Security Council has an important role to play in addressing new security threats like ISIL and Boko Haram. The Council can build on the work in the Counter-Terrorism Committee that was established in September 2001 and has worked extensively to curb the influence of al-Qaida. The new resolution the council adopted on Wednesday against foreign fighters was a positive move and Norway was one of more than 100 countries that co-sponsored the resolution.

In cases where Security Council members have agreed and have given a strong and realistic mandate for a UN operation, the UN has helped to end conflicts and foster reconciliation in dozens of countries, including Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mozambique and Namibia.

UN peacekeeping has also made, and continues to make, a real difference in other places. Current and recently completed operations include Sierra Leone, Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, Timor-Leste, Liberia, Haiti and Kosovo. By providing security and responding to crises, these operations have supported political transitions and helped buttress new and fragile state institutions. They have helped countries to start on a path of normal development, even though major peacebuilding challenges may remain.

In other cases, however, UN peacekeeping – and the response by the international community as a whole – has been inadequate. Somalia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s serve as examples. Those setbacks were instrumental in spurring far-reaching changes in UN peacekeeping.

Today, UN peacekeeping is more vital than ever for international peace and security. But peacekeeping is under strain. As we speak, UN peacekeepers are striving under extremely difficult conditions to help establish peace and stability in countries such as South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Mali and Liberia. Their success is vital not only for the people of those countries, but also for peace and prosperity in the rest of the world.

It is our collective responsibility to ensure that the UN has the resources it needs to fulfil its role in the global peace and security architecture. As we all know, there is a need for a wide variety of resources to implement increasingly comprehensive and complex mandates.

Norway has been a contributor to UN peacekeeping from its very beginning in 1948, when the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) was deployed to the Middle East. Since then, more than 56 000 Norwegians have served as UN peacekeepers worldwide.

Norway welcomes the UN Secretary-General’s initiative to carry out a strategic review to strengthen the world community’s ability to deal with contemporary security challenges. The review should be based on a broad approach that encompasses all aspects of current UN engagement in peace operations. It should examine the whole range of instruments that the UN has at its disposal.

The UN and the Security Council will always be key players. However, as the world changes, the UN must keep up with the changes. We need reform of the composition and working methods of the UN Security Council. The efforts of the UN must be complemented by regional and national actors. In today’s world, regional organizations and arrangements are increasingly proving their relevance. Economic, social, and political integration is increasingly taking place at the regional level. It was only after two horrific wars during the last century that my own continent chose integration. The creation of a peaceful Europe and the creation of the EU are two sides of the same coin. Another example is the African Union that continues to prove its relevance, in particular in conflict-ridden states from Mali to Somalia.

2. NATIONAL EFFORTS.

As World Bank President Kim has pointed out, you can’t have development without peace, but too often we forget that peace won’t last without development.

In this collective effort, national governments and political leaders must take the lead and ensure local ownership. In some cases, like in Syria, the power holders lack the will to build a new inclusive society and have no vision beyond staying in power. In others, there may be virtually no foundation for building a state, and peacebuilding may have to start from scratch. In Somalia, Norway took a risk in spearheading efforts to support the government through the Special Support Facility. We did so because without institutions, without a treasury, it is not possible to build a state. It is not possible to provide health services and education for all.

Many of the biggest recipients of foreign aid from Norway are war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Palestine, and South Sudan. We are also one of the top donors in many humanitarian emergencies.

The wider global community needs to confront the complex institutional and social challenges in these fragile states, because the cost of inaction is high and the returns on well-designed interventions are great. When we have the opportunity to build institutions, infrastructure, and capacity in fragile states, we must seize it. If we can assist in bringing in desperately needed private sector investment, we must do so. We need to help to build constructive state-society relations through inclusive political processes and settlements. The professionalism, accountability, and capacity of law enforcement and the judiciary need to be enhanced. The global community can also play a crucial role in reducing external drivers such as terrorism and international organised crime, including the trafficking of people and drugs, and the illicit trade in arms and natural resources.

Norway provides support to countries that are plagued by internal violent conflict in order to reduce poverty, but promoting peace also strengthens our own security. Last year, a group with links to al-Qaida took more than 800 hostages, including Norwegians, at Statoil’s gas plant in In Amenas, Algeria. Norwegian vessels and petroleum activities have been attacked by pirates off the African coast. This summer, we raised our terrorism threat level due to the conflict in Syria. Political exclusion, bad governance and organised crime in countries far away can easily become a security threat to us.

Countering violence and exclusion will not be possible without promoting the rights of girls and women. I am appalled by the continuing abductions of Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, and by the targeting of women and girls in ongoing conflicts such as those in Iraq, South Sudan and Syria. There are reports of kidnappings, rape, forced marriage, sexual slavery and other forms of gender-based violence committed by parties on all sides of the conflicts in these countries. We must end impunity for such crimes. The only sustainable long-term solution is to ensure full and effective participation of women in decision-making. In both formal and informal peace efforts, it is crucial that women and women’s groups are consulted and included.

Sometimes, countries that are seen as impartial outsiders are able to play a role in facilitating peace processes. Since the early 1990s, Norway has acted as facilitator in a number of peace and reconciliation processes. Norwegian peace efforts are, however, contingent on all the involved parties showing a genuine will to negotiate.

The peace process between the Colombian Government and the FARC is a high priority for Norway. The conflict in Colombia has lasted for more than five decades, and has claimed several hundred thousand lives. More than five million people have been internally displaced, and anti-personnel mines continue to be a serious threat to civilians. A peace agreement between the Colombian Government and the guerrillas will lay the foundations for building a less violent society – a society with less fear and insecurity that is able to make further progress on the MDGs. But even once such an agreement is reached, its implementation will be a challenging task. Again, patience will be needed.

Norway is also seriously concerned about the grave political, economic and humanitarian situation in South Sudan. We are supporting the efforts led by the subregional organisation IGAD and are working closely with the US and the UK in the Troika to facilitate the peace process. The prime focus is underlying issues that led to the conflict. Better governance, accountability and greater democratisation are crucial to get South Sudan back on track.

3. THE EFFORTS OF NGOS, THE PRIVATE SECTOR, CIVIL SOCIETY, ACADEMIA, AND INDIVIDUALS

The time when peace-making was the domain of the military, politicians and diplomats alone is long past. In fact peace work has often been a collective effort. We have seen the importance of multitrack diplomacy, involving both official and unofficial conflict resolution efforts. These may include exchanges between citizens, academic cooperation, international business negotiations, international cultural and athletic activities, and other cooperative efforts. They may be led by governments, professional organisations, businesses, women’s organisations, churches or other religious groups, the media, individual citizens, educational institutions, activists, and NGOs. Indeed, some of you may be engaged in such efforts.

In fact, Norway’s involvement in several peace processes is partly based on the work that Norwegian NGOs and academic institutions did. Some Norwegian NGOs worked for years in conflict-zones before our government complemented their effort by working through official channels. The peace process between Sudan and leaders of the rebellion in South-Sudan that lead up to the comprehensive peace agreement in 2005 is one case in point.  Today, Norway seeks to be a consistent advocate for the inclusion of local communities and civil society, and their critical role for ensuring sustainable peace. This is not only because it is morally right, it is because we have seen that this approach works.

Peace and reconciliation is about transforming relationships not only between people and groups within society, but also between society and the state. A long-term perspective is therefore necessary, and inclusion is a key word.

As Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Tawakkol Karman of Yemen has put it – I quote:

“Peace does not mean just to stop wars, but also to stop oppression and injustice.”

Peace and respect for human rights are preconditions for prosperity and the fulfilment of people’s aspirations. Moreover, efforts to promote respect for human rights can help prevent armed conflict and mass atrocities. Likewise, deterioration in respect for human rights is often a sign of an impending crisis.

What can we do when terror-groups like the al-Nusra Front, Boko Haram and ISIL are advancing, leaving terrible human rights abuses in their wake? What tools do we have at our disposal? Our toolbox is in fact huge. Violent extremism and terrorism must be fought on the ground, in the courtrooms, in the classrooms, in parliaments, and on the internet.  There are military tools, political tools, social and economic tools. There are global institutions, regional institutions and national efforts underway that are addressing the issue. And besides, there is a whole world community of engaged citizens like you here at Columbia.

This institution is about education. As Nelson Mandela has said, “Education is the most powerful tool with which you can change the world.”  I believe education is essential in the fight against extremism. Education can prevent religious prejudices, conflict and extremism and can help to promote open-minded and stable societies. Educational policies can foster intercultural and interfaith understanding and help prevent the spread of terrorist ideologies and narratives.

We should allow ourselves to be inspired by Malala Yousafzai’s, the schoolgirl from the Swat district in Pakistan that Taliban tried to kill. I quote:

“The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala.”

We must show the same steadfastness. If one schoolgirl can take on the Taliban on her own, then, surely, the world community can defeat extremism and terrorism.

We have made good progress towards reaching the MDGs at the global level, but progress is uneven. The World Bank estimates that a conflict costs a developing country roughly 30 years of GDP growth. 

This means that if we are to achieve the MDGs, we must focus on the countries that are affected by violent conflict. It also means that peace and stability must be included in the new post-2015 goals. We can win the fight against poverty in our generation, but to end poverty we need peace. As Martin Luther King said, “…the time is always ripe to do right”. Now’s the time, and it’s up to us. Let’s make it happen.