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Speech at Paris Peace Forum

Prime Minister Erna Solberg held a speech about peace and reconciliation at Paris Peace Forum 11. november 2018.

Check against delivery.

Excellencies, distinguished guests,

Today’s anniversary gives us a good opportunity to reflect on the importance of international peace and security.

The Armistice of 11 November 1918 set in motion a comprehensive peace effort.

However, this effort did not bring the peace and stability everyone had hoped for.

On the contrary, failed attempts at reaching an inclusive peace agreement ended in tragedy two decades later.

The end of World War One taught us a valuable lesson: Ending a war is always difficult. But achieving sustainable peace is even harder.

Few peace agreements are fully implemented. 60 % of all conflicts recur.

Since the mid-1990s, conflict recurrence has been more common than the onset of new conflicts.

This means that the best way to prevent conflict is to ensure that peace is sustainable. Conflict resolution is not a quick fix. It requires bold leadership by all the parties involved.

 

It is 25 years since the Oslo Accord between Israel and the PLO was signed. This marked the beginning of an active Norwegian engagement in conflict resolution. This engagement has since become a cornerstone of our foreign policy.

Let me share some lessons learned over all these years and how these guide our work in this area.

First, we talk to all kinds of actors. Norway is only aligned with the UN terror list, not with that of the EU. This makes it possible for us to keep discreet channels of communication open where others cannot. From an early stage in the Middle East peace process, we recognised the need to engage all parties. Similarly, in Afghanistan we have long promoted an approach that includes all sides.

However, there are limits. For actors that show no interest in a negotiated settlement, such as ISIL, dialogue makes little sense.

Second, we recognise the responsibility of the parties. The parties themselves own the conflict and the process. It is only when they want to talk that we can bring people together. Our job is to help foster trust and build competence.

Let me take the example of the UN-sponsored Syria negotiations. They illustrate how important – and yet how difficult – trust building is. Norway has supported innovative mechanisms for the inclusion of civil society in the peace process. However, these efforts will amount to little as long as there is no willingness among the parties to find common ground.

Third, we seek to build trust. Norway is a consistent and predictable actor. We are impartial, but not neutral. International law and human rights guide our work.  

We encourage the parties to search for solutions, not just to treat the symptoms. They must address the core issues of the conflict. They must look further than the immediate need for stabilisation.

Fourth, we are in it for the long run. The Colombian peace process has seen almost 20 years of consistent Norwegian engagement. In the Philippines, we have been involved since 2001. Our engagement for peace in Afghanistan dates back to the 1990s.

Just days after this year’s anniversary of the Oslo Accord, Norway once again chaired the donor group for the Palestinians. These are just a few examples of our long-term engagement. Our efforts enjoy broad support in Norwegian society and among all political parties in Norway. This means that they can continue even if there are setbacks in the various processes. Continuity adds to the quality of a peace process. It reinforces trust.

Fifth, we are willing to fail. Peace diplomacy is always a high-risk activity. The possibility of failure is considerable. Norway accepts this political risk. We seek to play a leading role in an area where others face greater constraints.

Our efforts will not always succeed. Nor will they yield quick or perfect solutions. Even in failure, lessons are learned.

Our engagement in Sri Lanka is a case in point. Initially, the progress and prospects were good. The parties took the initiative and wanted to resolve the conflict through talks. Over time, however, support for the process eroded before a political solution was reached. Both parties eventually returned to  military fighting.

One lesson we learned in Sri Lanka was that the parties must have ownership for a political process to succeed. Sri Lanka also demonstrated the horrendous human costs when a war is ended by military means alone.

Libya is another example: in the spring of 2011, Norway explored opportunities for dialogue, seeking to complement UN and African Union efforts. We did not succeed, but it was worth the effort. Engagement of this kind at an early stage is important, even if there are high chances of failure.

Sixth, we are discreet. High-profile diplomacy is not conducive to building trust or encouraging discussions of sensitive issues. Parties have learned to expect discretion and professionalism from Norway’s peace efforts. In the Colombian peace process, a secret phase facilitated by Norway and Cuba proved essential to moving the process forward.

Other Norwegian efforts, for example in Afghanistan, have been kept out of the public eye at various stages because of their sensitive character. It is important to give the parties the space and privacy they need, especially in the early stages.

Finally, we seek to be inclusive. Women are not observers to war. They should not be observers to peace. The inclusion of women in peace processes is a priority for Norway.

An inclusive peace process contributes to a more sustainable peace. Norway is a strong proponent of the UN’s women, peace and security agenda (based on Security Council resolution 1325). We are actively engaged in efforts to establish a global alliance of women mediators.

In today’s conflicts, we see a number of common features. We see weak state structures and porous borders. We see conflicts involving a myriad of militias, terrorist groups, and often proxy actors.

This present us with dilemmas. For instance, how – and with whom – do you engage when a war is fought by proxies? Harder still, whom do you engage when the proxies deny any involvement in the conflict? Do you seek negotiations between the parties on the ground, or between their overt or covert backers? Our experience shows us that negotiating between two parties is difficult enough; conducting multi-actor negotiations increases the difficulty ten-fold. However, the risk of failure is no reason not to try.

 

The nature of today’s conflicts means that we are facing challenges that constitute a direct threat to European and global security.

Peace diplomacy remains an important pillar of Norway’s foreign policy. We are still engaged in ambitious peace efforts aiming to find lasting solutions, for example in Colombia and the Philippines. And we stand ready to assist in efforts to de-escalate or prevent a conflict from recurring.

We are willing to take on the toughest challenges, because we believe that trying to find peace is worth every effort. It is for instance this conviction that guides the Norwegian diplomat Geir O. Pedersen as he now steps up as UN special envoy for Syria.

And it is against this backdrop that we have launched Norway’s candidature for the UN Security Council for the period 2021-22. Our aim is to contribute to strengthening the role of the UN in conflict prevention and resolution. We believe our experience in this field will be an asset to the Security Council.

On this 100th anniversary of World War One, I would like to urge everyone to step up their efforts. In response to what UN Secretary-General Guterres has called the need for a ‘surge in peace diplomacy’. Norway stands ready to do its part by continuing its active role in international peace and reconciliation work.

Thank you.

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