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SIPRI's 40th anniversary

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The Olof Palme and Anna Lindh memorial lecture

Given by Jan Eliasson, former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Sweden and President of the General Assembly of the UN 2005-2006

Rosenbad, Stockholm, December 12, 2006
On the occasion of the 40th Anniversary of SIPRI

I am deeply honoured to be asked to speak at SIPRI’s 40th Anniversary and to deliver a lecture in memory of two prominent Swedish political personalities, who have meant very much to me, both professionally and personally: Olof Palme and Anna Lindh.

But let me first pay tribute to and congratulate SIPRI on its anniversary.

40 is a great age for a person and perhaps also for an organization – long enough to look back at experiences and achievements and still with time to adapt to new conditions from a position of maturity, curiosity and receptivity to change.

I was a young member of the Swedish Foreign Service when SIPRI was created with Alva Myrdal as a driving force. I remember discussions with colleagues at the Ministry about the need for not only solid analysis but also for irrefutable facts to make the case for disarmament and non-proliferation. As the legendary President Paasikivi of Finland once stated: “The foundation for wisdom is facts”, SIPRI has through the years continued to lay such a foundation for fact-based dialogue and decisions in the area of security and disarmament. To what degree wise decisions in the end were made I leave to your sober scrutiny and judgement.

I worked closely with Olof Palme and Anna Lindh. When I look back at my time with them I distinctly see the differences of agenda and international environment between the two of them. With Olof Palme, the agenda was the end of decolonization, the balance of terror in the midst of the Cold War, the American involvement in the Vietnam war, the Soviet actions in Czechoslovakia, the war between Iran and Iraq, apartheid in South Africa, dictatorships in Latin America, the North/South divide and the debate on a new international economic order.

With Anna Lindh the agenda was genocide and massive violations of human rights, the nightmares of the Balkans and the Horn of Africa, global threats like terrorism, trafficking, organized crime and environmental degradation as well as issues like Sweden and the EU, European integration and enlargement and the dialogue between cultures and civilizations.

Both Olof Palme and Anna Lindh made important contributions to the great challenges and causes of their time. Olof Palme brought home to our country, and many others in the world, passion in the fight for international solidarity. He stood up for compassion with the millions of starving, afflicted and oppressed around the world and personified the bridge between North and South. He was a voice of reason in the disarmament debate and a patient practitioner of mediation where I speak from personal experiences in the Iran/Iraq conflict. His voice was heard to the degree that diplomatic complications were standard but also in such a way that trust and devotion lingered with him and his memory. It was quite a journey to travel with Olof Palme!

Anna Lindh was a “soul sister” of Olof Palme. Significantly. I first met her at the memorial service for Olof Palme in March 1986. She was a fiery, agile, smiling and intelligent leader of the Social Democratic youth movement. Her contributions were many and substantial to Sweden and to Europe. She was a champion of human rights and of preventive diplomacy. During Sweden’s EU Presidency in 2001, she handled the Macedonian crisis in such a manner that another war, another nightmare, was avoided in the Balkans. She was convinced that Sweden’s role was in an ever stronger European Union working hand in hand with other international actors, primarily with the United Nations, our battle-scarred and indispensable global organization.

The United Nations is also the place where I have spent a large part of my time during the last 25 years – as a mediator in the Iran/Iraq war, as Permanent Representative of Sweden, as Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and, most recently, as President of the UN General Assembly. It is with this background - together with my time in Swedish foreign policy formulation in Stockholm and various bilateral posts – that I venture into the risky territory of reflections and observations on today’s state of affairs of global cooperation.

The serious background is a situation where multilateralism is put to a test and where the outside world – wherever we are – can be perceived either as a peril and problem or as a possibility and a potential. The road our nations choose on developing multilateralism and on the perspective and prism we use in perceiving the outside world and globalisation will be of crucial, yes indeed, historic significance.

My time as President of the UN General Assembly this past year gave me a unique opportunity to see events and trends in the world in a truly global perspective. During the same day in New York I could discuss a particular subject from four or five different angles, be it human rights and the so called cartoon crisis, be it sovereignty and the responsibility to protect, be it terrorism and the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism or be it the Middle East crisis and its effects on the political climate including the UN reform negotiations.

What first of struck me was the interdependence between global issues. As we often concluded: no security without development, no development without security and no lasting security or development without respect of human rights.

To a surprising degree, we succeeded in several reform negotiations which from the beginning were considered doomed to protracted quarrels and deadlock. The Member States, all in all, took the Summit document of September 2005 seriously, created an oasis of serious purpose and negotiations and, indeed, delivered.

Still, I was struck by a paradox. On the one hand, never was it more obvious to me that we need strong and effective global mechanisms and solutions to deal with mounting global threats and problems. On the other hand, rarely have I felt such suspicion and mistrust between groups of countries in dealing with the concrete issues and in making compromises or concessions. This was obvious when we dealt with issues like terrorism, human rights and development.

Why this paradox? What can we do about it?

One observation in this respect is that global issues in today’s world are not only global; they very much are national and even local to an equally strong degree. The border line between international and national is, if not gone, at least blurred and unclear. How do we draw a line between international and national policies on issues like trade, migration, communicable diseases, environment, crime and terrorism?

This means that none of these issues can be dealt with in isolation – neither in relation to other issues nor nationally or internationally alone. This means that international decisions have a strong domestic impact and that national decisions have international repercussions to a larger degree than ever before.

This brings me to globalisation. This is not the time and place to venture into a deeper analysis of this over-arching phenomenon of modern times. Suffice it to say that globalisation is rapidly revolutionizing contemporary life and politics. The ever freer flow of information, goods, services and human beings is having effects on distribution of power, of knowledge and of income as well as on attitudes to change and to influence from abroad.

Most of us agree that globalisation in general - this fast and free flow of people, goods and ideas across borders - is a positive factor in enhancing knowledge, developing interdependence and creating global growth. However, we would make a serious mistake if we did not recognize the problems of uneven distribution of income, influence and knowledge, both between nations and within nations. Africa south of Sahara is seriously lagging behind in development due to diseases but also to problems of governance and, not least, obstacles to free trade. The digital divide is a fact – there are more computers in New York than in all of Africa.

With rapid mass travel and communication, Avian flu and AIDS, not to speak of smallpox spread by terrorists, could cause global havoc, politically, economically and socially. And organized white collar crime is thriving in the wake of narcotics, trafficking and illicit armaments trade, not least because of easy money laundering and impenetrable cyber space transfer.

My point with this is that we have strong reasons to strengthen, to put it simply, good globalisation but equally strong reason to combat the bad globalisation. If not, we run the risk that many people in the world, and strong political forces fishing in muddy waters, will exploit the reactions against globalization and make the outside world a peril and problem, not a possibility and potential.

They may blame other countries or “foreigners” for problems of crime and terrorism, for diseases and environmental degradation and for “stealing” jobs. Many of us have political forces at home – luckily mostly in a minority – exploiting these biases and sentiments. Matters are made worse and even more serious if their message is given an ethnic or religious dimension. This could strengthen an “us and them” syndrome both between nations and inside nations. The danger of Islam/West tensions should not be underestimated. And what goes on in the suburbs of some of the major cities of Europe has disturbing ethnic and religions dimensions.

I say all this because I felt in the corridors of the United Nations a fear, that groups of nations, as well as religious and ethnic groups paradoxically risk coming apart rather than together in this age of globalisation. The cartoon crisis of February this year illustrates this concern and also the lack of knowledge between peoples and religions. How many Europeans knew that depicting the Prophet is the ultimate heresy? How many demonstrators in the Islamic world knew that a government in Europe cannot and must not ban an article or a cartoon in a newspaper?

If we are to affect these trends – which could be crucial to international cooperation and also to the cohesion and social stability of our own societies – there is an urgent need to deal effectively with the global threats, to intensify international exchange and to develop multilateral mechanisms, which deliver results “on the ground”.

That is why the reform process of the UN takes on a deeper significance. We have to prove that we are willing and capable to strengthen the multilateral structures. The same, of course, goes for regional and national institutions which deal with border-crossing issues. The European Union can and should in my view be more of a global political actor. The African Union is taking important steps to strengthen its regional and global impact.

This is necessary since the global challenges are of such magnitude that not one organization, one nation, one regional grouping can effectively deal with the problems of today. Indeed, we run the risk of raising unrealistic expectations on the UN, or say the EU, when we in fact need a better, more effective division of labour involving not only international organizations, governments but also the private sector: business and civil society. We all have roles to play if we are to meaningfully confront the problems of the world – and of the nations – today.

It may be presumptuous for me to name the most urgent of these tasks. However, for the sake of concluding my presentation today on a note of concreteness let me briefly and without elaboration present you with a “to-do list”, which by some may be seen as an example of wishful thinking and by others as an urgent and necessary action plan.

  1. We must stop continued or new genocides.

    We cannot go on saying “never again” without seriously undermining the moral authority of the UN and other international organizations and their Member States. Let us remember that the UN at its summit in September 2005 has established the responsibility for all states to protect their populations from ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity and genocide.

  2. A serious and fast-moving process has to start toward durable peace in the Middle East.

    The two-state solution must finally become a reality for Israel and Palestine; Lebanon must cease being the battle stage for outside interests; the drift towards full scale civil war in Iraq must be replaced by growing Iraqi ownership and accountability as well as stronger regional and international cooperation.

  3. The Millennium Development Goals must be implemented before 2015.

    Dealing effectively with poverty, hunger, diseases, illiteracy and environmental decay must be seen not only as programs of solidarity but as acts of enlightened self-interest by all nations, developed as well as developing. Furthermore, we must be more concrete in facing these challenges. Massive programs to educate girls could have an enormous impact in the developing world. And to get clean water and toilets to the billions of people who lack them would mean the difference between life and death through dysentery, diarrea and dehydration.

  4. We must develop strategies to deal with weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and organized crime.

    Right now we run the risk of loosing control over these fatal global dangers. We have to deal with them both separately and as inter-twined. We urgently need to revive or update the elements of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We need to deal both with the manifestations of terrorism and with the conditions which help recruitment of new terrorists. And we must stop the cancerous growth of organized crime which undermines not only the rule of law but democracy itself.

  5. We must develop cohesive national and international policies which aim at preserving resources, protecting the environment and developing sustainable energy security.

    Now is the time for national governments, international organizations, the science and research community as well as the business world to come together to deal with the urgent, and at the same time seminal, issues of climate change, accessibility to clean waters, “resource race” and renewable energy sources. Here, there is plenty of room for innovation, cross-cutting cooperation, unconventional thinking and, above all, a deep sense of responsibility and accountability to coming generations.

Lastly, to deal with these issues we need to mobilize all actors, internationally as well as nationally, all knowledge and talents in the simple realization that the problems are enormous and that “together” is much stronger than “alone”. We must place the problems in the centre – not the organizations or bureaucracies. We must also learn to act early, to prevent conflicts from erupting and to protect human beings from being starved or oppressed, diseases from spreading, the environment from deteriorating and resources from being exhausted. The imperative of prevention must be established and made into a norm for the sake of human dignity and, indeed of, survival.

For all this to evolve we need leadership with an unfailing moral compass and a sense of responsibility for future generations. And we need public awareness, knowledge and engagement. To close the circle: here is where SIPRI comes in as a source of information, insight and inspiration.

Let us bring the facts out, stimulate dialogue, diplomacy and discourse in a world in turmoil but also in a desperate need of reason and a viable road ahead.