Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, I have the pleasure to wish you all welcome to this important seminar entitled “Channels of Influence in a Crisis Situation – How Can the International Community Support Conflict Resolution and Democracy?”
The world is more global and countries more interdependent than ever before. Incidents in one country may have serious repercussions in another. We all remember the financial crisis in Asia and the dramatic drop of the national currency values of the affected countries in 1997–1998; the whole series of events that started in Thailand, spread quickly to other South-East Asian economies, and soon also to Latin America and Russia, remains vivid in our minds. It took years for the most severely affected countries to recover. Also the recent incident of the so called ”cartoon crisis” is an example of how reactions to an isolated event in a distant country can quickly generate responses on a global scale.
Security is an essential element for development. Without security, there cannot be sustainable development, and without development, it is impossible to restore and maintain security. Insecurity prevents people from going to work and earn their living. Security is of utmost important in rural areas where people cultivate their land and depend on their crops to be able to feed their families. Lack of security restricts the movements of goods and people and, therefore, blocks the transport of agricultural produce to urban markets. Hence, insecurity jeopardizes entire nations’ food security and economic development.
Insecurity hinders states from providing health care and education. It prevents children from attending school and patients from accessing clinics and hospitals. Insecurity also breaks down the social networks which in many parts of the world serve as the only means of looking after children, orphans, and elderly and other vulnerable persons. One could, therefore, say that insecurity is a major obstacle to the exercise of people’s basic right to life, physical integrity, nutrition, education and health, to mention just a few examples.
Insecurity also breeds crime. Illicit trade in arms, drugs, precious minerals and other raw materials as well as human beings flourishes if the government is unable to exercise control. This is particularly true of insecure areas afflicted by a conflict. Small arms and light weapons flow easily across national borders, from the hands of one armed group to the possession of another. Conflicts may thus change their physical location or escalate into catastrophes affecting several countries. Examples are the hotspots in West Africa and in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes Region. Drug cultivation and trafficking prosper especially in Afghanistan and Colombia, which are both conflict-ridden countries. Eventually, the drugs produced in war areas end up also in our markets, enslaving addicts and contributing to higher crime rates.
All these linkages between insecurity, lack of development, non-respect for human rights and crime have one common denominator: they tend to prevail and become exacerbated in countries with a weak or fragile government and bad governance. These states are weak or fragile in that they cannot provide the basic security and services that their citizens are entitled to. Bad governance refers to corruption, misappropriation of public funds, political cronyism and general diregard for the rule of law.
In such unfortunate circumstances, the government is unable or unwilling to tackle the grave problems of poverty, income and wealth inequality, uneven regional development, weak border security, crime, rampant corruption and the weak management of natural resources. These, among many other factors, undermine conflict resolution and peacebuilding efforts and make the ground fertile for recurrent conflicts. The vicious cycle of insecurity tends to enhance itself in the long run.
International cooperation among states and other actors plays a key role in today’s world. Friendly and cooperative relations between countries is the only factor that effectively contributes to the prevention of disputes and the reduction of suffering and damage. Supported by this view, Finland’s foreign and security policy highlights the importance of deepening interaction and cooperation. Finland’s top priorities are to strengthen security in Finland, to enhance Finland’s international influence and to promote Finland’s interests in the world.
In terms of conflict transformation, international cooperation is of utmost importance. First of all, countries that support fighting factions are effectively undermining any meaningful efforts to build peace. International cooperation with the involved states can help to end financial and military aid to warring parties.
Second, international cooperation is important for development assistance. While security and development are the responsibilities of the national government, development aid channelled through multilateral arrangements helps them to fulfil these vital obligations. Support directed to national poverty-reduction strategies, various human rights structures and the promotion of good governance and the rule of law can all act as conflict-prevention instruments.
Democracy is one avenue to conflict prevention. Democracies respect people’s right to elect their leaders and to stand for office in free and fair elections. Even though democracy alone does not necessarily prevent conflicts, democracies are more likely to combine pro-poor development programmes with efforts to narrow excessive income and wealth disparities, initiatives fostering good governance, strengthening of the rule of law and respect for human rights than non-democratic societies. As a result, democracy is one factor among others to promote security.
Third, international cooperation is instrumental in reducing international organized crime and terrorism. Public authorities can abate illicit trade in arms, drugs, raw materials as well as smuggling and trafficking in human beings only by cooperating at the regional, continental and global levels. Efficient border control that is jointly coordinated among all the involved states plays a crucial role in efforts to control the routes of international crime. At the political level, the Kimberley Process and the European Union’s FLEGT Action Plan constitute successful attempts at breaking the baleful linkage between the exploitation of precious raw materials and financing conflicts. Furthermore, political dialogue at the highest possible level and long-term commitment to tackling the root causes of poverty and inequality, religious and ideological confrontation, and radicalization are the prerequisites of a sustainable endeavour to reduce terrorism.
Fourth, successful control of environmental and health hazards requires cooperation among states. Global threats to the environment and public health do not respect any national borders drawn on a map, which highlights the importance of political dialogue. Open and undelayed exchange of information on the geographical movements of the avian flu infectors has considerably helped countries, also Finland, to be prepared for this new threat to human security.
Finland’s development policy strongly promotes peace, security, human rights and democracy and Finland is committed to the promotion of the values and goals of the Millennium Declaration. Our development policy aims at eliminating the causes for conflict and at enhancing the possibilities for successful peacebuilding by means of focusing on the eradication of extreme poverty. In more detail, activities that help to achieve this goal include promotion of equality, human rights, democracy and good governance, prevention of environmental threats as well as increasing worldwide security and economic interaction.
In addition to the linkages between international cooperation and insecurity, I would like to highlight the holistic nature of conflict prevention and peacebuilding. We are working hard to increase coherence among different policy sectors, such as international trade, development cooperation, defence and security, and diplomacy. Coherence is particularly important because consistent action helps to avoid giving controversial messages to the world and making conflicting and even detrimental impacts on our partner countries. In order to be able to do the same at the global level, across all the state and non-state actors, we need international cooperation.
We also need to view the elements of conflict prevention, conflict management and reconstruction as less compartmentalized. As much as Finland strives to contribute to security and prevent conflicts, all our partners are not secure countries. In conflict situations, the challenge is to ensure a smooth shift from development aid to life-saving humanitarian assistance and civil and military crisis management. In post-conflict situations, in turn, the external actors must readjust their operations gradually back to longer-term reconstruction and development.
The transfer from one form of operation to another is always difficult and requires cooperation. After a conflict, a massive return and resettlement of displaced people can lead to violent competition for the limited resources if the international community is unprepared to relaunch income generation programmes and create sustainable livelihoods. All the involved actors must see the situation from the same perspective, coordinate their activities, and eliminate unnecessary delays in changing from one form of operation to another. This naturally underlines the importance of international cooperation.
This seminar offers important insights into and facilitates exchange of ideas on conflict resolution, peacebuilding and promotion of democracy. It deals with the fundamental question of how to strengthen a fragile state in a crisis situation. The seminar also delves into the various forms of international cooperation and its possibilities to help a fragile state to recover from conflict and anchor more firmly on the path of development and improved security. We shall also hear about Finnish work in such difficult circumstances. These are all very important themes and will receive increasing attention during Finland’s upcoming Presidency of the European Union.
Nepal gives us an excellent example on how development and security are tightly interlinked. Nepal is one of the eight long-term partner countries of Finland’s development cooperation. Unfortunately, Nepal is also a fragile state where governance has not been particularly good. The conflict between the government and the Maoist rebels has required 13,000 lives since 1990. The number of internally displaced persons amounts to several hundred thousands. Poverty is widespread, regional disparities are huge, and inequalities between people – in terms of income, wealth, political participation, social inclusion and many other respects – are enormous. But the recent agreement to restore democracy and hold elections leading to a new constituent assembly with all parties, the Maoists included, taking part, may turn a decisive page in the troubled country’s history.
Madam Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen, I have now the great honour to declare this seminar opened. I wish you all a fruitful and inspiring seminar.