By Lowana Veal
REYKJAVIK, Iceland | 5 November 2023 (IDN) — While the global media is focusing on the decision of Finland and Sweden to join NATO against the backdrop of the Ukraine War, along with the Israel–Palestine conflict, little attention is paid to the Nordic Council of Ministers and the vision of the Nordic Council —which involves Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Åland—to make the Nordic region the most sustainable and integrated region in the world. (P23) German | JapaneseThis year, Iceland holds the Presidency for the Nordic Council of Ministers. A year ago, it produced its programme for the Presidency, entitled A Nordic Region – A Force for Peace, while in 2019 the Nordic Council of Ministers produced New Nordic Peace – Nordic Peace and Conflict Resolution Efforts. The latter was written by Anine Hagemann and Isabel Bramsen, who were among the speakers at The Imagine Forum: Nordic Solidarity for Peace. The Forum was held 10-11 October 2023 in Harpa conference center in Reykjavík, Iceland.
Hagermann coined the term ‘Why war and how peace’ in her presentation, saying there was a necessity for improved communication in peace research, while Bramsen pointed out that countries such as Turkey, China, Syria, Armenia and even Russia were now acting as mediators—this had not been the case in the past.
It is perhaps appropriate that the conference be held in Iceland, which has just been ranked as the world’s most peaceful country for the 14th year in a row by the Institute of Economics and Peace. “It’s not easy to talk about peace when there is war elsewhere,” commented Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Prime Minister of Iceland, at the opening of the forum.
SDGs are fundamental
Jakobsdóttir from the Left-Green Party pointed out that there is increased strife over climate and resources, along with a huge decrease in women’s rights in Afghanistan and Iran. And “we can’t do any climate action without peace”, she said.
“We need to double down on the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals]. … Without SDGs, peace will always be at risk,” said Amina J Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN and Chair of the UN SDG Group, who gave the keynote speech. “We have only reached 15% of our targets for 2030,” she pointed out.
Norwegian Minister of International Development Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, who is also Minister of Nordic Cooperation, pointed out that “climate change and migration add to the complexities of peace” and that the SDGs are fundamental to the peace process. “Trust is the key,” she added.
Tvinnereim’s Icelandic counterpart, Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson—who besides being Minister for Nordic Cooperation is also Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market—noted: “If we get more information on climate change and peace, we get a solution… In some countries we are seeing more environmental refugees. Environmental protection is a key to promoting peace.”
Mohammed pointed out that “Chad is under immense pressure from refugees” while Tobias Etzold from the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) noted that there are increased refugee flows due to climate change, although climate migration is usually internal migration or cross-border land migration. “There is an overlap between climate exposure countries and conflict exposure countries,” he said.
Jannie Lilja from the Swedish thinktank SIPRI said that trust was a key issue and pointed out that peace could also be totalitarian or cold. She said that the role of development aid needs to be subject to scrutiny, and that SIPRI has looked at the composition of aid: “In post-conflict situations, targeted assistance countries were more likely to keep peace than other countries that were not subject to targeted assistance.”
Marko Lehti from the Finnish Tampere Peace Research Institute noted that Europe has been a blind spot in peace research, which has been more focused on the global south. “The Russian war with Ukraine brought the interwar situation back to Europe. Peace cannot be exported,” he stated. Jannie Lilja picked up on this, saying: “We could have seen indicators if we hadn’t been concentrating on looking at the global south and the violence there,” referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Human rights advocates also had an input into the Imagine forum. Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, CEO of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) and leader of the Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership, talked about living in an age of extremism—where water is owned by multinationals—and the weaponization of identity, of ethno-national and religious identities where one identity is ‘over’ another. “We’re not investing in peace. Much more is invested in war than peace in the US”, she added.
According to Bruno Stagno Ugarte from Human Rights Watch, collective security measures are not sufficiently human-centred and we are absolving ourselves of responsibility; early warning is a more cost-effective tool for protection, while human rights violations point to something going wrong; not enough service is being done to justice, which works in tandem with negotiation; and small States sometimes have the courage to tackle issues that are neglected by the larger countries. “For instance, little Gambia took Myanmar to the International Criminal Court on genocide,” he noted.
Absence of women
The absence of women at the negotiating table came up more than once. Regarding the war in Ukraine, Mohammed asked: “Where are the women at the table who are having conversations with men? What are the barriers?” She also alluded to Afghan women, saying, “Women in Afghanistan need their views amplified.”
Long-term Afghani activist Mahbouba Seraj talked about the situation of women in Afghanistan. Although girls are no longer allowed to go to school in Afghanistan, “the Taliban’s own daughters are going to school in Doha. You need to sanction the Taliban’s education… They have gender apartheid in Afghanistan”, said Seraj, who is Chair of the Afghan Women’s Network.
At the end of the conference Pia Hansson, Director of the Institute of International Affairs and one of the organizers of the Imagine forum, was asked whether she thought it had been successful.
“Yes, I think it has been. What we attempted to do was to bring together a diverse group of academics, students, stakeholders, government officials and diplomats so we wanted it to be very diverse and I think we accomplished that. We also managed I think to sow some seeds for being able to nurture further some networking among the Nordic peace institutes, because we think there is a lot of possibility for developing that further, looking at the Nordic model if there is such a thing … and also look at what are the main questions that we should be considering now, leading into what the future holds, because it’s going to be complex.”
Asked whether there are a lot of solutions out there that are not being heard, she replied: “I think there are a lot of challenges ahead and the world is certainly more complex than ever, and it’s difficult in these times to be hopeful for what it is we can possibly do in all these conflict situations. But looking at peace from different perspectives, not only in the sense of what is going on in other places in the world in conflicts but also looking at our Nordic societies and what we can do to make them more peaceful, I think it’s very important. But are the solutions present here? I think the solutions are present. We just have to find a way of digging into that. And we need basically everyone involved to be able to do that.” [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo: ‘The Imagine Forum-Nordic Solidarity for Peace’ with four prominent speakers (left to right): Amina Mohammed, UN Deputy Secretary-General; Katrín Jakobsdóttir, the Prime Minister of Iceland; Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson, Minister of Social Affairs and the Labour Market in Iceland; Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, Minister of International Development and Minister of Nordic Cooperation. All pictures from the Website of the Institute of International Affairs, University of Iceland put together by IDN-INPS