Photo of Ambassador Teemu Turunen
Fulbright Finland News Magazine

Finland, Conflicts, and Peace Mediation

10 December 2020 • Text: Ambassador Teemu Turunen, Photos: Petri Krook

Finland is well known for its rich history in conflict resolution. The best known example is President Martti Ahtisaari and his lasting legacy in peacemaking, awarded with a Nobel peace prize in 2008. Many Finns have been working for peaceful resolution of conflicts during the past decades, from Northern Ireland to Bosnia and from Myanmar to the Horn of Africa. Some still remember the “Spirit of Helsinki” from 1975 as a synonym for rapprochement between the states in the East and the West.

Peace mediation is a foreign policy priority for Finland. Our government has been supporting peace mediation, especially by defending the role of mediation in international forums as a cost-effective way to resolve destructive conflicts. In 2020, it was the right time to put even more emphasis on conflict prevention and actual peace mediation. With conflict resolution as my passion, it is my dream job to now be leading the Ministry’s newly founded Center for Mediation! It has been a busy fall for me and my colleagues, setting up structures and mechanisms to ensure an efficient coordination and handling of peacemaking opportunities. This work will continue.

The world has not turned out as stable and peaceful as expected. The triumphal march of the liberal democracy and respect for the international law has turned into uphill battle. Some regional powers have seen their chance to try to change the current status quo. Contemporary conflicts have become more complex, typically intra-state and inter-group, but at the same time internationalized. Add technological revolution, disinformation, and hybrid attacks, and the result is a fragmented reality. The pandemic has added a new, though temporary layer of complexity to the picture.

While recognizing a remarkable change in the nature of conflicts, it is important not to lose sight of a bigger picture. The number of persons deceased in wars and conflicts has been clearly and constantly decreasing since the end of the cold war. In the long run, the world is getting better, not worse. There are reasons to stay optimistic.

Finland is in a good position to develop peacemaking in contemporary conflicts. Building on our national strengths and collaborative model, the participation of Finland in peace processes is hardly considered a threat to anyone. Rather the opposite, an honest broker without an agenda of its own. A Nordic welfare state, a rare example of how to turn a poor and remote country into a well functioning society in 100 years. 

The Finnish model of peacemaking is one of collaboration. The parties to a conflict have to be – always – at the center of peacemaking efforts. Too often wanna-be facilitators and mediators are looking for their own short-term interest and flashlights, instead of supporting the parties in their efforts for building a lasting peace. Secondly, state actors should work closely together with non-state actors and complement each other. The interaction between different tracks and cooperation over organizations and state boundaries will become even more important. Agile multitrack coalitions create better opportunities for more effective peacemaking.

We need to support the creation of the new generation of mediators. Education is a powerful tool.

The world today needs more peacebuilders in all levels of societies. Building peace is a long-term commitment, and we need to support the creation of the new generation of mediators. Education is a powerful tool to change hearts and minds and, as Senator J. William Fulbright put it, to “bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby to increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.”

Finland remains happy and willing to assist the parties to a conflict by bringing them together, by good offices, or by facilitating dialogue. It is also in our own interest to do so. The less wars and armed conflicts there are in the world, the better it is for all of us. Finland absolutely benefits from a more predictable world, based on clear, common rules.

Teemu Turunen
Director, Ambassador
Center for Mediation, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Read the whole Fulbright Finland News magazine 2/2020!