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Martti Ahtisaari: international mediator

In June 1999, when President of Finland, Martti Ahtisaari persuaded then Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to accept NATO's terms for ending the Kosovo air campaign. Since leaving office in 2000, he has chaired various conflict-prevention organisations, has been an independent inspector of the IRA's arms dumps in Northern Ireland, and has founded an association to facilitate his international work.

NATO Review: In the past decade, the Euro-Atlantic security environment has changed almost beyond recognition. What are the greatest threats to security today?

Martti Ahtisaari: In the wake of the tragic attacks in New York and Washington DC, the threat of terrorism and the fight against it is clearly high on everybody's agenda. Indeed, this is a good example of how new security threats can seriously challenge what is still a largely state-centred security system. Many of today's most serious threats are global in scale. In addition to terrorism, they include corruption, organised crime, drug trafficking and the spread of small arms. On the other hand, most of today's armed conflicts are not between states but within states, involving systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Typical features include collapsed state structures and political mobilisation of populations based on ethnic and religious identity. Traditional means of managing international disputes do not work in these circumstances.

NR: What more could be done to enhance security in the Euro-Atlantic area?

MA: Taken together, these new threats are such that it is extremely difficult for governments to come up with effective responses. Clearly, these problems cannot be solved without effective international cooperation. It is therefore critical, above all, to improve the ways in which we cooperate and exchange information

NR: The Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council has become an important forum for dialogue on security matters. How do you see this institution evolving in the coming years?

MA: The EAPC provides a very useful forum for high-level political consultation and dialogue between Partners and Allies. In the wake of the terrorist attack in the United States, I see even greater possibilities for cooperation in the EAPC. This depends very much on how the situation is handled, but I see great possibilities for transatlantic cooperation between the United States, Europe and Russia in the EAPC.

NR: Both NATO and the European Union are considering expansion at present. What potential problems do you foresee?

MA: The enlargement of NATO, from an organisational point of view, is an easier exercise. When it comes to the European Union, it is clear that we have to examine both the decision-making processes and the institutions themselves. I have advocated the enlargement of the European Union for many years and therefore see more possibilities than problems. I am also sympathetic to those countries wishing to join NATO. Above all, they want to secure a peaceful atmosphere within which to develop democratic traditions, respect for human rights and the rule of law. The challenge is for existing members and applicant countries alike to utilise the coming years to make sure that the enlargement process is successful.

NR: You have deep insight into Slobodan Milosevic's role in the wars of Yugoslav dissolution. How does a mediator negotiate with someone of his ilk?

MA: I first met Mr Milosevic when I was chairman of the Bosnia and Herzegovina working group at the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia in Geneva from August 1992 until October 1993. But if you look at my CV, you realise that almost all my interlocutors have been rather difficult personalities. In South Africa before democratisation took place, for example, we had to negotiate with individuals who were not especially forthcoming. This was a good experience for dealing with Mr Milosevic. But it is important to remember that Viktor Chernomyrdin and I were not negotiating with Mr Milosevic. We were simply presenting an offer that would facilitate an end to the bombing, provided that he committed the Yugoslav government to certain principles.

NR: How important will Slobodan Milosevic's trial be?

MA: Mr Milosevic knew before we went to Belgrade that he had been indicted. At the time, however, I believe that he never thought he would be going to The Hague. Indeed, this matter was not raised during our discussions. I think in general it is important that all political leaders are made aware that they cannot escape justice, if they misbehave to the extent that is the case here. Perhaps that is the best form of preventive diplomacy.

NR: Are the various Balkan peace processes on track, or should the international community change tack?

MA: I always look at the Balkans in the light of what we have learned elsewhere in Europe. Take, for example, the unification process in Germany. At the time of unification, my German friends said that the process would take one generation. However, I recently met people working on these issues there, who said that we should expect the process to take as much as two generations. It is not only a question of administrative solutions, but also a mental and psychological process. If it takes one to two generations in Germany, it will definitely take longer in the Balkans. As long as the international community is prepared to commit to staying there for 10 to 20 years, we will be able to set short-term implementation targets and take the process forward. The challenge is, however, enormous. Recent opinion polls have shown that some 62 per cent of Bosnians between the ages of 14 and 30 wanted to leave the country. Clearly, a lot of work remains to be done. That said, we have both achieved and learned a lot as well. We are beginning to establish functioning institutions. Elections take place on a regular basis. People are learning to respect democratic processes. And local people are beginning to run key institutions. That is much better than having the international community running the process and the locals criticising what we are doing.

NR: The international community has invested many billions of dollars in the former Yugoslavia in the past decade. Are there more effective and timely ways of managing, or heading off conflict, that you would advocate?

MA: One lesson of the international community's experience in the Balkans is the importance of creating a conceptual framework in which to operate and analysing all actions and policies. In the absence of an intellectual framework, we risk simply wasting our money. It is therefore extremely important to finance some of the think tanks working on these issues in Europe. In the past year and a half, I've read some very interesting studies carried out by the European Stability Initiative, with whom as chairman of the East-West Institute, I collaborated on a project evaluating Stability Pact programmes. It is important to make such studies available to a much wider audience.

NR: Since leaving political office, you have been working on a number of initiatives to improve international responses to crises. What are these and how might they contribute?

MA:I have initiated three activities via my association, the Crisis Management Initiative. Firstly, I am working to improve the use of information technology in crisis management. Having run a complex international mission myself in Namibia from 1989 to 1990, I am aware how useful it would have been had I been able to tie the whole operation together with the kind of technology, which was not available at the time. Indeed, when head of administration at the United Nations, I reformed the way in which information technology was used. Technology makes it possible to bring people together easily, to share information, and to save time and money. Secondly, I am working to improve civilian responses to crises. If we compare the preparedness of the military with that of civilians for crisis-management tasks, the difference is enormous. The military has well-established training patterns and no one is sent on a peacekeeping mission without prior training. The same cannot be said for civilians. In the European Union we need to create a group of civilians who have undergone specialised training for crisis-management operations. There should be common teaching for everybody and more tailored programmes for the different professions. If such a programme can be set up, we will be better prepared to deal with crises. Thirdly, I have been promoting the idea of a crisis-management portal on the internet to bring together analysts, decision-makers, journalists and other parties interested in crisis management to provide them with the tools to generate, disseminate and accumulate related knowledge. I hope such a portal could also be used as an active discussion forum.

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