By Johan Galtung
May 2, 2016
Dear Members of the Iceland Allthing Foreign Affairs Committee,
I have been asked to come to Iceland to answer that question; thanks indeed for inviting me to address you. And to apologize, as a Norwegian, for our occupation of Iceland 1262-1386 instead of sending mediators to help settle your civil war. Our century long colonization does not become better because Denmark colonized you five centuries, 1386-1918; and more deeply. But you are now your own, with a wonderful language and literature; right now with a problematic economy and polity.
Reykjavík has a very good name internationally as the venue of the 11-12 October 1986 summit meeting of the Cold War superpowers. The meeting of US President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev at Höfdi did not by itself end with an agreement. But it was the beginning of the end of the Cold War three years later, and as such made world history.
So why not build on that, making a Reykjavik Mediation Center, RMC, politically and internationally independent, and on Iceland’s location between West and East, USA and Russia? Look at the map.
For Reykjavík to invite USA and Russia, with Kiev and Donetsk. Maybe also Brussels, in the sense of NATO and EU. Issue: the conflict in and around Ukraine–meaning “at the border”, between two nations, Catholic-Ukrainian and Orthodox-Russian; with much hatred and violence.
Very dangerous, some speak of a Third World War coming. Inviting them would be a signal of world concern, offering a venue for open talks without conditions. Iceland has little mediation capacity today, but Icelanders would be present and learn from the occasion.
Add to this an invitation to the UN to station UN Peacekeeping Forces in Iceland, using the vast vacant lands between Keflavík and Reykjavík for training. That would add peace as a source of income to fisheries and tourism, and lift Iceland out of its Third World economy.
A peace state helps itself by helping others. Nevertheless, two problems:
First, a peace state can neither be allied to a state that killed more than 20 million in 37 countries since WWII nor member of an offensive alliance. Either the USA and NATO become more defensive or Peace State Iceland has to distance itself, gradually, carefully; keeping good relations. Iceland’s security would be better served by using Keflavík for UNPKF than for USA-NATO, and by solving conflicts.
Second, if you want to help solving conflicts start with your own.
Iceland was a victim of giving primacy to the financial over the real economy; and the financial collapse held Icelanders accountable for incompetent banking and naive creditors. That whole system has to be overhauled, and Iceland could make a virtue of its vice by putting the whole issue on the agenda for the Reykjavík Mediation Center.
Do not exclude the possibility of inviting the Security Council and, more importantly, the General Assembly for a session. After few years of experience a UN Conflict Transformation Agency? Apart from the unfortunate incident in connection with the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Iceland has attacked nobody–as opposed to Norway and Denmark in Libya–and could easily put together its own defensive defense based on non-provocative, non-offensive arms. Just in case.
What is mediation? Talking with all parties, excluding nobody, asking questions such as, “How is the Ukraine you would like to see?”, “What was the worst, the best that happened?” Testing the answers for legitimacy (law, human rights, basic needs), and help bridging the legitimate goals by some changes in reality, like a smart federation.
Both for the negative peace of conciling trauma and solving conflict, removing causes of violence; and for the positive peace of building equitable relations for mutual and equal benefit, and harmony through empathy with all parties. A good mediator has to be constructive, empathetic and creative. Not easy, but it can be learnt.
You may feel that Iceland is so small, and the Big–USA-Russia-China-Islam-EU–so Big. Exactly your comparative advantage! You cannot be suspected of playing classical big power games for regional or world hegemony. You can become big by playing peace games instead.
Identify in the Five Big both the Bad and the Good, maybe as:
• USA: killing all over the world; but very innovative, much freedom;
• Russia: authoritarian; but de-imperializing almost without violence;
• China: China-centered; but holistic-dialectic, in search of harmony;
• Islam: the only truth for everybody; but with togetherness, sharing;
• EU: inequality, loneliness and egoism; but war is very unlikely.
Then, try to link the good in the parties, keeping the bad in your mind, not up front. Imagine USA learning to de-imperialize with grace from Russia and Russia learning to give people more freedom to use their innovative capacity from the USA! And so on and so forth, down the list. Moreover, imagine Iceland learning from the good in all five–you would grow, solving the problems of your economy and polity. The world is so rich, there is so much to learn–with an open mind.
Iceland has a hidden resource, its people, in direct democracy, giving them the final word in referenda in tricky issues. Switzerland has 1 permille of the world and 60% of the referenda. Learn from them.
However, there are also other forms of democracy than through debate, voting, and the arithmetic magic of 50%: the ancient Chinese petition democracy, dialogue democracy to consensus, and idea democracy. How?
Norway had a fishing town to where the fish no longer came. Crisis; experts from Oslo were useless. The mayor: Dear citizens, put your ideas in the town hall mailbox Sunday before midnight. Soon after, the town had 150% employment. Trust demos, the people, go for the best ideas, do not count, no arithmetic democracy. Ask people in Iceland:
Dear citizens, put your best ideas about the economy and Iceland as a peace state in the Allthing mailbox. You will be amply rewarded.
And make the Office of the President an Office of Peace with a president who can serve peace around the world. Bottom and top: unite!
Originally publishd at Transcend Media Service here.