In Global Peace Through The Global University System

2003 Ed. by T. Varis, T. Utsumi, and W. R. Klemm

University of Tampere, Hameenlinna, Finland






Martti Ahtisaari

President of Finland from 1994 to 2000



J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding

Washington D.C.

December 1, 2000



Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:


It is a great honor to be awarded the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding.  The list of past recipients of this prize is truly impressive and I feel privileged to be in such company.


I am particularly pleased to receive an award whose first recipient was Nelson Mandela.  In accepting the inaugural Fulbright Prize in 1993 President Mandela called Fulbright Program participants "men and women who have chosen the world to be the theater of their efforts."  He observed that Fulbright and other international educational exchange programs have now produced generations of men and women who are not satisfied with addressing and solving problems only within the borders of their own countries.  It is upon the vision, skills and dedication of such people that we must call to solve today's conflicts.  In my office, I have two paintings and a piece of quarry rock from Robben Island given to me by President Mandela.  The maximum security prison on Robben Island is where Mandela spent the bulk of his 27 year imprisonment.  The piece of rock symbolizes for me the persistence and determination that can overcome even the greatest difficulties.  It reminds my visitors and me daily that no problem is too difficult to be solved.  This lesson of persistence is one that I would like to carry across to my own continent.


I plan to speak to you today about my experience of conflict resolution in Kosovo and about the future prospects of the Balkan region.  The Balkans have been in the spotlight of international attention throughout the past decade.  The disintegration of Yugoslavia resulted in four armed conflicts - on the territories of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo - and in immeasurable human suffering.  We have all witnessed what inciting hatred and intolerance can lead to.


More recently, two months ago, we also had the privilege to witness in Serbia the toppling in an election of the man who carries much of the responsibility for the violence and destruction.  With the removal of Slobodan Milosevic from power, new possibilities have opened up for stability and prosperity in Yugoslavia and throughout the Balkan region.  Elections have also brought moderate forces into power in Croatia and Kosovo.  Montenegro has held its reformist course.  Bosnia-Herzegovina is recovering slowly.  Albania and Macedonia have resisted being destabilized.


These gains must now be consolidated.  This will require long-term involvement and a joint high intensity strategy in the region by the United States and the European Union countries.  I will return to some of the concrete regional challenges towards the end of my speech.


The Kosovo Peace Process


But I will start with my mission in the spring of 1999.  My involvement in the Kosovo peace process was fairly short, only about eight weeks.  It started with a phone call from Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott on 5 May 1999 and finished with the withdrawal of the Yugoslav Army from Kosovo and the subsequent ending of the NATO bombing campaign.  This was an extremely intensive time period with a lot of excitement and great speed.  For many of my team, the night we spent in Belgrade after presenting the terms of the peace offer to President Milosevic was the first full night's sleep for weeks.


By the beginning of May the crisis had become more and more problematic for the international community.  The air strikes had been in progress for several weeks, but it was increasingly obvious that bombing alone would not lead to a military solution.  Although diplomatic efforts had already failed once, it became necessary to step up the search for a political solution.


The initiative to involve me in this process emerged from talks between the Americans and the Russians in Washington in early May.  They considered it necessary to bring in a third party.  Soon after they contacted me, I discussed the matter also with Chancellor Gerhard Schroder.  Germany held the EU Presidency at the time and the Chancellor proposed that I represent the Union as a whole in efforts to resolve the crisis.  I saw this as the only sensible solution.


Naturally, I considered it my duty to agree to the request made to me in early May.  However, I did not consider my prospects to be very promising.  Already during the first round of contacts, it became evident that there were substantial differences of view on the terms that might form the basis for a solution.  That was what made it so important to get American, Russian and EU representatives around the same table to discuss their differences.


My approach in these trilateral talks between the teams of Deputy Secretary Talbott, President Yeltsin's special envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin and me was simple: rather than becoming wrapped up in questions of prestige, we would concentrate on issues that were both practical and central.  How could the conditions in which the refugees could return safely be created?  What kind of presence would the international community have?  How would the withdrawal of the Serbian forces be effected?  What would be the nature of the interim international administration?


I had been convinced from the outset that an international presence would be credible only if it had a robust mandate and if it was based on contributions from the core NATO countries and also NATO-led.  It was necessary to have American, British, French and German troops participating in the Kosovo peacekeeping force.  Otherwise the refugees would not dare to return to their homes.  Eventually, the Russians also accepted these principles, or at least their core elements.


In these negotiations, Strobe Talbott was indefatigable in his efforts to analyze the ever-changing and complicated situation and to find a solution.  His imagination and diplomatic skills were absolutely essential to taking things forward.  The Russians suggested to me at one point that Talbott be replaced by either State Secretary Albright or Vice President Gore, but I thrust aside this idea by saying that it was important to have someone who knew the substance and had the full confidence of his President.


The achievement of agreement between NATO and the Russians made it possible for me to go to Belgrade with Viktor Chernomyrdin in the beginning of June.  Four weeks of constant hard work yielded fruit: there was not the slightest disagreement between us when we presented the peace offer to President Milosevic.


Mr. Chernomyrdin and I carefully outlined the content of the peace offer to the Yugoslav political and military leaders and, after we had replied to their questions, they withdrew to consider their response.  The following day, the offer that we had brought was presented to the Serbian Parliament and the Yugoslav Federal Government, both of which accepted it.


Diplomacy or Bombs?


The question about what made Milosevic accept the term of the peace offer has often been phrased in terms of juxtaposition.  Was it diplomacy or bombs that ended the war?


I still think that, irrespective of the actual damage done by the air strikes, the bombing campaign achieved its central aim.  It demonstrated that the NATO countries involved were serious.  I am certain that Milosevic would not have accepted the offer with which I went to Belgrade, had it not been for the bombings.  He may also have been aware of the increased readiness of some of the NATO allies to send in ground troops.


The evidence has also led me to believe that the Russians had their own plan for Kosovo, of which Milosevic was aware.  This could have been another factor in the rapid acceptance of the peace settlement by the Yugoslavs.  In the negotiations for the composition of the Kosovo Force, the Russians had insisted on having a separate Russian sector in Kosovo.  When they were unable to secure agreement for their demand, the Russian military made a dash for the Pristina airport and arrived there before the British and American troops.  I have come to believe that the plan by the Russian military was to hold parts of Northern Kosovo and the capital Pristina with the support of Russian troops.  This might have led to the eventual division of Kosovo.


The secret plan of the military did not succeed.  Its implementation was prevented by the refusal of the neighboring states of Yugoslavia to allow the Russians to use their airspace.  They were thus unable to send reinforcements and provide logistics for the troops at Pristina airport.  The stand-off between the Russian and British troops at Pristina airport continued over the period of a few days, however, and the Russians tried to use their soldiers as a means of bargaining for a more significant role within the Kosovo Force.


Now that things have settled, the Russians have participated in KFOR in a committed and constructive manner.  I have often heard the claim that I saved NATO.  But as I told a Russian journalist just two weeks ago in Moscow, we in fact also saved Russia.  Had the agreement not been reached, it would have brought even more forcefully forward the doubt that the Russians did not share the same values as the United States and the Europeans.  This would have isolated Russia - to everyone's detriment.


In the aftermath of my involvement in the Kosovo negotiations, I have given quite a bit of thought to the concept of humanitarian intervention - which is what the Kosovo bombings amounted to.


Humanitarian Intervention


I do not count myself among those who hold onto the concept of sovereignty in its old sense.  In my view, the highest source of sovereign power rests with the people of a state.  I strongly believe that if a government flagrantly violates the human rights of its people, outsiders have the right to intervene on behalf of the people - always when possible with the blessing of the UN Security Council.  With the genocidal crimes in Bosnia-Herzegovina in fresh memory, there was no need to second-guess the readiness of Milosevic's regime for violence in Kosovo.


The Kosovo crisis showed that the populations in Western democracies no longer tolerate such levels of violence.  Everyone was able to witness from their own living rooms the columns of refugees fleeing Kosovo and the cruelty and human suffering caused by Milosevic's tactics.  The pressure to act was enormous.  People demanded that something had to be done.


Milosevic's Defeat


I believe that Serbian society has now itself begun reflecting on the crimes committed in its name.  There have been some very brave and forthright individuals who have spoken out about the atrocities that members of the Yugoslav special forces committed in Kosovo, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Croatia.


I believe that this new mood was also one of the causes for the revolt against Milosevic during the first week of October.  Since the beginning of this year, polls in Yugoslavia had been showing that Milosevic's support base had collapsed.  Milosevic himself was too isolated from the lives of ordinary citizens to understand the profound change that had occurred in Serbian society.  Once the opposition was able to unite around a single candidate, Vojislav Kostunica, the opinion polls consistently predicted an opposition victory.  Still, defeat seemed to come as a complete surprise to Milosevic himself, as well as to many Western leaders and the leaders of neighboring countries.  A poll publicized on 5 September this year showed Kostunica in a 2:1 lead over Milosevic.  In discussions with members of the democratic forces of Serbia I became convinced beyond a doubt that the poll data was correct.  And I was worried about the possibility of violence in the face of the opposition's victory.


On the occasion of handing over the report on Austria's human rights situation to President Jacques Chirac on Friday, 8 September, I told him that the Serbian opposition would win: what would the West do if Milosevic were to open fire on hundreds of thousands of demonstrators?  I also called up Prime Minister Tony Blair and handed over a memo on the situation to American policy makers.  I saw that it was important to sound a wake-up call to the West to recognize a new situation and to prepare for the change of power in Yugoslavia.  When Milosevic tried to obfuscate the result to get a second round, most political observers in the West believed that he would cling to power with the support of the army and police.  At the same time, already during the counting of the votes, it had become clear that even the great majority of the security forces supported Kostunica over Milosevic.  The Serbian opposition supporters took heart when seeing that the police refrained from using force against the striking miners in Kolubara.  The police stood by again on 5 October in Belgrade when the crowds took over the Federal parliament building.


Post-Election Challenges


After the jubilation in Belgrade over Kostunica's victory, the real challenges for the region of course remain.  These include the rebuilding the economies of both Yugoslavia and the other countries of the region, of creating democratic administrative structures and institutions, and bringing a functioning civil society into being.  They also include resolving questions on the status of Montenegro and Kosovo in relation to Yugoslavia and creating a functioning state in Bosnia-Herzegovina.


The key now is to maintain the level of engagement by the Western countries in supporting the region on its road to stability and prosperity.  Milosevic has left the economy of Serbia in ruins.  The state reserves had dwindled to a mere 350 million dollars.  Serbia's energy debt to Russia alone was some 400-450 million dollars.  The other economies in the region have also been hit extremely hard.  The job of reforming and building the institutions to enable economic recovery will not be an easy one.


We must be prepared to remain involved for the long term, for ten or twenty years - until the job is done.  Our joint commitment to the Balkan region must be no less than that of the commitment of the United States in building up Western Europe after the Second World War.  A stable, democratic and prosperous Europe, at last united, is a vision shared by all of us.


The Future of the Balkans


Rebuilding key public institutions is the most urgent need of both Serbia and all of its neighbors.  Without a solid institutional framework for the exercise of public power, free and fair elections will not lead to representative or accountable government.  Without effective institutions to implement the rule of law, states will not be able to provide protection of human rights and minority rights.  Without stable economic regulatory structures to establish a climate favorable to business enterprise, neither privatization nor trade liberalization will generate sustainable economic growth.


The countries of the region face major difficulties in reforming themselves, and may become trapped in a cycle of unsuccessful reforms.  Weak public administrations are called on to carry out reforms that are beyond their human and budgetary resources.  The countries of the region are unlikely to be able to emerge from this cycle without significant external assistance.


Reforming Core Institutions


It is important to set clear priorities and to concentrate resources on reforming the core state institutions, among which are reliable law enforcement structures, a functioning central bank with stable fiscal and monetary policy, and tax and customs administrations capable of collecting revenue for the state budget.


The traditional democratization approach stresses the development of the NGO and independent media sectors.  These are important as a healthy counterbalance to state power, but as long as the state itself is unable even to deliver basic public goods and services, such as providing for the rule of law, the role of civil society remains limited.


The challenge for all of us is to find more high-intensity ways to help strengthen public institutions in South Eastern Europe.  This is the most direct way of addressing a range of international objectives, from economic development to promoting responsible governance.  It is also the only path to long-term political stability in the region.


Senator Fulbright's Vision


In the beginning of this speech I spoke of the rewards of persistence.  After the Second World War, the political leaders had a vision, which brought stability, prosperity and democracy to war-torn societies of Europe.  Among those leaders was Senator J. William Fulbright.  Last year the U.S.-Finnish Fulbright exchange marked its 50th anniversary.  I would like to salute this exceptional program for the educational and cultural opportunities it has given to my compatriots and to the Americans who have come to Finland under its auspices.  Throughout the world more than 200,000 individuals have participated in Fulbright exchanges.  I share Ambassador Eric Edelman's view that the Fulbright Program is one of the United States' "premier vehicles for intellectual engagement with the rest of the world and one of its wisest investments in the international arena."  What is needed now is a similar vision and commitment, because the task still ahead of us in stabilizing the Balkans is even more complicated and demanding.  We have no alternative but to persist.


Thank you.


Presented December 1, 2000 at a ceremony at the International Trade Center, Washington, D.C.





Author Biographical Sketch


Martti Ahtisaari, Dr.

Former President of Finland

Erottajankatu 11 A

00130 Helsinki, Finland

Tel: +358 9 6987024

Fax: +358 9 6127759




A diplomat for more than 30 years and president of Finland from 1994 to 2000, Martti Ahtisaari has served as peacemaker in some of the world's most troubled areas.  His commitments to strengthening civil society, extending democratic practices, and furthering peaceful cooperation and coexistence have repeatedly led foreign governments to seek his aid in resolving difficult and violent conflicts.


Martti Oiva Kalevi Ahtisaari was born on June 23, 1937, in the city of Viipuri.  He graduated from the University of Oulu in 1959 and joined the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland in 1965.  President Ahtisaari held various posts in the Ministry's Bureau for Technical Co-operation from 1965 to 1972 and held the position of deputy director, Department for International Development Co-operation, the following year.  He went on to serve as ambassador of Finland to the United Republic of Tanzania and was also accredited to Zambia, Somalia, and Mozambique.


In 1977 Martti Ahtisaari became United Nations commissioner for Namibia and in 1978 was appointed special representative of the secretary-general for Namibia.  When his term as commissioner came to an end, he returned to Helsinki to serve in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.  The UN called upon President Ahtisaari once again in 1987, when he was appointed under secretary-general for administration and management.  He retained the title of special representative of the secretary-general for Namibia throughout this time and led the UN's Transition Assistance Group in Namibia from 1989 to 1990.  President Ahtisaari helped to supervise Namibia's move toward independence from South Africa, playing a key role in ensuring a smooth transition through free and fair elections.  In appreciation, the government of Namibia made President Ahtisaari an honorary citizen.


President Ahtisaari assumed the position of secretary of state in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland in 1991.  The following year, he was named chairman of the Bosnia-Herzegovina Working Group of the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia.  He also served as special adviser to the International Conference on the Former Yugoslavia and to the UN secretary-general's special representative for the former Yugoslavia.  In February 1994 Martti Ahtisaari became the first directly-elected president of the Republic of Finland.  During his tenure as president, he led Finland's entry into the European Union and took an active role in Finland's foreign and security policy.  Since leaving office in February 2000, President Ahtisaari has continued his peacemaking efforts.  In May the British government appointed him to the team overseeing the inspections of IRA weapons dumps in Northern Ireland.


This summer the European Court of Human Rights asked President Ahtisaari to participate in a review of the Austrian government's record on human rights.  President Ahtisaari serves in leadership roles in several international institutions and foundations.  He is co-chairman of the EastWest Institute and serves as a member of the joint advisors' group for the Open Society Institute and the Soros Foundation.  He chairs the Balkan Youth and Children Foundation and the Global Commission of the International Youth Foundation, as well as the international board of the War-Torn Societies Project.  He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.  Through these activities, President Ahtisaari maintains his commitment to improving the international community's ability to prevent crisis and conflict.


President Ahtisaari is married to Eeva Ahtisaari.  They have one son, Marko.