Podium: Knut Vollebaek: Modern conflicts and the legacy of ancient Greece

Taken from the Fridtjof Nansen Memorial Lecture, delivered by the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs

THE ANCIENT Greek political thinkers sought to achieve the ideal state, in which conflict would be eliminated in the interests of the good life for all. But they were also the first to insist that no real state, past or present, had attained or even approached this goal.

Today we are facing a number of ethnic, religious and cultural conflicts threatening peace and stability on several continents. Our challenge is how to contribute to reconciliation and understanding, and create the necessary confidence on which to bridge these conflicts and build a peaceful future. That is the challenge we are facing in the war-torn Balkans, where conflicts have led to the loss of so many lives and caused so much suffering to millions of people.

The conflicts following the break-up of Yugoslavia have been at the forefront of the attention of the international community during the Nineties. That goes for my own country, too. Our commitment to peace and stability in Europe, to promote democracy and respect for human rights, is also reflected in our taking on the responsibility of chairing the OSCE this year.

Our task is to provide people - every individual - with a choice. It is to allow them to have their own political views, their own religions and beliefs, their own ethnic affiliations - and still live side by side.

In the Kosovo crisis, an extensive military operation was chosen as a last resort. Taking up arms is a failure in itself. Employing force has enormous human and material costs. It leaves behind a legacy of hatred.

The UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, put his finger on the greatest dilemma in crisis management today. Like Ulysses passing the sirens, we can tie ourselves to the mast and insist on a mandate from the Security Council. But then we shall also have tied our hands if one of the five permanent members lays down a veto.

On the other hand, if we no longer require an explicit UN mandate, we shall lower the threshold for intervention and may pave the way for the misuse of intervention in pursuit of other political objectives. We need to contribute to what Kofi Annan has called "a culture of prevention".

Long-lasting stability can be achieved only if Yugoslavia's present isolation is broken. We must include the Serbs in the stabilisation process. However, Belgrade has chosen to isolate itself from Europe. I do not foresee a normalisation of relations as long as President Milosevic's regime remains in power. We should, however, respond actively to human needs and support the political opposition in order to break the isolation.

Peace and stability in Kosovo is a key to stability in the whole of southeastern Europe. It is clear that Albanians and Serbs still have a long way to go before they can live together in peace. As long as hatred prevails in Kosovo, it is virtually impossible to start rebuilding the province, to establish democratic institutions or to develop a vigorous economy. I have appealed to the leaders of all communities, including religious leaders, to encourage their people to work towards peace. I have stressed that if the violence continues there will be only one loser, the people of Kosovo.

Confidence-building acts can be carried out only by the parties to a conflict. Only they can move the peace process forward, through their actions and involvement.

The OSCE can never substitute for any of the parties - not before, not during or after the escalation of a crisis into a full-blown conflict. What we can offer is advice, personnel, a supportive political framework and a long-term commitment. What we need is for the parties to show political courage and a sense of responsibility. And, above all, we must remember that actions speak louder than words.

But as we step into the 21st century, let us not forget the legacy of the ancient Greeks. They knew that formal agreements and charters are never ends in themselves. People and their actions are what really count. What mattered for security and stability in the Greek city state, and what matters today, is that people act in a way that makes them worthy of confidence and respect.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week