Obituary: Johan Jorgen Holst
Friday 14 January 1994
JOHAN JORGEN HOLST had been preparing all his life for the great day of the Israeli-PLO peace agreement last September, writes Emma Rothschild. He was one of the most profoundly international of leading European political figures in the 1990s. His own intellectual and political journey was a reflection of the way in which international relationships have changed. His early interest, as a scholar, was in strategic studies. By the early 1980s, he was increasingly concerned with nuclear disengagement and confidence-building measures.
The Norwegian Institute for International Affairs under his leadership became a centre for reflection about the role of the United Nations in international security, and in particular of peace-keeping forces in the Middle East. By the mid- 1980s, too, Holst was increasingly interested in economic and environmental ideas of security, in part as a consequence of having worked closely with Gro Harlem Brundtland on the World Commission on Environment and Development.
Holst was a visionary of the post-cold-war world before it happened, and he was in an outstanding position to influence events himself in the 1990s. In 1993 he was one of the very few European political figures to have made the transition from being Minister of Defence to being Foreign Minister. His internationalism in turn made him into a popular political personality in Norway: returning from the Middle East to bouquets of red roses in the sunny September election campaign.
He was looking ahead, now, to the intense discussion over Norwegian membership of the European Union. With his wife Marianne Heiberg, he had been deeply involved in peace-keeping and peace-making in the Middle East from the mid-1980s onwards. The peace process of 1992-93 was the outcome of long, patient efforts to understand the foundations of security in the region. He was, I think, the first Nato Minister of Defence ever to take paternity leave when he looked after his beloved son Edvard, now aged four. Edvard was in turn an important figure in the Middle East peace process.
I first knew Holst in 1981 during the preparation of the Palme Commission report, Common Security, together with Gro Harlem Brundtland, David Owen, Cyrus Vance and others. Holst wrote a great deal of the report: Olof Palme used to call him 'the unsinkable' and Gro Brundtland said on Norwegian television last night that he was 'not someone who gave up'.
In the last three years he had been engaged, among his many other activities, in encouraging new work on common security in the post-war world, involving the FAFO Institute in Oslo, whose work on living standards in the Occupied Territories provided the starting-point for the Middle East peace agreement, as well as groups in Cambridge and Harvard. The object of this work was to provide a space for reflection about the long term in the midst of the turbulent political transformation now under way: the space - Holst said - we never have time for in politics.
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