Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to have the opportunity to open the third edition of the Basel Peace Forum here with you tonight in our wonderful Museum of Art. I already had the honor to participate in stimulating exchanges about new ways to address peacebuilding last year. I would thus like to thank the City of Basel, Minister Engelberger, Leonhardt Burckhardt as chair of the Basel Peace Forum and my most distinguished predecessor Jakob Kellenberger with the organising team of Swisspeace for having invited me again this year.
Let us spend a few minutes thinking about what the past year was all about in terms of peacebuilding. While on one hand we may say that we live in an era which for many people can be considered the best of all times – positive developments reaching from levels of prosperity to education, from access to food and health to opportunities presented by new technology, it is also fair to say that our period is marked by deep and growing uncertainty and insecurity.
We are, in fact, confronted with three levels of challenges which we could witness over the past year: first, many of our societies have become more polarized and fragmented. Sometimes – and we do not have to look very far – people take to the streets, and it can turn into violent clashes, like yesterday in France. But it has certainly become much more difficult to build consensus within communities which is, after all the basis of us living together in vibrant democracies.
The second level of crisis, directly linked to the just mentioned one, is the weakening of institutions, be it by bad governance, by corruption, by the disrespect of the separation of powers or by the just described lack of readiness to compromise and reach for consensus. This too needs no long explanation, looking at the longest ever government shutdown in the US.
At a third level, the international or multilateral order – as built after the Second World War and as a response to this catastrophe for humankind – is challenged. As Rob Malley, President of the International Crisis Group rightly put it in a recently published article, “the international order has been thrown into turmoil”, which is largely due to a growing “rejection of international institutions and rules”.
There are many examples to illustrate the consequences of the three levels of crisis: terrorism, climate change and fragile states figure at the center of the security agenda. Humanitarian needs have reached new heights. Yemen, for example, after more than four years of conflict, has turned into the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with 16 million people facing severe food insecurity. In Afghanistan, in 2018 alone, 40’000 civilians and combatants were killed. Also, on European soil, the security situation remains unstable. The conflict in eastern Ukraine has reached its fifth year, with no end in sight. Meanwhile over 10’000 people lost their lives in this conflict.
Regional and geopolitical tensions and lack of trust are reaching worrisome levels, while threats – from weapons of mass destruction to climate change related conflicts to the risks of a dark net – are increasing.
But great challenges – thanks to the positive power and commitment of so many people - that you are here tonight is a proof that you form part of that family - lead to great efforts for new answers and innovative solutions. We can see these on all three levels I mentioned: on the multilateral level, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, together with many countries and stakeholders, has developed a new concept of a more holistic approach to peace, reaching from prevention to reconstruction, which is called “sustaining peace”. We can see the first modest results of this renewed effort. Even in a complex context like in Yemen, a very first step towards ending the conflict was taken and endorsed by the UN Security Council most recently.
When it comes to State actors, in such an unsettling environment, the presence of a neutral and credible soft power able to mediate is more crucial than ever. In fact, Switzerland has managed to strengthen its role as bridge builder. Our Federal Constitution of the year 2000 enhanced the ground for this role since responsibility for safeguarding Switzerland’s interests and values are enshrined as a task of foreign policy. This includes a commitment to the promotion of peace, prosperity and democracy, the respect for human rights and the protection of the environment. And the Swiss government has developed a wide range of innovative instruments to promote peace and security, for example by offering good offices, facilitation and mediation services, by engaging in efforts to deal with the past, to support democratic processes or prevent violent extremism. Thanks to our neutrality, humanitarian tradition and longstanding experience, we enjoy a high degree of credibility and are a sought-after partner.
In recent years we have been asked to provide our services in a number of conflicts. Let me name just a few:
In the context of Eastern Ukraine, the Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini (coming from Basel) acted as the OSCE’s Special Envoy and facilitated the so-called Minsk agreement. And even if the implementation of this agreement is unsatisfactory, with the Swiss Coordinator of the Working Group on Humanitarian Issues, Ambassador Toni Frisch, Switzerland can contribute on a daily basis to solving problems, for example with prisoner’s exchanges, which led to the release of approximately 300 persons one year ago. Other examples include Colombia, Moçambique or Zimbabwe, or our more classical good offices such as protection mandates between Russia and Georgia or, one formally concluded last year, between the regional rivals Iran and Saudi-Arabia.
Having said that, in today’s multipolar and multiconceptual world, peacebuilding is not a One-country-show. This is why we closely cooperate with like-minded states, international and regional organizations such as the UN and the OSCE – you will hear our Swiss Secretary General from the OSCE tomorrow morning - as well as with civil society organisations. It is only thanks to these many and diverse partnerships that we can foster innovative ideas and nurture a joint vision to advance the peace agenda.
That brings me back here to you, to our most precious partner Swisspeace, the Basel Peace Forum and the Museum of Art. I think there are two things, which make this Forum special and therefore relevant as a contribution to this complex effort we call “peacebuilding”: Perspectives and Methods. Eyes and Hands, one might say. Peace has become such a strange animal in our modern world, that not only do we have to look at it comprehensively, like in the Sustaining Peace Concept, but with many different glasses, in order to understand its mechanics.
I am therefore delighted that this opening takes place in a Museum, which hosts some of the greatest pieces of art worldwide. Who if not artists are able to take a truly different angle? In fact, many of the artists, whose works are displayed here, played an important role in society inspiring the audience to look at the world from different perspectives. They were pioneers of their time, such as Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli), whose work is part of the temporary exhibition. Fuseli was one of the most unconventional and innovative artists of the late eighteenth century, as he used supernatural themes during the height of the so-called “Age of Reason”. With his innovative ideas, he exerted an influence on future artists, thinkers and even filmmakers in the modern age.
To draw a parallel to our Forum: I don’t think we need supernatural forces, but this conference is an opportunity to discuss and challenge existing peace policy and practice. I also see it as an opportunity to look at ways on how to bolster existing policies with innovative ideas. Especially in the world’s long-term conflicts, innovation is key.
This is why Switzerland has for example been supporting partnerships with the private sector, including in the humanitarian field where businesses can play a crucial role as interlocutors for humanitarian organisations and their concerns. We support the humanitarian impact bonds of the ICRC and I am thus glad to see that this year’s Forum includes a panel discussion on Humanitarian Actors & Businesses.
And I am looking forward to listening to the keynote speech and the panel debate on “Catalyzing Wealth for Peace”.
Let me close with the following remarks: In a highly complex world, problems demand highly complex solutions. Thus, developing novel approaches as the ones you are going to look into is paramount. And if you do this, conscious that there are limits to what we can accomplish from outside, however innovative our ideas are, you are on the right path, since we should – as one condition for progress – always be guided by a spirit of humility. But as a second condition, and what counts most, I see our commitment. Or as another artist or universalist, Leonardo da Vinci, once said: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” In this sense, I am positive that today’s and tomorrow’s discussions will help us find ways to do more and to do better in a near future. Our common peace policy shall be a catalyzer to bring about change.
I wish you all a pleasant evening and very fruitful discussions!