Remarks by Mrs. Tarja Halonen, Former President of Finland, at the Plenary Session of the 13th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club

Sochi,  October 27, 2016

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for the organizers of Valdai Club for having invited me to participate in this panel. The theme is very relevant and timely, as the world has seen new dynamics that affect us all from the global order to local activism.

I am very glad that my colleagues and good friends, former Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Heinz Fischer, are here also sharing this podium. We have worked together many times during the past decades and I think we share many ideas about the world and how we would like it to develop in the future.

The phrase “international development for the new world” – as used in the title of this panel – rings a bell and takes me back to the years of George Bush Senior and Mikhail Gorbachev, and others before them who spoke about the New World Order. The new order happened partially as was envisaged and partially not. And I am not sure if we can talk about “order”. The optimism was welcome and we have achieved a lot. The world has changed. However, not everyone understood that the world would consist of many powerful players – multipolarization. Collective global action has faced many challenges particularly in the field of global security policy.

Change is also always an opportunity. Things can go right or wrong. Today, despite efforts to stabilize international relations, the global economy and human wellbeing on a good sustainable path, wars, disasters, economic turbulence, slowly advancing crises such as climate change and desertification happen. This is a world of uncertainty. People feel it everywhere and they doubt the future. It is somewhat paradoxical as we have advanced so much.

Now this is the world in which we live in and in which we have to build the foundations for a sustainable future. We need to be able to work on different fronts and with complex dynamics at the same time. Even as violent conflicts unfortunately continue, at least a global understanding of what sustainable development is has evolved – maybe we could refer to that as the “order” part. The news media has not been as much concerned about peace and sustainable development as it is about conflicts, but that realization is not really “news” either.

The Agenda 2030 adopted at the UN in September 2015 provides a clear and strong framework within which to work. The fight against inequalities is at the core. And particularly the fight against gender inequalities. Since the Rio+20 Summit we have said that we have overused our natural resources, but underused the human potential of especially women – and also the poor and the youth.

Much political commitment was shown in New York in 2015, but now promises have to be kept and leaders will have to deliver. We know what to do, we have the resources and the science – it is a matter of political will. It is not only morally right and absolutely necessary, but also preventive work, a good investment and smart economics. The pay back will be considerable.

The UN has traditionally had three pillars: the security, human rights and development. On the development and rights side things have progressed historically. Conflicts however seem to continue to be harsh and violent and continuous.

As I said, unfortunately the time of catastrophes and extreme armed conflicts is not over. The traditional wars are very rare, but armed conflicts are deeply affecting the whole society and civilian life. In armed conflicts women and children are targeted even purposefully. I have worked for the last years with different UN bodies and working groups to advance the rights and health and wellbeing of women and children – and therefore it is horrible and very sad to see what’s going on Syria and Yemen and other places.

Sad enough, sometimes military power has to be used to stop violence. But peace with arms is not easy. We cannot accept the suffering of children and civilians more generally. With globalization we know what is happening in real time all over the world. And the people react worldwide. People’s sense and understanding of what is right need to be respected and supported.

My home Church in Kallio, Helsinki, tolled the church bells for many weeks up until the UN Day on October 24th to commemorate the civilian victims in Aleppo. Over a hundred churches across Finland joined and also many abroad. Churches in Finland have also kept their doors open for those asylum seekers who have not been granted refugee status. Violence has to stop in Syria and in Yemen.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.