National Lutheran News

U.N. diplomat optimistic about global conflict resolution

A Norwegian Lutheran diplomat told a Twin Cities audience that global
disparities are a shame and a judgment on the world’s developed nations. Jan
Egeland, United Nations Special Envoy for Conflict Resolution, was featured
speaker at the Westminster Town Hall Forum in Minneapolis. He said,
“Tonight a billion people will go to bed hungry and without safe drinking
water. Meanwhile, two billion people — including most people in Minnesota
and also in Norway — are living in relative comfort.”

Egeland said such dismal realities as grinding poverty do not discourage him.
“I’m an optimist,” he said. He described how his work through the U.N. had
seen “more successes than failures.”

To illustrate, he pointed to the 2005 Pakistan earthquake. “Over three million
people were left homeless. The United Nations, India and the United States all
came to the rescue. In previous such disasters, people would have waited
until the harsh winter was over to see how many people survived. This time
[2005] there was no appreciable increase mortality. That shows that we truly
can make a difference.”

The Norwegian diplomat said his 31 years of service, during which he’d
visited 100 countries, had taught him several lessons, including:

* Prevention is better than cure. There should have been an early-warning
system for the Indian Ocean tsunami, he said. Why, he wondered, hadn’t one
been put in place, considering the fact that nations around the Pacific Rim
had already taken care of this?

* We must learn to work together as a global community. Said Egeland, the
United Nations is the right arena to do this. “When the United States finally
led a United Nations initiative to build peace [in Liberia], the effort it was
spectacularly successful.”

* We need predictable action on the humanitarian side and the security side
simultaneously. When only one element is present, the result will always be
failure.

* We need to control arms proliferation. Small arms, he said, are currently the
real “weapons of mass destruction.” The weapon of choice for terrorists, he
explained, is the kalishnikoff. “It was supplied by developed nations trying to
buy allies.”

* We need to speak the truth always. “Voiceless people need others to speak
for them,” he said, rather than only in their own self-interest.

* The biggest challenge in front of us now, as a world community, is global
warming and climate change. Said Egeland, “The world’s most vulnerable
people didn’t create this crisis, but they are exactly the ones standing to
suffer most from rising seas and increasingly violent ocean storms.”

* We must be ruthlessly self-critical concerning quality control in our rescue
efforts. Incompetence is unacceptable. Egeland didn’t name the Katrina
disaster directly, but the implication was clear.

Said the diplomat, “I remain an optimist. When you consider the energy and
imagination of the younger generations, what is not possible? Making a
lasting difference is simply a question of will.”

During a question and answer session, Egeland said religion has frequently
hampered efforts toward peace and development. “In the Middle East, for
example, fundamentalists — Christians, Jews and Muslims — are in conflict.
The problem is that all of them are sure they are 100% right, which means
everybody else has to be 100% wrong.” He added, “I’m a Lutheran. I was
taught to be ready to admit that maybe my religion doesn’t have all the
answers. We need to learn to listen to one another.”