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A Peace Candidate for President of Iceland



Dietrich Fischer

Director of the European University Center for Peace Studies (EPU) and Co-Director of TRANSCEND

TFF associate

June 5, 2004

The vast majority of people around the world are much better off in peacetime than in war.  Only a few arms merchants and power-hungry politicians benefit from war, at the expense of soldiers who are sent into battle, and the ever growing number of civilian victims of war.

Iceland is in a unique position to promote a new agenda for world peace, based on its history of the Althing, the world's oldest democratic legislative assembly, established in 930.  It is a forum where differences can be aired and mutually acceptable solutions explored.  In the year 1000, Norwegian missionaries wanted to impose Christianity in Iceland.  A religious war threatened.  But at the Althing, it was decided to adopt Christianity, without outlawing traditional rituals if done in private, and this helped avoid a war.  While people talk, they don't shoot.

In addition, Icelanders have never served in military forces. This may well be a key reason why Iceland has enjoyed centuries of peace.  Similarly, Costa Rica has enjoyed peace since it abolished its army after a brief civil war in 1948, while its Central American neighbors suffered from war, and Costa Rica's per capita income is twice that of its neighbors, because it invested in its civilian economy what its neighbors spent for their military.

In November 2002, the current government of Iceland proposed to use Icelandic passenger aircraft to carry U.S. weapons and troops to the Gulf.  Thor Magnusson, founder of Peace 2000 (,, was arrested and imprisoned after sending an email to the police, aviation authorities, airlines and government officials warning that if Icelandic aircraft would carry weapons and troops to support an illegal war against Iraq, the airlines would become legitimate war targets and could be attacked by terrorist organizations.  The Icelandic government tried to get Thor sentenced for up to 16 years in prison based on new terrorist laws.  In February 2004, Thor won the case both in Reykjavik District Court and the Icelandic High Court.  "Our victory is not winning the case in court, it is that we stopped this crazy plan of using passenger aircraft of Icelandair to carry weapons and troops to the Gulf" said Thor.

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If Iceland elects Thor Magnusson as President, he will give voice to the vast majority of people around the world who want peace, but are seldom heard.  His platform includes three key points: (1) setting up an institute for democratic studies that will help develop true democracy, as a model for the entire world; (2) converting the US military base in Iceland into the headquarters of a United Nations peacekeeping force; (3) creating an institute for conflict resolution where conflict parties from around the world can meet with experienced mediators.

The history of Iceland can serve as a blueprint for a peaceful world and the transition of nations from national military forces to common security.  Negotiating a peaceful agreement before violence breaks out is not only much less costly, but can save many lives.

Dialogue forums, modelled after the Icelandic Althing, can be formed in conflict regions around the world, including such places as the Middle East, where citizens with different positions and viewpoints can assemble and explore peaceful solutions to the conflict.

The current justice minister wants to introduce an Icelandic army.  Thor has a much better plan.  As the American troops are now scheduled to leave their military base in Iceland, he proposes to use it as headquarters of an international peace-keeping force.  Nations that want to abolish their national military can sign a contract to be protected by that force, for a relatively small annual fee, as Alan F. Kay and Hazel Henderson ( have long advocated.  For each country to maintain its own military forces is as wasteful as if each building in a town had its own fire brigade, instead of the house owners pooling their resources for one fire brigade that can be deployed wherever and whenever needed.  Countries that take steps to avoid war, such as accepting binding arbitration in international disputes, can get reduced rates, in the same way as households that keep a fire-extinguisher can get reduced fire insurance rates.

Thor also plans to establish an International Conflict Resolution Center, where parties to conflicts from around the world can be invited for talks, assisted by experienced, creative mediators, who can help the parties find solutions that meet everyone's essential needs.

There are many examples from history where individuals were able to avert bloodshed through original proposals that were acceptable to all sides.  For example, a civil war in Romania between the ethnic Rumanian majority and the country's ethnic Hungarian minority was averted through mediation that produced a solution that allows the Hungarians to use their own language in schools and local newspapers, in return for a promise not to seek secession.  This involved only a few people, for a relatively short time, whereas sending a peacekeeping force to quell fighting after violence has erupted takes tens of thousands of troops, for years,  and costs many lives.

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The series of wars between Ecuador an Peru over an uninhabited small border territory ended when the Norwegian peace researcher Johan Galtung proposed to make the disputed territory a "bi-national zone", jointly administered by both governments, with a natural park to attract tourists and bring more income to both countries.  He pointed out that this cost only $250 for a meal with the incoming president and a night in a hotel, whereas the first Gulf war cost $100 billion, not counting the destruction it caused, and the lives lost.

What the world needs is an active peace policy that anticipates dangers and avoids them before they are upon us, instead of reacting afterwards, as is usually the case.  Better a fence at the top of a cliff than an ambulance waiting at the bottom.

The new threat of international terrorism cannot be conquered with force alone.  Killing terrorists turns them into martyrs, which attract more followers.  Terrorism resembles the ancient dragon, the "hydra," with multiple heads, and each time a head is cut off, ten new ones grow.  It is necessary to find the root causes, what motivates men and women to commit suicide for a cause they believe in.  Only if we address the roots, can we hope to eliminate terrorism.

The policy of nuclear deterrence pursued by the great powers is absurd.  It is a mutual suicide pact.  It is as if we packed our car full of dynamite, to explode on impact, in order to deter others from hitting our car.  But accidents do happen.  We better establish traffic rules for international relations to prevent deadly clashes.

Is a peace policy utopian?  On the contrary, it is the only realistic approach that can save us.  The greatest utopians are those who call themselves "realists", because they believe we can survive the nuclear age with power politics of the past.

The world needs a peace president who can help lift the veil from our eyes that has blinded us for too long, and help us initiate the institutions and policies that can help restore peace in the world.  Thor Magnusson can and will do that.  Iceland has a great opportunity to lead the world to peace.  I hope Iceland's voters will seize that opportunity.

A smaller country like Iceland is in a much better position to undertake peace initiatives than one of the big powers, like the United States or Russia, or the former colonial powers UK, France, Germany and Italy, because they would be suspected of pursuing their own interests.  Iceland, without a history of colonization, is above that suspicion.

There are precedents.  In 1973, Finnish President Urho Kekkonen invited all European countries to send delegations to the Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which lasted until 1975, and prepared the way for the end of the Cold War.  All European countries except Albania came.  As President, Kekkonen had the status to convene such a meeting.

A second example is Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez.  After he was elected in 1986, he consulted with all the other Central American Presidents about the unsuccessful draft agreements produced during the Contadora process.  He rewrote them based on his consultations, and in a meeting in Guatemala City on August 7, 1987, he got the Presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua to sign with him an agreement that provided for dialogue between governments and opposition groups, ending the shipment of arms to insurgents, amnesty for insurgents if they lay down their arms, democracy, and free elections.  The agreement, Esquipulas II, named after the location of the initial meeting in Guatemala, became the basis for peace agreements not only for the Contra war in Nicaragua, but also for later peace agreements in El Salvador and Guatemala.  Oscar Arias won the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize.

Thor Magnusson, as President of Iceland, will make use of the opportunities offered by this position to put Iceland on the map as a source of peace in the world.  It has already happened elsewhere, which proves that it is possible.


© TFF & the author 2004  


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