Ålands fredsinstitut
The Åland Islands Peace Institute

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Heidi Öst shares her time between the Mediation Office and her position as a researcher at the Åland Islands Peace Institute. 

The blog is written by the peace institute's present or former staff, guest researchers, board members or invited guest writers. The opinions are the author's own.

At a seminar organised by the Tampere Peace Research Institute the discussion focused particularly on the role of small and middle sized countries as well as NGO's in international conflict mediation. A lecture by Stein Tønnesson, research professor at the International Peace Research Institute, Oslo (PRIO), inspired reflections of the limited capacities of small states in international conflict mediation. Mr. Tønnesson noted that the two cases often put forward as examples of Norway's relative success as a mediator in violent conflicts have in fact not led to lasting peace.
The Oslo Accords of the early 1990's has not led to lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, despite providing for the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority; nor did the ceasefire between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers that Norway brokered in 2002 last more than four years and last year the government of Sri Lanka ousted Norway from the peace process. Thus, it is important to note that the demonstrated Norwegian willingness to engage in complex conflict mediation internationally and to spend resources on such mediation efforts as well as the wide acceptance of Norway as a mediator by many parties is not necessarily related to any particular competence to settle such conflicts.
Why have the Norwegian efforts in the two cases referred to above not been successful in terms of outcome in the long term? I would argue that these cases simply indicate the limited capacities of small states in third-party mediations between vastly unequal parties. In such cases, the small state ‘facilitator' can only reach an agreement if it plays by the rules of the stronger party.  (see Henriksen Waage, “Postscript to Oslo: the Mystery of Norway’s Missing Files” available at  http://www.palestine-studies.org/files/pdf/jps/10107.pdf )
In the case of the Oslo Accords, the Norwegians have been harshly critizised for accepting Israeli demands without much further ado, thereby reaching an agreement but no lasting peace.
In the case of Sri Lanka on the other hand, the Norwegians were apparently ousted from the process because they did not accept the rules of the Sri Lankan government. Because of its limited capacities, a small state can only secure a lasting settlement between two unequal parties in certain decisive moments when both parties come to realize it is in their long term interest that the conflict is solved in a sustainable manner.

On August 18th 2009, the Åland Islands Peace Institute invited Aud Lise Norheim to Åland to speak about Norwegian experiences of conflict resolution. You can read about her speech here.