Peace State Iceland. Meaning What?

EDITORIAL, 2 May 2016

#426 | Johan Galtung

Dear Members of the Iceland Allthing Foreign Affairs Committee,

          I have been asked to come to Iceland to answer that question; thanks indeed for inviting me to address you.  And to apologize, as a Norwegian, for our occupation of Iceland 1262-1386 instead of sending mediators to help settle your civil war.  Our century long colonization does not become better because Denmark colonized you five centuries, 1386-1918; and more deeply.  But you are now your own, with a wonderful language and literature; right now with a problematic economy and polity.

          Reykjavík has a very good name internationally as the venue of the 11-12 October 1986 summit meeting of the Cold War superpowers. The meeting of US President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev at Höfdi did not by itself end with an agreement. But it was the beginning of the end of the Cold War three years later, and as such made world history.

          So why not build on that, making a Reykjavik Mediation Center, RMC, politically and internationally independent, and on Iceland’s location between West and East, USA and Russia?  Look at the map.

          For Reykjavík to invite USA and Russia, with Kiev and Donetsk.  Maybe also Brussels, in the sense of NATO and EU. Issue: the conflict in and around Ukraine–meaning “at the border”, between two nations, Catholic-Ukrainian and Orthodox-Russian; with much hatred and violence.

          Very dangerous, some speak of a Third World War coming.  Inviting them would be a signal of world concern, offering a venue for open talks without conditions.  Iceland has little mediation capacity today, but Icelanders would be present and learn from the occasion.

          Add to this an invitation to the UN to station UN Peacekeeping Forces in Iceland, using the vast vacant lands between Keflavík and Reykjavík for training.  That would add peace as a source of income to fisheries and tourism, and lift Iceland out of its Third World economy.

          A peace state helps itself by helping others.  Nevertheless, two problems:

          First, a peace state can neither be allied to a state that killed more than 20 million in 37 countries since WWII nor member of an offensive alliance.  Either the USA and NATO become more defensive or Peace State Iceland has to distance itself, gradually, carefully; keeping good relations.  Iceland’s security would be better served by using Keflavík for UNPKF than for USA-NATO, and by solving conflicts.

          Second, if you want to help solving conflicts start with your own.  Iceland was a victim of giving primacy to the financial over the real economy; and the financial collapse held Icelanders accountable for incompetent banking and naive creditors.  That whole system has to be overhauled, and Iceland could make a virtue of its vice by putting the whole issue on the agenda for the Reykjavík Mediation Center.

          Do not exclude the possibility of inviting the Security Council and, more importantly, the General Assembly for a session.  After few years of experience a UN Conflict Transformation Agency?  Apart from the unfortunate incident in connection with the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Iceland has attacked nobody–as opposed to Norway and Denmark in Libya–and could easily put together its own defensive defense based on non-provocative, non-offensive arms.  Just in case.

          What is mediation?  Talking with all parties, excluding nobody, asking questions such as, “How is the Ukraine you would like to see?”, “What was the worst, the best that happened?” Testing the answers for legitimacy (law, human rights, basic needs), and help bridging the legitimate goals by some changes in reality, like a smart federation.

          Both for the negative peace of conciling trauma and solving conflict, removing causes of violence; and for the positive peace of building equitable relations for mutual and equal benefit, and harmony through empathy with all parties.  A good mediator has to be constructive, empathetic and creative.  Not easy, but it can be learnt.

          You may feel that Iceland is so small, and the Big–USA-Russia-China-Islam-EU–so Big. Exactly your comparative advantage!  You cannot be suspected of playing classical big power games for regional or world hegemony.  You can become big by playing peace games instead.

          Identify in the Five Big both the Bad and the Good, maybe as:

  • USA: killing all over the world; but very innovative, much freedom;
  • Russia: authoritarian; but de-imperializing almost without violence;
  • China: China-centered; but holistic-dialectic, in search of harmony;
  • Islam: the only truth for everybody; but with togetherness, sharing;
  • EU: inequality, loneliness and egoism; but war is very unlikely.

          Then, try to link the good in the parties, keeping the bad in your mind, not up front. Imagine USA learning to de-imperialize with grace from Russia and Russia learning to give people more freedom to use their innovative capacity from the USA!  And so on and so forth, down the list. Moreover, imagine Iceland learning from the good in all five–you would grow, solving the problems of your economy and polity.  The world is so rich, there is so much to learn–with an open mind.

          Iceland has a hidden resource, its people, in direct democracy, giving them the final word in referenda in tricky issues.  Switzerland has 1 permille of the world and 60% of the referenda. Learn from them.

          However, there are also other forms of democracy than through debate, voting, and the arithmetic magic of 50%: the ancient Chinese petition democracy, dialogue democracy to consensus, and idea democracy.  How?

          Norway had a fishing town to where the fish no longer came.  Crisis; experts from Oslo were useless.  The mayor: Dear citizens, put your ideas in the town hall mailbox Sunday before midnight.  Soon after, the town had 150% employment.  Trust demos, the people, go for the best ideas, do not count, no arithmetic democracy. Ask people in Iceland:

Dear citizens, put your best ideas about the economy and Iceland as a peace state in the Allthing mailbox.  You will be amply rewarded.

          And make the Office of the President an Office of Peace with a president who can serve peace around the world.  Bottom and top: unite!


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 May 2016.

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8 Responses to “Peace State Iceland. Meaning What?”

  1. PK Willey says:

    I love this idea! Looking at the planet, finding places for mediation, negotiations! Brilliant!

    • Per-Stian says:

      Love it as well, and I register that it’s another article of many where one of the central points is to try to unite the good and the good from different countries and arrive at a better world; sum of the parts are bigger than the whole.

      As a Norwegian, I’d also love our warrior state to devote more time and resources into peace making, instead of just making lofty dishonest speeches about it. Today, May 8th, is our Liberation Day, after WW2. But recently there have been attempts to make it a Veterans Day (too), and ‘celebrate’ our wars in foreign lands, and recruit soldiers for it. Talk about spitting on the graves of the people who died fighting our last occupiers.

      Make that day a Day of Peace instead. Workshops, seminars, the whole shebang.

      • Per-Stian says:

        Hah, I see I messed that up, but it should stand for hilarity’s sake I guess… =)

        The point still stands though. There is a lesson to be learnt from Cuba, who send doctors and nurses around the world. I’d prefer that, or mediators, instead of the current practice of sending soldiers to train other soldiers to become more efficient murderers to whichever part on the map the USA point out for us. And that’s not even touching on the fact those soldiers will be actively engaged in combat in wars that breach the UN Charter. Probably also breaching our own Constitution by having them under command of a foreign country.

  2. Thomas Krogh says:

    ” First, a peace state can neither be allied to a state that killed more than 20 million in 37 countries since WWII nor member of an offensive alliance”

    Damn, to the dogs with that Iceland-China alliance.

  3. Steffen says:

    Schiller Institute Conference in New York City, “Building a World Land-Bridge—Realizing Mankind’s True Humanity,” marked a success for Lyndon LaRouche’s idea. Although further and fuller reports will follow, and this one only reflects a part of the proceedings, that much can already be said with certainty.
    Thursday’s Schiller Institute Conference in New York City, “Building a World Land-Bridge—Realizing Mankind’s True Humanity,” marked a success for Lyndon LaRouche’s idea. Although further and fuller reports will follow, and this one only reflects a part of the proceedings, that much can already be said with certainty.
    Helga Zepp-LaRouche opened the conference with a comprehensive and inspiring address entitled, “Beyond Geopolitics and Polarity: A Future for the Human Species,” in which she laid bare the immediate threat of annihilating war, and showed that the idea of the World Land-Bridge, which she developed with her husband during the period of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, provides the only durable guarantee for peace. She went on to outline a dialog of civilizations in which each of the world’s civilizations is represented by the cultural high-points of its history, such as Germany’s Weimar Classic, and the United States as it was first conceived by Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton.

    • deldano says:

      “Each of the world’s civilizations”. Any one interested in and capable of listing these and their high points?

  4. Jon says:

    For the entire time Hawai’i was recognized as an independent country in the 1800s, they had war against no one at all. It was only when the US instigated a coup, with the local Caucasian business class, and the closely followed fraudulent “annexation,” that it was involved (against the will of the population) in a war against Spain (1898). When the conditions exist to once again be independent, it can also play that neutral peace-making role, paralleling the vision for Iceland proposed here.

  5. Britt Vestergaard says:


    Anyone that read or trust anything originating from Lyndon LaRouche should be aware of the extreme anti-environmental agenda that his organisation (also) promote. The climate-change denial etc are sickening.