China’s wolf-warrior diplomats, crisis management in Helsinki and a spat in the Middle East.
After a 25-year career in the Finnish diplomatic corps, including stints in New York and Rome, ambassador Janne Taalas this year took over as the ceo of the Finnish conflict-resolution organisation Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation (cmi). It works independently to solve protracted conflicts in the Middle East, North Africa, Eurasia, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. monocle talked to Taalas at cmi’s Helsinki headquarters.
What motivated you to make the career shift from diplomacy to conflict resolution?
The two have much in common so the change was not that drastic. Both are about solving problems by negotiating – at least that is how Finland carries out its foreign diplomacy.
What are your plans for the CMI?
In the past 20 years, cmi has grown from a small Finnish organisation into a global player. My goal is to make cmi a leading body in this field. We believe firmly that Finland’s unique characteristics – digital prowess, gender equality, neutrality, social inclusion and equality – are assets that help us achieve this goal. That said, we don’t want to make a big deal about ourselves. When we work in countries such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Palestine and Myanmar, it’s about putting local people first. We are just facilitators.
The global order has shifted in recent years. Will facilitators such as CMI stay relevant?
Absolutely. As a career diplomat I know that states have their agendas to advance, whereas non-state actors like us have more room to act. We are more agile, can take risks and don’t have to think about the optics. Diplomats often refuse to talk to armed groups, for example. As the nature of conflict evolves, this becomes more important. As long as global structures of conflict prevention, such as the UN or the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe, can’t deliver results due to great power rivalry, the world will have an urgent need for us.
Who vs who: Afghanistan vs Pakistan
What it’s about: An outburst by Afghanistan’s national security adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, who accused Pakistan of aiding the Taliban and described the country as a “brothel house”. Pakistan’s foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said that his “blood was boiling”, to which Mohib suggested Qureshi was “uninformed, ignorant or an accomplice”.
What it’s really about: The suggestion that Pakistan has supported the Taliban next door is not new nor, in the eyes of many intelligence agencies, inaccurate. Afghanistan’s government knows that once the US withdraws, it will be on its own. Pakistan’s government fears – or pretends to – that its great rival India is seeking to be a major ally of Afghanistan.
Likely resolution: Pakistan has declared that it will no longer deal with Hamdullah Mohib. However, this might soon be the least of everyone’s concerns following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Although Afghanistan and Pakistan are supposed to be co-operating within a newish framework called the Afghanistan-Pakistan Action Plan for Peace and Solidarity, the two countries have never got on – and a bet on that changing would be ill-advised.
Chinese diplomats’ high-pitched tones of theatrical dudgeon have become known as “wolf warrior” diplomacy, named after an action-movie character. But president Xi Jinping has now asked them to adopt a manner characterised as “reliable, admirable and respectable”. The edict is said to be causing ructions in hardline nationalist circles, plausibly because nobody enjoys scaling their self-image back from “wolf warrior” to “amiable functionary”.
Photographer: Ernest Protasiewicz. Illustrator: Egle Každailyte. Images: Alamy, Biuro Rzecznika Praw Obywatelskich (Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights), Getty Images