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Foreign Minister Haavisto's keynote address at the Fletcher School Commencement

Ministry for Foreign Affairs
Publication date 23.5.2023 9.02
Speech

Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto's keynote address at the Fletcher School Commencement May 21, 2023.

Thank you Dean Kyte for this honor to be here today and my heartfelt congratulations to you, Fletcher School’s graduating class of 2023. It is such a privilege to celebrate your momentous achievement together with you. Today you can be truly proud of yourself.

Every single person can choose to promote global peace and well-being. Every thought and every act counts. Yet you, as graduates of the oldest global affairs school in the US, are uniquely well equipped to make a tangible impact on your community and on the world around you. Now more than ever, we need principled, values-based leadership to make our world safe, prosperous and fair. I am sure that each of you, wherever your path takes you after your time here at Fletcher, will rise to this challenge.

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While today is a day of celebration, the overall global security and development landscape is full of difficulties and uncertainties.

We have been living in a time of war in Europe for over a year now. Russia’s illegal war of aggression in Ukraine has shaken the very foundations of the European and global security order. With Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we have seen a nuclear super power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council completely disregarding its obligations for peace and security.

Yet the courage, resilience and resolve demonstrated by Ukrainians in the face of Russia’s brutal invasion and the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure has inspired us all. In Finnish language, we have a particular word describing strength of will, determination and perseverance – “sisu”. This is what the Ukrainians are now demonstrating.

I visited Kyiv, Ukraine in November 2022. Under Russia’s continued attacks on energy infrastructure, energy rationing and sub-zero temperatures, the situation in Kyiv was grim. However, with determination Ukrainians pushed through the winter.

Although we might be looking at a long and consuming war still ahead of us, it is clear that Russia has failed to defeat Ukraine. Instead, Ukrainians are united in defending their freedom. Finland, together with a coalition of over 50 countries, remains committed to supporting Ukraine to emerge victorious from this war, and in its reconstruction efforts.

Moreover, we must hold Russia accountable for its crime of aggression and for its grave violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including the forcible transfer and illegal adoption of Ukrainian children, and the use of sexual violence as a method of warfare. We have to work together to maintain and strengthen the international rules-based order and to ensure compliance with international law.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine also changed the equation for Finland’s security policy. Until February 2022, the combination of strong national defense capability, a close NATO partnership and a network of bilateral and multilateral defense cooperation arrangements served Finland well. With the new security situation in Europe, we decided as a nation to join NATO.

Our accession process was historically swift and on April 4th, Finland became a member of NATO and assumed the full rights and obligations of NATO membership. On that day, I stood in front of the NATO headquarters in Brussels and saw the Finnish flag raised next to the flags of other member states. Many Finns in at home in Finland were watching the broadcast and thought “never again alone”.

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While Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has dominated the media and public debate, we have not forgotten about the right of all people in the world to live in a safe and peaceful environment.

Peacebuilding and mediation are close to my heart, and I have been extraordinarily privileged to have had the opportunity to work on peace processes throughout my career.

With a great concern, we are now following what is happening in the Horn of Africa, and particularly in Sudan. We can see military forces fighting against each other and almost no one is speaking about transition to the civilian rule, which used to be the tone of the country for the past years. And once more, we are witnessing not only a humanitarian catastrophe, but also a start of a new refugee crisis on the African continent.

Peace, democracy and human rights are always evolving, and there is an ongoing risk of backsliding no matter how strong a society is. This is why continuous efforts are needed from each of us individually, and from all of us collectively. If we invest in peace during peacetime, we build our resilience against violent extremism and authoritarian tendencies. We must also remember that peace processes have to be inclusive –  women and youth must be included. The UN Security Council resolutions 1325 and 2250 are valuable tools in supporting this.

One of the investments we can make is identifying and countering disinformation and misinformation from authoritarian actors, who use it to promote their own agenda and muddy the waters on accountability and responsibility. While state propaganda is nothing new, today’s digital, borderless social media environment means that your generation has had to grapple with media literacy in a different way from my own.

Here at the Fletcher School, you have honed your own capacity for critical thought and media literacy. I am sure that in your future leadership roles you will help counter false narratives, support free and independent journalism, and strive to build your own worldview based on fact, not fiction.

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Dear graduates, the sheer diversity of the topics that you have studied here at Fletcher reflects the multitude of challenges that we face as a global community, the greatest of which is climate change and biodiversity loss.

Both are threats in and of themselves and act as threat multipliers, exacerbating nearly all global problems from pandemics to food insecurity to conflict. Yet we must not be paralyzed by this challenge, however momentous and bleak it may seem. Your interdisciplinary studies here at the Fletcher School prepare you to tackle these complex and interconnected problems. I encourage each of you to find your own way to make a difference.

While each nation has to do their fair share in mitigating climate change, national borders do not contain climate change and biodiversity loss. Even, and especially, in this time of growing great power competition and inward-facing nationalism, we will not be successful in slowing down climate change and ensuring a livable planet if we do not work together across borders. At the same time, each of us has agency in our own life and community.

On Monday, I participated in the Austrian World Summit and in a panel discussion with Arnold Schwarzenegger. I only have to admire how people like him are devoting their time and energy to raise awareness of the environmental and climate risks and use different platforms to share accurate information about climate change. 

We can also choose to amplify the voices of those who are working hardest to combat climate change. To quote Vanessa Nakate, the distinguished climate advocate from Uganda and founder of the Rise Up Movement: “every activist has a story, and every story has a solution to give, and every solution has a life to change.”

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Finally, dear graduates, a career in international affairs is an immense privilege, but it can also be depleting and demanding. When times are tough, you draw strength from your loved ones, friends and family. The personal connections that you have made here at the Fletcher School, with students from 70 countries, are an invaluable treasure. You have made friends here that will last you a lifetime, and you have had a unique window into cultures and lifestyles that are different from your own.

Whether you choose to work internationally or in your own country, you can call on your Fletcher community to help think through thorny topics or compare notes on common challenges.

I encourage you to make full use of this privilege, and to continue to seek new friendships across borders as you navigate your careers in the years to come.

Our world is changing at an unprecedented speed, and you as global leaders have to be able to take on new challenges throughout your careers. While we may not know what lies ahead, the analytical and intellectual rigor that you have cultivated at Fletcher will serve you well in any leadership position. At the same time, your own moral courage and core values will guide you in times of crisis.

Thank you, again, for the opportunity to be here with you on this special day as you celebrate the completion of your studies at the Fletcher School. I look forward to seeing how you choose to move forward in pursuit of a more just and peaceful world.

Finally, since I already mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger, let me end my speech with a quote from the Terminator 2 movie:

“The future has not been written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.”

Thank you.