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Janne Taalas, CMI’s new CEO: The key to being a peace mediator is to treat everyone as a human being

Published on Saturday, 17 April 2021

The most important thing is to genuinely listen to the parties to the conflict, to their concerns and help them find solutions, says Ambassador Janne Taalas, incoming Chief Executive Officer of the CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation. During his career, Taalas has witnessed how peace cannot be achieved alone. “This is a team game not an individual sport.”

 

Taalas joins CMI from the Finnish Foreign Ministry, where he has pursued a career as a diplomat of almost 25 years. Photo: Olli Puumalainen/CMI

In this age of identity politics, it often seems easy to decide who to talk to and who not to. Such schisms can also be reflected in who is and who is not included in peace efforts, leading to inequitable outcomes.

“This is not the CMI’s way. CMI’s strength is its ability to talk to everyone and to treat everyone as a human being. The most important thing is to genuinely listen to the parties, and their concerns and to help them find solutions,” says Ambassador Janne Taalas, who takes over as the new Chief Executive Officer of the CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation on 1 May.

Respect for all reflects the legacy of CMI’s founder, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Martti Ahtisaari. The Finnish and Nordic principles of justice and equality are part of CMI’s DNA.

Taalas believes that there will be an increasing demand for this inclusive approach in the tense post-Covid-19 crisis world. As inequalities grow, peacemakers must work to ensure that women and young people have a voice. Discontent is channelled into new social movements that need to be engaged with to prevent and resolve conflicts.

Changes in the world order and technological developments are also creating new power holders, ranging from states to private companies.

Stressing the importance of cooperation amid rising international tensions

Taalas joins CMI from the Finnish Foreign Ministry, where he has pursued a career as a diplomat of almost 25 years. He has extensive experience in international cooperation on peace and security issues, including the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations. His work at the helm of CMI seems like a natural progression.

“I have been dealing with issues that are very close to the work of the CMI. And along the way, I have also worked closely with CMI people. When this opportunity arose, I jumped at it with enthusiasm. Opportunities like this come along only rarely.”

Janne Taalas

Born 1967 in Jyväskylä, Finland.

Doctorate in Political Science from Oxford University (St. Antony’s College). Master’s degrees in Economics and Social Sciences from the University of Jyväskylä.

Worked at the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs since 1997. Worked as Special Representative for the 2020 Afghanistan Conference, Finnish Ambassador for Cyber Diplomacy, Ambassador of Finland to Italy, Malta and San Marino (in Rome), Director of Policy Planning, Deputy Permanent Representative of Finland to the UN and Deputy Head of the Task Force for the Finnish OSCE Chairmanship.

Chief Executive Officer of the CMI – Martti Ahtisaari Peace Foundation from 1 May 2021.

Married. Two children.

Pastimes: reading and fitness, including rowing.

“I have a high regard for CMI. I have followed the CMI’s journey throughout its 20 years of existence and have seen its rise as an international mediator. It’s really great to be part of continuing the CMI story in the new decade.”

Taalas says he brings with him, above all, experience of demanding international negotiations. Most recently, as Special Envoy of Finland for the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan 2020, he headed the organisation of the conference, at which the international community expressed its strong support for Afghanistan on its path to peace.

“I have been involved in many negotiations, both as a participant and as a negotiator, and have managed to see quite big projects through.”

Taalas also stresses the importance of cooperation. Even in mediation, nothing can be achieved solo. Increasingly complex conflicts require close cooperation between international and regional organisations, states and independent organisations.

“This is a team sport, not an individual sport.”

The importance of cooperation is underlined in a context where tensions between major powers are undermining international peace efforts.

“Unlike states, CMI can act quickly, without bureaucracy and in situations involving political risks. CMI can approach a conflict in a truly solution-oriented way, without an agenda,” says Taalas. Photo: Kimmo Räisänen.

Brokering peace in Georgia

Taalas considers the war in Georgia in August 2008 to be the toughest place mentally in his career. “The plight of the Georgians is indelibly etched in my mind. We had to find a way to silence the guns.”

Alexander Stubb, the then Finnish Foreign Minister and current chair of the CMI board, conducted the peace talks in his capacity as chairman of the OSCE. As the Deputy Head of the Task Force for the Finnish Chairmanship, Taalas was part of the team that negotiated in Tbilisi, Moscow and Brussels.

The ceasefire proposal was drafted on Taalas’ laptop.

Mr Taalas believes that courage and good working contacts are key to the success of peace efforts. “Minister Stubb and I talked through several cell phone batteries on that trip.”

After the Georgian war, Taalas’ career continued at the UN, where he worked as Deputy Permanent Representative of the Finnish Permanent Mission. There, Taalas led negotiations on the UN budget and co-founded the Group of Friends of Mediation. The group, initiated by Finland and Turkey, has promoted the use of mediation for conflict prevention and resolution, including through several UN resolutions. “The Group of Friends of Mediation and its work is a good example of the importance of co-operation. No one can take credit for its achievements alone.”

Strategic focus on women’s empowerment and digital technologies

Taalas will lead the implementation of the CMI’s new 2030 strategy.

The strategy underlines CMI’s added value as an independent, Finnish peace mediator whose work builds on Finland’s experience in promoting an equal society. Through CMI’s work, Finland can be bigger than its size in the world. Taalas stresses that the CMI works closely with the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, while maintaining its independence.

“We are by no means a state actor. Unlike states, CMI can act quickly, without bureaucracy and in situations involving political risks. CMI can approach a conflict in a truly solution-oriented way, without an agenda,” says Taalas.

The strategy aims to strengthen the capacity of the CMI and peace mediators to prevent and resolve conflicts in a volatile global context. “It’s important that we don’t take things for granted, but are constantly thinking about how we can do this work better.”

Among other things, the CMI is investing in the empowerment of women and the use of digital technologies in peace processes. Digital tools and services can help mediators to better understand conflicts and enable conflict parties to safely participate in situations where physical participation is difficult or impossible.

CMI is one of the leading experts in the field of women and peace mediation, and now the digital mediation field is aiming to do the same. “The strategy paves the way for this to be possible,” says Taalas.

Taalas stresses that turning the vision offered by the strategy into action now requires everyone’s input. “Only by acting together can we make a difference in the world.”

Antti Ämmälä/CMI