Changing Course: A New Multilateral Initiative, June 2004

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© Hazel Henderson, June, 2004
(World Count, 1,026)

a new multilateral initiative

By Hazel Henderson

Recent US and British rhetoric about the virtue of “staying the course” in Iraq is being overtaken by events.  US Poll numbers on President Bush’s handling of Iraq have slid to 40% or below.  In Britain, Blair’s popularity is at a similar nadir.  The confused situation in Iraq makes the US handover of “full sovereignty” to Iraqis on June 30 seem at best to leave an unpredictable power vacuum – at worst an irresponsible withdrawal.

When “staying a course” becomes unrealistic, changing course seems sensible and realistic.  Such is the new initiative of Iceland’s presidential candidate Astpor “Thor” Magnusson (, one of three candidates vying in the election scheduled for June 26.  Polls show Magnusson with 39.29% of the vote versus current President Olafur Ragnar Grimmson with 36.61% and a third candidate Baldur Agustsoon with 16.07%.  Another poll shows the two front-runners neck and neck.

Magnusson’s platform envisions Iceland leading the international community in promoting tested and viable dispute and conflict resolution mechanisms.  Now that preemptive attacks, such as that of the US and Britain on Iraq have produced so many dangerous consequences unforeseen by proponents, the field is open for advancing many long-advocated alternatives.

Thor Magnusson’s varied career includes founding Iceland’s first credit card company in 1979; founder and CEO of Goldfeder Group in 1984 an e-commerce pioneer and operating an air charter company, as a jet pilot with 2000 hours of flying experience.  Magnusson founded the Peace 2000 Institute in 1996 ( and authored a book on a new era in international relations and global security.  He received the Gandhi Humanitarian Award in 1996 and the Holy Gold Cross of the Greek Orthodox Church at the nomination of UNESCO in 1998.

Magnusson endorses many common-security proposals for well-trained, standing peacekeeping and conflict-prevention contingents, which could operate under international supervision and agreements.  Many proposals are based on the past successes of small states in breaking big-power logjams. Examples include, Finland’s President Kekkonen’s 1978 Helsinki Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which paved the way for the end of the Cold War.  Also, Costa Rica’s President Oscar Arias Sanchez’s 1987 meeting in Guatemala City, which got the Presidents of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua to join with him in laying the bases for peace agreements in the region – earning him the 1987 Nobel Peace Prize.

Magnusson proposes to turn the soon-to-be-vacated US military base in Iceland into a new International Conflict Resolution Center.  Conflicting parties would be invited to present their cases before panels of eminent leaders, experienced mediators and international scholars, so as to work toward win-win solutions.  Icelanders are 91% in support of such peace initiatives – and mirror world opinion polls in opposition to the Iraq war.  Yet, even though similar past initiatives have given Iceland centuries of peace in this oldest of the world’s democracies, Icelanders still wonder if their small nation can step into such a global leadership role.  Magnusson thinks so, and that the world is ready for active, creative peace-making, including the strategies successfully pursued based on the methods of Professor Gene Sharp in his many books (

One well-studied proposal, backed by several Nobelists and debated in the UN Security Council in 1996 is that for a United Nation’s Security Insurance Agency (UNSIA) I proposed with my partner Alan F. Kay, founder in the 1960s of the first electronic securities trading system, AutEx, Inc. UNSIA would be a partnership between UN member nations, an expanded, reformed UN Security Council and the insurance industry to provide regular peacekeeping and civil peace-making units.  Countries may desire to follow Costa Rica’s lead in 1947 in abolishing its army so as to achieve its top-ranked status in the UN Human Development Index.  If their security was threatened, they could request UNSIA for insurance policies for such collective peace-making capabilities.

Insurance companies would provide UNSIA’s risk-assessment for the requesting country.  This would assure that a country’s intentions and policies were peaceful (i.e., no weapons of mass destruction, arms industries are exports, no teaching of ideologies of revenge, war or ethnic hatred, etc.).  Countries persuading their neighbors to also apply for peace-keeping insurance would result in lower premiums for all.  The premiums would be used to properly train and equip the peacekeeping forces of willing countries, as well as competent civil society organizations working in confidence building, truth and reconciliation and other peace-making programs.  (

A deeper question is relevant in the 21st century:  Are the prevailing assumptions still correct that humanity’s success in occupying and inhabiting all the territory of our planet are due to competition and the “survival of the fittest”?  A group of scientists reassessing the original manuscripts of Charles Darwin now believe that British elites of that period took Darwin’s famed theories of evolution out of context and created the self-serving ideology of “social Darwinism.”

Today’s reappraisals of Darwin’s work (at highlight his contention that humanity’s evolutionary success was based on our genius for bonding (now confirmed by the discovery of the role of the hormone, oxytocin), cooperation, sharing and altruism.  Are we humans still subject to obsolete misreading of our collective experience, such as the “competition – as-basic” view still taught in economics, political science and throughout academia?  Or do we need to study the new Darwinists who have marshaled impressive evidence that humanity’s success was based on our capacities for cooperation?  Viewing their work, and the impressive results of human cooperation – evolving from small tribes and city states to nations, international cooperative legal structures, treaties, multilateral agencies, global corporations, and the United Nations – I accept all this evidence that the new Darwinists are right.

Is this the time when Icelanders will remind humanity of its heritage of successful cooperation? Will Iceland give new impetus to all the cooperative proposals still waiting for global political and media attention?  Perhaps Thor Magnusson will give hope to the growing world public opinion supporting a change from the old competitive ideologies based on fear.  Changing course by rebalancing our efforts with more cooperation and creativity is surely more realistic in today’s globalized one world we all inhabit.  What happens in Iceland on June 26th might help change our minds and our world.


HAZEL HENDERSON, futurist, evolutionary economist, is author of Beyond Globalization (1999), Planetary Citizenship (2004) and other books.  She co-created with the Calvert group of socially-responsible mutual funds, the Calvert-Henderson Quality of Life Indicators (2000) ( More on UNSIA is at