IN OTHER WORDS: Peacemaker

This year, the five members of the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize committee selected a laureate who has actually made peace. And not once, but several times. It would be hard to name another mediator who has had more success resolving intractable conflicts around the world than the former Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari. Ahtisaari plies his trade as a firm but patient arbitrator. His persistence helped bring about the birth of an independent Namibia in 1990, freeing the people of what had been South West Africa from apartheid-era South Africa. He was acting at the time as a UN envoy, as he was in 1993 when he served as special adviser to the UN secretary general on the former Yugoslavia.

Ahtisaari’s one notable failure came last March, when Serbia refused to accept his plan for a phased movement toward independence for Kosovo. With unnecessary impatience, the US and the EU nonetheless recognised an independent Kosovo. If anything, his Nobel prize ought to make the American and European leaders have second thoughts. They should have kept Serbs and Kosovars at the negotiating table with Ahtisaari. Eventually, his patience and persistence could have produced a mutually acceptable resolution of the Kosovo dispute — like others he rought in Asia, Africa, and Europe.