Living the realities of post World War II
Finn Reske-Nielsen currently retains functions as the United Nations' resident coordinator and the UN Development Programme resident representative in the Timor-Leste, making this his third post in the country. His UN career began in Zambia in 1977 when he wanted to take a short break from academia to "see the real world."
During a lecture at Santa Monica College last Tuesday, Reske-Nielsen spoke about the effects, benefits and drawbacks of globalization.
Reske-Nielsen said he believes that in his 35 years of experience, the biggest lesson he has learned is that local promoting is the best way to make something work in a country, and if an international community attempts to make a change that locals do not want, it will fail.
Reske-Nielsen has also held the title of head of the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste, where he oversaw the withdrawal of UN peacekeeping forces in 2012.
Timor-Leste, or East Timor, is a small country located in Southeast Asia where the languages spoken are Tetum, Portuguese, Indoneisan, and English. The population is 1.172 million, according to the Central Intelligence Agency online library publications World Factbook page.
Reske-Nielsen's involvement with international diplomacy has taken him to Geneva, UN Headquarters in New York, Namibia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor and Laos.
"Over the years, I worked in the areas of humanitarian relief, political affairs, development and UN peacekeeping," said Reske-Nielsen in an email. "After more than 35 years in the service of the United Nations, I have just retired in my native country, Denmark."
At the lecture, Reske-Nielsen explained how the UN formed to build peace and stability in different countries, how it has influenced simple functions in countries and that the UN reflects the global realities of post World War II.
All together, the UN includes 200,000 people, globally. One hundred thousand are employed in peacekeeping operations, making the UN the biggest peacekeeping operation in the world and an $8 billion per-year business, said Reske-Nielsen.
The United Nations also has an influence in everyday functions in the United States. Reske-Nielsen explained how all international civilization is regulated by a part of the UN.
"You wouldn't be able to travel by plane if it wasn't for the UN because all International Civil Aviation is regulated by part of the UN," said Reske-Nielsen. "If it wasn't for the UN, involving United Postal Union, you wouldn't be able to mail a letter beyond the border of the United States. If it wasn't for the UN being involved with the International Telecommunications Union, that regulates all technical issues related to telecommunications, you would be in trouble."
Reske-Nielsen said that Timor-Leste showed overwhelming support in 1999 for independence after which nearly 1,500 people were killed by anti-independence Timorese militias, after the referendum and 300,000 people were forced to become refugees.
"With peacekeeping, you deal with troops and police," said Reske-Nielsen. "There were no state institutions or functioning police and [Timor-Leste] had no functional government or civil service."
A short video clip shared at the lecture by Reske-Nielsen showed how the country of Timor-Leste has been affected by poverty with the people of the country living in flimsy, makeshift tents.
It is a country in which one in two children, under the age of five, are stunted as a result of malnutrition, he said.
However, the UN aiding Timor-Leste showed promising progress. It usually would take five to ten years to allow those who have been displaced from their homes to find a home, but it only took four years in Timor-Leste, said Reske-Nielsen.
Through a process of institutional building, it took Timor-Leste two years to establish a system and elections were held in 2001.
The establishment of a new system was an arduous process.
"There were no courts in Timor-Leste," said Reske-Nielsen. "We needed lawyers and we realized that was very difficult and would take a long time. Imagine what the United States would be like without a justice system."
In 2002, Timor-Leste became its own official country, with Portuguese influence in East Timor and Dutch influence in West Timor.
However, a second crisis hit the country and the government collapsed in 2006.
"Timor-Leste is stable as of last year," said Reske-Nielsen. "However, it still has many different problems."
In an interview with a CNN reporter in Timor-Leste, Reske-Nielsen was asked what keeps him going, to which he replied, "I look at the way these people are living. I wouldn't want to live like this. I'm sure you wouldn't either."
However, the job also comes with its dangers. He has gone through "tense moments, having been arrested by Zimbabwean guerrillas on suspicion of being a spy and having been shot at by criminals in Port Moresby, the Capital of Papua New Guinea," he said in the email.
"During my peacekeeping years in East Timor," he said, "I was protected by armed body guards, and despite a precarious security situation at several points in time, actually felt very safe."
Having served for more than three decades, Reske-Nielsen expressed the joyous privilege he feels to have served the international community, promoting peace, security and development for the world.
"It is important for all of us to be global citizens who contribute, each in our own way, to tackling a growing agenda of issues that truly can only be tackled comprehensively through cooperation across the globe, including challenges such as poverty, climate change, international terrorism and human and drug trafficking," he said. "We all need to chip in in an era where the world has indeed become a small village."