From Hawk to Dove

Replay the keynote speech and read the summary below



Closing peacefully, a speech by Nobel Peace Laureate
Juan Manual Santos: “From hawk to dove”

A keynote speech by Juan Manuel Santos, former President, Colombia; Nobel Peace Prize laureate

Welcomed by: Lakhdar Brahimi, Elder; Chairman, Strategic Committee, PSIA, Sciences Po; former UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Special Envoy; former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Algeria; former Ambassador, Algeria

Chaired by: Cornelia Woll, Full Professor of Political Science, Sciences Po. 


Whether it’s through markets, arts, social justice, technology, or global commons, achieving and maintaining peace will be a collective and challenging process which is not achieved overnight. Juan Manual Santos, President of Columbia from 2010 to 2018, knows this like no other. It was up to the Chair Cornelia Woll to introduce and interview him.

Santos was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2016 for his “resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year long civil war to an end.” Additionally, during his tenure as Minister of Defense, Santos was able to bring the guerillas to the negotiating table in order to develop a solution for peace. Santos also worked relentlessly to improve his country’s socioeconomic situation. Finally, President Santos received numerous prizes for his aggressive environmental policies to protect Columbia’s biodiversity and fight climate change.  

“You can tell what a comprehensive approach to human security this is when you add it all together,” Woll said.  

From hawk to dove 

After thanking everyone, Santos began his speech with a seemingly conflicting statement: “I had to make war in order to achieve peace.” That is sometimes necessary, he explained. He was of course talking about his efforts negotiating a peace treaty with the FARC-guerilla in Colombia. How did he do this? 

“I was taught by a General – a very intelligent and philosophical General – that I should not treat the guerillas as my enemies, but as my adversaries. They are human beings, and if I wanted peace afterwards, I had to treat them as human beings.” With that in mind, the first thing Santos did was change the culture of the military. He told them to respect the human rights of all sides, not just their own. “That had a profound effect.”

It wasn’t easy. Many warned against it and told him he would suffer the political consequences – or even his life. “People started to call me a traitor, because I sat down with the guerillas. But it was a necessary step to pursue.” Santos explained how he looked at other peace processes and “extracted what was applicable to Columbia.” He brought in people with experience to advise him, such as chief negotiators from the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement and the Oslo Accords. “They became my personal advisors – that was extremely helpful.” 

When eventually sitting down to negotiate peace, he had to change his leadership style. “To make peace, you need a more horizontal type of leadership. Instead of giving orders, you need to persuade, you need to convince.” Santos described how he had to convince both civilians and guerilla members to give peace a chance. Doing so, required “empathy, having compassion, to be able to put yourself in the shoes of others.... It was much more difficult to make peace than to make war.” 

There are faces to every conflict, he explained. “One is peacemaking… Afterwards, there is a second phase which is much more important and much more difficult: the construction of peace.” Such processes take time and many peace processes around the world have failed because this phase has not been properly addressed. “It’s like building a cathedral. You build a cathedral step by step, brick by brick,” Santos explained. Columbia is still in this phase, even 5 years after signing the peace agreement. 

Santos connected his speech to the inauguration of Joe Biden taking place as he spoke. The type of leadership that Trump employed, he explained, is the type used during war. “It’s a very vertical, very authoritarian type of leadership.” When Biden is sworn in in a few minutes, Santos described, he will need a horizontal type of leadership. “It’s very ironic that this seminar is ending right when such an important transition is starting in the US government.” 

Santos concluded by sharing some advice for the future leaders listening: “No matter how difficult peace can be, it is always better than war. A bad peace is always better than a good war.” He emphasized the need to take care of the rights of the victims, as this is essential for healing the wounds of the war. “Empathy, compassion and perseverance are elements that are always important in any peace process.” 

“We have a long way to go...We are also at war with nature.”  But he is optimistic that, after this pandemic, the lessons emerging will help us. 

Personal questions and thoughts on current events

During a lively Q&A session, most students were interested in further details about Santos’ efforts in Columbia and asked for more elaboration. For instance, one student was curious about Santos’ outlook on the current affairs in Columbia. Santos said he was optimistic and explained that the Columbian peace process is constitutionally and politically protected. He further elaborated saying “The Columbian peace process is the event in the world that has had more unanimous resolutions supporting it from the Security Council of the United Nations since the United Nations was created.” Another student wanted to know whether Santos would repeat a referendum as early as he did in 2016, with the peace agreement referendum. In response, Santos said: “Looking back, I would say ‘No’. Because I lost it.” Yet, he emphasized that it was a promise he made, and he wanted to fulfill it.  

Students were also interested in the gender-aspect that the Colombia peace agreement has, especially since the current pandemic has highlighted these issues. Smiling, Santos said “I am very proud that this is the only peace agreement that has a special chapter for women, and for the ethnic communities.” He explained that this was needed because the agreement was based on the rights of victims; and most victims were women (and ethic communities).  

The audience also asked what threats a peace process might expect. According to Santos, it’s a threat that many countries around the world are facing: fake news and populism, and “people who are experts at using fear to manipulate the public opinion.”

When asked how it felt to be awarded a Nobel peace prize, Santos simply said: “You always have to embrace humility.” He explained that he took the prize in the name of the Columbians

but, more importantly, in the name of the victims. He never saw it as his prize: “I am one person who was at the right place and took the right decisions.” 

One student had a future-outlook and wanted to know what Santos expects from the new President of the US and what it means for South and Latin American countries. Santos happily states that “I am honored he [Joe Biden] considers me his friend.” He described how Biden came to Columbia to say goodbye and to support the peace process, just before he left Office. “So I have no doubt that his attitude [to South and Latin America] will be 180 degrees different to the attitude of Trump.” 

Students also wanted to hear some more career advice, with one asking what Santos considers to be the key qualities for a mediator in a peace process. Santos cited trust, international credibility, authority to point out injustice as well as having empathy. 


(c) An article written by Meike Eijsberg, PSIA student in the Master in International Public Management, 2021 


More information about the Youth & Leaders Summit 2021. Watch all the sessions replays.

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