Global Commitment: Hans Blix

Published 2 May 2016 in:

Photo: Anders Wiklund/Scanpix

Hans Blix’ career path was shaped during the Second World War: he wanted to head out into the world and work for peace. This drive led him to several leading international positions and a mission as one of the leading forces working for safer nuclear energy and against weapons of mass destruction.

Mr Blix grew up in an academic family dominated by the natural sciences, but he had different ideas. Via law studies with a focus on international law, he won an essay competition and his prize was a month-long visit to the United Nations in New York. The year was 1950.

With hindsight, it feels logical – almost as if his international career had already been staked out.

However, he first completed his academic career by receiving his PhD in 1958 at Cambridge and a PhD in Stockholm and becoming Associate Professor in law in 1960. He titled his dissertation Treaty-making power – a subject to which he would devote his entire career.

During his almost 20 years in the service of the Swedish Government, Mr Blix held a position as an expert on international law at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm, then later as State Secretary and finally also as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

However, it is in the international arena that he really made his mark. In 1981, Mr Blix succeeded Sigvard Eklund, from Sweden, as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a position he then held for 16 years. In this capacity, he visited Chernobyl in May 1986 to discuss the need for safer nuclear energy, at the invitation of the Soviet Union, following the serious nuclear power accident in April that same year.

The world learned from the accident. The IAEA was able to bring about two international conventions on increased nuclear safety, which was a unique step forward.

“Critical, impartial and constructive thinking is fundamental.” This is how Mr Blix himself described his approach to the international missions. This ability would be put to good use when Mr Blix headed the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission in 2002 and 2003. Mr Blix found himself at the centre of world events – 700 inspections were carried out in numerous locations.

Mr Blix is often described as being very proper and determined, but with a sense of warmth and good humour.

Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in her memoirs that Mr Blix was “tough and honest”. And Colin Powell, another former US Secretary of State, is said to have compared Mr Blix to a Volvo – stable and reliable.

Talk about a great epithet for a diplomat who is passionate about international law and negotiations.

“The task of diplomacy is to generate creative solutions so as to avoid, mitigate and resolve conflicts,” says Mr Blix.

It is clear that he has followed through on the motivation he felt as a teenager during the Second World War: to go out into the world and work for peace.