Jean-Marie Guehenno was appointed United Nations Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations (USG PKO) in 2000, and held that position until 2008. A “scholar-diplomat”, as one blurbist has characterized him, he was until his appointment without direct experience of the United Nations.
The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) was created in 1992 from the Department of Special Political Affairs, which had been responsible for PKOs since their inception in 1948. The then USG for that Department, Marrack Goulding, assumed the leadership of the new DPKO until he was succeeded by Kofi Annan in 1993. Annan was replaced by Bernard Miyet of France in 1997 when Annan became Secretary-General. Since then all DPKO USGs have been French, and on 1 April of this year Jean-Pierre Lacroix will replace Herve Ladsus.
The book is engagingly written, and conveys well the feel of the immediacy of high diplomacy, but careful readers may find some things missing.
Many diplomats and others involved in the mediation of international conflicts tend to be reluctant to publicize details of their work and may prefer to stay entirely out of the media’s limelight. While this approach has its merits during some negotiations, particularly in the early stages, in today’s 24/7 information environment nothing stays confidential for long. It only is a matter of time before information leaks, sometimes at the initiative of the parties themselves. Increasingly, mediators find that an active media strategy becomes an essential element of their work. Such a public-information strategy will aim to build public support for the peace process, shape the public image of the international negotiator and avoid negative fallout from uncontrolled and misleading public exposure.
In 21st-century conflicts, there are not only professional reporters covering a conflict or emerging crisis, but countless interested observers. Some may be citizens ‘bearing witness’, who can create a ‘story’ through a short message, photo or video posted on the internet. Such news items can be picked up by the traditional media and may rapidly take on a life of their own. (1) For mediators it thus becomes vital to monitor relevant information channels and attempt to manage the news flow about their work in a proactive way. Seeking the ‘information high ground’, as in defining and enunciating the basic issues in the negotiations and avoiding unnecessary and contentious details, ought to become one of the goals of all active mediators.