The Fog of Peace: A Memoir of International Peacekeeping in the 21st Century


by Jean-Marie Guehenno[1]


Reviewed by James V. Arbuckle, for Peacehawks




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[2].  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.

Among  the Missing

 There are in my reading of this book some important things missing.  My first stumble came very quickly.

It is early 2000, and Guehenno is interviewing for “the job”, and meets with his soon-to-be predecessor, Bernard Miyet.  A peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone has pretty well broken down: nearly an entire battalion of Blue Berets (“who had not been prepared for the challenge”) has been taken hostage. Guehenno expresses his concern, Miyet laughs, he has spoken to the press, everything would be fine, “this was just one day in the life of peacekeeping.” “In the event, says Guehenno, “the mission, after a daring operation conducted by Indian troops and with the help of British Special Forces, did recover” (p xiv).

That is not the whole story at all, and we have written more fully of that on this site.[3]

In the first place, the captors of almost an entire UN battalion were mostly children – the notorious West Side Boys, and even their putative leadership was scarcely adult.

Second, the Indian Force Commander was locked in a bitter dispute with his staff officers, who were mostly Africans, and whom he accused of  corruption, incompetence and disloyalty. Not surprisingly, the Indian Battalion (whose contingent commander he was) was demoralised and morose – they played no role in the resolution of the hostage situation.

It should also be noted that the UN force had an initial strength of 11,000 (a request to the governments of France, Great Britain and the U.S. for additional troops was refused by all three).

In the event, the various groups of hostages were freed in two British operations, with never more than 500 British troops; the West Side Boys melted away, never to reappear. The Indian Force Commander left the mission; the Indian battalion was withdrawn.  And so, at the end of 2005, the UN was able to announce that

As the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) comes to a close at the end of this year, it may serve as a model for successful peacekeeping, as well as a prototype for the UN’s new emphasis on peacebuilding.[4]

And it is just this aura of superficiality which haunts this book: a feeling that, for all the high-level diplomacy, there is really no one in charge of almost 100,000 peacekeepers.  It’s as though a jumbo jet were being controlled by the Purser: charming man, very good in the cabin – but isn’t there more to it than this?

Guehenno, by his own account, seems to  have spent most of his first two years dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan (pp 1-34), neither of which was remotely to be considered peacekeeping in any form.  Iraq was an invasion aimed at regime change; Afghanistan  was a  continuation of “the war on terror.”  In both cases the UN role was marginal, and the real players apparently wanted it to stay that way.

Peacekeeping grows, but the Staff doesn’t

Meanwhile, the DPKO role was elsewhere growing exponentially: When Guehenno assumed his post, there were 20 pkos employing 18,643 personnel (military, poilce and civilians); by the end of that year that number had more than doubled, to 37,733.  In 2004, halfway through Guehenno’s eight years  with the UN, the peacekeeping operations strength had almost doubled again to 62,307. By the time he left office there were around the world 89,845 peacekeepers on 20 missions.

The UN ability to command and control military operations has long ranged from suspect to downright shaky. In 1992, the Canadian Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, who had been Chief of Staff of the UN mission in Yugoslavia, criticized DPKO, saying that one  should not address problems to HQ in New York during silent hours or on weekends. Stung by this perfectly valid criticism, in 1993 DGPKO established a Situation Centre staffed by 55 seconded officers. This number having immediately proved inadequate, in 1995 Canada volunteered to provide additional officers.  Although the UN is currently  far from forthcoming on the subject of the Situation Centre, it does still exist, claims to have a 24/7 capability, and schedules and conducts regular daily and weekly briefings.  It has been more or less incorporated into the Office of Military Affairs in DPKO.

Guehenno “accepted” the creation of a “strategic military cell” in DPKO[5]. In direct line of descent from that cell is today the Office of Military Affairs (OMA), which consists of 100 officers, once again seconded, and 27 civilian staff.  It appears from its published terms to be a planning and advisory staff.  While it may include a situation centre, that does not appear prominently in the UN’s description of  the  Office, nor at all in this book.  The OMA is headed by the military advisor to DPKO, normally a serving Lieutenant General, but there is in the book no mention of the appointment nor the function, nor is any Military Advisor named.  Instead, Guehenno would “repeatedly” call on the retired Canadian General Maurice Baril, who had been the military advisor to Annan when he was USG DPKO. [6] It seems to have been enough.

A brigade of up to 5000 troops would normally have a headquarters with at least 50 officers. Three brigades would usually be organized in a division with a headquarters staff of at least 100 officers. Three divisions would normally be organized in a corps, which might have 100,000 troops – which is just about how many peacekeepers there are in the world today – and such a major formation would have a headquarters staff of at least 500 officers.  DPKO in New York has 100 officers.[7]

Command and control of UN Forces

Further on the subject  of command and control, it is worth noting that Guehenno has accepted and repeated a  false impression of what command and control measures were or should have been in effect.

It is 2003, and a possible peacekeeping mission for Cote d’Ivoire is being discussed; the French “had very bad memories of their experience with UN peacekeeping forces in Yugoslavia; they did not want their forces to be put under  UN command.” (page 97; my italics). One is reminded of Senator Bob Dole, jeering that Bhoutros Ghali would never send American soldiers anywhere. It is one thing for an American Senator not to understand this issue, but it is quite another when a USG DPKO doesn’t either.  The UN has borrowed rather freely from NATO command and control doctrine, but usually without really knowing what that doctrine means – I  have written about that rather off-handed adaptation of  NATO doctrine in my book on peacekeeping operations.[8]

National military forces contributed to a UN mission are never under the full command of the UN, nor for that matter, are committed NATO troops fully under the command  of NATO either. The command and control of joint and combined military operations, which pkos usually are, are governed by two principles:

  1. There are degrees of and limitations on command and control of national forces under foreign command; and
  2. There is always a national override on foreign command of  national contingents.  This is often referred to as “parallel command.”

This is not the place for a full discourse on types and degrees of command; suffice it here to say that UN peacekeepers are organized in national contingents, and these contingents are placed under the operational control of a theatre commander, which usually means the Force Commander of a peacekeeping operation. These national units will retain their organizational and mission integrity, that is to say, they will be deployed where and  for the purpose that was agreed between the troop contributor nation and the United Nations. And that  is what Guehenno should have  replied to the French and “their very bad memories.”

It may be said that this is inflexible[9], that it ties the senior commanders’ hands and that it exacerbates the centrifugal forces inherent in an international mission – “parallel command”  being just one example of the latter – and that is all true. That  is also just how it is, and for the USG responsible for nearly 100,000 troops to be less than crystal clear in his handling of this complex and critical issue is  remarkable.[10]

Srebrenica – the  whole story, or none at all

Srebrenica, that symbol of peacekeeping  disaster,  gets a few cursory references: will Bunia, in the Congo, be “another Srebrenica?”  Later, it is noted that, on the release of the report of the UN enquiry,  five years after the fall of Srebrenica, a Dutch minister who had had nothing to do  with his nation’s peacekeepers, has resigned, taking “political responsibility for the conduct  of Dutch troops in  Srebrenica.”

What is this all about? Was the conduct of the Dutch troops in Srebrenica so  shameful?  And this is the very trouble with symbols: they short-circuit real thinking and send the  public consciousness directly to a reflexive reaction to the event, the people, to the dangers of  a recurrence – all without knowing just what happened. If a subject like this is to be brought up at all in a book like this – and Srebrenica fell five years before Guehenno became USG DPKO – then it needs a fuller exposition.   We need to see beyond the symbology.[11]

The real issue here is not the  courage or the suitability, still less the structure or the equipment of the few UN troops there at the time.  The real issue, and the danger of a recurrence of such a tragedy, is the phenomenon of mission creep, and Guehenno is certainly aware of its dangers: In the case of French and American reluctance to support the operation in Cote d’Ivoire, he notes that “The all-too-typical compromise was easy to reach, at the expense of the UN: more tasks and no resources to perform them.”  (page 108)  If such an important subject is to be brought up at all, it should be presented in a manner that will inform, educate – warn.  As Guehenno said of the Congo, “This was not Cyprus.”

People, or Structures?

In Abidjan, Guehenno meets a “European ambassador who had no patience for a UN operation that would support a peace process rather than a person.” (page 105).  Later, after a conference at Sun City in South Africa which was to have overcome “the consequences of decades of bad government followed by years of war”, Guehenno notes that “they fell short of putting in place processes and institutions that would make them reachable”  (page 152).  And, he might have added, sustainable. He concludes of the Congo peace process: “A strategic choice was made, by default more than by design: peace would  not be anchored in institutions but in fragile – and reversable – deals between leaders, in the Congo and in the region.” (page 158)

It is just this issue of the quality of governance which includes the details which so bedevil peace  processes: how can outsiders act effectively to overcome the chronic ills of misgovernance, which are so commonly manifest in the weak, faltering and failed states which are among the major sources of threats to international peace and security? Guehenno has no answers to this, and perhaps there are none. One thing that is fairly clear, however, is the unlikelihood  that a solution to a regional problem can be reached in or imposed by the Security Council. If the regional authorities in, say, Africa, are weak or ineffective, New York cannot reach down past them to engineer a regional, still less a local, solution.  Guehenno says that “In any intervention, the political credibility of foreigners is a wasting asset, and the window when people in desperate need of help are open to foreign advice and influence is a very short one …” (page 159).

But, absent effective conflict management by the African Union, how can the UN Security Council intervene with lasting, sustainable solutions to African conflicts?  Absent effective African peacekeepers, how can European and American and Asian soldiers, police and civilians intervene successfully?  If European peace and stability were to break down, as some populist European (and American) politicians seem today to think either an acceptable risk or no risk at all, could New York send in African peacekeepers, and convene conferences in Geneva and Vienna to negotiate new agreements and structures and measures to restore the situation? or, failing that, impose them?

This is getting the questions right, especially that concerning the relationships among international and regional organizations in conflict intervention, which is the only way to reach valid answers. Unfortunately, we seem no nearer to the answers to these questions, but Guehenno has helped phrase the questions for our consideration.

Peace and the Powers: In the Shadows of their Smiles

leitmotif  of this book  is mistrust of the major powers: they don’t mean what they say, and they don’t say what they mean:

(there is) a never-ending battle  between the dream of a genuine international community governed by principles  and  rules  and the reality of a world of states that have only limited trust in the utility of principles.  Given such a reality, those of us who believe that a world governed by rules and principles would be a better and safer place should probably not entertain the illusion that they are going to beat the practitioners of realpolitik at their own game, and a lot of the efforts of the UN to  position itself were, in hindsight, futile.


 For the UN, the most painful lesson … is actually how little care, political as well as human, key member states showed for the organization they had created … (page 62)


A rather typical transaction centred on the roles and structures of the peacekeeping force for the Congo, MONUC: the French wanted additional tasks for the Force, while the US would approve no additional resources; the Force got the additional tasks, and of course no additional resources.

The effect of the policy known as the Responsibility to Protect should therefore have  come as no surprise.

The International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) released its report on The Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in December 2001.  This ostensibly became U.N. policy when it was embraced by the Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, and by nearly all member states of the U.N., in September 2005. However, it is today very clear that the Security Council will seldom, if ever, authorize this type of intervention in a member state – in the intervening twelve years they have done so only once, in the case of Libya in 2011[12].  The issues of consent of the “hosts” and respect for their “domestic jurisdiction” – the last refuge of scoundrels – are as strong as ever[13].  Why was this any surprise to anyone?  As Guehenno reflects ruefully on the events in the Sudan, “There was a certain amount of carelessness in introducing the rigor of a  judicial process into a situation where one of the potential culprits was a government that no state was prepared to challenge seriously.” Why not?  And the Sudan was an absolute text-book example of the situation described in R2P – underlined by the indictment in 2010 of the  President of Sudan by the ICC for crimes against humanity, including murder, attacks on civilians and genocide, to which the African Union responded heatedly (Bashir has never been arrested).

Later in his book,  Guehenno describes the reaction to the Chapter VII (enforcement) mission finally authorized by the Security Council for Darfur and South Sudan as “a very confrontational decision that we had hoped would not be taken. The council had boxed itself into a corner and was now gambling that intimidation would work and that consent could be imposed.  But the government of Sudan never gave its consent[14], and its refusal exposed the emptiness of the strategy pursued by the majority of the council.” (page 199) We now need to ask just whose side Guehenno was on here? Does he dispute the right, indeed the duty, of the Security Council to create, to induce, to impose consent?  It was Kofi Annan’s  specific policy that, where necessary, the UN might do just that.  In 1997, in an address at Bradford University, he said:


In any given case, blue helmeted soldiers are likely to encounter many persons who welcome the UN presence and many others who are highly resistant.  In such operations, some of which will be mandated to assist societies bordering on anarchy, the old dictum of “consent of the parties” will be neither right nor wrong; it will be, quite simply, irrelevant.

Much of the literature on peacekeeping treats the consent of the parties as if it were an independent variable. It is not, for the simple reason that the decision of the parties to grant consent is never taken in a vacuum.  It is, rather, a function of the alternatives.  If consent carries with it certain rewards, and the failure to grant consent carries with it certain costs, this obviously affects the decision as to whether or not consent will be granted.[15]

 “The Brahimi Report” had also, seven years earlier, referred to this issue:

Once deployed, United Nations peacekeepers must be able to carry out their mandates professionally and  successfully, and be capable of defending themselves, other mission components and their mission’s mandate, against those who renege on their commitments to a peace accord or otherwise seek to undermine it by violence.[16]

Is Guehenno perhaps opposed to peace enforcement operations in general?  In his description of negotiations in Lebanon, Guehenno relates that Israel and the U.S. insisted on a Chapter VII  enforcement operation, an option “categorically” rejected by Hezbollah.  Guehenno is skeptical: “Chapter VII”, he says, “is designed for situations where force needs to be used without the consent  of the state concerned. … In the  case of Lebanon, Chapter VII would have been warranted if the Security Council was willing to deploy a force in south Lebanon without the consent of Lebanon, or was prepared to maintain its deployment there even if that consent was withdrawn.” (page 222) Just so, but Guehennno concludes, “This was obviously not the case …”

In the case of the Sudan, Guehenno says that the council “would hide its humiliation by accepting a bad compromise at the expense of the UN: the ‘hybrid mission'”.  Just what is meant here by a hybrid mission, and what is so awful about it, Guehenno does not explain. Presumably he anticipated a joint UN-AU mission, which he and many others thought would be for several reasons unworkable. To our knowledge,  a hybrid mission is a multi-agency structure, in which civil and military, governmental and non-governmental, local, regional and international agencies cooperate from the outset under a single, formalized organizational umbrella, just as they usually, eventually, grudgingly, informally  do. The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) which had a UN headquarters served by elements of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the European Union (EU) and the Organisation for Security Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and, as an adjunct, a military force led by NATO (KFOR), was an early and ambitious “hybrid mission”, and was on the whole successful. Why such a mission in Africa is a “bad compromise” is not made clear in this  book.

It is quite understandable that a USG who would have to deliver on the expectations raised by a Chapter VII deployment might be skeptical, might well doubt that the international community could muster the will,  and would provide the means, for sustainable military operations beyond the limits of host nation  consent.  That is just why R2P has been such a non-starter: it was always just all talk.  But why he regards hybrid missions  with similar skepticism remains unclear.  Is it because what works in Europe owes its relative successes to the strength of European regional organisations; that doesn’t work in Africa just because of their absence?  If that is so, then this book was certainly the place to say so.


This is a curious and somewhat conflicted book, as is in fact signaled in the sub-title: A Memoir of International Peacekeeping in the 21st Century.  I can only infer from this memoir that Guehenno was little interested in the command and control of almost 100,000 peacekeepers around the globe, and that he had little interest in a military staff or in military advice.  He does not seem to believe in non-consensual operations because he does not trust the UN to muster the will nor to deliver the means for such operations. This may be an accurate judgement – mission creep is real and more common than it should be, but that is solving a problem by elimination, which is not solving the problem at all.  He does not believe that consent can be induced, let alone coerced, despite the then-Secretary General having publicly stated that both were active peacekeeping options.  It seems then that Guehenno has little confidence in operations mandated in accordance with Chapter VII of the Charter of the UN.  And whatever and however he understands hybrid operations, he doesn’t like them either.

Perhaps I draw inferences the author never intended to imply. Perhaps – but one would not normally omit to discuss matters of grave concern, especially those issues of command and control of peacekeeping operations, which are clearly of great concern to the troop contributors. And I need not be reminded that there is much more to peacekeeping than military – my own book is nearly entirely about civil-military affairs, inter-operability and  cooperation. But, like it or not, military peacekeepers are usually what the big bucks are for and, just as usually, a successful peace operation is the conditio sine qua non of all the other softer power components of a multi-agency operation.[17]   Perhaps I ask too much of this “memoir”, but this is not peacekeeping for beginners, and serious readers need to know more about just how these operations are conducted.  And so do the troop contributors.

It is all very well for diplomats to be parachuted into senior management positions – it was ever thus –  but parachutists need the backup of professional, experienced and more or less permanent staff. I know perfectly well that DPKO is not and is not trying to be a defence ministry, but its interactions with troop contributors are largely through defence ministries and general staffs, and a bit more professionalism on their part would certainly not be amiss. The requirement is for a civil service, and/or a general staff, as appropriate to the agency or the department. Guehenno was more than a little like a defense minister without a general staff.

I conclude that, whatever the many professional virtues Guehenno will certainly have possessed, he had this job principally because the positon had been earmarked, and remains so to this day, as French. Thus the biggest job in the UN below the Secretary General went to and has continued to be filled by a  French nominee with neither UN nor military experience. It is all very well to nominate diplomats for high UN positions, but I believe that a good deal more is required for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.



[1] Guehenno, Jean-Marie, The Fog of Peace – A Memoir of International Peacekeeping in the 21st Century,  Brookings Institution Press, Washington, D.C., 2115

[2] It seems that the first French USG DPKO was nominated in compensation for France’s acquiescence in the nomination of Annan as Secretary General (see Traub, James, The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American Power, Bloomsbury, London, 2006, page 68).

[3] See, “Not by Doves but by Hawks: Peace Gets a Chance in Sierra Leone”, by James V. Arbuckle, March, 2010

[4] From UNAMSIL: A Success Story in Peacekeeping, from “End of Mission Press Kit”, December 2005, (Accessed 20.02.2017)

[5] It had initially been created to manage the Lebanon operation(UNIFIL).  While the UN is less than clear on this subject, a temporary measure became permanent, as such temporary measures tend to do, and became the OMA.

[6] Baril is described as a Lieutenant-General and  former Chief of Staff of the Canadian Army; he was in fact a former four-star and had been Chief of the Defence Staff of Canada.

[7] The Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (A;55/305; S/2000/809: The Brahimi Report”) examined in detail this structural lack: see under “IV. Headquarters Resources and Structures for Planning and Supporting Peacekeeping Operations”, pp 29-34.

[8] Arbuckle, James V., Military Forces in 21st Century Military Operations:  No Job for a Soldier?, Routledge, Abingdon, 2006. See esp Chap 20.

[9] It’s actually not all that bad: in June 1992, when it was decided that UNPROFOR would re-open the airport at Sarajevo, the Canadian battalion then stationed in Croatia was moved to the airport, and military observers from all over the Middle East were moved into Bosnia to reinforce the UN Military Observers (UNMOs) already there; in 1993 a Canadian company was moved at very short notice to Srebrenica; also in 1993, a Canadian company was redeployed from Bosnia to Macedonia as the precursor to a new UN mission there, the first preventive deployment of UN forces.  These unusually prompt deployments were made possible  because the Canadians, seeing how the  wind was blowing had, also at very short notice, committed a second infantry battalion to UNPROFOR. But it must be noted that these re-enforcements, re-deployments and changes in role were only undertaken in agreement with the Canadian government.

[10] Writing elsewhere, Guehenno makes it clear that he understands that C2 is a problem, but anodyne measures such as more training for and more power to the SRSG are of little real utility. See International Forum:  Challenges for Peace Operations:  “Command and Control Arrangements in United Nations Peacekeeping Operations”, by Jean-Marie Guéhenno and Jake Sherman, 9 November 2000

[11] In 1993, six mostly Bosniac towns and villages were proclaimed “safe areas”, to be defended by the UN. The UNPROFOR Force Commander estimated that 34,000 additional troops would be needed; the Secretary General  noted that estimate in his report to the Security Council, but recommended to the Council a “light option” of 7,600 additional troops. He noted that the light option assumed the presence of effective air support, which assumption – predictably – proved baseless. When Srebrenica fell two years later, no reinforcements at all had arrived for UNPROFOR – the “defenders” of Srebrenica were the same lightly armed 150 or so Dutch peacekeepers who had been there since 1993.[11] NATO intelligence at the time, of which the UN was probably not aware, estimated that there were at least 1500 Bosnian Serb forces in the immediate area, with tanks and artillery, and about 5000 more readily available.  Those 150 Dutch soldiers, with fresh memories of the murder of 23  Pakistani peacekeepers in Somalia in 1993, and 10 Belgian paratroopers murdered in Rwanda in 1994, were shouldered aside, and ladies and gentlemen safe abed in 1995 have been judging loudly ever  since.  See Arbuckle, No Job for a Soldier?, pp 112-113


[12] The intervention by Kofi Annan to resolve post-election violence in Kenya in 2008 was hailed as “a model of diplomatic action under the Responsibility to Protect”. The R2P was essentially concerned with non-consensual military intervention under Article 42 of the Charter of the UN. The Annan mission to Kenya in 2008 was entirely civilian, and was undertaken with the fullest consent of all the parties to the conflict. R2P was also cited in respect of coalition operations in Libya from March  to October 2011, which were ostensibly to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973.  That resolution described conditions in Libya at that time in terms reflecting R2P, and prescribed “all measures necessary” for the protection of  civilians, a no-fly zone, an asset freeze and an arms embargo. However,  all international action ceased when Gadhafi was killed. No further humanitarian action or state building was undertaken, and Arab Spring became Arab Winter. In retrospect, the action was widely considered to have been a cynical ploy masking another Rumsfeldian regime-change  scheme.

[13] see, “R2P vs State Sovereignty: The Last Refuge of Scoundrels”, by James V. Arbuckle, January 2010

[14] My italics

[15] “Peace Operations and the United Nations: Preparing for the Next Century”, by Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, in Conflict Resolution Monitor, Issue 1, Summer 1997, Bradford University (see Italics added.  Annan’s nomination as Secretary General had  been confirmed on  13 December 1996.

[16] Brahimi, op.cit, page 54.

[17] There are, of course, political missions which have no military component – Sierra Leone became one such. But these are not pkos, and they are managed by the Department of Political Affairs, not by DPKO.



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