The Security Council diaries

Among the many questions that U.N. Security Council diplomats must grapple with as they travel the globe in search of solutions to the world’s crises add these two: Should you wear a suit when visiting a refugee camp or go casual? And what do you do when your football team’s massive final game coincides with ...

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Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Among the many questions that U.N. Security Council diplomats must grapple with as they travel the globe in search of solutions to the world's crises add these two: Should you wear a suit when visiting a refugee camp or go casual? And what do you do when your football team's massive final game coincides with a state dinner?

Britain's U.N. ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, and his German counterpart, Peter Wittig, have thankfully provided answers to these pressing diplomatic questions, and many others, in a rare spurt of blogging during the 15-nation council's 5-day visit this week to the West Africa nations of Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.

With Bayern Munich, Germany's leading soccer team, facing off against Britain's Chelsea in the European Champions League final, the two European diplomats devised a ruse to exit a state dinner on Saturday night with Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, to watch the final penalty shoot-out, which ended with a 4-3 victory by Chelsea.

Among the many questions that U.N. Security Council diplomats must grapple with as they travel the globe in search of solutions to the world’s crises add these two: Should you wear a suit when visiting a refugee camp or go casual? And what do you do when your football team’s massive final game coincides with a state dinner?

Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, and his German counterpart, Peter Wittig, have thankfully provided answers to these pressing diplomatic questions, and many others, in a rare spurt of blogging during the 15-nation council’s 5-day visit this week to the West Africa nations of Liberia, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.

With Bayern Munich, Germany’s leading soccer team, facing off against Britain’s Chelsea in the European Champions League final, the two European diplomats devised a ruse to exit a state dinner on Saturday night with Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, to watch the final penalty shoot-out, which ended with a 4-3 victory by Chelsea.

"My British colleague Mark Lyall Grant and I took turns eloping (‘for the restroom’) to follow it on a TV screen next door," Wittig wrote in a May 19 post, on Day 1 of the council’s tour. "It was the most nerve-wrecking official dinner I have ever attended! Mark and I watched the penalty shootout together. I was grateful to him that he restrained his joy when [Bastian] Schweinsteiger screwed it up. And we ended amicably in the spirit of British-German friendship with a beer at the bar (Mark paid).

Written in the style of old-school diplomatic diaries, the blogs provide an uncharacteristically personal and readable account of the council’s overseas travels, touching on matters ranging from a regional attempt to put down a local military coup to an effort by U.N. peacekeepers to secure lunch for the high-level diplomatic delegation.

"We were transported all day in a crude Canadian UN propeller plane, moving from one dirt land strip to another," Lyall Grant wrote. "The density of the program meant that some of my Security Council colleagues became alarmed at the absence of any indication of an opportunity to have lunch. All credit then, to the Moroccan battalion in Guiglo who rustled up a couscous dish at short notice, which sustained us for the rest of the day."

The German ambassador’s blog recalled an "ideologically charged discussion about the appropriate attire" council members should wear on a tour of a refugee camp in Liberia. "What does ‘business casual’ really mean? In the end only France and Germany wore a tie (‘l’alliance franco-allemande’) — to pay the necessary respect also to the refugees."

But beyond the travel logistics and attire, the blogs offered crisp assessments of the region’s unfolding crises, as well as an insider account of a crisis meeting in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, with West African leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) keen to reverse a military coup in Mali. "I would not be surprised if they ask the Security Council for authorization for such military action in the coming days," wrote Lyall Grant.

The two blogs highlighted the deepening political divide in Ivory Coast, where the U.N. last year played a critical military role, alongside the French, in driving former Ivoirian leader Laurent Gbagbo from power. The foreign intervention led to the inauguration of President Alassane Ouattara, who had previously defeated Gbagbo in a U.N.-monitored election.

Lyall-Grant and Wittig noted that thousands of Gbagbo loyalists remained too frightened to return to their homes from exile in Liberia. They also noted that an Ivoirian government program to disarm and demobilize former combatants has produced a total of only six weapons.

Both ambassadors, meanwhile, voiced disappointment with the Ouattara government’s effort to achieve a lasting peace between the country’s rival camps through the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission.

"We spoke to the president of the commission and its members. What has it achieved? Very little, my documents say. ‘Timid progress,’ the UN says more politely," Wittig wrote. "Anyway, any reconciliation process takes time. To expect quick results, is not fair."

Lyall Grant took a dig at Chelsea’s star striker, Didier Drogba, who hails from Ivory Coast and is a member of the truth and reconciliation commission. "Sadly he was not at the meeting and indeed has not attended any meeting of the Commission as yet. But, with his foot-balling duties finished for a while, they hope that he will appear back in Abidjan before too long."

The British envoy’s remarks likely reflected his hopes that greater commitment by prominent Ivoirians could help unify this "bitterly divided" country. But there may have been an ulterior motive, which emerged in a separate blog post: "P.S. now that Didier Drogba has signed for Shanghai, I should probably stop promoting him in this blog."

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch

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