Turtle Bay

The seven deadly sins of mediation

Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister and veteran U.N. trouble-shooter, was appointed lead mediator for Syria on Friday, placing the 78-year-old diplomat at the forefront of international efforts to head off a lengthy civil war in Syria. Brahimi will replace Kofi Annan, who is scheduled to step down later this month from his post ...

By , a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy.
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister and veteran U.N. trouble-shooter, was appointed lead mediator for Syria on Friday, placing the 78-year-old diplomat at the forefront of international efforts to head off a lengthy civil war in Syria.

Brahimi will replace Kofi Annan, who is scheduled to step down later this month from his post as the U.N. and Arab League’s envoy to Syria, citing the refusal of the Syrian combatants and their foreign sponsors to make the necessary compromises for peace. A U.N. spokesman, Eduardo del Buey, issued a statement announcing the new appointment and saying that the U.N. secretary-general "appreciates Mr. Brahimi’s willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to this crucial task for which he will need, and rightly expects, the strong, clear, and unified support of the international community, including the Security Council."

Brahimi said in an interview today with France 24 that he was prepared to begin "meeting anybody who wants to talk with me, whether from the opposition or the government."

Brahimi acknowledged the deep political divisions in the Security Council over the proper approach to the Syrian crisis, saying they "are divided but surely they can unite on something like this and I hope they will."

"If they don’t support me," he added, "there is no job."

Brahimi said that "when I take a mission like this I have only one preoccupation: how to serve the interests of the people of Syria. This is what is great about the United Nations. The United Nations has nothing to sell, nothing to buy."

So far, Brahimi has given few hints about how he plans to approach his new challenge. But he has published a short, readable paper that spells out what a mediator shouldn’t do when faced with a thorny diplomatic task. Published by New York University’s Center on Cooperation and co-written with Salman Ahmed, a former U.N. peacekeeping official who now serves as Susan Rice‘s chief of staff, the paper outlines the seven deadly sins of mediation to be avoided at all costs.

"Each conflict is unique but at the same time, based on bitter personal experience in the management of several political processes and close observation of the work of others, there do appear to be certain recurrent traps that materialize in many different situations, across the spectrum of crisis response, and regardless if the mediator is operating with a small team or heading an operation comprised of thousands of personnel," Brahimi and Amhed write. "Seven of the traps can be fatal to the ability of an SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary General] or other international mediators … to conduct the political role effectively." The seven sins they list are:

1.  Ignorance

2.  Arrogance

3.  Partiality

4.  Impotence

5.  Haste

6.  Inflexibility

7.  False Promises

"The inherent caution underlying the foregoing analysis of the ‘seven deadly sins’ is neither new nor revolutionary. It bears repeating nonetheless because the sins keep getting committed," they write.

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Lakhdar Brahimi, the former Algerian foreign minister and veteran U.N. trouble-shooter, was appointed lead mediator for Syria on Friday, placing the 78-year-old diplomat at the forefront of international efforts to head off a lengthy civil war in Syria.

Brahimi will replace Kofi Annan, who is scheduled to step down later this month from his post as the U.N. and Arab League’s envoy to Syria, citing the refusal of the Syrian combatants and their foreign sponsors to make the necessary compromises for peace. A U.N. spokesman, Eduardo del Buey, issued a statement announcing the new appointment and saying that the U.N. secretary-general "appreciates Mr. Brahimi’s willingness to bring his considerable talents and experience to this crucial task for which he will need, and rightly expects, the strong, clear, and unified support of the international community, including the Security Council."

Brahimi said in an interview today with France 24 that he was prepared to begin "meeting anybody who wants to talk with me, whether from the opposition or the government."

Brahimi acknowledged the deep political divisions in the Security Council over the proper approach to the Syrian crisis, saying they "are divided but surely they can unite on something like this and I hope they will."

"If they don’t support me," he added, "there is no job."

Brahimi said that "when I take a mission like this I have only one preoccupation: how to serve the interests of the people of Syria. This is what is great about the United Nations. The United Nations has nothing to sell, nothing to buy."

So far, Brahimi has given few hints about how he plans to approach his new challenge. But he has published a short, readable paper that spells out what a mediator shouldn’t do when faced with a thorny diplomatic task. Published by New York University’s Center on Cooperation and co-written with Salman Ahmed, a former U.N. peacekeeping official who now serves as Susan Rice‘s chief of staff, the paper outlines the seven deadly sins of mediation to be avoided at all costs.

"Each conflict is unique but at the same time, based on bitter personal experience in the management of several political processes and close observation of the work of others, there do appear to be certain recurrent traps that materialize in many different situations, across the spectrum of crisis response, and regardless if the mediator is operating with a small team or heading an operation comprised of thousands of personnel," Brahimi and Amhed write. "Seven of the traps can be fatal to the ability of an SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary General] or other international mediators … to conduct the political role effectively." The seven sins they list are:

1.  Ignorance

2.  Arrogance

3.  Partiality

4.  Impotence

5.  Haste

6.  Inflexibility

7.  False Promises

"The inherent caution underlying the foregoing analysis of the ‘seven deadly sins’ is neither new nor revolutionary. It bears repeating nonetheless because the sins keep getting committed," they write.

Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

Tag: Media

More from Foreign Policy

The Taliban delegation leaves the hotel after meeting with representatives of Russia, China, the United States, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Qatar in Moscow on March 19.

China and the Taliban Begin Their Romance

Beijing has its eyes set on using Afghanistan as a strategic corridor once U.S. troops are out of the way.

An Afghan security member pours gasoline over a pile of seized drugs and alcoholic drinks

The Taliban Are Breaking Bad

Meth is even more profitable than heroin—and is turbocharging the insurgency.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addresses the U.N. Security Council from her office in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 4, 2020.

Belarus’s Unlikely New Leader

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya didn’t set out to challenge a brutal dictatorship.

Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid

What the Taliban Takeover Means for India

Kabul’s swift collapse leaves New Delhi with significant security concerns.