Summary of The Fog of Peace

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  • Insider's Take


Amid the geopolitical chaos of recent years, a cynic might lose faith in institutions such as the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping. But Jean-Marie Guéhenno is no cynic. As he makes clear in this recounting of his eight years as head of the UN division charged with averting genocide – or at least providing some rudimentary medical care – Guéhenno remains optimistic about the worthwhile nature of peacekeeping interventions. But he’s also a realist. He acknowledges that costly missions in such locales as the Democratic Republic of Congo provided only fleeting relief, and he admits to black eyes such as the UN sex scandal in Congo. In one memorable passage, he recounts the words of a West African strongman: “It is so complicated to run an African state.” Guéhenno offers a similar lament about the challenges of operating as a UN peacekeeper, although he’s clearly on the side of good rather than evil. Guéhenno’s prose isn’t always easy to digest: He tends to dive right into the details of complicated conflicts without providing context for nonexpert readers. Still, this frank and useful text illustrates why the seemingly impossible task of keeping the peace is a responsibility the world can’t afford to ignore.

About the Author

Jean-Marie Guéhenno is the former under-secretary general for UN peacekeeping operations. He is head of the International Crisis Group and a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution.



An Unending Challenge

Jean-Marie Guéhenno joined the United Nations at a moment when world affairs had become unusually murky. It was 2000, and geopolitics no longer seemed as black and white as they had during the Cold War. The fall of the Berlin Wall seemed to promise a new era of unprecedented peace, prosperity and cooperation. Instead, the 1990s saw genocide in Rwanda and NATO bombings over Kosovo. As these events unfolded, Guéhenno began to rethink his former view of the world. Noble goals, he saw, sometimes run contrary to one another. And clashes between major powers weren’t the only ones worth considering: Overlooked conflicts in out-of-the-way places generate their fair share of bloodshed and global disruption too.

If waging war is difficult, maintaining the peace is often even more challenging. Peacekeeping is an unceasing challenge that requires deft decisions in the fields of risk management and cultural sensitivity, undertaken in a climate of uncertainty and volatility. At its most basic level, successful peacekeeping isn’t about quashing enemies but rather about learning when...

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