Envoy: All conflicts can be resolved
After two decades as a diplomatic troubleshooter in hotspots from Afghanistan to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi firmly believes that every conflict can be solved.
That conviction will be put to the test in his new job as the joint UN-Arab League special envoy charged with trying to succeed where his former boss Kofi Annan failed – bringing an end to the 18-month conflict in Syria.
“I think his biggest challenge is convincing the international community to intervene and end this – whatever it takes, because non-intervention has a much higher cost than intervention,” Nadim Shehadi, a Middle East expert at London’s Chatham House think-tank, said.
“Leaving this to go on is going to create more sectarianism, more extremism and more spillover to the region, and the Assad regime is capable of anything to stay in power.”
Mr Brahimi brings a unique background and a wealth of experience to a task that many leaders and pundits have written off as impossible.
He was a freedom fighter in his native Algeria, drifted into diplomacy after his country’s independence from France in 1962, became under-secretary general of the Arab League from 1984 to 1991, and returned to Algeria as foreign minister from 1991 to 1993.
In 1994 he took his diplomatic skills to the UN, taking on key assignments in South Africa, Haiti, Afghanistan during and after the Taliban rule, and Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s ousting. He chaired a panel that examined UN failures in Rwanda’s genocide and the massacre at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war, and recommended a major overhaul of UN peacemaking efforts and peacekeeping operations.
Reflecting on his 20 years spent trying to make peace, Mr Brahimi acknowledged in a speech in 2010 that conflicts are terrible and difficult and the cause or the result of problems that need to be solved. Nonetheless, he added: “I still believe very, very strongly that there is no conflict that cannot be solved.
“We, people, make these problems,” he told the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford. “And we should be able to solve them. We can solve them.”
He said he also learned that in dealing with conflicts “obviously you see a lot of wickedness, a lot of cruelty, a lot of injustice, but you also come across a lot of kindness, a lot of courage, and a lot of forgiveness, and that makes up for it”.
He recalled that when former US senator George Mitchell accepted the job as President Barack Obama’s special envoy to the Middle East in 2009, Mr Mitchell said: “You live 800 days of frustration for one day of satisfaction.”
During his years at the Arab League, Mr Brahimi served as the organisation’s special envoy trying to mediate an end to Lebanon’s civil war.
There were several failed attempts to end the fighting, he said, but finally on September 24, 1989, “we clinched a ceasefire” that looked like it would hold – and did, leading to the Taif agreement that ended the 15-year conflict.
“These kinds of satisfactions are the things that one works for,” Mr Brahimi said.
He officially retired in 2005, though he remains active as a lecturer and participant in several non-profit organisations focusing on global affairs.
He has taken on special assignments including heading a UN panel that investigated the December 2007 bombing of UN headquarters in Algiers.