Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
A: I think it's really very hard to generalize on some of these points. That's our job, is to generalize, but I think are maybe a few things you can generalize about. You do have to know your conflict, as well as the parties know it. That means a massive investment in knowledge; in case knowledge. It means working to recruit, as part of the effort, as many people as one can who are conflict veterans, so that you wind up with kind of a series of concentric circles and networks that are, in fact, all with the mediation or all with the intervention.
Now that sounds complicated, and it may be more appropriate for a Track I actor to try and organize something like that than a Track II actor. And maybe Track I actors might need that more, like in Sudan for example.
Why are the Norwegians involved in this thing? They're involved in it because they have a limited number of people who are literally world-class on the Sudan conflict, and have decades of experience in dealing with the Sudanese actors, far more detailed relationships across the spectrum than any American official has ever had. What we bring to the table as Americans is that we are Americans. Nobody can say no to the Americans, least of all, the Southern leadership. John Garang, is very dependent on his support base in this country. The regime in Khartoum is very anxious to avoid being added to the Axis of Evil. So that combination makes us a powerful actor, but it doesn't make us a skilled actor, necessarily. I do think it's important that one start out one of these things with a sense of trying to recruit partners.
Q: So is that a good combination, skilled Norwegians and powerful Americans?
A: Yeah, and highly knowledgeable Brits are also part of that troika; the Brits used to run the place, they know it pretty well. They provide a bit of a balance mechanism because they're more open, perhaps, to the views and voices of Khartoum and we're more open to the Southern views and voices. There's a balance in there that's useful. I think it's a good combination. We also, I believe, are talking to some of the NGOs who are close to this conflict and have a lot of those relationship skills too, from the humanitarian assistance community and others. That's another bit of what to remember as you're getting involved. I think that you should always start with a clear sense of a mandate from somebody, and you better be damn sure what that mandate is, and have that conversation upfront.
Q: Somebody like who?
A: Well, like your boss, or like your institutional support base leader, whoever that might be.
Q: So in the case of the Sudan, for example, who might that be? You mean the actual negotiators need to have a mandate from, say, the State Department?
A: From their authority structure, whether it's the president or the secretary or whoever. Sometimes people think of these situations as, oh, well we don't know what else to do, let's have a mediation.
My advice is don't ever accept that assignment. If that's the reason, if that's the motivation, don't do it.
Q: In other words, if it's a last choice?
A: Oh yeah, or to be seen doing something.
Q: Oh, I see.
A: Just a C.Y.A., you know. We don't know what else to do, so we'll send Cye Vance and David Owen out there to try and resolve the Bosnian problem. Not that we seriously are going to support them, or even that we care what they say to each other, but at least we can say, oh they're doing something. It's a bit of a C.Y.A. operation in that regard. This is another point that I think is crucial, you've got to have some coherence in a third-party intervention. There are so many cases where you have a multiplicity of actors. One of our books is on multi-party mediation, you may have seen it, it's called Herding Cats, and it's about multi-party structures. Those are inevitable, I think, in the modern age because lots of people get involved. It's one thing to get involved, it's something else to get involved coherently, which means that people talk to each other, and they may be able to share assignments and share burdens and that kind of thing.