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Research Report

Lost in Transition:: UN Mediation in Libya, Syria, and Yemen

Copyright Date: Nov. 1, 2016
Pages: 28

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. [i]-[i])
  2. (pp. [ii]-[iii])
  3. (pp. 1-1)
  4. (pp. 2-3)

    The current turmoil and violence in the Middle East obfuscates the fact that there exists also a story of peace efforts across the region—a story of small successes, big frustrations, setbacks, and failures. The most successful and visible peaceful political transition has been the locally led national dialogue that pulled Tunisia back from the precipice two years ago. On the other side of the spectrum, the conflict that receives the most media coverage is the Syrian civil war. But violence and human misery are present in Libya and Yemen as well, both of which eventually descended into armed conflict...

  5. (pp. 3-4)

    There are a few important characteristics that Libya, Syria, and Yemen share that shaped UN mediation efforts. First, all three countries were under longstanding dictators who ruled through tribal alliances and patronage networks, among other means: “These leaders used external wars, internal witch-hunts, and talk of foreign conspiracies to legitimize their rule; and at the same time, to subsidize it, they tolerated or brought about huge black economies.”⁵ Ali Abdullah Saleh, president of Yemen until 2012, maintained power for thirtythree years, while Muammar Qaddafi was the ruler of Libya for forty-two years before he was lynched by a mob in...

  6. (pp. 5-13)

    To make the lessons comparable across these three cases, the analysis is organized around five key challenges that mediators confront: (1) mandate; (2) entry and consent; (3) impartiality and inclusivity; (4) strategy; and (5) leverage.⁸ These elements can also be found in the UN Guidance for Effective Mediation, which the Department of Political Affairs’ (DPA) Mediation Support Unit developed to identify “a number of key fundamentals that should be considered in a mediation effort.”9 Therefore, the performance of each mediator has been tested against these five challenges. This section analyzes them case by case, while crosscutting lessons from the three...

  7. (pp. 13-17)

    A few crosscutting lessons can be drawn from these cases to inform future UN mediation in similar contexts. The lessons are organized around the same five challenges used to frame the analysis above: mandate, impartiality and inclusion, entry and consent, strategy, and leverage.

    The first lesson that clearly emerges from the analysis of the three cases is the importance of institutional support. The unity of intent in the membership of the Security Council provided Benomar with leverage over Yemeni leaders—at least for the early part of his intervention—which was never at the disposal of the mediators in Libya...

  8. (pp. 17-17)

    This paper has drawn a set of lessons from the UN’s first attempts at mediation in Libya, Syria, and Yemen after the Arab uprisings. However, there are two important caveats. First, the context in which these mediations took place had a definitive impact on the success or failure of diplomatic efforts; it is often difficult to disentangle the individual mediator’s responsibility for a particular outcome from the broader circumstances.

    Second, caution should be exercised when trying to apply these lessons to other political transitions and mediations more generally. Though these mediations share certain basic characteristics— they all took place in...

  9. (pp. 24-24)