Thursday, September 17, 2020

Eliasson the go-between

Happy 80th birthday Jan Kenneth Eliasson. A Swedish diplomat and politician, he served as ambassador to the US, and as Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations under Ban Ki-moon. His remarkable track record as an international mediator has been widely recognised, and was, in fact, the focus of a 2001 biography, The Go-Between: Jan Eliasson and the Styles of Mediation. The book, which starts with a preface by Kofi Annan, includes a number of references to, and quotes from, Eliasson’s personal diaries.

Eliasson was born on 17 September 1940 into a working-class family in Gothenburg, Sweden. As a gifted student, he was selected to take part in a student exchange programme with the US in 1957 (where he briefly met the future President, Senator John F. Kennedy, at a Democratic party fundraiser). In 1962, he graduated from the Swedish Naval Academy and became an officer in the Swedish Royal Navy. By 1965, he had completed a master’s degree in economics and passed the entrance exam for the Swedish diplomatic corps. He returned to the US as First Secretary in Sweden’s embassy during the early 1970s. In 1980, he opened Sweden’s first embassy in the newly renamed state of Zimbabwe. From 1982 to 1983, he acted as Diplomatic Advisor to the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. He was Director General for Political Affairs in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs from 1983 to 1987 (during which period he took part in a UN mission, mediating in the Iran–Iraq War), and from 1988 to 1992 he acted as Sweden’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York (where he also served as the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative on Iran/Iraq).

During the 1990s, Eliasson, in his capacity as Chair of the United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) committee working on emergency relief, was one of the driving forces behind the formation of the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs in 1992, becoming its first Undersecretary for Humanitarian Affairs. As such, he mediated crises in Myanmar and Sudan. After leaving the UN, he worked as mediator in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). From 1994 to 1999, he was Swedish State Secretary for Foreign Affairs; and from 2000 to 2005 he was Sweden’s Ambassador to the US. 

In 2005, Eliasson was unanimously elected President of the United Nations General Assembly, for its sixtieth session, a position he held for a year. Thereafter, he served again, briefly, in the government as Minister for Foreign Affairs, until his party lost the 2006 election. From 2006 until 2008, he acted for Kofi Annan as a special envoy to Darfur, Sudan. In 2012, he was appointed Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a post he held until 2016. In 2017, he was appointed by the Swedish Government as governing board chair of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. He is married to Kerstin Eliasson, former Swedish State Secretary for Education and Science, and they have three children. He has authored many books and articles and is a frequent lecturer on foreign policy and diplomacy. Since 1988, he has been a visiting lecturer on mediation, conflict resolution and UN reform at Uppsala University. Further information is available from Wikipedia and Nordics Info.

In 2010, the United States Institute of Peace published a book - entitled The Go-Between: Jan Eliasson and the Styles of Mediation - written by Isak Svensson and Peter Wallensteen, with a preface by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The book can be previewed at Amazon or Googlebooks. In their introduction, the authors say: ‘We have been fortunate enough to discuss these mediation cases with Ambassador Eliasson. [. . .] We have also had access to Mr. Eliasson’s personal diaries from these mediation experiences. Such quotes have a reference to the date they are recorded in the diary. Interviews and diary entries are translated from Swedish by the authors.’ It may be some time before Eliasson’s diaries are published if ever, but, thanks to Svensson and Wallensteen, here are four short extracts.

3-4 March 1994
‘This is almost unbelievable. Here I am in a rundown guesthouse with windows demolished by the recent bombings in tiny, mountainous Nagorno-Karabakh, which finds itself in the middle of a bloody war over its own existence and future. I have almost never felt the unique power and mechanisms of hatred and violence as clearly.’

9 April 1994
‘There is competition and power ambitions at the heart of this.... The parties clearly feel pushed around and need us - possibly to play one negotiator against another.’

20 September 1994
‘My most recent visit took place three years ago in mid-September, together with Secretary-General Pérez de Cuéllar. His main objective was to free the hostages captured in Lebanon. . . Even today, I still have difficulties in accepting “the deal" - the guilt of Iraq . . . in return for assistance in the Bekaa Valley.’ 

23 September 1994
‘If I do not have the confidence of the Russians. I need to consider whether I should terminate my own role, or Sweden’s role, as a mediator in this mission. However, first we need to know whether CSCE is ready to give a substantial contribution to the security of the region. If not, we should probably leave. To give our blessings to a solution that the parties do not want should not be a Swedish concern.’

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