March 3, 2016

“You could say the world is getting more peaceful—it depends on the scale of time that you look at,” said Jean-Marie Guéhenno. “However, there has been a clear uptick of conflict recently. Things are changing. The world is in a transition.”

Guéhenno, who served for six years as the Arnold A. Saltzman Professor of Professional Practice and director of the Center for International Conflict Resolution, left SIPA in August 2014 to become president of the International Crisis Group. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

He returned to SIPA on February 25 to speak about the current state of conflict resolution and his personal experiences working in the field.

In his remarks, Guéhenno characterized foreign policies among some of the world powers: Russia pursues a policy is “ambivalence,” seeking to keep its options open; the EU is all about exporting peace; and the United States’ foreign policy is in middle, focused on both the “soft power” of spreading U.S. ideas and technology, and the hard power of military might.

“These powers don't know how to deal with each other,” Guéhenno suggested. “What does this mean for conflict resolution? What about the fusion of power?”

Guéhenno also discussed the complicated nature of conflict today.

“The top-down world of Kissinger is over. Syria is good illustration of that,” Guéhenno said, going on to explain the multi-layered political nature of both the “state” that is ISIS and the global powers that are exerting control over the situation.

To deal with these complexities today, he said, “you need a matrix approach to look at cross-cutting issues, such as extremism and corruption… You need to strengthen the legitimacy of states. And the UN is not well equipped for that.”

Guéhenno noted that International Crisis Group is adapting its strategy to address these new complexities, pointing out that in the past, International Crisis Group would look at conflicts in isolation. Today, International Crisis Group is using a new approach that looks at the many layers of an issue, pointing out that in March they will release a new cross-cutting report on violent extremism.

Turning the discussion to extremism, Guéhenno reflected on how to deal with one of today’s most significant issues: ISIS.

“We once assumed that if we put in a functioning government [in Syria], peace will come. We've seen that the world is much more complicated than that,” said Guéhenno, “What kind of state do we want in these conflict zones? Will this lead to an arrangement different than what we know?”

This new arrangement will challenge our sense of legitimacy as we know it, he said.

“This transformation the world is going through is fascinating, but also will fundamentally challenge legitimacy. I'm optimistic and pessimistic, because this transformation of legitimacy will cause a lot of pain and violence.”

Guéhenno also charged that governments are entering conflict and taking actions in the name of combatting violent extremism, but that is not their true priority.

“The movement against violent extremism is fake,” he said. “We know because the political objectives aren't converging. They’re just being used to broaden [supposed] self-defense.”

The discussion was moderated by Professors Richard K. Betts and and Edward Luck MIA ’72. Betts, who is the Arnold A. Saltzman Professor of War and Peace Studies, directs the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies and the International Security Policy concentration. Luck is the current Arnold A. Saltzman Professor of Professional Practice.

— Kristen Grennan MPA ’16