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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .


Peacekeeping and Public Information: Caught in the Crossfire
Ingrid Lehmann

London: Frank Cass, 1999
180pp. Biblio. Index. Pb.: 16.50; ISBN 0-7146-4490-0



This book opens a significant avenue of study stemming from the necessity for public information surrounding UN peacekeeping missions in the field. Indeed, this study presents strong empirical data, via five case studies (Cambodia, Namibia, Haiti, Rwanda, and Eastern Slavonia) which indicates that complex and multidimensional UN missions are far more likely to fail if they do not have a public information component, and that the UN has been slow to recognise this. Chapters One and Two provide a cursory framework for political communication in international organisations, and in the particular context of peacekeeping, though only focusing on 'objective' approaches. Chapter Three looks at the initial development of public information during UNTAG's operation. Chapter Four looks at the revolutionary and massive campaign undertaken during the operation of UNTAC. Chapter Five argues that the omission of a public information campaign during UNAMIR's operation allowed ethnic hatred to continue unchecked. Chapter Five examines public information's crucial role in Haiti's democratisation, and the last chapter examines its dynamic role during UNTAES.

While this book provides a useful theoretical framework and assessment of the main post Cold War missions, it is in the form of a preliminary, though ground breaking, study which provides the basis for future theoretical development and more detailed empirical analyses. That said, the concepts expounded here should be included as a component in future UN operations, as it is clear that public information is vital for UN operations to succeed. This is not just because such missions are competing with other information sources which may be expounding ethnic or religious hatred as this study makes clear, but also because if the UN is to introduce democracy and civil cooperation into war torn environments, the operation itself must also be transparent, receiving and retaining the consent not only of opposing political leaders but also at grassroots. Public information campaigns are in their infancy, and UN personnel often seem remote within a conflict environment, engaged in tasks directed by an invisible and foreign hand. Though this is an exploratory study, it is laden by certain assumptions, which make it somewhat problematic. The six principles of communication for peacekeeping operations (p.18-19.) signpost an emerging debate relating to peacekeeping: the proposals that peacekeeping needs to acknowledge the local and international importance of public perceptions in influencing political processes, the role of education on human rights, the rule of law and electoral processes, and the need for cultural sensitivity and transparency, raises the question of how to ensure local, regional, and global sustainability and sensitivity, both of which were clearly lacking in Cold War UN peacekeeping operations. Clearly this involves long term institutional commitment with a capacity for high levels of local awareness and consent from civil society and its political factions.

Given that most of the conflicts discussed in this study are of a complex and intersubjective nature, it would have been useful to move beyond the positivist assumptions of conflict management. This would have certainly added weight to the author's thesis that the communication of the peacekeeping force's objectives and philosophy and the need for transparency and democratisation are vital in environments characterised by the dominance of ethnonationalist rhetoric. It might also raise questions about the local sensitivity and normative basis of 'effective' public information intervention by the UN. Despite these criticisms, this is an important study highlighting the embryonic nature of UN efforts to bring a level of peace and prosperity to war-torn environments.


Dr. Oliver Richmond, University of St. Andrews



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