The recent rise in mass popular protests – many with regional spillover effects and some with far-reaching consequences for international peace and security – has raised the question of how the international community should respond to these events, and to what end. For the United Nations, the question becomes acute in protest situations in which there is a tangible risk of large-scale violence and human rights violations. Yet mounting a rapid and effective response is a particular challenge in these contexts. Drawing on case studies, practitioner interviews, and the author’s UN experience, this presentation will examine five variables that are critical to success: timing, access, leverage, the ability to propose solutions for non-violent change, and finding the right mix of principle and pragmatism. It will argue that these variables are not static, but dynamic and inter-independent. Getting them ‘right’ in an unfolding crisis is difficult, but it is possible to draw some preliminary lessons from the cases reviewed.
Alexandra Pichler Fong is visiting CDDRL on leave from the United Nations, where she headed the Policy Planning Unit of the Department of Political Affairs in New York. Her work focuses on cross-cutting peace and security issues, such as conflict prevention, preventive diplomacy and peacemaking, as well as policy matters pertaining to UN peace operations in a rapidly changing international security environment. She recently completed an assignment reporting to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, based in Dakar, Senegal, to advance the implementation of the UN’s regional strategy for the Sahel. She joined the UN in 2002 as political affairs officer and has served as adviser in the cabinet of three successive Under-Secretaries-General for Political Affairs, focusing on the regions of Europe, Latin America and Asia-Pacific as well as thematic issues such as UN reform. Before entering the UN, Alexandra worked at the International Crisis Group; a European network of development NGOs; and the European Commission. She holds a B.A. Hons. degree in Modern History and Literature from Oxford University and a Master’s degree in International Relations from the London School of Economics.