BOOK REVIEW: Conflict Management in International Missions – A field guide by Olav Ofstad

Conflict Management in International Missions – A field guide by Olav Ofstad

If you hold a book written by Mr. Olav Ofstad in your hand, you would not be disappointed. This also applies to field guide: Conflict Management in International Mission. When I worked in international field missions, I used Olav Ofstad’s advice published in the book entitled, Conflict Management in Peace Operations: A Handbook for Officers and Soldiers. Conflict Management in International Missions gives a broader view of international missions or operations, written for civilians as well as uniformed personnel. It covers topics in a pedagogical way starting with “What you should know about conflicts”, to concerns when your agency becomes a part of a conflict and how this will impact on individuals in the field. This book is useful for preparations and training as well as guidelines when people are on field missions. As a non-English speaker, I found the book easy to read, which makes the topics discussed readily understandable.

Let me go chapter by chapter starting with, “What you should know about conflicts”. This chapter gives you, as a reader, an important and urgently needed knowledge of conflict and its nature. This is basic knowledge needed before individuals prepare for any missions and even before individuals decide to sign up for work with any agency.

The next chapter, “Preparing for missions”, gives a good description of what you should do regarding making yourself well prepared for the mission. It provides a checklist for what to read, and most importantly, how to understand types of missions involving different doctrines and operational concepts.

When you have decided to join a mission and have completed your preparations, it is time to “Establish yourself in the field”. This chapter, as well as the previous chapters, provides an easy explanation and a lot of good advice on how to establish your self on the mission. Personally, I consider the text discussing how to behave in different situations as the best part of this chapter, along with the section that covers the use of interpreters. This topic may be the most unknown to personnel joining a mission. Working in different situations requires skills and training, which is well described in this chapter.

The next chapters, “Mediation” and “Influence: Psychology versus traditional approaches”, are the two chapters I consider to be the strongest parts of the book. These chapters, from my point of view, describe the most important skills one needs to manage a mission, outlining the cornerstones for success. As the book states, only a few international personnel conduct formal mediation, but it is highly possible that most individual field personnel will do what I call “mediation light”. By this I mean, field personnel will provide basic skills in multicultural understanding, which are highly recommended and well covered in these two chapters. The chapters offer readers basic understanding of these skills, but I also recommend that readers add other literature and training to build their skills. If an individual wants to become a professional mediator/facilitator, these basic skills will be the main part of his or her role and job during the mission. Based on my personal experience of being on missions with the UN and others, in which I was “forced” to do facilitation and mediation, I appreciate all of the advice and discussion provided in these two chapters. My lesson, which I learned after almost 10 years in international missions and other environments, as well as in my domestic work, was to be prepared to do some mediation and/or facilitation when on mission.

“Peacebuilding” is a chapter on one of the concepts that occurs in international missions/operations that is well described in this book. The author gives a good overview of the concept and its elements. If you are an expert within your field, but you have never been on a peacebuilding mission, this chapter should give you an excellent overview of what peacebuilding is about. It will also give you practical guidelines on how your field of expertise would best be utilized on the mission. The author discusses useful advice for analysing different situations for different tasks. For example, under the heading “Common needs,” the readers are given brief information on different concepts, e.g., disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, mine clearance, and others. This is readily readable. This chapter is a heavy one and could almost have been a book in itself.

“When you or your agency becomes party to a conflict” is the last chapter of this book. It is a short chapter but it is filled with good advice and useful guidelines. It is a fine way for the author to conclude this informative book.

Finally, as stated at the beginning of this review, you should read this book before entering a mission and bring it with you during the mission. Good luck.

Jessheim, Norway, 3rd November 2015
Øyvind Dammen
Colonel (Retired)


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