This article examines the multilateral mediation strategy attempted by Kofi Annan in Syria in 2012. In a world of fragmenting power, can international mediation in civil wars be effective at the new fault-lines of great power rivalries? If so, how? As territorial fault-lines between rival great power interests deepen with increasing multipolarity, this is set to become a growing minefield for civil war mediators. Addressing this question requires analysis of recent examples that are indicative of crises to come. Was the failure of the Annan mission in Syria inevitable because of the depth of international polarization? Or, did it fail for other reasons? This detailed examination reveals that the mission was fatally wounded most of all by a Western “illusion of unipolarity” over and above any inherent obstacles posed by geopolitical polarization. This suggests greater, not fewer, possibilities for peacemaking in the future in similar contexts – that is, if Western policy can be better calibrated for the emerging multipolar international system.
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