Michael von der Schulenburg (Michael Sergius Graf von der Schulenburg) was born in Munich in 1948, moving with his parents to East Germany four years later. He grew up near East Berlin, where he completed his schooling and obligatory military service. In 1969, he and his twin brother crossed the Baltic Sea to escape East Germany, hiding on an East German freighter carrying military equipment destined for Vietnam.
Between 1970 and 1975 Schulenburg studied at the Freie Universität (FU) in West Berlin, also attending the London School of Economics (LSE) for one year as an economics major specialising in philosophy. He wrote his master thesis about John Rawls’ Theory of Justice. He then complemented his studies at the German Institute for Development (DIE) in Berlin and the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA) in Paris.
In 1978, he joined the United Nations as a junior officer at UNDP in New York. From 1980 to 1987, he worked for the UNDP in Haiti and Pakistan. Between 1987 and 1989, as the Iran-Iraq War reached its final phase, he was assigned to Iran as the Deputy Resident Representative. From 1989 to 1991, he became the chief of missions in Kabul for Operation Salaam, a special UN programme under USG Prince Saddrudin Aga Khan aimed at stabilising Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Soviet occupation forces. In 1991/92, during the first Gulf War (liberation of Kuwait), he was the UN Senior Emergency Coordinator to Syria and, later, became the Special Envoy to Iran.
From 1992 to 1999, he served as the UN Resident Coordinator to Iran, followed by one year as the Director of Operations and Analysis at the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Vienna. He resigned from UNODC over disagreements with the executive director regarding the handling of financial resources. From 2001 to 2005, he joined the OSCE in Vienna as the Director for Management and Finance, where he conducted major management reforms.
From May 2005 to December 2007, Schulenburg served as the Principle Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for Political Affairs to Iraq; from June 2008 to April 2012, he was assigned as the Executive Representative of the Secretary General (ERSG) to Sierra Leone. Both assignments were at the Assistant Secretary General level.
Although mostly in political affairs, Schulenburg worked in all branches of UN/OSCE activities, from development and humanitarian assistance to management reforms. The common thread of his career is war and peace. All of his assignments have been in countries that experienced war, were submerged in intra-state armed conflicts, or were threatened by the effects of armed conflicts in their neighbourhoods.
Schulenburg undertook many special missions and assignments for the UN
Afghanistan: In 1988, Schulenburg and a team of three other UN officials travelled on horseback for 2.5 months through Afghanistan over the passes of the Hindu Kush. He met with many mujahedeen commanders (including Hikmatyar, Rabbani, and Shah Masoud) and local community leaders. Following the Geneva Accords of 1988 that foresaw the withdrawal of Soviet forces by 1991, the aim of this mission was to ascertain that various mujahedeen commanders and local communities inside Afghanistan would cooperate with the UN in rebuilding the country.
Iran: During his first assignment to Iran (1987-89), Schulenburg remained in the country during the so-called ‘bombing of the cities’, experiencing the Iraq’s missile attacks on Tehran first-hand. When the Iranian airbus was shot down in 1988, he was sent to Bander Abbas at the Persian Gulf to help persuade the Iranian Revolutionary Guards – who generally mistrusted the UN – to accept an ICAO mission to investigate this incident. With his local contacts and knowledge, he supported the UN mission investigating the use of chemical weapons during the war. Following Iran’s acceptance of the ceasefire under UN resolution 598, he supported the advance UN peacekeeping team that came to establish UNIIMOG as well as the UN mission to help initiate the exchange of prisoners.
Syria: In Syria, Schulenburg and an inter-agency UN team helped the government manage the political and humanitarian fall-out of the first Gulf War and prepare for UN assistance. Syria joined the US-led international coalition against Iraq. The move was not popular among all Syrian communities, particularly among Palestinians living in Syria, who feared any Israeli response to an Iraqi provocation could result in major unrest and large refugee movements.
Iran: As Special Emergency Envoy to Iran in 1991, Schulenburg undertook a special mission over the border into Southern Iraq to investigate reports alleging that about 400,000 Iraqi Shiites had fled into the Marshlands, fearing reprisals from Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guards. He was also sent over the border in Northern Iraq to contact leaders of the Kurdish Peshmerga and discuss the safe return of about one million Iraqi-Kurdish refugees who had fled into Iran after the first Gulf War.
Iran: The time of his second assignment to Iran was characterised by talks of Iraqi war compensations, human rights, illicit drug trafficking, and nuclear proliferation. These included visits to Secretary Generals Boutros Ghali and Kofi Annan, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Director Generals of the UN Drug Programme and the IAEA. This assignment also coincided with the UN’s attempt to find a political solution for Afghanistan that, after a period of anarchy, had come under Taliban control. He participated in the ‘6+2’ talks led by USG Brahimi.
Afghanistan: During the fall of Mazar-e-Sharif in North Afghanistan in 1988, The Taliban took 40 Iranian prisoners and held them hostage in Kandahar. In response, Iran threatened to militarily invade Afghanistan, risking a wider Shiite-Sunni confrontation. Schulenburg accompanied USG Brahimi to Kandahar to meet with the Taliban leader Mullah Omar and negotiate the release of the hostages. He later returned to Kandahar to collect the hostages and accompanied them back to Iran.
Afghanistan: After the fall of the Taliban in 2001, Schulenburg accompanied USG Brahimi into Afghanistan to help establish the UN peace mission to help implement the Bonn Agreements and rebuild the country.
Somalia: In 2005, Schulenburg spent two months in Somalia supporting UN/UNDP efforts to form an Interim Somali Government (in exile) and launch humanitarian assistance in and around Mogadishu.
Iraq: During his assignment in Iraq (2005/5/7), Schulenburg was responsible for attempts to reconcile hostile Iraqi parties and the development of a new Iraqi constitution, as well as for the referendum and national elections. Much of his efforts were directed at trying to find a solution for the Kirkuk question and launching the Bagdad Peace Initiative following the outbreak of inter-communal hostilities in the city.
Afghanistan: In 2008, Schulenburg was sent to Afghanistan to conduct a comprehensive review of the UN peace mission considering the country’s heightened security situation.
Afghanistan: In 2017, Schulenburg was sent to Afghanistan again to accompany USG Jan Kubis for a strategic review of UN activities in the country.
Schulenburg made several reform proposals
ICT initiative: Between 2003 and 2005, Schulenburg worked with President Martti Ahtisaari to develop an IT platform that would revolutionise how countries manage their human resources, finances, and assets. Furthermore, he outlined a proposal that he called the ‘government out of a box’ (GOOB). The idea was that IT technology had developed to a level that would make it possible to develop an easier, more decentralised, and more transparent management system.
IRMA and DocIn: During his OSCE assignment, Schulenburg implemented an IT-supported management reform (IRMA) that would give programme managers greater freedom to manage financial, human, and physical resources allocated to his/her programme with less involvement by the central administration. Linked to it, an IT-supported document management system was developed that maintained all email exchanges, correspondences, reports, etc., under each programme. The leading idea behind joint management and documentation reforms was to develop a comprehensive system in which individual responsibilities correspond with individual authorities and, hence, establish clear individual accountability.
Light footprint: When the Afghan Interim Government took over in January 2002, it was faced with a national and regional governance system and infrastructure that had almost completely collapsed after years of anarchy and Taliban control. Schulenburg argued that this needed a completely new approach by the UN development and humanitarian agencies in supporting the government. Instead of putting huge resources into establishing an assembly of competing UN agency offices in Kabul, assigning hierarchically organized international office staff, recruiting large numbers of qualified Afghan nationals, and manging huge carparks of white Four-Wheel-Drive vehicles, he suggested not establishing any UN agency office for the first two years. Instead, he felt the UN should focus on about 10 countrywide programmes (six in development and four in humanitarian assistance) to be entirely run by the newly formed Afghan ministries. The UN should send no more than five international experts to be assigned to each ministry and recruit qualified Afghan nationals to be integrated into the ministries. To avoid multiple financial management systems, UNOPS should be responsible for the financial management of all 10 programmes with the aim of building this into the future government financial management system.
New Principles for UN Peace Operations: After returning from Iraq in December 2005, Schulenburg prepared a short proposal for DPA/UNDPKO, in which he suggested six new operating principles for UN peace missions. The three existing operating principles dated from a time UN peacekeeping mission were sent to monitor ceasefire agreements between member states. For today’s UN peace missions that operate mostly in on-going violent conflicts between states and armed non-state actors these three original principles made no longer sense and must be replaced.
Joint Vision for Sierra Leone: To give the newly formed UN Integrated Peacebuilding Mission in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) clear directions and objectives, Schulenburg developed, possibly for the first time at the UN, a joint planning framework, the Joint Vision for Sierra Leone. It combined the UN’s political mission with all humanitarian and development and human rights activities of UN agencies, programmes and funds behind four priority areas and 21 integrated programmes. The document was unusual as it was only seven pages long – a far cry from the usual cumbersome and long UN planning documents. The Joint Vision was the only UN planning document that was approach at a special session of the UN Peacebuilding Commission at with Sierra Leone’s President and the UN Secretary-General participated.
Schulenburg wrote extensively on political and UN affairs
Schulenburg has always written extensively, but he began publishing his papers only after leaving the UN services in 2012. In addition to his book, ‘On Building Peace – Rescuing the Nation-State and Saving the United Nations’ published in 2017, he published 20 articles in English and German in political magazines, university websites, conference papers, and influential newspapers. Each will be made available here.
During his assignments with the UN and the OSCE, Schulenburg wrote about 100 unofficial reports, analyses, and proposals concerning political affairs in the countries he was assigned to and about UN affairs and reforms. They were never published. As part of this website, it is planned to successively make these documents available to a wider audience. Although these unedited papers will undoubtedly contain several misspellings, etc., they may nonetheless be useful as witness reports by someone close to the respective events