A point neatly illustrated with the Biafran conflict of the 1960s is that it is
not necessarily the case that humanitarian aid serves the people
which is it designed to protect. In Nigeria, the Ibo tribe in the
south were trying to secede, on order to form the independent state of
Biafra. The Nigerian government of course opposed them; it was
widely considered amongst "the international community" that
should the Nigerian army re-take the south that there would be a
genocide. In order to avoid this potential disaster, vast aid was
supplied; much of this supplied the nascent Biafran state with the
resources which it required to sustain itself. Eventually when Biafra
collapsed there was no genocide as Nigeria re-occupied the south.
The question is moot to whether all the aid-workers succeeded in
doing was prolonging the conflict.
In the 1990s there was a fundamental change to these kinds of
small conflicts; the Cold War derived funds from the Soviet Union
and the USA dried up. On the one hand this destabilized the
existing governments (typically small dictatorships); on the other
hand the players in these conflicts stopped looking to political
ideology as their reason for being and substituted it with
nationalism. The effect of these changes was that the number of
such conflicts (and the numbers of people affected by them)
increased incredibly. Pressure was placed on governments of
western nations by their people to "do something" in response to
the horror visible on the television screens; the UN was
the body charged with this task by governments.
In order to conduct these missions, the UN (having no authority
or standing army) had to call on its member states to provide the
troops and resources necessary. A the beginning of the decade,
there's an enthusiasm in the member states for carrying out these
missions; large forces are committed to Cambodia, Somalia and the
Balkans. As the complexities of peacekeeping begin to filter
through to the member states these commitments and attitudes begin
The structure of the UN is key to understanding the nature of
peacekeeping missions. The UN has a Security Council composed of
18 UN member states; the US, France, Britain, Russia and China are
permanent members. The Security Council issues resolutions.
There is also an administrative arm, headed by the Secretary
General (currently Kofi Annan) which much implement these
resolutions with the resources supplied by the member states.
This administrative arm (under whose auspices bodies such as the WHO,
UNICEF, and UNHCR operate) carries out the resolutions of the
Security Council. The UN has no military forces, and so must
second these forces from the members; it must also pay its wages
through donations from the member states. The proper functioning of
the UN (and UN missions) is then entirely dependent on the
reasonableness and morality of the member states themselves, particularly the
permanent members and more wealthy nations; much of Shawcroft's
thesis is that the behaviour of the UN is largely a result of the
behaviour of its members.
Early in the book Shawcross examines the "Mogadishu Line". In 1992
the US under President Bush decided to commit peacekeepers to
Somalia, to prevent restore control and order to the country,
partially in fulfillment of an election promise by Bill Clinton. The
country had degenerated into virtual anarchy with several
clans vying for control of different parts of the country.
Mohammed Aideed, a warlord in the capital city of Mogadishu
succeeded in exerting a great deal of influence over the
operations of the (US based) UN mission, and the US decided to
wage war against Aideed in return, trying to capture him.
These attempts failed, and a US soldier was killed and his body
dragged through the streets causing a horrified reaction in the
US. The US (who had authorized the mission, informing the UN
commander just hours before the attack) pulled all its forces out
in the next few days; US politicians blamed the failure on the
UN. Shawcross says: "'Crossing the Mogadishu Line' ... became a
Washington ... [ the protection of US peacekeepers ] must be the
overriding priority of US policy."
This policy had an unfortunate side effect. In the words of Kofi
Annan, the easiest way to disrupt a peacekeeping mission became to
kill four or five western soldiers. Repeatedly through the book, we
see warlords in Rwanda, Cambodia, the Balkans and the African West
Coast using threats against the peacekeepers themselves in order to
secure the co-operation or at least non-intervention of those same
peacekeepers. In Srebrenica, a Dutch battalion were used as
virtual hostages to prevent NATO bombing, and then prevent NATO/UN
retaliation for the massacre (or genocide) which occurred there.
In Rwanda, one of the first actions of the Hutus in their
well-planned genocide was to kill ten Belgian peacekeepers. As a
Caution Ruled. With the important exception of Ghana,
governments ordered their troops to protect themselves first of
all, even if hat meant standing by and watching as lightly armed
drunken thugs hacked women and children to death.
Rwanda is described as the great failure of the UN. In 1993 the
UN had a small force on the ground (UNAMIR), helping in a peace negotiation
between the Hutu, the ruling tribe, and Tutsi, who had an active
rebellion in the north. The talks broke down while the
observers were still there; the force on the ground and the UNHCR
(UN High Commission for Refugees) recommended the immediate
deployment of approximately 5,000 troops; the US thought
500 was a more appropriate force. As the conflict escalated further the
president was assassinated, the peacekeepers pulled out and 1.2
million people were murdered by militias in the space of a
few weeks. UNAMIR was pulled back to a skeleton as its
contributors pulled out. As this ensued, the Tutsi rebels (the RPF) took
advantage of the chaos and began an assault towards the capital,
waging a sporadic genocide upon the Hutus.
At this point the French, apparently fearing the Francophone
Hutu regime would be toppled, began "Operation Turquoise", committing
2,500 troops and securing the Hutu held areas; this was given UN
blessing by the Security Council since at least the French weren't
wringing their hands about the issue, notwithstanding that the
French were protecting the government which committed the genocide
in the first place. Shawcross makes a good case
that had there been a committed, large intervention when first
recommended the genocide would not have succeeded nearly so easily.
Shawcross hints at a double standard in US policy with regard
to the UN. One the one hand the US wants the UN to pursue US
foreign policy, ignoring the opinions of the other 170 odd member
states; he gives several examples of this, citing Madeline
Albright writing press releases to "help" Annan in his duties.
On the other, the US is sending the UN towards bankruptcy
by refusing to pay its membership dues, totalling $1.5 billion.
The pattern repeats itself through the book that the UN Security
Council passes a
resolution demanding that something be done about a conflict, with
the US will voting for this measure; mostly the US will not commit
forces to assist the mission, and then US politicians talk loudly
about the failure of the UN to carry out its mandate.
Britain and France committed to a "Rapid
Reaction Force" on the ground in Bosnia in 1994; the Clinton
administration (despite making a lot of noise at the time about Bosnia, and
about UN failures in the region) refused Chirac's request to even
help defray the costs.
One character in this story has almost unremitting praise placed
at his feet: Kofi Annan. He is described as being "humble and
egoless". He is painted as an idealistic realist; one who is
willing to negotiate with the likes of Saddam Hussein, but still
forthright in condemning his actions. He is always seen as quick
to blame himself for his mistakes, never frustrated with the
inconsistencies of the member states of the UN, negotiating
delicately (and ultimately unsuccessfully) to get the US to pay
its bills. He commissioned two reports, on the disasters of
Srebrenica and Rwanda, both of which concluded that failure on
account of all parties caused a bad situation to be magnified.
The main criticism of this book is that while it pays lip service
to the idea that peacekeeping in these kinds of conflicts is
difficult and often impossible, Shawcross' voice is always there
implying "this is what I would have done". It's impossible for
him not to take some kind of editorial stance, however his voice
is sometimes too loud - in particular in his recounting of the
Balkans wars he's critical of the Western States for not having an
idea of what their real goals are beyond securing peace. Were he
the leader of a Western State in 1992, I doubt strongly that he
could have created a policy with any such goal; this requirement
only became clear after the fact.
What's impressive about Shawcross' book is its balance.
For instance Boutros-Ghali is presented as a good man, albeit with a flawed
style which rubbed many of his allies the wrong way. It makes it
very clear that whilst horrendous mistakes have been made, most of
these mistakes were understandable, given the impossible task
being attempted. He is however not afraid to slate home blame
where he feels it necessary; the behavior of the Western States
(particularly France) in the case of Rwanda he sees as verging on
Deliver Us From Evil provides a good overview of the problems
faced by peacekeepers in the last decade, as well as understanding
into the nature of the UN and its members. The UN is shown as a
inherently contradictory organization, with a Security Council
(particularly the US) making resolutions which the associated
bureaucracy does not have the resources to carry out.
Notwithstanding this Shawcross clearly believes that the UN is
needed as a guardian against genocide, as the horrors which have
been invested upon mankind in the latter part of the last century
are a real evil which need any kind of amelioration available.