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Book Review: Deliver Us From Evil

By iwnbap in Op-Ed
Sat Jul 28, 2001 at 01:55:13 PM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)

Deliver Us From Evil is written by William Shawcross, a journalist who has been examining peace-keeping missions and humanitarian aid for the last decade. It describes the history of peace-keeping and humanitarian aid, starting with the Cambodian elections early in the decade, through to the recent UN East Timor and Kosovo missions. Through this period it is the United Nations which has had the primary responsibility of conducting peacekeeping and humanitarian missions; some such as the mission in Cambodia have been somewhat successful, others, such as the mission to Rwanda have been entirely disastrous. Shawcross examines the roles of the UN, its member states (particularly the US) and the protagonists in the conflicts themselves to try to understand the dynamics behind these conflicts.

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 to change.

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 fixation in 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 result: 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 despicable.

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.


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Book Review: Deliver Us From Evil | 22 comments (20 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
This is great stuff (3.00 / 1) (#1)
by anansi on Sat Jul 28, 2001 at 02:54:21 AM EST

I've been watching (mostly in horror) as many of these peacekeeping missions have failed, and I've wondered sometimes if anyone was paying attention. Glad to see someone has, now Ive gotta go out and buy another book!

Don't call it Fascism. Use Musollini's term: "Corporatism"

Kofi Annan (5.00 / 2) (#3)
by finial on Sat Jul 28, 2001 at 11:49:33 AM EST

This sounds like a very interesting book. I probably would not have heard of it otherwise.

You say

One character in this story has almost unremitting praise placed at his feet: Kofi Annan. ... He is always seen as quick to blame himself for his mistakes ... 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.

I'm curious how this is played out in the book. Annan was entirely responsible for the UN oversight of Rwanda both during the genocide and during the mess in the refugee camps that followed. This does not, of course, mute or lessen anyone else's responsibilities such as they were. But I just have a problem with those who are quick to say "Mea Culpa" and then do nothing to repair the problem or take steps to ensure it never happens again.

It reminds me of the scene in The Godfather where Michael confesses to Cardinal Lamberto. Ok, fine, you feel better now that it's off your chest, but did it change anything? Are you now going to change your behavior? Make it up to those you harmed? It's not enough to say "my bad" and move on, especially when there is harm on the scale there was in Rwanda.

That said, the situation in Rwanda was so devilish and complicated, it is a matter of real debate as to whether anything really could have been done. Send in UN troops? Where would you send them? This was mass insanity. Total and complete anarchy, egged on by those in charge, yes, but even if they said "stop" it's unlikely to have had an effect.

A different view of Annan can be found in Philip Gourevitch's excellent book or the web companion to WGBH-TV's Frontline.

Re: Kofi Annan (5.00 / 3) (#5)
by iwnbap on Sat Jul 28, 2001 at 01:24:47 PM EST

Shawcross' account is thus:

UNAMIR (UN Assistance Mission to Rwanda) was set up in late 1993, when Boutros-Ghali was the Secreatary General at the time, with Jacques-Rodger Booh-Booh as his special deputy in Rwanda and General Dallaire (sp?) of Canada as commander of the troops in the area. The Secreatary General requested two batallions as support at the same time; only one was made available.

On January 11 1994 Annan's office cabled Dallaire acknowledging the weapons, but cautioning him not to seize them as yet; the informant was perceived to be unreliable, the seizure of weapons would have been exceeding the UN mandate, and the recent history in Mogadishu (with 18 US soldiers killed two months earlier) lead to caution. On Feb. 2 he cabled to say that UNAMIR should offer assistance to RPF or government in gathering the arms.

Annan was criticized in newspaper articles for not doing more about Dallaire's information. He said later that no UN peacekeeping mission - not even the NATO forces in Bosnia - had ever been given a disarmament mandate. "When a general is going to take an action he has to first make sure that he has the capacity - because if not, he will risk the lives of a lot of people including his own soldiers," Annan contended.

Dallaire himself blamed the Security Council:

The Security Council, Dallaire said, "floundered in the face of mounting heaps of bodies growing daily ... As long as these states procrasinated, bickered and cynically pursued their own selfish foreign policies, the Un and UNAMIR could do little to stop the killing ..."

My own opinion is that UNAMIR had real problems here - Rwanda was on the Security Council at the time. Any intelligence or confidential material could not be shared with the Security Council as it would have the effect of explaining the precise modus operandi of UNAMIR to the Rwandan government. The cable itself says that any evidence of violence should be reported at once to the Security Council. I'm suspicious that without real violence (which could have led to the commitment of more troops) all they would have been doing was detailing the nature of their plans (and identity of this informant) to the Rwandan government.

I am fairly confident that real intervention before April 6 could have made a real difference. The reason is simple - the intervention of the French a few months later did. Had any credible military force intervened before then it may have saved many lives. Of course I don't know - however the success of the French in bringing some little stability does speak volumes. Furthermore there were requests for troops throughout April, and a request on May 9 (5 weeks into the genocide) for a 5,500 troop commitment. The US cut this to 800 and then played delaying tactics to prevent their deployment.

[ Parent ]

Read this book! (4.00 / 1) (#6)
by TheophileEscargot on Sat Jul 28, 2001 at 02:37:06 PM EST

I've also read this book, and I can't praise it too highly! It's neutral, objective (at least as far as I can tell), but it's well written enough to be utterly fascinating.

The problem with most of the media is that they always try to boil these conflicts down to good guys / bad guys: plus of course who we should blame. This book delves into the actual details of who the interested parties are in these conflicts, and gives a much clearer idea of what was actually going on behind the scenes. The author had extensive contact with Kofi Annan, which gave him a lot of information on what exactly was going on inside the negotiating rooms. I found the description of the meeting between Kofi Annan and Saddam Hussein especially interesting.
  In spite of his access to Annan, the author is still objective about him and the U.N.: he is not afraid to point out the inadequacies and failures of the U.N. under Annan.

The frightening things about reading this book are realising how little control anyone has over these conflicts, and how little the powers that be actually cooperate. In a typical conflict it seems that the U.N., the U.S., the E.U., the individual states and the aid agencies seem to work at complete cross-purposes; based on completely different overall strategies, and of course their own vested interests. But don't take my word for it, read the book!
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death

Not to knock the UN and peacekeeping missions (1.00 / 1) (#7)
by goosedaemon on Sun Jul 29, 2001 at 06:12:30 PM EST

But if it really was unbiased, it would include peoples' worries about how the UN will threaten national sovereignty, OWG, NWO, and all that. As it is, from this review, it seems pretty pro-UN.

Threats to sovereignty (5.00 / 1) (#8)
by iwnbap on Mon Jul 30, 2001 at 03:25:17 AM EST

One of the things that becomes very clear from the book is that the "UN" does not exist as an organization; it's a lot of different bits which are placed under the same banner. Ulitmately the UN has no standing army, and cannot enforce a decision without getting troops from somewhere, i.e. member states. Furthermore the UN Secretariat (which is the bit US politicans seem to complain about) cannot even make a policy decision or a resolution; that has to come from the Security Council.

Therefore if someone's (e.g. the US's) national sovereignty is to be threatened, then the Security Council (a body of 18 states) must vote for the resolution, the US must absent-mindedly forget to veto it (as it has veto over all resoltions) someone has to commit troops to doing the enforcement, and the USA standing army of around a million souls has to convieniently ignore their presence.

The question you've got to ask is which bit of the UN will be the NWO/OWG - the Security Council? The Secretariat? UNICEF?

[ Parent ]

I know that and you know that (none / 0) (#9)
by goosedaemon on Mon Jul 30, 2001 at 08:51:45 AM EST

However, it's still a concern of people's. ...I dunno, I just have a problem when people claim something is unbiased, you know?

[ Parent ]
Kofi Annan (none / 0) (#10)
by rpg25 on Mon Jul 30, 2001 at 02:33:56 PM EST

I was intrigued to read that One character in this story has almost unremitting praise placed at his feet: Kofi Annan.

One thing I have read in many locations was that Annan was substantially responsible for the failure of the Rwanda mission. The Belgian commander in charge of the UN force had reported in advance that he had evidence of an intent to commit the coming genocide and had requested reinforcements. Annan was in charge of monitoring and responding to such calls, and he failed to do so. The call for reinforcements was rejected, with the results we have all seen.

Shawcross' Thesis (none / 0) (#11)
by Wormspot on Tue Jul 31, 2001 at 02:05:15 AM EST

I'll preface my remarks by admitting that I haven't read the book, so my comments on it specifically are rather suspect. However, if Shawcross' thesis is indeed "that the behaviour of the UN is largely a result of the behaviour of its members," he's a bit late in making his point.

The UN has always been hobbled by the fact that it rules at the whims of its members, and Rwanda is hardly the only example of its peacekeeping failures. The organization is caught inextricably between the desire to preserve the national sovereignty of its members and a need to enforce its mandates in those same countries.

Thus, when the world reaches a consensus strong enough to actually send in a force in the first place, it's forced to accomodate both sides in a rather grotesque display of "impartiality." Phillip Corwin, in his Bosnia memoir "Dubious Mandate," relates how forces in the center of the conflict were forced to impotently endure abuse from both parties without recourse. Even though troops were present, they were incapable of either taking sides or even retaliating to any effect.

Corwin is hardly an impartial observer; he was a UN employee and comes down strongly on the organization's side, at least in theory. However, experience demonstrates very clearly that an organization as inclusive as the UN is far too involved in the various political intrigues of its constituent nations to act effectively in peacekeeping situations.

It seems to me that the UN is far more successful in its roles as a humanitarian entity and forum for world dialogue than it is in situations of conflict. It should drop the pretense of impartial mediation (it's almost impossible anyway since the UN outside of its members is essentially non-existent) and leave the peacekeeping to more ad hoc international bodies as might develop.

Shawcross's works of dubious merit. (none / 0) (#12)
by xtian on Thu Aug 02, 2001 at 10:15:18 AM EST

William Shawcross is unfortunately not such a good source for comment on the U.S. (and it is the U.S. that leads the U.N.) atrocities in the third world, since he has a history of revising his own comments to suit the changing political climate. He works squarely within the system; his books and views are far from neutral-- they are sympathetic to U.S. needs and he revises his views accordingly to current political climate.

I have not read this new book of his, although I certainly plan to, but the following warning about Shawcross should be kept in mind when reading his and other works of the establishment (the U.S., its client states, the popular media, the western intellectual class, etc.) about itself--namely one should understand that the establishment protects itself by writing that which conforms to its needs, and then also goes back on a continuing basis to revise what it has already said. William Shawcross is a good example of this revisionism.

I quote from Chomsky in World Orders Old And New, from chapter 2, The Political and Economic Order, specifically the section on Historical Revisionism (pp. 95 - 96):

As the conquest of history continues, more audacious moves can be contemplated. Thus, William Shawcross acknowledges that there were "careless White House policies, including the destruction of Cambodian villages"--referring to the purposeful attack on the peasant society that he himself had documented before ideological reconstruction had reached its current phase, a war initiated and maintaned by Washington that devasted inner Cambodia, causing flight of a million and a half refugees to Phnom Penh and leaving some 600,000 killed according to the CIA, with people dying in Phnom Penh alone at a rate of eight thousand a month as the U.S. client regime collapsed; not to speak of other "careless" policies in Laos and Vietnam. But despite such U.S. oversights, Shawcross continues, "those of us who were opposed to the American effort in Indochina should be humbled by the scale of the suffering inflicted by the Communist victors--especially in Cambodia [where they were mobilized to a significant extent by the U.S. bombardment, as he knows] but in Vietnam and Laos as well."

And by similar reasoning, although there were "careless" Soviet actions in Afghanistan, nevertheless "those of us who opposed the Soviet attack," including Soviet dissidents, should be "humbled by the scale of suffering inflicted by the Islamic fundamental victors." In this case, the Shawcross argument would be recognized to be absurd and grotesque, because Western intellectual culture is able to comprehend that someone might have a principled opposition to agression and war crimes--when commited by an official enemy.

It is revealing that Shawcross now claims in print that he was so horrified by what the Khmer Rouge were doing in 1975 that "I decided to write a book about it. It became Slideshow"--which was, in fact, a book about American atrocities in Cambodia in a period before the Khmer Rouge takeover. His readers know that; he knows they know it. And they all know it doesn't matter. What matters is to observe the "general tacit agreements" of the intellectual culture to which Orwell referred.

I agree with your post (2.83 / 6) (#13)
by Frank J Rizzo on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 02:47:59 PM EST

It was really good.

Excellent point (2.83 / 6) (#14)
by Frank J Rizzo on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 02:49:13 PM EST

It was real good

You are correct (2.83 / 6) (#15)
by Frank J Rizzo on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 02:51:07 PM EST

yep, you are.

Here's my take on it (2.83 / 6) (#16)
by Frank J Rizzo on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 02:53:06 PM EST

I think it all depends on the publisher

It was a good book (2.83 / 6) (#17)
by Frank J Rizzo on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 02:54:48 PM EST

i read it, it was good.

An excellent read (2.83 / 6) (#18)
by Frank J Rizzo on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 02:56:10 PM EST

I would recommend it to everybody.

Nice review (2.83 / 6) (#19)
by Frank J Rizzo on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 02:58:06 PM EST

It's a good read, I like it

A very deep read (2.83 / 6) (#20)
by Frank J Rizzo on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 03:10:16 PM EST


Nice (2.83 / 6) (#21)
by Frank J Rizzo on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 03:20:15 PM EST

This helped me a lot. Thanks for taking the time to review it

Top quality (2.40 / 5) (#22)
by Frank J Rizzo on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 03:22:04 PM EST

this is a good one. Thanks

Book Review: Deliver Us From Evil | 22 comments (20 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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