On a dark afternoon in January 1999, with the wind chill factor down to minus ten and snow rushing around outside the thirty-eighth floor of the United Nations headquarters in New York, the secretary general, Kofi Annan, could be forgiven for feeling beleaguered. Nineteen ninety-eight, he said to me, "was a hell of a year. But I think 1999 will be worse."
Eleven months before, he had been hailed in much of the world as a savior after persuading Saddam Hussein to permit UN inspectors to resume their search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, thus stopping the United States and Great Britain from bombing Iraq. One newspaper called him "the world's secular pope," a phrase which recalls Joseph Stalin's mocking question, "How many divisions has the pope?"
But within weeks Saddam had reneged on his agreement with Annan; Iraq continued to flout countless resolutions of the Security Council. For months Annan had continued to try to be the peacemaker, and in November 1998 he finessed another delay in a U.S. attack aimed at forcing Iraq to comply with the resolutions, to the fury of some American policymakers. But in December the United States and Britain lost patience and responded to Iraqi intransigence with four days of bombing just before Ramadan and Christmas.
The Anglo-American action split the Security Council. There was no precise warning when it began on December 16. Members of the council were debating the crisis when their cell phones started ringing almost in unison. Some, particularly the Russian ambassador, Sergei Lavrov, and the French ambassador, Alain Dejammet, were furious. Annan made a short statement: "This is a sad day for the United Nations, and for the world....It is also a very sad day for me personally."
Annan tried to find a way of reuniting the council. It was not easy. He had continual calls or visits from the Russians and the French to complain about the attacks. The French were especially bitter; from President Jacques Chirac down, they denounced "les anglo-saxons," by whom they meant not only the United States and Britain but also Richard Butler, the tough and sometimes undiplomatic Australian chairman of the UN's Iraq arms inspectors, UNSCOM -- the United Nations Special Commission, which had been set up to disarm Iraq completely of its weapons of mass destruction after the Gulf war in 1991. Butler's December 1998 report alleging continued Iraqi obstruction had been the casus belli for the bombing. Butler must go, Chirac said several times to Annan. The Russians said the same, more brutally and more publicly.
In early January 1999, articles in the Washington Post and the Boston Globe quoted "confidants" of the secretary general complaining that the United States had placed spies on Butler's teams to collect information not just for the UN but also for Washington. The Iraqis had alleged this of UNSCOM all along, and a dissident American inspector, Scott Ritter, who had resigned from UNSCOM in 1998, had made similar allegations.
Publicly Annan responded that there was no evidence for such allegations, but he added, "Obviously, were these charges true, it would be damaging to the United Nations' disarmament work in Iraq and elsewhere." These remarks aroused the fury of the Washington Post, which accused him of "the sly undermining" of the UN's own inspectors. In the New York Times, the columnist A. M. Rosenthal, who had characterized Annan's policy toward Saddam as "diligent appeasement," now described the secretary general as "Saddam's greatest single asset at the UN." A long profile in The New Republic by David Rieff, the author of Slaughterhouse, a swinging attack on the United Nations in Bosnia, castigated Annan as "The Indecent Decent Man" and said that he refused "to regard the evil in the world realistically." The UN Secretariat under Annan, Rieff charged, was "in principle and in practice committed to the peaceful resolution of conflicts almost at any price."
Other articles asserted that Annan was as eager to rid himself of the turbulent Richard Butler as the French, Russians and Chinese. It was certainly true that among many of Annan's staff, Butler was about as popular as a whore in a nunnery. They saw him as too close to the United States and too publicly belligerent toward Iraq. Annan insisted to me, however, that Butler was not the problem, and that since the United States and Britain had justified their recent bombing by his report, there was no way Butler could be quickly eased aside, whatever the French and the Russians demanded.
At the Council on Foreign Relations in mid-January 1999, Annan defended himself publicly against the attacks: "Whatever means I have employed in my efforts in dealing with Iraq, my ends have never been in question." These included disarming Iraq and reintegrating its people into the international community. "By precedent, by principle, by charter and by duty, I am bound to seek those ends through peaceful diplomacy," Annan said.
Annan was calling attention to the limits of his role. Miracles are rare; in the end he was seen merely to have delayed war and was now being accused by some of having played into Saddam's hands. Annan insisted that a UN secretary general cannot be judged by the same standards as a head of state because he is bound by the demands and interests of the UN's 185 members (188 by the end of 1999). "With no enforcement capacity and no executive power beyond the organization," Annan told his audience at the Council on Foreign Relations, "a secretary general is armed only with tools of his own making. He is invested only with the power that a united Security Council may wish to bestow, and the moral authority entrusted to him by the charter."
There is a vast gulf between what millions around the world believe about the United Nations and the reality. The idealized belief is that the UN is an independent and objective body of nations, gathered under one blue flag, to bring peace, perfect justice and economic development. Annan, a practicing Christian, shares some of this quasi-religious belief in the institution.
What the idealists often fail to reckon with is both the power of and the divisions within the Security Council, particularly its permanent five members, who have the power of veto. Back in 1945, the five major powers had been given the veto to guarantee their commitment to the new world body and to enable them to prevent the council from authorizing force against them. Otherwise, they were supposed to exercise collective responsibility for "the maintenance of international peace and security." They did not treat the veto with such reserve, and during the Cold War it was constantly invoked and abused -- especially by the Soviet Union.
It is a relic of World War II that the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France dominate the impossible but probably essential world body. But they do, and attempts to change the membership to reflect more accurately the world on the edge of the millennium have always foundered. None of the permanent five wishes to leave the council, and too many of the other members of the UN wish to join. So the agreements or the divisions between the victors of 1945 still determine much of the direction of the world. They can either project the power of the United Nations or tie its hands. That is the reality, as against the ideal.
Annan was invested with the moral authority of the charter of the United Nations, but this did not and could not override the realities of power as displayed in the council. The expectations of the secretary general were always great, but his ability to deliver was never as broad.
Iraq was not the only crisis at this time. There was the continued emergency in Kosovo, a province of Serbia, the dominant republic in what remained of Yugoslavia. There the Serbs and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) were held in an uneasy truce by the presence of unarmed Western monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), backed up by the threat of NATO bombing of the Serbs.
Annan had just received a briefing paper from his senior staff which warned him that the human crisis in Kosovo was getting worse and worse. The KLA was spreading its power in the countryside; the level of violence was increasing and moving into urban areas. "There is a strong apprehension that the KLA may be moving towards IRA tactics," read this report. There was a real fear that clashes would escalate out of control. The government in Belgrade considered that the KLA was preparing for war, and was itself again on the offensive against KLA strongholds and neighboring civilians alike; local Serbs were arming themselves. There was no dialogue between the two sides; in the face of Serb repression, the moderate Albanian leadership had been sidelined by the KLA radicals. (For years, those concerned about Kosovo had warned that the confrontation could turn violent; for years, the West had failed to act on those warnings.)
In an agreement of October 1998, the American negotiator Richard Holbrooke had managed to persuade President Milosevic of Yugoslavia to accept these unarmed observers from the OSCE to monitor a partial withdrawal of Serb troops from Kosovo. The deal had then been seen as an achievement. But ten weeks later the monitors were still not fully deployed. Originally, two thousand had been envisaged, but recruitment was not easy, and so far only eight hundred were on the ground. They were being dragged into the conflict beyond their mandate. Recently, for example, they had mediated the release of Yugoslav soldiers captured by the KLA. Annan was warned by his staff, "With the accumulation of such extra tasks the KVM [the monitors] could face the same problems as UNPROFOR in Bosnia." This was a warning with substance. UNPROFOR, the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia from 1992 to 1995, was one of the unhappiest UN peacekeeping missions in recent times.
As with Iraq, the Security Council was divided on Kosovo, with Russia being, as always, more sympathetic to the Serbs than other members. China, always fearing that Tibet, whose independence it has crushed since the 1950s, could be next, was unsympathetic to any intervention in other nations' affairs. The council's division meant that it was often unable to react to developments on the ground. It had even failed to agree to a statement on the capture of the Yugoslav soldiers. There was no reason to believe that it would be able to agree on any course of action if the situation deteriorated and international involvement was urgently needed. "The UN has little leverage on events and is not getting any guidance from the Council," Annan was told.
Talks on an interim arrangement for autonomy for Kosovo were getting nowhere. By January 1999, the KLA had reoccupied parts of the province from which the Serbs had driven them in 1998. Armed incidents were increasing wherever Serbs and Albanians were in contact. In mid-January the bodies of forty-five Albanian Kosovar villagers, including three women and a twelve-year-old boy, were found on a hillside around the village of Racak, fifteen miles south of the capital, Pristina.
Kofi Annan called for a full investigation. The international observers blamed the Yugoslav security forces. Yugoslav officials accused the KLA of staging the massacre with its own dead and said the international monitors were party to the lie. The Yugoslav army's mobile anti-aircraft cannon pounded Racak. The Belgrade government then ordered the head of the observers, the American diplomat William Walker, out of the country. Louise Arbour, the UN prosecutor for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, was turned back from the border when she tried to enter the country to carry out an investigation.
Even though the Russians condemned both the massacre and Walker's expulsion by Belgrade (later suspended), the Security Council remained divided. Some members feared that only NATO air strikes against the Serbs would stop the growing Serbian abuse of the Albanian population. Other members were afraid of NATO becoming, in effect, "the air force of the KLA." There were cruel echoes of the dilemmas the UN had faced in Bosnia in the early nineties.
And there were many other issues crowding the secretary general's agenda with greater or lesser urgency that January.
In Haiti, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, the 1994 UN intervention to restore democracy, backed if not controlled by the United States, had at first been thought of as a success. But when I went there in January 1999, there seemed to be almost no government at all; the country was spiraling down into greater impoverishment and anarchy and the outside world -- especially the United States -- had no policy whatsoever beyond somehow preventing Haitians from fleeing in boats to Florida.
In Cambodia, over which the United Nations had established a form of trusteeship in the early 1990s, there was now fierce debate over the fate of Khmer Rouge leaders who had been involved in the mass murder of over a million Cambodians in the 1970s, and who had never been brought to trial. Over the past few months, the Khmer Rouge guerrilla movement had finally collapsed. Pol Pot, the movement's principal leader, had died in 1998, but other leaders had been given amnesties by the Cambodian government. To add insult to injury one group of senior Khmer Rouge who had returned from their border redoubts had just been treated by the government to a tourist trip around the country. Why, more and more Westerners, if not Cambodians, were asking, when international tribunals had been established to try alleged war criminals from Yugoslavia and Rwanda, was nothing being done about the Khmer Rouge?
The gloomy backdrop to these and other crises was Africa. Indeed, Annan said that the Security Council was now spending 60 percent of its time on Africa.
In Angola, which had been torn by civil war for almost a quarter of a century, the UN peacekeeping process, which had continued through alternating periods of war and peace since 1991, had collapsed; all-out war began again in December 1998; the country was on the cusp of another disaster. The return to war marked the end of the difficult, incomplete peace process that had begun with the Lusaka Protocol of November 1994. The process had been overseen by two UN peacekeeping missions, which had cost the international community about $1.5 billion. Two UN planes had just been shot down over Angola, with all twenty-three people on board killed. (On board the second plane was the son of the pilot of the first, who had gone to search for the wreckage of his father's flight.)
Annan's senior staff warned him that "heavy fighting is taking place in several regions of the country, with dire humanitarian consequences." The government had launched a major attack against the rebel UNITA forces led by Jonas Savimbi, whose belligerence was one of the main reasons for the return to war. At the same time the government had embarked on a propaganda campaign against the UN because of its failure to induce UNITA to remain in the peace process.
The Angolan government wanted the current UN mission, MONUA, to leave when its mandate expired at the end of February. But some African countries were urging the UN to stay and were complaining about "double standards" if the UN left Angola but stayed in equally difficult environments such as the former Yugoslavia. Annan, however, told the Security Council that there was no longer any basis on which the UN could remain in Angola and recommended that its armed thousand-man force of peacekeepers be gradually reduced and then removed.
Angola was not the only African country at war. For several months at least fourteen countries had been fighting in Congo, defending or attacking the regime of President Laurent Kabila, who had been pushed into power by many of them less than two years before. This conflict was sometimes called Africa's Great War. Kabila was aided by Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia and Chad. The rebels were supported by Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Burundi, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Republic of Congo and others. There was a real threat that regional ambitions and hatreds could tear apart the post-colonial map of Central Africa. Wars between (rather than within) African countries had hardly happened after independence and during the Cold War. Now they were becoming commonplace.
Farther north the UN was still coordinating Operation Lifeline Sudan, a relief operation for the starving victims of the Sudanese civil war. It cost $1 million a day to fly in seventeen thousand tons of food. This was keeping alive many hundreds of thousands, but once again and inevitably, there were questions about how far the aid also helped to sustain the government forces or the rebels of the south who had been fighting them for years.
To the east of Sudan more war loomed. Annan had just dispatched one of his senior staff, Mohammed Sahnoun, a seasoned Algerian diplomat, to Eritrea and Ethiopia, where a border war, which had begun just after Annan had visited both countries in May 1998, threatened to become a full-scale conflict. In December, the Organization of African Unity had come up with a framework agreement to try to settle the dispute, but Eritrea had still not accepted it. On January 12, Eritrea announced that it had received intelligence reports that Ethiopia was planning to launch new attacks. Ethiopia dismissed this announcement as a diversionary tactic to shift international attention from Eritrea's "aggression against Ethiopia." The language of both sides was becoming more vitriolic. Escalation of the war was imminent, Annan was warned. At a meeting in his office with Ethiopia's permanent representative at the UN, Annan stressed that a resort to force would have disastrous consequences. It happened nonetheless. In the next few weeks tens of thousands died, untelevised and unremarked by the world.
And of the African crises confronting Annan in January 1999 none was more immediately horrible than Sierra Leone, which was consumed by a savage civil war between an elected but ineffective government and a rebel group. In 1996, after decades of corrupt military dictatorship, elections had been held and a civilian government created under a former UN official, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. In 1997 he was overthrown by the rebels and then restored to power by a West African peacekeeping force led by Nigeria, which had been unsuccessfully trying to defeat the rebels ever since. In recent weeks the country had imploded as political and moral order collapsed.
The rebels were known as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF); their leader, Corporal Foday Sankoh, was now in jail in Freetown, the ramshackle capital. The RUF seemed to have no ideology; their trademark was to chop off the hands of peasants in the countryside. "Short sleeves or long?" the rebels would ask the peasants, and then hack at the elbow or wrist accordingly. Tens of thousands had been mutilated in this way. Over 400,000 people had fled into neighboring countries to escape.
The Nigerian role now bitterly divided the six countries of West Africa -- largely along the fault line of British Commonwealth versus Francophone countries. Kabbah and the governments supporting him thought that the rebels had to be fought to the death. The Ivory Coast and Togo believed that a compromise settlement had to be negotiated. That was also Annan's belief. Senior Nigerian officials, furious that the Ivory Coast and Togo were calling them warmongers, told Annan that they thought these countries were giving the rebels clandestine support. So, perhaps, were the French, in support of their allies in those two French-speaking countries.
On January 6 the rebels fought their way into Freetown. They were under the command of Sam Bockarie, a former dancer and hairdresser, and they ran amok. They burned down the statehouse and the Nigerian embassy. Government officials and UN workers fled. Most people could not. Thousands lost their hands to the rebels' insane chopping. Food and water became scarce. Freetown's Connaught Hospital was described as "overflowing with dead." Rebel soldiers invaded the wards, shot patients and climbed into beds themselves, demanding that they be treated.
Rampaging around the city, the rebels exulted that they were punishing the people for supporting President Kabbah. Allieu, a fifty-year-old civil servant, said later, "They ordered me to put my arm in a tree trunk and they swung an axe from behind and hacked it off; they kept talking about Kabbah and I screamed. I didn't know anything about politics, and so they hacked off my other arm...blood was spurting out, and I kept falling. They spat on me and took a hammer and started knocking my teeth out -- they danced around me, saying, 'We've really got you now, here you will die.'" The writer and photographer Stuart Freedman reported that Hasan Fufona, whose left hand was paralyzed by polio, had his good hand chopped off. Two sisters, Mariamatu and Aminata, were gang-raped and both were doubly amputated. There were thousands of such victims.
The Nigerians rushed in reinforcements. The rebels killed and burned as they were pushed back into the suburbs. Bodies littered the streets, fed upon by vultures. Kabbah announced a cease-fire, but Bockarie demanded the release of Foday Sankoh before he would agree to it. He rejoiced: "We have made Freetown ungovernable."
Francis Okelo, Annan's special representative to Sierra Leone, was shuttling between Sierra Leone and its neighbors. On January 10 he flew into Freetown to see both Kabbah and Foday Sankoh. Okelo urged Kabbah to compromise with Sankoh, but the president was reluctant to deal with the rebels whom, with good reason, he reckoned to be mere murderers.
On January 14, Annan was woken by an early morning call from President Charles Taylor of Liberia. Taylor insisted (despite all the evidence to the contrary) that he was not arming the rebels. Taylor claimed that he had persuaded Sam Bockarie to accept a cease-fire and that he would announce it that day.
Later that morning President Kabbah called Annan to tell him that the rebels were now trapped, and that was why the Liberians were urging a cease-fire.
parKabbah told the Times of London that the UN and the West were guilty of double standards. They were fighting for democracy in Iraq and "doing nothing to defend democracy in my country." He wanted more than "lip service" to the UN resolutions condemning the rebels; he wanted military assistance. "I'm not asking for special favours. I am saying that the UN should apply the same principles across the world. If the world believes in democracy then it should come to our aid."
His finance minister, James Jonah, similarly accused the West of double standards. It was true, he said, that more than two thousand people had died in Kosovo over the past year, but over two thousand people had been murdered by the rebels in Freetown since Christmas. Many more had had their hands and feet cut off. So why was the West concerned only with Kosovo?
It was not only in Sierra Leone that such questions were asked. Similar concerns had been expressed in or about parts of Southeast Asia, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Tajikistan, and many countries of Africa. Peace and security, the responsibilities of the United Nations, were absent in dozens of countries around the world. But in only a few of them was the UN actively engaged in finding solutions.
There is never an easy answer as to why the spotlight of international concern focuses on some conflicts more than others. Sometimes it is due to access by television, sometimes to the consequent public demand that "something must be done," sometimes to traditional national interests on the part of at least some of the permanent five. But increasingly among the rich West there is a belief that humanitarianism must now be part of national policymaking in a way which it has never been before. That conviction bestows a right to interference which cannot always be carried out, but sometimes should be. It is an ambitious doctrine, both morally and politically.
In the early 1990s the world faced the collapse of empire for the third time this century. The first such earthquake occurred at the end of World War I. The second came with the end of colonialism after World War II. The third was caused by the death of the Soviet Union; Russia and its satellite states from the Baltic to the Black Sea and beyond were sent spinning off on independent trajectories. The world was irrevocably changed by all three ends of empire; only the third left one great power triumphant in the world.
In one way, at the end of the Cold War, the world went back to normal. For decades responses to international crises had been governed by ideology, alliance pressures and a nuclear stalemate. Now national and local interests came, once again, to the fore.
The consequences of this astonishing upheaval have been overwhelmingly beneficial, but not exclusively so. In some places, the end of the Cold War has caused political, social and humanitarian turbulence. The forces unleashed by the implosion have brought about both the creation and destruction of states. Since the early 1990s, just as those seeking the destruction of states wave the banners of ethnicity and identity, those who seek to alleviate the suffering and end the conflicts that result wave the banners of world order, humanitarianism and the international community -- without always fully understanding what those concepts mean.
Perhaps one way of looking at what has happened is to remember that in political and diplomatic discourse the state has been a given. We address and attempt to understand the world at the level of states. Maps are drawn to define them and to contain them. For centuries nation-states have been the principal actors on the world stage. During a half century of Cold War the integrity of nation-states was a fundamental principle of international order. Since the end of that period the reality of the nation-state has been challenged in countries as different as Russia, Somalia, Yugoslavia, Haiti, Angola, Rwanda and many others.
States are not nations, or vice versa. Nations are social or cultural entities, groups of people who share common language, history, ethnic background, religion or culture. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has proposed that "the nation is the 'highest' form of the ethnic group, denoting a subjective state of mind as regards to ancestry." The historian Christopher Liptak has pointed out that individuals tend to identify more with their nationality or ethnicity than with their government. This means that, if allowed, nations may become more powerful than states. Most states comprise several nations. Eric Morris of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, whose responsibilities have grown a thousandfold in this period, caring for the victims of the clash of the banners, has attempted better than most I know to try to explore what has happened. He points out in a distinguished study of this bloody period, The Limits of Mercy, that no one really knows what "ethnicity" and "world order" actually mean. Nonetheless, they are at the center of debate about international relationships after the end of the Cold War.
How we now deal with the disjunction between statehood and nationality is one of the subjects of this book. And that means that I deal with intervention and peacekeeping. In a world that is at the same time more tightly bound by what is called globalization and yet also more broken asunder, how can states which fail and their populations be aided? And at what level -- humanitarian aid by UN and nongovernmental agencies, peacekeeping by lightly armed UN soldiers in blue berets and soft-topped white vehicles, or war waged by the rich world's private army, NATO?
In the second half of January 1999, the secretary general went on a trip to Europe. The most congenial stop was Ireland. The Irish government has always contributed generously to UN peacekeeping efforts and Annan was welcomed warmly. The same could not be said of Brussels, where he landed a few days later. He was there to see senior officials of the European Union and of NATO to discuss, in particular, NATO's threat to intervene in Kosovo if the Serb and Kosovar leadership could not reach an agreement which would stop the killing. He was greeted by Belgian and Rwandan families who had lost relatives in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, in which close to a million people had been murdered. They were demanding further inquiries, in particular into the failure of the UN peacekeeping department, which Annan then headed, to have done more to prevent the genocide. Shortly thereafter, Annan agreed to just such an inquiry.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, at the end of January, Annan urged business to do more for its workers and to help the UN press for human rights and good governance around the world. The world pursued him. Richard Butler had just accused the Russian ambassador to the UN, Sergei Lavrov, of not telling the truth. The Russian prime minister, Yevgeni Primakov, took Annan aside and said, "If Butler stays, we leave the game."
At the beginning of the last year of the decade, there was little trace of the euphoria with which the decade had opened as the Berlin wall came tumbling down. But Annan, an optimist, saw reasons for hope. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had called the United States "the indispensable country"; Annan said the United Nations was "the indispensable institution." He thought there was now "a new diplomacy" in which nongovernmental organizations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the citizens of many countries could push issues on governments much more effectively than before.
I spoke to Annan in his hotel room overlooking the mountains. After discussing the crises of Kosovo, Sierra Leone and Iraq, I said, "You're negotiating all the time between different levels of evil, aren't you?"
"This is the problem and they are constantly shifting," he replied.
"You are almost halfway through your term now. It looks like a terrifying ride," I said.
"It is a terrifying ride!"
"What do you think is the most important thing the secretary general can do? What's the best way to use your last two years?"
"Everything I touch is a race against time -- to save lives, to stop killing. One of the areas where we have really tried to make a difference is to really get the governments and public to get engaged in [the] issue of good governance, to respect [the] rule of law and human rights -- to let people know they do have rights and not everything is at the beck and call of governments.
"The other area is to try to make a difference in people's lives by focusing on development -- health, clean water, etc. The difficulty is that the strategy is not only to get increased assistance but also investment. But no one is going to invest in Africa with all its crises and divisions. I hammer this home to African leaders whenever I have a chance. They listen and they say, 'You are right,' but then they go home and do nothing about it -- they carry on their wars."
In the last decade the international community has edged toward new solutions, half a step at a time, and some steps backward. A new global architecture is being created through many initiatives of which the secretary general is, when the international community agrees, the standard-bearer. This architecture includes the international ban on land mines, the war crimes tribunals in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the International Criminal Court. Popular consensus can be formed on all of these despite reluctance or even opposition from governments.
"Is there any such thing as an international community anymore?" I asked Annan. "How does it use you?"
"It's interesting. For small governments it does exist because they realize they have to band together to tackle issues around the world. The big boys move in and out of the concept of the international community. When it suits them, they go along with the others -- otherwise they go it alone.
"I think there is another sort of international community," he said. "In many countries a public consensus has developed to fight on matters of international concern like land mines and to push for an international criminal court. It's much more solid in some ways than governments banding together, and often leaders cannot ignore it."
But he acknowledged that public opinion can be fickle. "It was public pressure that forced governments to go into Somalia and Bosnia and then forced them out again." Television audiences in the rich industrial countries, appalled by the suffering, demand that "something be done," but they or their governments are often unwilling to meet the necessary costs. That paradox is at the heart of many attempts to make peace in the last decade. It can be harmful.
Copyright © 2000 by William Shawcross
Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict
Deliver Us From Evil
Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict
The end of the Cold War was followed by a decade of regional and ethnic wars, massacres and forced exiles, and by constant calls for America to lead the international community as chief peace-keeper. The efforts of that community -- identified with the United Nations but often dominated by the world's wealthy nations -- have had mixed results. In Africa, the West is accused of indifference or too little, too late. In Cambodia, the UN presides over free elections, but the results are overridden. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein continues to defy the UN, and in Bosnia and Kosovo, the West acts hesitantly after terrible slaughter and ethnic cleansing.
Shawcross, a veteran of many war zones, has had broad access to global policymakers, including UN secretary general Kofi Annan, high American diplomats, peacekeepers and humanitarian-aid professionals. He has traveled with them to some of the world's most horrifying killing fields. Deliver Us from Evil is his stark, on-the-ground report on the many crises faced by the international community and its servants as they struggle to respond around the world. He brings home the price many have paid attempting to restore peace and help alleviate terrible suffering. He illuminates the risks we face in a complex and dangerous world.
Some critics have concluded that some interventions may prolong conflict and create further casualties. The lesson we learn from ruthless and vengeful warlords the world over is that goodwill without strength can make things worse. Shawcross argues that recent interventions -- in Kosovo and East Timor, for example -- provide reason for concern as well as hope.
Still, the unmistakable message of the past decade is that we cannot intervene everywhere, that not every wrong can be righted merely because the international community desires it, or because we wish to remove images of suffering from our television screens. Nor can we necessarily rebuild failed states in our image. When we intervene, we must be certain of our objectives, sure of popular support and willing to expend the necessary resources -- even lives. If our interventions are to be effective and humane, they must last for more than the fifteen minutes of attention that the media accord to each succeeding crisis.
That is a tall order. As Shawcross concludes, "In a more religious time it was only God whom we asked to deliver us from evil. Now we call upon our own man-made institutions for such deliverance. That is sometimes to ask for miracles."