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[pound]20 Bloomsbury

ISBN 0-7475-4844-7

A decade ago, with the collapse of communism, hopes were raised that the ending of the Cold War that had dominated international relations since the end of World War II would signal what former US President George Bush described as a "new world order".

A new era would see an end to the superpowers' proxy wars of the previous five decades. A consequent 'peace dividend' resulting from a reduction in the super powers' arms race spending was, the argument ran, a chance for the world to turn its back on confrontation and concentrate on economic development.

Those hopes were soon to be dashed. True, classic international wars became less common, but there was a rapid rise in conflicts, the power of warlords and associated humanitarian disasters around the world.

What transpired was an unprecedented multiplication of internal conflagrations and increasing demands that the United Nations intervene to halt the tragic consequences for civilian populations.

William Shawcross notes that in the 45 years from the formation of the UN in 1945 to the beginning of the 1990s, there were a total of 13 UN peace keeping missions, but in the last decade alone, there have been more than 20 UN peace keeping operations.

Kofi Annan's challenge

This book tells the story of international peace keeping in the post-Cold War period. The author's reputation as one of the world's leading print and broadcast journalists gave him privileged access to global policy makers, diplomats and humanitarian aid officials.

In the course of writing the book, he travelled to the former Yugoslavia, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, Burundi, Algeria, Nigeria, Albania and Afghanistan. Some of these trips he made in the company of Kofi Annan, first when he was head of the UN's peace keeping department and later after he had become the UN secretary general at the end of 1996.

Kofi Annan has come to personify the United Nations perhaps more than any other secretary general since Dag Hammarskjold, and arguably faces a greater challenge than any of his predecessors to meet the conflicting demands of the international community to provide moral leadership for the world.

Set against the limitations imposed on the UN by a lack of international strategies, resources, structures, chains of command or indeed clear mandates, William Shawcross is not that far from the mark in describing the secretary general as having been gifted "a job from hell".

The author is very careful not to blame the secretary general for the UN's recent perceived failings, by highlighting the way the UN's response to many of the world's conflicts is determined by constraints and delays imposed by some UN member states, in particular those that sit on the UN's Security Council. He argues that these member states have frequently hindered much-needed humanitarian assistance such as peace-keeping missions.

The book also examines highly contentious arguments that the UN should, where intervention is deemed too dangerous, employ the services of mercenary groups, or even allow conflicts to play themselves out rather than risk intervention itself prolonging a conflict.

Less contentious is the implied call for a fundamental change in the way that the UN is empowered to deal with its international responsibilities. It is also a call for state sovereignty and strategic interests to be subsumed in the interests of individual rights and liberty. That the UN should embark on a process of re-invention is difficult to refute, after all, the world has changed substantially since its inception in 1945. But reaching international agreement on how this might be achieved is a daunting prospect. Even the question of how the institution should be financed is certain to raise huge difficulties, even before the central problem of how it should be mandated to conduct international interventions.

Millenium Summit Report

A UN report, published to coincide with the Millenium Summit in early September some three months after this book appeared, recommended some key changes to the way UN peacekeeping missions were authorised, funded and deployed.

The ten-man panel who compiled the report included two African experts. It was chaired by Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi of Algeria and also called on General Philip Sabanda of Zimbabwe who led the UN Angola Verification Mission.

The panel's report proposes, unsurprisingly, that more effective conflict prevention and peace-building strategies should immediately be put in place.

It also calls for prompter authorisation and funding, plus the formation of "coherent, multinational brigade-sized forces" armed, equiped and on constant standby to, which should be able to defend itself and UN mandates with "robust rules of engagement." However, it drew back from calling for a standing army.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Shawcross, William
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2000
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